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.