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What makes a design engineer?

References Cited

Recruiting and Retaining Engineering Talent, The Coming War for Engineering Talent, The Expanding Role of the Modern Engineer, The Visibility Mandate for Engineering Operations

A while ago, we talked on the blog about non-engineers use of CAD. And the discussion is still relevant. Defining the roles of design engineers and drafter—or CAD engineer—can be difficult for companies because those roles overlap, especially when it comes to CAD use.

At the time, Chad wrote:

From my perspective, I don’t think we can reliably determine the activities of an individual’s job from their title any longer. Someone can have an engineering title but spend 80% of their time creating drawings with a CAD software application. Someone else with a designer title could spend 90% of their day making product form, fit and function decisions or shepherding the product through the development cycle.

Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that associating specific titles with specific activities are moot. You have to understand what someone is doing in their day-to-day job and go from there.

Colin Page, vice president of technology at MWH Global, weighed in at Autodesk University 2013, voicing many of these same thoughts.

The Takeaway

It’s certainly conceivable that an engineer with a college degree could resent that someone trained solely on CAD be called an engineer. If drafters do much the same work as engineers, but without the pertinent understanding and background, they put their companies as well as future product users at risk.

It’s hard to differentiate the roles design engineer and CAD engineer play at a company because there will always be some overlap. But while there are and always will be a place for drafters in product development, companies need engineers. Engineers understand the mechanics behind the bells and whistles and the product trees. They catch mistakes, flaws, or misunderstandings before they’re propagated. The engineer and the drafter have separate parts to play in the same performance—and in some places, yes, those parts are shared.

If product development is done by a CAD user unqualified for a particular task, that’s a problem. But if the issue is a question of job title, that’s essentially a question of semantics. If employees are in agreement about their roles and if all the activities within the product development cycle are getting done, associating particular titles with particular roles isn’t the point. The move from garbage collector to sanitation engineer doesn’t lead people to think a professional engineer with a degree picks up their waste bins.

That switch in title hasn’t really affected anyone, other than perhaps the sanitation engineer who’s bolstered by the term. Maybe arguing about job titles at an engineering company is in that same vein.

Do you feel the roles of design engineer and CAD engineer are becoming intertwined? Is the word “engineer” in both those titles bothersome? Tell us what you think. And thanks for reading.

For the past 15 years, Jean Thilmany has been writing about and following the computer-aided engineering technology industry, which includes PLM. She’s written for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Chemical Society, among others.

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