Industry Jolted by EV Engineer Shortage

Here is a short article describing of key skill-set shortages in hybrid / EV automobiles: Industry Jolted by EV Engineer Shortage.  On one hand this is a new skill-set that was not really in existence a decade ago.
The already-tight market for mechatronics engineers just got more competitive with Thursday’s announcement of a proposed joint venture, led by Magna International Inc. founder Frank Stronach, to develop vehicle-electrification technology.
On the other hand, the industry has known about this trend for more than 10 years.  They could have easily trained new engineers if strategic skill-set planning had been in place (or tools existed to forecast skill-set needs for long-term).  As was pointed out in Toyota Way lost on the road to phenomenal worldwide growth, it takes years to get engineers trained to work effectively.  That training and management is even more difficult when new disciplines or technologies are being introduced in the products.  Even so, some people believe that market forces will take care of everything:
Veteran engineer Chris Theodore, whose fingerprints are on the Dodge Viper and Ford GT, also is unfazed.
“There is an imbalance,” Theodore says, referring to the dearth of mechatronics engineers. “There’s more knowledge required.”
But the shortage is temporary, and the impact of EVs on automotive engineering should not be exaggerated.
“The pendulum will swing the other way,” he tells Ward’s. “When all is said and done, we’re in a physical world.”
What do you think?  Does your organization face similar problems?

Codesign – Another increase in R&D management complexity

An article in Nikkei Electronics Asia describes a new trend in consumer electronics: Codesign Begins with Product Implementation.  Codesign is simultaneous development of different subsystems, features and manufacturing process of a product across suppliers leading to cost and performance optimization at a system level.

Digital consumer electronics manufacturers are beginning to adopt codesign in product implementation. They hope to achieve both improved performance and reduced cost by optimizing chips, packages and boards in toto. PC-class performance at the implementation cost of consumer electronics would mean competitiveness sufficient for the global marketplace. Codesign is being implemented full-scale in digital consumer electronics. Until now separate design tasks were optimized individually, but now codesign is being used to improve overall system optimization. This approach makes it possible to cut design margins to the limit and develop products delivering powerful functionality for minimal price. 

With increasing complexity and somewhat nascent processes for cross-cultural cross-organizational R&D management, this can be a very challenging task for managers.  Especially, the biggest bang-for-the-buck for codesign is if it is implemented during concept development phase.  That means that all the different organizations have to align their processes, tools and metrics during the entire R&D pipeline.

Codesign can be applied to a wide range of design phases, but the most important one is concept design. The design enjoys the greatest freedom in the initial design phase, and as a result this is there the greatest optimization is possible. Codesign is entering use now in the conceptual design phase of digital consumer electronics. 

Furthermore, communications between different organizations gets to be even more critical (and difficult). As the article explains with an example of consumer electronics design, not only does design / development need to be synchronized, but also the testing / evaluation as well.  Reliability analysis & risk assessment can also become a nightmare.

There are two axes in codesign, the first of which is the target of the codesign process. There are three targets involved here, namely the chip design and package design (handled by the semiconductor manufacturer), and the board design (handled by the set manufacturer). The second axis is the set of indices used for design evaluation, such as signal integrity† and power integrity†. These indices are essential guides in avoiding product problems, and the goal in codesign is to satisfy all of the simultaneously. 

 However, this trend is likely to not be a passing fad.  As competition becomes global and need to address developing market becomes even greater, innovation will likely move to system level from components.

Better Performance at Lower Cost Digital consumer electronics designers are being pressed to slash margins to the bone, delivering better performance than prior models at the same or lower cost. ‘It used to be that we could afford a little cost increase if the product was the smallest one in the world, for example, and we could utilize high-performance boards or components. Not any more. Even if we make the smallest one in the world, the key point now is how cheap the parts are,’ complains Makoto Suzuki, Chief Distinguished Engineer, General Manager, EDA Design Technology Solutions Dept., MONO-ZUKURI Technology Div., Production Group, Sony Corp. of Japan. In this situation, continuing the established approach of individual design optimization would result in excessively large margins, and a loss in product competitiveness.

Security and IP control in R&D outsourcing

Yale Global Online magazine has an interesting article that reinforces strong processes and security in R&D outsourcing: Google’s Lesson: Innovation Has to Be Accompanied by Reliability.  The article distills lessons learned from the Google-China incident and points out that that manufacturing outsourcing will continue, but needs controls for IP:

Outsourcing of manufacturing will continue, but it must do so under much tighter monitoring of the transfer from intellectual property to production.
I was talking with a large US manufacturer moving production lines to China.  Besides IP exposure, the company actually found that they needed new processes to link US R&D to manufacturing.  When the manufacturing was in-house, R&D team members could walk over and see how manufacturing was doing of vice-versa.  None of that was possible when manufacturing was in a different country.

Actually moving production and R&D, not just connecting them virtually, can have a negative impact on security.

Furthermore, R&D outsourcing is different from manufacturing and control of IP is much more difficult.  R&D is essentially a process of manufacturing (creating) knowledge on how to manufacture widgets.  Once the knowledge is with people, it is difficult to remove it.  I have heard of Japanese strategy of keeping key component manufacturing in Japan and thereby protecting their IP.  That will not be possible when R&D or parts of R&D are outsourced.

The lesson for the IT industry is that security has to be a primary concern in the next generation of innovation.