The Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers
By Joseph Gilbert, SAE Secretary and General Manager
More or Fewer?
Will it take fewer engineers--or more--to design tomorrow's vehicles? You'll find supporters of both viewpoints.
A proponent of the "fewer" side recently argued that new tools reduce the required engineering manhour input, yet do a better job. He attributed this to advanced mathematics and to the computer.
"In many engineering designs," he continued, "mathematical models and paper designs translate themselves directly to near-perfect components and systems. It's surprising how close we come today to a bug-free suspension system the first time by mathematical analysis. This saves both time and expense as compared with the old build-'em-and-bust-'em technique and yields a better product too."
That's only part of the picture, counters a retired engineering executive. You're not talking about the same vehicles. The last decade or so has brought considerable sophistication and complexity. For instance, the average passenger car now carries more safety devices, emission controls, and an array of power accessories and drive conveniences.
Yet another side of the coin is the growth in supporting technical and scientific activity to back up the engineer. Greater in-depth probe and development of new concepts--such as energy-absorbing bodies and anti-skid brakes--build up technical and scientific manpower support requirements.
Our first "adversary" says this makes his point. There is more engineering input demanded by today's vehicles. But new tools enable us to do it without a proportional increase in engineering manpower.
Necessity is also a factor in engineering manhour reduction, say other. First, we're educating fewer engineers. The sciences are draining off many of the capable, technically oriented hight school students. Engineering curricula are developing the unenviable reputation of being the toughest undergraduate program in the university. Second, more young engineers are going on to graduate work with a view to research, teaching or non-industrial employment. So sheer necessity has forced managements to make do with fewer engineers.
If these differences persist, one thing nearly all engineers agree on is that tomorrow's engineer will need to continue to grow technically. Since he'll be expeced to be more effective, he'll have to be more competent than his predecessors. In a sense, the narrower his specialty field, the harder he'll have to work to broaden his technical knowledge--to keep his contributioin in perspective, in balance and in harmony with the changing technical scene.
That's why the egineer concerned with transportation machinery and equipment will find SAE of growing value to him. The Society will furnish him with a continuing panorama of transportation technology's constantly changing scene. It is a major way for him to grow technically as well as to maintain his skills and perspective.