Is technology in danger of allowing anyone to think they can be an engineer?

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There are some clear technology trends rapidly coming to the fore that are set to fundamentally change the way engineers think about design... and they are both being driven by manufacturing systems.

There is a palpable buzz around cobots and every trade show seems to have more new entrants on the market. The UK has been traditionally quite poor in investing in heavy duty automation robotic systems, but cobots seem more affordable and are certainly more flexible. They make sense for various applications and the many readers that I talk to are keeping a close eye on what cobots might do for their productivity.

It is all ‘ifs’, ‘maybes’ and ‘coulds’ at the moment, but that is exactly where 3D printing was just a few short years ago, which brings me nicely on to the other major trend. 3D printers were once a prototyping tool, but last month Stratasys announced it has developed a high volume flexible manufacturing system that will make mass-customisation a tantalisingly close reality.

The gloves have come off and design engineers are thinking about this from two main perspectives. One is that this has the potential to free up constraints allowing more space for innovation. The other is that platform design, like what happens in the automotive industry, is going to become the norm for many OEMs and their suppliers.

Standard platforms could be used everywhere on industrial products to allow easy customisation, putting the final design in the hands of your customers. The jury is still very much out, and like many, I can’t help but grimace at the prospect. The real challenge here will be how to design and engineer platforms that are, essentially, idiot proof.

Justin Cunningham, Editor

Justin Cunningham

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I'm an electronics engineer, and my concern is around the way that the simple mass produced micro-controller boards allow anyone to 'design' anything from a door lock to a plant waterer to a robot, anything, without any real knowledge of the underlying technology whatsoever. You just have to read some of the blogs under the YouTube videos of 'how to make' something and the questions that some people ask are horrifying. Yes, its good that interested people can now make anything they like, just so long as they don't then think they are now a Design Engineer. What was that old saying from my apprenticeship days half a century ago ... "Yesterday, I couldn't even spell Ingeneer, now I is one!" Regards - John

Comment John Moran, 08/06/2017

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