In parts one and two you had the opportunity to see
what types of work an electrical engineer does, the educational path and the
beginning of the design cycle for a new project. This last part will continue the design cycle from building the
very first working prototype to manufacturing the final product.
Completing the Design
Now the fun begins!
You are at a point in the design cycle that you have the all the
prototype components available: the completed circuit boards, the enclosure,
the mechanical components and the software.
Putting everything together and turning it on can be a very satisfying
event…it also can be extremely frustrating if it doesn’t work! This is where you will work very closely
with the team to isolate the problems that are causing the system to
malfunction. This is also where the real learning comes from! When things don’t work you will be
forced to really understand the circuitry in very intimate detail to determine
why it is not operating properly—creating a very valuable learning
experience. This troubleshooting
process may take some time and force several modifications to hardware and
software to get all the pieces to work together.
Once everything is up and running (and you’re smiling again!) you
will need to test the completed system under the environmental and functional
specifications. This will present
another opportunity to modify the original design to meet these
specifications. The product may also be
field-tested for a period of time to get some “real-world” experience with
it. The results from this testing may
bring up issues that may result in another iteration of the design.
When the bugs have been worked out of the system,
you and your team will put together a presentation called a “design
review”. You will present the product
to a select group in the company including marketing, sales, management, and
engineering for their review of the product and your engineering design
decisions. There may be changes
required if the group doesn’t approve of the design as presented and this could
force another iteration in the design of the system, a given subassembly or even
the software depending on the magnitude of the problems found.
Once the product passes the design review it will
then move on to the manufacturing stage.
Here the EE will provide support as the manufacturing department begins
to build and ship the new product. You
will help the assemblers and technicians learn how to build the subassemblies
and complete and test the new product.
You may also help write the operating and service manuals for the
product and train the product support group on how the system works—and ways to
troubleshoot it when it doesn’t.
As the product makes its way to manufacturing and
your involvement starts to diminish you will probably be tasked with the next
project in line. You may find yourself
on another new project with a new team, or possibly designing some unique circuits
for the R&D group, which they need to explore the next big idea. Have fun!
A Satisfying Career
There is so much more involved in the process from
concept to product but there is not enough space to go into that detail
here. I hope this gives you some
insight as to what life might be like as an EE. There will be frustration, as things don’t work as planned
because you overlooked something in your design, or the design specifications
can’t be met. That’s reality and every
engineer goes through it. Engineering,
be it electrical, software, mechanical, or civil is filled with
trade-offs. You always have to
compromise at some level to get the product designed and out to the
customer. But don’t despair, there will
be times of exhilaration when everything works as planned and you’re on time
and on budget and the product is a huge success! They will make up for those frustrating times.
So, are you still thinking about engineering? Go for it!
With technology growing at a very rapid rate and the challenges we face
today, we need all the engineers, scientists and technicians we can get. The work will be challenging and demanding
but it will also be very satisfying to know that you’ve helped create something
that will make a difference in someone’s life, somewhere in the world.