Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD
Going through the throes of this latest wave of industrial revolution one sometimes feels like Charlie Chaplin in the factory scene from “Modern Times”. From the designer to the consumer, and at every stage in between, how we create, make, store, and distribute products is changing so quickly many of us are having a hard time keeping up.
The design engineer feels this pressure quite acutely, caught between the pincers of client needs and application requirements, complicated by market and regulatory forces. Industrial production has never been as complex, never used more advanced technology, nor had more competitive and market forces acting on it as now. Creating the latest solutions for the most demanding problems in a timely fashion while staying cost-effective and efficient can perplex the best design and development team.
The advantage today is that the industry of industry is also more knowledgeable, more connected, and more interdisciplinary than ever. From parts vendors to distributors to customers, online communities and professional organizations stand ready to help one another solve problems by exchanging solutions amongst themselves. It is easier than ever to reach out to the engineering community and find assistance in developing, manufacturing, and deploying a product or service.
This online help doesn’t stop at communities of like-minded people helping one another the way it is in other disciplines, creating industrial systems is an issue within the engineering community, so online help also extends to tools and software and cloud-based systems as well. One can not only order parts or ask for human assistance on a manufacturer’s website, today one can also usually find design tools.
These online design tools available from the manufacturer are often so powerful one can use them in lieu of many of the traditional “off-the-shelf” design software packages. Often these manufacturer tools will actually work with the traditional software, enhancing the design process with product-oriented data and routines.
Having a strong grasp of these powerful solutions, products, and technologies is more critical than ever today because the designer of industrial systems doesn’t have the luxury of designing from whole cloth the way their colleagues in other application spaces can. Industrial systems are not only deployed in new facilities in new racks with new lighting and environmental systems, an industrial design must often cram the solution into a grandfathered facility with lighting and environmental systems that also need to be (but often are not) updated and modernized as well.
It is this mix of old and new that can create serious problems in developing a solution for industrial systems, as many situations in legacy industrial environments demand a custom solution that forces both the designer and customer to make painful and sometimes expensive compromises, and it is in these compromises that a good engineer can shine by creating a solution that best fits the often conflicting needs and demands of the application, customer, and marketplace.