Machine Design

Selling it to the boss

One of my favorite old saws is that an engineer will spend a lifetime trying to figure out how to do a 10-minute job in 5.

James Finkel
Engineering Manager
B.E. Wallace Products
Frazer, Pa.

It is on that notion that I have modeled my career.

A brief tour through recent engineering history reveals that the time needed to design products has remained fairly constant, this despite the fact that computing power has risen by nearly a factor of 1 million over the last 30 years. What has changed is the number of models and factors under consideration.

An engineer with a slide rule, for instance, could generate three, maybe four, models in a month. The advent of electronic calculators doubled or quadrupled that number. Engineering software on first-generation PCs pushed it higher still, letting engineers generate dozens or more designs. Today, gigahertz PCs and the right software, guided by good engineering judgment, can quickly churn out thousands of models.

Where first-generation, slide-rule-based models considered only the gross stress state of simple geometries, modern analysis software lets engineers model highly complex dynamic loadings, material and geometric nonlinearities, even surface finishes. In essence, engineering design has become fractal.

It used to be that engineers faced with the choices of faster, cheaper, and better could pick only two of these. The revolutions in software and computer hardware have made it possible to satisfy all three. The only thing left is the challenge of convincing your boss why a particular design is "best." And that demands learning another skill set: Selling.

Before joining industrial-crane maker B.E. Wallace, Mr. Finkel worked for Ansys, Ansoft, Bentley Systems, Structural Research and Analysis, and Marconi (formerly FORE Systems).

Edited by Lawrence Kren

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