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Should I Become a Design Engineer or an Engineering Analyst?

July 17, 2015 By: Peter Barrett

Roughly twenty-five years ago when finite element analysis was becoming mainstream, the career path for a young engineer led to a distinct fork in the road: Are you going to become a designer or an analyst? The designer's role was to lay out the new and innovative design concepts.  The analyst’s job was to make sure they worked. The designer was the idea guy who would create on the back of an envelope. The analyst was the guy who could derive partial differential equations and cleverly simplify complex problems into 2-d analytical models.

With today’s advances in software and hardware, the difference between designer and analyst is a lot less clear-cut.  The most effective designers leverage early adoption of analytical models, such that the first pass prototypes are more efficient and reliable.  The analyst can take advantage of tools like design optimization to not just provide a pass/fail response, but play a major role in shaping the final design.  In both scenarios, the key to success is proper education in their expanded roles.  The designer needs to understand the physics behind the FEA / CFD solutions and the analyst needs to understand the “big picture” design goals.

With the continued adoption of 3D Printing, many limitations related to fabrication have been removed.  More innovative analytical-based geometrical solutions can now become real design solutions.  Analytical tools have become faster and easier to use so that the combined designer and analyst can quickly assess a prototype’s viability.  The new AIM platform launched by ANSYS is a tool specifically developed for this type of application.  In this example, the SpaceClaim concept modeling geometry tool is coupled with the ANSYS Multiphysics analytical tool to allow the engineer to expand their capabilities into both domains.  New analysis-based geometry can be ported directly to the 3D Printer.  Up-front analytical modeling will reduce the physical prototyping and produce a more reliable product.  For example, local stress concentration areas susceptible to early fatigue failure can be engineered out of the part from the start.

The blurring of the dividing line between analyst and designer is also showing up in the current job market. Educational requirements and pay for entry level opportunities for both design engineers and engineering analysts are very similar.  (Not that pay should be a determining factor in entering any profession!) I once was asked by a young engineer: “Which would pay me more in the long term? Continue with my education and get my Ph.D., or start working now after I just finished my Masters?” My response:  “Go get an MBA instead and go into finance if all you care about is money, because unless you love solving problems you should not be an engineer!” I am not saying that you can’t make an excellent living as an engineer, but finding a profession that you love is much more important than money for happiness.

So, for all those problem solvers out there, the future looks bright!  With a host of new tools available to innovate, whether you decide to call yourself a designer or an analyst, educate yourself first on the fundamentals and then embrace these new tools.  We need your creativity to develop better engineered innovations.