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How many engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?

19/12/18 David Philpott Manager, R&D / Engineering

Famous technology experts would answer this question in many different ways. Steve Jobs would say “Just one - a Macintosh engineer would hold the bulb and the universe will revolve around it to fit it in.” Bill Gates would say “None because darkness is the new standard." Mark Zuckerberg would say "One, to break the bulb and move" and Elon Musk would suggest "None, as he would create a company that will create light out of thin air.”

David Philpott, Redline’s R&D and Engineering Manager has over 16 years’ experience delivering knowledge-led electronics recruitment solutions to a broad range of high-tech clients whose expertise includes research, conceptual design and development, integration, test, support through to new product introduction. “It would require five mechanical engineers and one electrical engineer to change the lightbulb. One to decide which way the bulb ought to turn, one to calculate the force required, one to design a tool to aid turning the lightbulb, one to design a comfortable - yet functional hand grip, one to calculate the electrical priorities of the materials, and one to operate all this equipment,” says David.

To a consumer, the answer seems pretty straightforward that only one person is required to change a lightbulb. However, for engineers, the question can pose a deeper analytical way of thinking in order to provide the solution to the question. For the technical mind, there are so many ways to solve the problem. This way of thinking is used every day by engineering communities when designing and introducing new products.

This thought process illustrates the inputs required to successfully engineer something aren’t necessarily confined to areas that directly affect the design itself. Sometimes engineering decisions made at the design stage can benefit from consideration of information that lies in other domains and is often considered after the design work has been completed.

Today, electronics components play a major part in electronics system design and are rapidly undergoing technology advancements both, in performances and sizes.

In electronics design, the component choice can make a huge impact on the end cost of a product as well as the ability to economically manufacture it. Having to change components very late in a design cycle – because of cost or availability issues, can have an enormous impact on release schedules and the ultimate success of the electronic product.

It’s ironic that component choice and management is often one of the most ad-hoc processes in an electronic hardware design engineers job, and one for which there is only limited support within the design environments engineers use.

Obviously, successful companies and products have utilised 'smarter' components in their designs. The method of choosing such ‘smart’ components thus becomes ‘an art’ to be acquired by the electronic design engineers of today.
When it comes to components, most engineers are spoiled for choice, electrical equivalent parts can be sourced from a range of OEM manufacturers and vendors. When selecting devices used during the initial design stages of a project, some engineers only consider the electrical and physical parameters of the component rather than the availability of supply and manufacturability.

Selecting the right electronic component is one of the most critical and challenging aspects of the design engineer’s job. The level of competitiveness in the electronic product arena is more intense than it’s ever been. Indeed electronics manufacture, and increasingly electronic design, is often played out on a truly global stage. Even though the technology advancements, e-commerce and globalisation have made the engineer's life easier, human influence and intelligence are still very much essential in one or the other form.

Shaving every penny off the cost of production is often crucial to remaining competitive. To that end, ever more designers are using tools to allow them to make intelligent and informed decisions about all aspects of the design, and in particular, the components they use.

The electronic design engineer should thoughtfully consider the ‘underlying factors’ or the ‘competitive edge’ of the component when compared with the nearest competitors. Due consideration should be given to the affordability - a factor that guides the company to prefer an expensive component to avail the additional features, become more competitive and reap the most out of the investment made. A line of compromise is drawn and compared between the investment made and the return on the investment while choosing the technology-based competitively-edged components.

Merely choosing the right component is just not sufficient but to track and control every component's specifications throughout the supply chain and the product's life cycle is also significant.

It’s often easier to use components that have been used in previous designs reducing risks.  However, this approach can have inherent drawbacks as it could be a missed opportunity to utilise new devices. Also, with the life cycle of the component playing an even more relevant case especially in semiconductors (IC).

So How many engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?

 "According to my calculations, the problem doesn't exist."

Redline Group has specialised in the field of electronics jobs since 1982 providing knowledge-led recruitment solution to the permanent, interim and contract arena.

We are the technical specialists in electronics recruitment with a broad variety of clients in some of the fastest moving industry segments including Automotive, Aerospace, Broadcast, Communications, Consumer, Defence, Industrial Control, Medical and Semiconductors. Click here to see a full list of markets and industries.

If you’re interested in developing a career in the electronics industry or wish to discuss your next career move, then contact David Philpott on 01582 878819 or email