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February 1, 2015
Form follows function. This certainly holds true in design engineering, where a changing work environment is always upon you. New technology comes with advanced design tools, as well as new ways of communicating and collaborating. Along with it all comes the need to train engineers in new technologies and accompanying skills to meet the demands of increasingly complex products and their design. But where to start? To gage the training needs for design engineers in the year ahead, Desktop Engineering talked to experts in the field to gain insight into what training will be needed.
Security training is tops on the list of training topics for design engineers, especially given the rise in recent high-profile hacking. Rod Mach of engineering IT provider TotalCAE says security at and around engineering firms is critical, as is training workers engaged in product design. Such firms are often targets for hackers who seek everything from trade secrets to promoting their viewpoints via unsecured devices.
Mach is not alone in his outlook.
“Design engineers need more training on security, security standards and best practices,” says Alan Grau, president and co-founder of Icon Labs, a provider of security solutions for embedded devices. “Security needs to be considered from day one, not added as an afterthought, and there is no better place to start than with training.”
2. The Internet of Things
The IoT, in which sensor-laden, connected devices communicate with one another—often via the cloud—makes security training even more critical. It also means many engineers should brush up on the requirements of the “smart,” connected devices that comprise the IoT.
“IoT design engineers need training in IoT and protocols and standards, especially wireless communication protocols,” Grau says. “Other topics include designing scalable systems, and distributed data management and cloud computing. For engineers building the IoT devices themselves, as opposed to those building the cloud portion, training in embedded systems design and technology is an important consideration.”
Security, privacy, configuration, updates and field maintenance are apropos training topics for designers of mobile devices, says Brent Ward, global marketing director, Econais, a company that specializes in embedded Wi-Fi system solutions. However he emphasizes that having a “working knowledge and experience with the use of a Wi-Fi module to imbue any product with wireless capabilities will separate merely good design engineers from truly great design engineers.”
In addition to communications and associated design factors, mobile devices need untethered power, often in the smallest possible design envelope. As a result, mobility requirements introduce a host of specialized training needs, from radio frequency and electromagnetic interference concerns to battery and thermal issues.
4. Big Data
Mobility and the IoT are often ways to gather more information to drive what is being called a revolution in Big Data. But data in and of itself doesn’t have much value. It’s the management and analysis of the data that matters.
“Data management has always been big, but recently companies are moving beyond just using it to manage their CAD models,” says John Carlson, technical training director with Rand 3D. “Companies are now looking to use it to manage all data related to a design. They are also beginning to use the built-in capabilities for change control management, notifications and sign offs, to be able to replace other systems they had been using. This had always been the big selling points of these systems, but few companies actually tried to use them.”
Carlson says implementation was often the issue. Information was fragmented and locked away in silos that were inaccessible to the larger enterprise.
“It has now moved beyond just the engineering department …” he says. “The biggest advantage of this is the increased flexibility for analyzing the large volumes of data being generated on devices. Server-side hardware and software have seen huge advances in both open-source software and new, powerful hardware—making them ideal for analyzing the large volumes and variety of data being generated on devices today.”
Bobby Johnson, CTO of Interana, a creator of data analytic solutions, agrees. Understanding data—specifically the amount of data that can be collected, aggregated and processed—is a prerequisite to data processing and analysis. Sending raw data server-side gives companies an increased amount of flexibility because they now rely on massive compute resources and advanced software, he says. This enables more in-depth analysis and the freedom to explore and discover data without having to worry about summarizing data on devices.
Today’s design professionals need skills to not only manage the data, but also analyze it, says Chuck Behm, director of training for Meridium Inc., a firm specializing in plant performance monitoring. He says they will need to leverage software tools that enable statistical analysis of asset operational data. In particular, design engineers need to make full use of such tools in order to better understand the impact of their design decisions on specific assets and on the overall system.
“They need to study past performance of individual assets and systems as a path to enabling continuous improvement and contributing to operational excellence efforts,” says Behm. “Thanks to sensor and software technology advances, design engineers today have access to considerably more asset performance data, and more accurate data. The value of focusing on that data is the ability to improve the reliability of both individual assets and plant and enterprise systems.”
Asset performance management (APM) encompasses the tools, knowledge and competencies to yield significant business impacts, according to Behm.
“As a first step, asset benchmarking is vital to developing a complete understanding of an asset’s overall impact to an organization, as well as how the competitive landscape around them is changing,” he says. “Because of the availability of these new data sources, engineers are being forced to think beyond just electrical or mechanical engineering—and today consider both operations and competition from more of a marketing perspective. The goal of training, in turn, should be to acquire a big picture perspective of asset and system reliability and the competitive landscape—capabilities encompassed in APM methodologies.”
While technology trends are critical, fast-moving targets that require continuing education, training needs in softer skills are also needed.
“What design engineers need to incorporate in their training is an understanding of cognitive psychology for understanding the behavior of the end customer that will be using what design engineers design,” says Valeh Nazemoff, author of The Four Intelligences of the Business Mind.
Technology is as good as the end users who use it. End users, however, come from many different cultures and backgrounds. They interact with technology differently, so communication skills can benefit today’s design professional who is working with a global team and/or designing a product for an end user from a different part of the world.
“Measurement is a common example of the types of variation engineers might encounter in different parts of the world,” says Ian Henderson, CTO of Rubric. “The prominent example is the United States using Fahrenheit while other parts of the world uses Celsius. Engineers might also get caught up by basic punctuation. In the U.S. you might write one thousand as ‘1,000’ whereas in France it would be ‘1 000.’ Another big difference is how information is presented. While an American engineer would read a flow chart from left to right, in the Middle East, engineers expect flow charts to move from right to left. The same is true for test results and user interfaces. If you are localizing English content into any other language, you can make things easier and cheaper for yourself by separating text from illustrations. And while you can translate certain content into other languages—such as a product’s user interface—you should keep other items in English for when the product needs to be reviewed, audited or updated. Audit trail messages, for example, should be left in their original form.”
To succeed in 2015 and beyond, training resources should be directed toward trends emerging in most every sector of design engineering: security, IoT, Big Data, mobility and human factors. Incorporating any or all of these trends and topics into a training plan is a best practice as engineers take on new challenges.