Covid-19 or Coronavirus is causing a lot of us engineers to be forced to work from home, at least those of us who work on a computer most days. While this can cause massive disruption to your normal work, it can also create an opportunity to invest time into learning new valuable skills for the future.
Engineering is a field where one needs to be constantly learning. Whether its learning new software to increase productivity, learning more about another field to make better engineering decisions, or learning better management skills to make your team more effective. Fortunately today with online courses, webinars, YouTube videos, books, and research papers there is an abundance of learning opportunities. With so many learning opportunities and subjects it can definitely become hard to decide where to focus your time for the best return. This will depend largely on where you are in your career and where you want to go.
Software & Engineering Tools
With how much engineering relies on software and engineering tools today it is always valuable to improve your skills and platform familiarity. Popular software packages have a large amount of learning resources. My personally preferred resource are YouTube videos, which generally also include old webinars. You can also find a lot of resources on the suppliers website or online forums. For instance, ANSYS has a large training center for it’s users which vary in experience from Beginner to Advanced. These courses continue updating along with the software allowing you to stay up-to-date on ANSYS’s new and powerful tools. Other software such as SolidWorks has certification courses which can help your resume and show adequate professional proficiency with the popular CAD platform. However, each Software Platform typically has plenty of productivity shortcuts that once learned allow you to further improve your engineering output.
- ANSYS Training Center
- SolidWorks Taining Courses
- Autodesk Training
- Lynda: Online Courses
The best way to learn and become proficient with a software package is simply to use it on a practice project. Many times it can however be difficult to come up with a practice project. Some project ideas are to build a personal drone/vehicle, or design your dream home or building, or work on a new and exciting idea for an invention or home appliance, or go through the engineering steps to recreate a product that already exists. For example many engineers and even hobbyists will use Arduinos to automate common household appliances and even connect them up to their smart homes to create a DIY internet of things (IOT) system.
Personal projects are great because they offer new opportunities to learn skills that you would otherwise never learn but may prove useful on future professional projects. These projects also offer a substantial boost to your resume as it proves serious interest and excitement for your field.
- Make: Projects has a lot of potential home project ideas.
- GrabCAD has a lot of 3D CAD designs which you can spend time to replicate on your own. You can also always try drafting objects around your home such as a coffee maker, soda bottle or anything else.
- Instructables also has a lot of potential home project ideas along with step by step instructions.
You can also always take a project a step further. For instance, take a CAD model of a Soda Bottle and then use FEA & CFD software to model the fluid and solid response as it is dropped. Instead of stopping at making an RC Drone or Vehicle add some automation to it with sensors.
Hand drafted drawings, and slide rules, and hand calculations were the norm when many of today’s older engineers entered the workforce. Obviously since then the engineering field has changed substantially. As such, it would be very hard if not impossible to keep up with the engineering market today if you were still reliant on only hand drafting, slide rules, and hand calculations for your projects. As such engineers have to constantly learn and stay up-to-date with current methods and tools regardless of experience.
Engineering Principals & Concepts
As you get more and more used to relying on engineering tools and software for your projects you may find your knowledge and comfort with engineering principles slipping. It is always a good idea to break out a pencil and paper from time to time to do some engineering calculations to brush up on your skills. One great resources for doing this is through the use of a Professional Engineering Exam Prep Book which covers most of the concepts you use as an engineer. These books also contain hundreds of practice problems to go through to ensure you aren’t rusty.
Engineering Best Practices, Materials, & Designs
All engineering fields are constantly advancing, and its important that as an engineer you advanced along with it. It is critical to stay up-to-date with all of the best solutions to the engineering problems you face so that you can avoid reinventing the wheel or developing a poorer design. It is a good idea to skim through research papers and other resources to find those relevant to you while looking for new and innovative solutions that you could implement in your own designs.
Engineering Standards & Codes
Professional Engineers have a lot of codes that they rely on everyday. These codes update every few years and now is potentially a better time than any to make sure you’re up-to-date on your engineering codes. Civil-Structural Engineers have the ASCE-7, IBC, AISC, ACI 318, ASTM, OSHA and many more codes that the have to be familiar with at all times to ensure their designs meet regulations. Mechanical Structural Engineers deal with the ASME Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code.
As a Professional Engineer (PE), when you stamp a drawing you become personally liable for the success or failure of that design. If you misread or misinterpret a code or standard it can be career ending or even a prison sentence and lead to innocent people becoming injured or even dying. Many structural failures have been in part due to code misinterpretations including the Hartford Civic Center Roof Collapse which failed due to not including adequate snow drifting loads in their design.
Manufacturing and Construction Methods
If your designing a physical product then it will have to be made some how. To better design for manufacturing or construction you need to understand today’s manufacturing and construction methods, tool capabilities, and costs. The more you know about all the steps that go through making a component or assembly, the better you can design it to optimize every step of the manufacturing process to cut costs while maintaining performance and quality. In manufacturing of components, every single time a person has to interact with the part, the part has to be re-positioned, or the tool needs to be changed adds the cost of the part increases. While machines continue to advanced to allow for complex parts, these more advanced machines also demand more cost to run which goes directly into the cost of your part. You should focus on optimizing your parts to use the most available machines possible as well as ensure tooling is as simple as it can be. For instance, if you can avoid using a progressive die with stamping then you can save tens of thousands on up front costs.
In construction every specification you make needs to be carried out. This makes it critical that you take into account what it will take to carry out a specification. For instance, perhaps you shouldn’t specify a field weld on the underside of a roof if you can have it prefabricated in a shop or have it welded from above instead. In construction a bolted joint is also a lot more affordable than a field welded joint even though it does not transfer load as well.
A lot more than engineering goes into developing a great product. Without understanding a customers needs it won’t matter how well a product is engineered, it simply won’t sell leading to you and/or your company losing hundreds of thousands to millions in development costs. Customer discovery and interview skills can strengthen product development and ensure success. Many companies are starting to have product managers which head product development teams and are responsible for the trajectory of a product.
Business & Project Management
If you’re an experienced engineer then it’s likely that during your career you will have the opportunity to advance to oversee an engineering team. In order to best prepare for this responsibility it is a good idea to learn some business management skills to make you and your team as productive as possible while maintaining high quality. There are countless books and courses about business & project management.
I can recommend High Output Management by Andrew Grove as a great business management learning starting point. You can also of course look into MBA programs including online programs. Management roles are a much different experience than standard engineering roles as you start spending far less time directly engineering products and a lot more time overseeing engineers. This shift can sometimes make engineers turned managers feel less productive for the company, however by practicing solid management practices you can increase the productivity of your team and therefore increase your output as a whole.