November 14, 2005
Dassault Systemes and IBM Release V5 R16 Of Their PLM Portfolio
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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The answer is simple "Engineering". While everything that Mr. Schoonmaker said is true and by itself supports the point that "Engineering Doesn't Matter", it really is only part of the total picture. The problems of outsourcing and manufacturing "off-shore" is much more complex and has a lot of it has to do with peoples' perceptions of business in general. Large corporations are an ODD lot. If one goes "Off-shore" and is successful, then everyone else decides they need to do the same. Today, if a company wants to keep it operations here in North America it needs to find ways to design and build their products at a cost equal to or better than the
other options available. How do we do that? Again "Engineering".

This single biggest problem today (in my opinion) in companies that design and build their products is the lack of manufacturing knowledge in the product designers. This is not to say that the design engineers don't have any manufacturing knowledge but the breadth of their knowledge is usually narrowed to their specialty. As an example, the company has just requested that a design engineer create a new switch based on a customer's spec. Typically here in North America, the engineer would generate a design and then review it with manufacturing to ensure that it can be made. The problem is that if the assembly of the device doesn't seem to be an issue, manufacturing will just sign off to manufacture it the way it was design. But wait, is that the most efficient and cost effective way to produce the part. Can the assembly be automated cost effectively. Does the design lend itself to automation. Can the automation equipment be obtained at a low cost. Can the design be built using a low cost semi-automatic assembly process. If the design engineer was knowledgeable and capable in techniques of manufacturing as well as product design, all of those issues would have been taken into account during the design stage before the manufacturing review. Today, manufacturers need to automate to compete against the low wages in other countries and this puts a premium on being able to
automate the assembly process at a low cost.

As an example, I was required to design a motor controller for an automotive OEM customer. I was even lucky enough to do both the electronics and mechanical design. Key was designing the mechanical portion so that we could manufacture it locally in our facility here in Ontario, Canada. The initial desire was to build the unit in Mexico which I didn't think was necessary. Keeping automated assembly in mind when developing the part, I came up with a design that could be assembled using inexpensive pick and place automation and two operators. The result was a product that met the customer's need and could be built locally for less cost than building it in Mexico. The key here was to do the
necessary homework to prove that it was more cost effective to manufacture the part locally instead of in Mexico. So why was I able to make this work, "Engineering".

The point I am trying to make is that while Engineering doesn't seem to matter when you look at what is transpiring today with outsourcing and off-shore manufacturing, "Engineering Does Matter" and it is up to us engineers to prove it to our bosses and their bosses and so on up the ladder. So, if you are a product engineer, my suggestion is to learn everything you can about manufacturing techniques, not just what your company does, but what other industries do too. You may find that processes used in an unrelated industry when tweaked or slightly altered may prove to be useful within your company. Learn to be innovative with an open mind so that your company can design and
manufacture products more cost effectively than can be done anywhere else in the world.

It can be done and it is done with "Engineering", which by the way, DOES MATTER.

Mike LaCroix

Freelance Engineer

I definitely tend to agree with Mike - engineering is vitally important to us as a country and as a contributor to the future - and really does matter. However, technology jobs, engineering included, seem to be the newest and biggest export from the U.S. through outsourcing. Companies that are outsourcing are either keeping quiet about it or are saying that outsourcing does not threaten the jobs of North American engineers. Tell that to a 50-year-old engineer who has been forced into early retirement because his or her job was outsourced. Resentment is growing among North American engineers and technicians who are becoming more vocal about outsourcing.

So far, the majority of the technical jobs going overseas have been relatively low-end backroom functions with small, well-defined tasks and expected results. But, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the list of process, programming, and engineering jobs being exported is growing. Is it inevitable that even as the outsourced projects get more complicated, today's technical expertise is transformed to commodity status based strictly on cost? I don't think it's inevitable, but it is possible.

Since outsourcing of technology jobs is a relatively new trend, it's hard to know how many jobs are being lost. However, a recent report by Gartner Inc. says outsourcing software engineering to low-cost countries, such as India and China, has just started to take off. According to a study conducted by Gartner, today, less than five percent of U.S. IT jobs are being sent offshore, but this is expected to rise to at least 30 percent by 2015. Forrester Research Inc. estimates that possibly 3.3 million white collar jobs, many of these engineers, will be exported out of the U.S by 2015.

To some companies, outsourcing has not proven all that it's cut out to be. For example, I've heard more than one automotive engineer say that there are definite limits to what outsourced engineers can do. Sure, they can perform the calculations, but if an unexpected problem arises, their solution is only as good as the road map given to them.

Of course, we always hear that the main reason for outsourcing is because of the pay disparity and it's so cost effective. In truth, though, outsourcing can be a risky proposition. For one, there are no guarantees that a company that receives outsourced work won't someday compete with the company that they received the work from because they are able to compete with the knowledge they've obtained. Then there's the quality issue. I would suggest that the growing wave of quality problems and glitches associated with software, whether it's in an automotive system or on your desktop, can at least partially be attributed to outsourced coding. With the complexity of writing and managing
software - with the myriad problems that can occur with logistics, changes, language barriers, etc. - it's a wonder that software doesn't have more quality problems than it does.

Ultimately, I think quality concerns are one of the two things that will make companies think twice about outsourcing. The second, is the outsourcing of management. If and when cost-conscious companies think that they can outsource competent managers, they'll do it . Unfortunately, only when managers are affected will there be a backlash against outsourcing. Until then, if you're "just" an engineer, hold on to your job. And, yes, regardless of how some companies are treating them, engineers do still matter!

The Week's Top 5

At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

The MathWorks announced that Ford Motor Company Limited UK has streamlined emissions diagnostics systems for European production cars using The MathWorks modeling and simulation software MATLAB and Simulink. The MathWorks tools and Model-Based Design enabled Ford engineers to reduce the need for access to prototype vehicles, shorten and combine analysis processes, and provide reusable models of engine control unit behavior, cutting development time and cost. All new vehicles sold in Europe are fitted with European onboard diagnostics (EOBD) devices, which monitor engine emissions and compare them with predefined fault thresholds. These devices report faults using dashboard indicators or
diagnostic codes relayed to service technicians. Developing the calibration for the diagnostics systems requires extensive access to prototype vehicles to measure their performance characteristics. Engineers analyze these characteristics and use the results to program the diagnostic system to recognize emissions errors while ignoring other unrelated fluctuations in engine performance. The MathWorks tools enabled Ford engineers to streamline the process of EOBD calibration.

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-- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.

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