Baby Boomers are now retiring at a rate of 8,000 per day according to the AARP, creating demand to fill the newly empty senior engineering positions. However, thanks to the size of the Baby Boomer population, there simply aren’t enough engineers available to replace them. While budget constraints have led many engineering companies to decide not to replace every open position, demand for engineering services has remained steady.
Read: We’re Not Out of Engineers Yet
That means that companies are forced to do more work – or at least the same amount of work – with less. The pressure is on the remaining engineering workforce to continue to produce the same results with effectively fewer people.
More With Less
New engineers will need to be able to handle a bigger workload, and the work opportunities are more likely to be in emerging engineering fields including biomechatronics, genomics engineering and nanotechnology – fields that serve an increasingly complex world powered by advanced technology.
This complex environment demands increased efficiency, rapid adaptability and improved education and knowledge transfer from generation to generation. This will require knowledge of a broader spectrum of theorems and equations – which can’t all be stored (and calculated) in the engineer’s head.
Equations Get to the Heart of the (Engineering) Matter
Equations and math resources are indispensable for engineers to (1) understand the chemical and physical principles and applications, (2) execute technical calculations necessary for projects, (3) model and prototype in order to predict the behavior of the systems they build, and (4) help with business decisions and managing projects.
In November 2013, Knovel commissioned an online survey of 200 engineers from North American companies. The results of this survey were compared with a 2010 survey to gain a deeper understanding of how engineers use equations in their calculations and whether their use changed during the time between the surveys.
The majority of engineers surveyed need an equation at least once a week, and a third needs an equation at least once a day. Finding the right equation for the situation was a top challenge, but satisfaction with that process remains low, as we will see. Before we ask why, let’s see where engineers turn.
How do engineers search for equations? Most go to the web, our research showed. And the first place they go on the web is Google. Books remain the other key place engineers look. Other than Google, used by a vast percentage of the engineers interviewed, math- and engineering-specific sites like efunda or Engineering ToolBox get the most traffic from our engineers.
Satisfaction with finding the equation that fits best decreased in the recent survey, possibly because the web does not offer vetted or curated content in the form of usable engineering equations. The web doesn’t always provide detailed and reliable information about each equation to the degree required by engineers – for example, formulas, legends, variable definitions, units used and a clear outline of its applications and limitations.
There are four main steps in the calculation workflow: finding the right equation, performing the calculation, validating, and storing calculations for future use. Once the engineers in our survey found the right equation, they often turned to Excel and scientific calculators – the two dominant tools for calculations found in the survey results. Use of MATLAB, Mathcad, and VB programming are on the rise.
Many of engineers’ current solutions, however, fall short in critical areas. Engineers have to create equations from scratch, and there is no easy integration between finding the right equation and performing the calculation. Validation can be challenging as well. Spreadsheets, though most popular, have significant limitations in the application of engineering calculations –formulas are hidden behind cells, support for measurement units is limited (they were, after all, designed for accountants, not engineers), and any attempt to extend their usefulness requires advanced programming skills.
Once they’ve solved the equation, how do engineers share their results with peers? Almost all of the engineers interviewed reported they share their calculation for validation, collaboration or knowledge transfer. Only 35 percent use packaged calculation software to do this, however. Excel is by far the favorite format in which calculations get shared with others; most likely because Excel is still the most accessible for engineers (thanks to its ubiquity). Engineering research solutions are often expensive, while most of the engineers we interviewed had under $200 purchase authority.
These alternative software products also often lack private cloud storage solutions, which can help with accessibility and sharing but which also present their own security and data integrity challenges.
To better satisfy engineers use of equations in the field, there is a need for a tool that addresses these shortcomings – one that is accessible and integrated into the engineering workflow.
A workspace with these capabilities is a worthwhile goal. With the current offerings available to engineers, it’s no wonder they’re unsatisfied with current research platforms. Engineers deserve better.
Gabriela Lupulescu serves as a Product Manager for Elsevier, where she manages the many digital tools used by Knovel’s engineering customers. She has over 10 years of experience in software development and product management. Before her time at Elsevier, Gabriela worked as a programmer for Nature America and a product manager for Medidata Solutions. Gabriela is an active member of The Product Group, a special interest network with over 5,000 members. She holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Bucharest, and is an avid reader and cyclist. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense