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How many engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?

26/01/21 David Philpott Manager, R&D / Engineering

Famous technology experts would answer this question in many ways. Steve Jobs would say “Just one – an Apple Macintosh engineer would hold the bulb and the universe will revolve around it to fit it in.” Bill Gates would say “None because the 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 20 years’ experience delivering knowledge-led electronics recruitment solutions to a broad range of high-tech and engineering clients whose expertise includes research, conceptual design and development, integration, test, support through to new product introduction.

“The first question is what type of light bulb is being used? Since the original invention by Thomas Edison in the 19th century, the light bulb has undergone significant development and improvement regarding light, energy efficiency, and cost. So, is it an incandescent bulb, fluorescent lamp, compact fluorescent lamp, a halogen lamp, or light-emitting diode (LED)?” Says, David.

David continues “Once we’ve evaluated the technology, model type, size and voltage it would require five mechanical engineers, one electrical engineer and a software engineer to change the lightbulb. One to decide which way the bulb ought to turn, one to calculate the force required using a formula (force = mass x acceleration), one to design a tool to aid turning the lightbulb with the correct force, one to design a comfortable - yet functional handgrip, one to calculate the electrical priorities of the materials, a software engineer to release a software and security patch update and one to operate all this equipment”.

To a consumer, the answer seems straightforward that only one person is required to change a lightbulb. However, for engineers, the question can pose a deeper analytical way of thinking 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 undertaking new product development (NPD).

This thought process illustrates that 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.

NPD is vital to businesses success where global competition, changing consumer behaviour, and technology advancements, forcing companies to invest in new products to ensure their survival.

Today, electronics components play a major part in electronics system design and are rapidly undergoing technology advancements in performance, size and cost.

In electronics design, the component selection can make a huge impact on risk diversification and the final cost of a product as well as the ability to economically manufacture it. Having to change components, such as a semiconductor, connector and/or a passive component 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.

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

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 engineer’s job of today.

When it comes to components, most design engineers are spoilt 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 has 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 manufacture is often crucial to remaining competitive. To that end, more designers are using a suite of tools to allow them to make intelligent and informed decisions about all aspects of the design, and in particular, the electronic 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 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 is 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. External factors of component suppliers changing process due to advancement in technology may affect form, fit and function and the increased number of manufacturer mergers and acquisitions are creating further uncertainties. With the life cycle of the component playing an even more relevant case especially in semiconductors (IC) the design engineer better be prepared with alternate components.

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 solutions 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 DPhilpott@RedlineGroup.com