January 1, 2016
Twenty years seems like an eternity when it comes to technology. I’m reminded of that as we begin a new year and I flip through the premiere issue of Desktop Engineering from 1995. A new product writeup under the headline of “Pentium Notebook” explains the features of an HP OmniBook 5000: a 90MHz Pentium processor, VGA or SVGA display, up to 1GB hard drive and 8MB of RAM — all for just $5,800. A few pages later, a mathematics software review compares Macsyma, Maple and Mathematica, ultimately determining “if you have 8MB of memory or less, Maple is the product you want.” A feature titled “New Directions in FEA” says desktop FEA programs will be able to solve several million degrees of freedom problems at the rate of 40,000 DOF per minute “within the next year or so.”
Contrast those articles, which were largely about the promise of desktop engineering, to this month’s coverage of software algorithms suggesting designs, photorealistic renderings being used to replace physical prototypes, and reviews of 4K displays and a $5,800 desktop workstation with a 10-core, 3.1GHz Intel processor, 32GB of RAM and more than 2TB of hard drive space. In many ways, the promise in that first issue has been delivered upon. But, as stated in the tagline for the first issue’s cover story: “Micros have forever changed engineering, but the big changes have just begun.”
Some Technology Constants
Technology has come a long way, but even bigger changes are on the horizon. The coming ubiquity of the Internet of Things (IoT), the widespread commercialization of machine learning, incredible advances in 3D printing and the democratization of simulation and high-performance computing are already revolutionizing the way products are developed. Still, some things don’t change. Do any of these words of wisdom from experts interviewed for the first issue’s cover story, “Your Changing Desktop,” sound familiar?
• “The most critical need in the engineering environment is for continued improvements in simulation so that users can simulate more and prototype less. This will result in reducing the time required to bring new products to market, and in dramatic design and development cost savings.”
— Tom Hotchkiss, HP
• “Faster processors have meant that more software-intensive design tools can be deployed, allowing engineers to work on more complex designs. The simulation capabilities of the faster processors provide better coverage of the design and reduce the debug cycle and the probability of design errors.”
— Sam Fuller, Motorola RISC Microprocessor division
• “Some additional focus should be put on integrating the project and product life cycles, especially for more involved engineering projects — and more and more projects are becoming more involved.”
— Yoav Etiel, Bentley Systems
• “What is needed is better software for coordinating teams of engineers, including geographically dispersed teams.”
— Tom Roberts, DEC
• “Networking has allowed the control engineer to take a general technology and link it to the sensors monitoring the process. This closes the process loop.”
— Al Raden, IBM
So, 20 years ago engineers needed better, faster simulation of more complex designs and technology tools to enable a more collaborative workflow. Technology vendors have delivered all of those things, of course, but those needs are still compulsory to the advancement of engineering.
More is More
Even with the incredible technological advances over the past two decades, it could be argued that today’s engineers need computing horsepower, access to up-front simulation, and collaboration tools more than ever. That’s why we we’ve placed more emphasis on access to simulation and optimization recently, called attention to what Big Data and the IoT mean to engineering, broadened our computing coverage, and have begun covering engineering workflows that cross engineering disciplines and departmental borders.
As we begin our 21st year, we look forward to sharing the next revolutionary technological breakthroughs and evolutionary technology updates that will help design engineering teams produce optimal designs. It’s going to be a fascinating new year.