Welcome to this year’s Ideas for Design issue, which offers nine of these popular articles. We also have four contributed Design Solutions and expanded columns by Rob Reeder, Dave Van Ess, and Tamara Schmitz. We consider this edition to be one of our best issues of the year—as well as one of the most eagerly anticipated.
Many engineers begin their own designs with a look at one of our IFDs or Design Solutions. The advice and information in these articles can be a big help at the beginning of a sometimes painful process to get to the end point—their finished product.
A recent survey by Technology Forecasters surveyed 300 design engineers of varying age groups working in diverse industrial sectors throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific to get their thoughts about the critical challenges throughout the design process. The survey was commissioned by element14, which launched the element14 knode back in June. The knode is a design solutions platform that attempts to more precisely address the engineer’s “pain points” in the early stages of a design.
I’m always happy to see a survey of electronic design engineers. Of course, we conduct our own surveys to better understand our audience, but another point of view certainly doesn’t hurt. Like many other professions, engineering is changing every day due to the increasing influence of the Internet with its search engines, social media sites, company sites, media sites, and other surfing destinations. In addition, we have an awesome amount of computing power and connectivity at our disposal.
The key findings of the study underscore many points that are probably familiar to most design engineers. The survey indicates that the early steps of the design process require the most challenging and time consuming tasks.
The top challenges are incomplete/inaccurate information, lack of time, and difficulty comparing options and alternatives. The more detailed and specialized the information is, the harder it is to find. It’s hard to stay on top of regulatory laws, by country. And, 73% of the respondents use online forums, blogs, and engineering communities. Design engineers value consolidated, unbiased information resources and being able to collaborate online.
One particularly interesting chart in the study listed the most challenging types of information, data, and tools to find and aggregate (see the figure). Reference designs topped this list. I wouldn’t have guessed that. Jeff Jussel, senior director of global technology marketing at Premier Farnell, says that reference designs can come from third-party suppliers as well as manufacturers, and there is no good way to compare or even find them.
I’m not sure I agree with that since many of the new semiconductors we cover come with a reference design or development kit. The survey does seem to back Jeff’s statement regarding reference designs, but also shows that dev kits are much less challenging to find.
I was also surprised by the disparity between app notes/technical papers and datasheets. This makes some sense, since company and other Web sites are getting better at providing datasheets for semiconductors and other electrical components. But app notes are falling behind, probably due to a lack of resources at these companies.
Of course, the IFDs and Design Solutions in Electronic Design and posted on electronicdesign.com are much like app notes, so they may fill part of this design engineering need. And don’t forget the whitepaper library on our site too. You have to register to view it, but it may help you during the all-important initial phases of your design.
Online Activity Vs. Age
One of the most surprising parts of the survey concerned age differences in the use of online forums, blogs, and engineering communities. I would have thought younger engineers would have a distinct edge in this area, but not so.
The survey broke down the age groups into three categories: 20-35, 36-50, and 51+. Under the heading “Percent who visit forums, blogs, and engineering communities,” the numbers were 78%, 76%, and 71%, respectively. That’s pretty close. I didn’t expect that.
There was a greater disparity, though, for “Percent of visitors who do so at least weekly,” with the percent of younger visitors almost double the other two age groups. So maybe this makes sense after all. If older engineers visit and never come back, they get to say yes to the first question, but not the second.
The report also featured an “Efficiency ‘Wish List.’” Overall, engineers say they would value three specific things: consolidated design information resources that would alleviate the need to comb through so many disparate sources; the ability to collaborate with fellow engineers online and learn what they are encountering with a particular component or design path; and objective, well-run, searchable information repositories that enable quick access to unbiased, standardized, and reliable data sources.
As you might expect, this efficiency wish list reflects the offerings of the element14 knode. Yet the items on the list seem like admirable goals for any Web site dedicated to the design engineering community. The complete study is available for free download at www.element14.com/designstudy.