Critical Skills for Today’s Components Engineer

The minimum skills set for today's component engineer (CE) looks a lot different from 20 years ago. The basic tasks of component selection, alternate sourcing, parts management, specification disciplines, reliability predictions, and qualification have now been augmented with meeting design and regulatory requirements based upon environmental regulations, recyclability, and counterfeit detection.

In most small R&D-intensive startups, a CE wasn't hired until the company grew to the point where the design engineers could no longer afford the component research and qualification time themselves because of accelerated development demands. Often the CE was recruited from among either the company's materials organization or technical staff. To this day, there is no book published that deals exclusively with the subject of component engineering.

Generally speaking, the earlier a change or modification is made in the product's lifecycle, the less costly and less troublesome it is. However, with the new skills mentioned above, the earlier these concerns are incorporated into the part selection and qualification process, the better it is for the company's market reach and sustainability.

Companies that do not concern themselves with counterfeit detection may soon discover that they are not meeting the minimum requirements to sell their products to key customers such as the US Department of Defense or the aerospace business community.

Companies that are now overlooking environmental regulations may end up with inventory on the shelves that they cannot move because more and more countries are implementing environmental mandates.

Recycling is an issue that will impact the sustainability quotient that many of the Tiers 1 and 2 companies have incorporated in their overall policies. A product that does not meet or exceed the targeted recyclable materials expectation may not be purchased if it drives the company's sustainability numbers in a negative direction.

Today's CE must begin to take the time and effort to acquire the necessary education in all three of these new skill areas. Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources for this education. There is an ever-increasing number of articles written by industry experts that write for the online community. Using LinkedIn and searching for specific groups related to these concerns will help identify the knowledge community of interest.

Some businesses exist to address these concerns, and they publish whitepapers frequently. Reading the actual government legislation may take some time and a lot of commitment, but in the end, the CE that does this extensive reading will be the go-to person in the company when someone has a question as to the application or the meaning of the related legislation.

In this past year, I have read an incredible amount of legislation and am staying current by following the respective online communities and business news. When I mention any of these three design considerations to my clients, I usually discover that there is no dedicated person within the company that has either the sufficient knowledge or skill set required to protect the company from hundreds or thousands of hours of R&D that may be unwisely spent yielding an end product that may be unqualified for sale into today's and tomorrow's global marketplace.

Now, more than ever before, the CE must be proactive and increasingly aware, because not paying attention to these issues will have dramatic negative fiscal impact on the product and company.

5 comments on “Critical Skills for Today’s Components Engineer

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    November 8, 2012

    I cannot agree more to importance of this issue.

    As the selection of the right components in the design stage has become so critical in today's world, it is also important to have a clear idea on the product introduction date and the product life time , to be able to have the clear knowledge on the the new legislation that will be applicable to the product being developed when it is introduced in the market.

    In this context the component engineer's job becomes more important than that of a design engineer and as Douglas says , the product companies need to have a very clear focus on this function.


    My concern here is , are the component designers equipped to design their components to meet the new and upcoming environmental legislations and give enough specs to the product designers in advance ?

  2. t.alex
    November 13, 2012

    I realise a number of companies do not hire properly a component engineer. Most of the time the purchasing manager will shoulder extra responsibility in component selection together with the R&D guys, but usually it ends up not having enough details.

  3. dalexander
    November 15, 2012

    @t.alex, you are correct. The component qualification requires a technical mind with specific skills. All to often, a vendor will sell a purchasing person a very close to match part, but if purchased, the part could have the wrong lead-spacing, materials content, voltage, current, timing, power, or some other critical threshhold because the supplier was only referencing values like capacitance, inductance, frequency, or some other basic parametric. Trying to match LEDS is a neat trick. Often times the same form, fit, and function alternate manufacturer's LED will have a slightly different color cast that really looks bad and stands out when placed in an area with the original parts.

  4. t.alex
    November 16, 2012

    LED is pretty good example. The same goes for tiny components like capacitors, transistors, etc. these can be easily over-spec or under- spec.

  5. Ross Bernheim
    November 6, 2013

    More and more countries are adding versions of RoHS or other chemical restrictions. Most disturbing is the EU REACH legislation with new chemicals added every six months. This is a moving target for compliance. Design now and you can be bitten every six months until they get through adding new substances to their list several years from now!

    Even if you are not directly subject to these regulations, your customers may very well be and require you to meet them before they will buy from you.

    It truely is a global regulatory environment.

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