Life ain't always easy for today’s design engineers. Pressured by the ever-shorter cycle turnarounds for new products, engineers who once had months of multiple attempts to get a design right are finding their window for test opportunities squeezed. But that doesn’t mean they can simply cut corners.
That’s why it was interesting to sit down with Littelfuse’s Thane Parker recently to get his take as a salesman on how his firm tries to help engineers overcome those tight product deadlines without risking faulty designs, or electronics that go "bang".
Parker, sales director for the North America region, said it was vital to most of Littelfuse’s clients to get answers at a lightning quick pace, which is what inspired the fuse maker’s whole Speed2Design campaign.
Parker said he often encouraged clients to tell him about their designs, their needs and their regulatory requirements so that Littelfuse could figure out all the options available – fast.
The best part of the job, Parker said, was “being able to take those challenges that you think, ‘Oh, jeez, this design engineer is crazy, there’s no way we can meet that requirement,’ and then watching our team succeed and excel in exceeding that customer’s expectations.”
Not related to circuit protection systems per se, but I can totally relate to what he's describing.
And here is where bad management can have a negative impact.
My approach has always been, to the maximum possible extent, you give the customer answers. You don't ask the customer a lot of questions that you know darned well he can't answer.
So, you get his requirements to the extent he can articulate them, you get or you already know the constraints he must operate under (what he calls "regulatory environment"), and then you give the customer a complete, documented, workable design.
Now you have something to work with, and as necessary, with customer feedback, you modify what you know to be a perfectly workable design. But in my experience, most of the time, the customer will accept your design with at most very minor tweaks.
Bad management instead takes the opposite approach. In order to minimize their own fear of failure (aka reduce risk), they try to get the customer to sign up to all manner of design details, so that in the future, if things don't go smoothly, they can point to those "agreements" and say, "See? You had signed up to this!"
This approach is usually a fruitless waste of time. Trying to pry information from customers that they don't know, are unsure of, or that their own design team has not yet addressed, is a frustrating process, takes up a lot of time, and irritates the customer no end. Plus, it makes the engineer's job no fun at all.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.