Design engineering can be involved in any engineering discipline, including mechanical, electrical, civil, or chemical. No matter the discipline, the primary objective of design engineering is the same. The goal is to deliver products and projects to market on time and on budget, and to meet all functional requirements.
The role of design engineering is at the core of any development project. Generally, it must interface with a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the undertaking. Some of the groups a design engineer partners with include management, testing, purchasing, and manufacturing.
With large organizations and projects, design engineering differs from systems level engineering in that the design engineer is more focused on the minutiae of sub-system design. A systems level engineer is generally concerned with the bigger picture. For example, in the automotive industry a systems engineer may define the specifications of a new vehicle, such as how fast it will go, how it will handle, and how much it will cost, but it will be the design engineering team that actually designs the engine, suspension, and various components to meet the systems engineer’s targets.
A design engineer at a smaller company could have many jobs. He may have to be a manufacturing engineer, a test engineer, and a quality engineer during the life of a project. In many lean or cross-functional matrix organizations, design engineering can be called on to help negotiate prices and delivery schedules. These jobs are usually handled by purchasing.
At the start of a project, the design engineer may be working with the research and development department to incorporate cutting-edge features into a product. He may be working at the same time with marketing to understand what features customers will be expecting. During the early stages of a project design, engineers are very hands-on. Many times, they will be providing conceptual direction to draftsmen or may even be creating Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) data on their own. They might also be working with potential providers to request quotes and samples.
In the middle of the project, during the development phase, the design engineering team will be kept busy, as the actual product or project typically will change many times as new requirements and problems arise. They must ensure that all interfacing components continue to work together. Also, they will make sure that affected parties are kept aware of the changes that need to be made.
After a design is finalized, the design engineering team will spend a lot of their time providing direction to suppliers and contractors as they develop production-ready parts. When initial prototypes are delivered to the design engineer, he will be working with test engineers and technicians to make sure that all functional requirements are being met. The design engineer will usually be reviewing test reports and deciding whether any last improvements can be incorporated into the final product.
If all goes well during testing, the design engineer will work closely with manufacturing and assembly as all the various pieces of a project come together in their final form. He must ensure that components are easy to manufacture, assemble, and ship. After a project or product is complete and in the hands of the end customer, the job of the design engineer is often not done. Many times there will be modifications that need to be incorporated, new suppliers that need to be brought up-to-date, and unforeseen quality problems that need to be fixed.