Machine Design

Online communities and discussion boards are critical to today's design engineers

While the Internet has brought design engineers more access to data and information than ever before, it's easy to forget that pioneering ideas, inspiration and insight are often sparked by personal interaction.

Tony Peet
Vice President
Minco
Minneapolis, Minn.

Innovation, not information, is the lifeblood of the design engineer. Most manufacturers' Web sites provide plenty of technical information and product offerings, but too few offer a forum for engineers to share their advice and experience with one another. Collaboration is crucial to solving design challenges because it offers the kind of meaningful, thought provoking, peer-to-peer interaction needed to drive innovation and new product development.

Today, many engineers still rely on peer-to-peer networks to exchange ideas. And while trade shows and conferences are typically set up such that vendors and experts can speak to engineers, there are precious few venues for engineers to exchange information as the need arises. It is because of the need to network, ask questions, and share ideas, that online engineering communities are emerging today as the tool of top design engineers.

Studies show that, across the globe, online industry-specific chat rooms and discussion boards have become critical venues for engineers to share experiences and opinions about a manufacturing vendor's equipment, how it functions, and any industry-specific application issues. These virtual communities and forums provide engineers with valuable information that is unavailable otherwise, as well as the ability to canvass the opinions and advice of thousands of engineers at once.

In fact, research shows that when engineers can openly discuss design ideas or specific technical issues regarding a vendor's equipment, there is a significant reduction in design errors and engineering effort. Technical forums and candid discussion via Internet communities and discussion boards play a critical role in the modern engineering-design process.

But most manufacturing vendors are reluctant to sponsor a neutral discussion board for fear that free and open discourse could allow engineers to point out criticisms and flaws in their products. This isn't the case at our company. We recognize discussion boards as vital tools that our technical customers already use. This is why we have chosen to invest, develop, and promote online engineering communities. Our company is built around innovation, so we encourage our design engineers to engage in this type of collaboration. We believe it broadens their engineering perspective and therefore, enhances their capabilities. We also believe that by making it available to other engineers, we're helping to drive engineering innovation in general.

Minco (minco.com) is a designer and manufacturer of heaters, flex circuits, sensors, and instruments.

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