Wanted: engineering managers

At the turn of the last century, it was easier to be an engineer. After learning basic principles, most engineers set to work to build relatively simple products. Engineering teams understood every detail of the product they designed. Unfortunately, today`s systems are radically different from the handmade products of old. Plastics, CAD tools, computers, milling machines, robotics assembly, and test equipment are pervasive, and product development has become more complex. Because of this, most d

Wanted: engineering managers

At the turn of the last century, it was easier to be an engineer. After learning basic principles, most engineers set to work to build relatively simple products. Engineering teams understood every detail of the product they designed. Unfortunately, today`s systems are radically different from the handmade products of old. Plastics, CAD tools, computers, milling machines, robotics assembly, and test equipment are pervasive, and product development has become more complex. Because of this, most designers specialize in only one area. Individuals that can write C compiler for DSPs probably know nothing about thermoplastic extrusion.

From an engineering manager`s point of view, finding the correct people with the right knowledge is becoming more difficult. As you will see from this issue of Vision Systems Design, today`s vision systems can encompass sophisticated cameras, DSPs, custom code, and fuzzy logic software. But only a few engineers understand every aspect of such systems. The result--most of today`s systems are being built from a systems- level perspective. Wherever possible, off-the-shelf products are used to add some benefit to the system. In this sense, engineering managers are calling on a wealth of experience from different engineering disciplines.

Value added

If your product uses a real-time operating system, for example, it already incorporates many man-years of engineering effort. But as a systems developer, you need to know very little about how the operating system was developed. And because many off-the-shelf components may be used in such systems, the engineering incorporated into today`s products is far more complex than any single individual could engineer. Indeed, the value added of such systems is no longer just in the design of the product itself. Rather, it is in an inherent understanding of what the equipment is designed to achieve, a knowledge of off-the-shelf products, and software and hardware development tools.

Rather than attack engineering problems from a soup-to-nuts engineering viewpoint, smart managers are leveraging developments and products from every other relevant discipline to produce systems with added value. And the best engineering managers are those that have experience across multiple disciplines, sciences, and products.

Multidisciplined approaches

Indeed, it`s here that the value added is being made in today`s systems. But for the engineering manager, it is not that easy to keep abreast of new technologies. Newer mathematical techniques, such as wavelets, are finding their way into image-compression systems. Fuzzy logic is being embedded into sophisticated medical imaging systems. Optical correlators are being used in conjunction with high-speed pipelined processors to help missiles find their targets. Not only must today`s engineering manager be aware of such sophisticated technologies, he/she also must have a broad understanding of the impact of computer-based technology, such as reconfigurable computers, on the lifespan of products in the years to come.

Like the engineer of old, today`s engineering manager knows a little bit about everything. But he is not dangerous. Rather, he is a person that can lead a multidisciplinary team through the maze of personal computers, plastics, and pattern recognition to his final vision.

Andy Wilson Editor

andyw@pennwell.com

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