The attack of the CAD jockey?

Aug. 23, 2012
In my last commentary (“Does Model-Based Engineering Make Sense,” June 14), I said, “Any CAD jockey can do design.” This comment provoked a lot of feedback. But a common complaint I have heard at many engineering

In my last commentary (“Does Model-Based Engineering Make Sense,” June 14), I said, “Any CAD jockey can do design.” This comment provoked a lot of feedback. But a common complaint I have heard at many engineering and software trade shows and events is there should be a clearer distinction between the terms “designer” and “engineer.” Most often, it seems to be the designer’s job to make products look “sexy” or evoke emotion. They just create a geometry, period. They don’t really need to worry about whether the swooshy car exterior, for instance, is optimized aerodynamically for the real world. In contrast, the term “engineer” implies the necessary knowledge to take or make a design and apply the underlying physics or mechanics that makes stuff tick and work in reality.

In response to the poke at “CAD jockeys,” one reader, a designer who says he is not a degreed engineer, writes, “I have been trained in drafting, mathematics, science, physics, multiple CAD formats, and was brought up in the school of hard knocks.” So here it seems any distinction between the terms is blurry at best.

Yet another designer says he has been a CAD jockey for more than 40 years. “I wholeheartedly agree the more intelligence built into the initial models and assemblies, the quicker engineering can make informed decisions about functionality, life-cycle behaviors, form, fit, and function, and costing, all of which will lead to a better final design,” he says. “It’s like ‘skeletal’ modeling on steroids.” Again, in this case, it would seem that this particular designer has a lot of engineering know-how.

An interesting post by Kelly Bramble on the Engineers Edge Engineering Forum sums things up neatly. “When I talk design and engineering, I get mixed reviews on my perceptions and descriptions. Typically, when I describe or refer to engineering and design within large organizations, I view these professionals mostly as separate, but interactive, functions or professions. To me, design is often what one sees or interacts with. Engineering is ultimately the science or details that enable the design to last, endure the applied stresses and strains, and transfer heat energy. Manufacturing is the gateway to bring design and engineering to reality. I am aware that in many small companies engineers wear many hats. These hats include design, engineering, and manufacturing.”

And “randykimball” at the same URL says, “I consider the design part to be when I’m being creative and making an effort not to allow constraints to have too large of a controlling aspect of my thought process. I consider the engineering part to be when I apply sciences to establish the creative results into constrained reality. So I see designing as the application of talent, and engineering as the application of science … both are vital.”

Perhaps, therefore, it could be said that, in general, design seems to be more of an applied art whereas engineering is more of an applied science. But there are obviously exceptions to this statement.

Do you think a clearer distinction needs to be made between the terms, and, if so, why? Write us, and we might print your answer here.

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