The design engineer has long been considered instrumental to the product development process. Typically, this breed of engineer is able to think both conceptually and practically, with strong mechanical engineering skills, as well as a familiarity with structural and electrical engineering. As such, they are integral to the engineering process and those working within design engineer job roles are often required to demonstrate their capacity to do everything from developing advanced mechanisms, to analysing manufacturing methods and constructing complex geometry, amongst other engineering skills.
However, in recent years, the number of candidates who meet the criteria for design jobs has dropped dramatically, prompting the question, 'Is the design engineer extinct?' While many graduates may have developed specialist skills in computational fluid dynamics or finite element analysis, for example, few hold the wide range of skills needed to become a design engineer.
If this breed of engineer is not becoming naturally extinct, then it may be that they are being gradually wiped out by computer-aided design (CAD) engineers. An increasing number of CAD engineers are now applying for roles which require more extensive knowledge. As such, they are not always qualified for the position, and should their application be successful, they may find it difficult to progress in the role.
Design engineers will usually possess a range of CAD skills themselves and are usually required to practise Top-Down techniques, perform structural analysis and use CAD to put together engineering strategies at a conceptual level. However, the reverse can not usually be said of those who specialise in CAD alone. CAD tools are certainly useful in streamlining the development process, but modelling software and simulation techniques are not always sufficient for more advanced engineering projects. Therefore, while the supply of design engineers might appear to drying up, the demand for individuals who can offer a more developed skillset is likely to remain.
Without the ability to understand the various strains of engineering at a fundamental level – as a qualified design engineer is able to – CAD engineers are unlikely to be able to truly fill the shoes of their engineering counterparts.
CAD engineers are themselves at risk of seeing CAD-specific roles (for which such individuals would be well-qualified) being overrun by designers without an engineering degree. The motivation for employers is simple: candidates without advanced qualifications can often be less costly. Yet hiring under-qualified candidates at any level rarely proves cost-effective in the long-term, and may result in additional hires needing to be made or a lower quality output.
If the design engineer is not yet extinct, they have certainly become rather elusive. Within Europe and Asia, an increasing number of engineers are raising their profile by taking on technical leadership roles, whereby they are required to oversee fundamental product development. However, it is the breadth of knowledge held by design engineers, which is likely ensure longevity for those looking to carve a career within this area of the engineering industry.