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2018 Salary and Career Report, Part 4: Tech Innovations Help Rock Stars Shine

Technological advances represent two extremes in the minds of H&P readers who responded to our 2018 Salary and Career Report. They are both their greatest opportunities and their greatest challenges. Here’s how engineering rock stars make both aspects work for them.

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As we reported in Part 1 of this year’s salary and career series, staying current with new and emerging technologies ranked second among the factors that had the greatest influence on the H&P audience’s job. If that’s the case, you’d think our readers’ companies would be hiring specialists to prepare for those technologies. More than half of our survey respondents (55%) said they weren’t. We’ll repeat the sentiment of one of your well-seasoned colleagues to explain why:

“It is cheaper to build a rock star than it is to buy one.” 

Does technology make rock stars work harder or smarter?

Both, in the case of many respondents. Several reported gaining more freedom when designing fixtures and tooling using new modeling software and 3D technology. In fact, 3D printing is the top technology entering your work environment, according to 54% of our survey takers. Internet of Things (IoT) devices come in a close second (49%), with collaborative robots and artificial intelligence virtually tying for a distant third place (19% and 18%, respectively).

Where 3D printing is concerned, done right, many reported that this investment can make component prototyping easier, less stressful, and faster. And when it comes to the grander scale represented by data analytics and system integration, software has become a necessity.

“There is significantly more data available today then several years ago,” said one respondent. “There are a lot more developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to help solve or analyze trends and help increase machine efficiency. It is a lot less time-consuming and more rewarding than other data analytics methods.”

On the downside, the enthusiasm of many technology providers selling their wares has made vendor vetting an almost daily chore.

“Over-enthusiastic sales droids and aggressive marketing of fringe technologies have taken a lot of the fun out of industry news,” complained another respondent. “I have to spend a lot more time screening emails and phone calls.”

Rock Star Rewards

That may be true for some of our readers, but overall, the process of becoming a rock star has its rewards.

“I’ve actually moved from a vice president of engineering role to one focused on digital products and processes,” said another rock star.

At the lower strata in several organizations, technology is filling a worker void.

“We are incorporating smarter technologies to automate non-skilled jobs,” someone said.

Could automation result in more mistakes reaching your market? Just the opposite, many respondents said. Here are just a few of their quotes in that regard:

  • “We are able to get more experimental cycles in before committing to expensive tooling, resulting in better final designs.”
  • “There’s a push to have more labs’ test stations accessible remotely via the Internet.”
  • “Electronics and programming are required now in order to test in the field. I can simulate a hydraulic circuit prior to the customer placing a P.O. for any components.”
  • “3D printing allows faster turnaround for proving out new concepts before cutting metal.”

Preparing for Tech

This is not exactly a plug and play proposition, however. Roughly half of our sample indicated they’ve had to learn new skills or take courses for certification to apply these technologies properly.

“I am now Autodesk Certified and am undergoing engineer in training (EIT) and Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T) training,” someone reported. “I use these principles in my day-to-day work life.”

“I’ve had to learn to incorporate IoT into designs,” someone else said. “I’ve also had to learn to sell the concepts.”

If the majority in our audience is right, however, the ability to improve product and system designs will help these technologies sell themselves.

“The speed of prototyping has improved our ability to create parts and fixtures for test fits and final production,” someone said. “Some of our production parts have been 3D printed.”

“3D printing cuts our casting lead time and allows for evaluation of plastic parts prior to tools being cut, preventing multiple iterations,” another added.

“3D printed parts make it easy to see complications in new products,” someone agreed. “It’s easy to get fooled with CAD but when you hold it in your hand it’s very easy to identify areas for improvement.”

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for old-school technology and methods, and fluency in all the languages customers speak is the ultimate reward.

“We can offer our customers both legacy hydraulic solutions as well as all-electric component solutions as alternatives, depending on demand,” a tech rock star concluded.

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