Machine Design

Curbing the engineering knowledge gap

The National Science Foundation reports the number of engineers retiring over the next decade will increase dramatically, leaving less-experienced engineers with fewer mentors to offer guidance and advice on best practices. At the same time, new materials and products are constantly being introduced and technologies are continually evolving, making the learning curve steep for new engineers.

To remain competitive designing and making high-quality products, companies must address this knowledge gap by ensuring engineers have the information and resources necessary to work effectively and efficiently. Tight deadlines and thin margins accentuate the problem.

Identifying the resources and tools that have the greatest impact on productivity is an important step in addressing this impending knowledge gap. Recently, we worked with The Parthenon Group, a Boston-based consulting firm, to survey over 600 design engineers in aerospace, defense, construction, and other industries to learn what sources of information have the greatest effect on their productivity. The results highlighted several points companies should note.

Design engineers overwhelmingly indicated practical resources needed for everyday work outweigh access to scholarly research. And they have an acute need for a single source of searchable material data, regulations, codes, and standards.

They identified technical resources that work with engineering software as a primary factor that improves productivity. Specifically, they want to access information through the software they regularly use, such as CAD programs or Excel. This lets engineers find information quickly. It’s also less disruptive to the design process than searching in numerous places, then returning to the task at hand.

Other productivity factors depend on a design engineer’s specific needs. For instance, many rely heavily on workflow and collaboration tools. Their top productivity needs include electronic workflow-approval tools and collaboration tools that identify experts within their organization. Meanwhile, on-the-go engineers depend on mobile tools, and their top productivity needs include engineering-focused mobile apps for tablets and smartphones.

In addition to determining what information design engineers need to do their jobs, companies must also consider how to effectively provide access to that information. Online access is most convenient. Let’s face it, most turn to Google and other search engines for answers, and this has set the bar for easy access and search.

Companies have a number of options when choosing how to best provide engineers with the information they need. Smaller firms with a narrow engineering focus may be well served with content from targeted societies and publishers. A global company with engineers working on diverse projects, however, may be better off with platforms that offer a wide variety of engineering-specific information, resources, and features.

Ultimately engineers seek answers they can quickly incorporate into their work. A company should provide an easy-to-use information platform with intuitive search features that handles text or data searches. Users want to skim results to quickly determine the most-relevant answers. And information should be easily accessible whether engineers are at the office or in the field.

Newly-minted design engineers face a steep on-the-job learning curve. With the right tools, they will learn quickly, or at least find answers and best practices for the tasks at hand.

Knovel offers comprehensive technical references for engineers, including Web-based applications integrating technical information with interactive analytical and search tools.

© 2013 Penton Media, Inc.

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