Survey: Design cycles are getting faster

Improvements in design tools, tech innovation, and new design methodologies have simplified design efforts over the past three to five years, according to a survey of global design engineers. The global survey, commissioned by Molex and Digi-Key, also finds there are a number of factors that hinder design engineering progress and innovation, including supply chain issues, higher customer expectations, and increased design complexity.

The report, “Design Engineer Tell-All: Advancing Innovation in an Era of Disruption,” conducted by Dimensional Research, polled 528 design engineers or managers of design engineering teams at manufacturing companies in the U.S., Canada, China, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. They were asked questions related to opportunities and obstacles that impact their careers, providing insights into design engineering processes, tools, and teams to keep pace with shrinking product design cycles, dynamic market demands, and supply chain constraints.

Survey: Design cycles are getting faster

Click for a larger image. (Source: Molex)

When asked what factors have simplified their design efforts over the past three to five years, the majority of survey respondents said improvement in design tools (65%) and technology innovation (58%), followed by new design methodologies (43%), better corporate strategies (36%), and better part availability (36%).

Survey: Design cycles are getting faster

Click for a larger image. (Source: Molex)

Although they have new tools and technologies to help with their design efforts, they also faced roadblocks in their design efforts. These include supply chain issues (56%), higher customer expectations (43%), and increased design complexity (41%). Despite these challenges, 58% of survey respondents report design cycles are getting faster, while 43% cite their design organization is more likely to deliver projects ahead of schedule.

At the same time, design teams are getting larger and have more experience. Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents cite an increase in design team size and 52% report more design teams over the past three to five years. In addition, 66% report their companies’ design teams have more experience ON average.

Not surprisingly, this corresponds with an increased need for diversified skillsets as well as deep expertise in specialized areas. When asked about skillsets, 52% said their companies added more engineers that can work across a wide range of areas, and 49% cited the addition of more engineers with deep expertise in specialized areas.

Areas where design engineers think they need to improve skills include supply chain management (40%), people and team skills (37%), digital technologies (34%), new design tools (31%), AI or machine learning (223%), and user experience and form factor (25%), according to survey respondents.

Survey: Design cycles are getting faster

Click for a larger image. (Source: Molex)

In addition to building their skillsets, design engineers face several big challenges. These include understanding supply chain risks (34%), followed by accessing parts or materials (30%), and learning new technologies (24%), as well as balancing manufacturing needs and customer requirements (24%).

In terms of their role in supplier selection, 59% of respondents said they have greater flexibility and control over vendor selection. The most important factors in supplier relationships include supply chain reliability (54%), access to engineering support and expertise (43%), and attractive pricing (38%).

The key reasons they change their supplier partners that they usually select and recommend include availability issues (48%), high costs (30%), need for second sourcing (28%), incorporated new technologies or processes that required different expertise (28%), and quality concerns (27%).

 Design engineers are using several strategies to deal with the current supply chain shortages, which is a key reason for switching suppliers. These include choosing alternative materials (59%), minimizing production volumes (43%), and excluding planned features (40%) in product designs.

In terms of generational skills, millennial engineers want to increase their finance (33%) and AI or machine learning (39%) knowledge as compared with their Gen X (14% and 32%, respectively) and baby boomer counterparts (10% and 16%, respectively).

The survey also finds that young and female engineers are most excited about incorporating innovative technologies into product designs. Fifty-eight percent of female engineers are excited about incorporating new tech compared with 51% of male counterparts. Generationally, 42% of baby boomers and Gen X survey participants said they were excited about using innovative tech compared with 62% of millennial and 80% of Gen Z respondents.

While the survey reveals that design engineers globally share similar views, China reports the biggest increases in both team size (94%) and experience (97%). They also are twice as likely (92%) to deliver ahead of schedule than their global counterparts (43%).

In terms of challenges, the need for adequate test plans tops the list of respondents from Japan (31% versus 21% globally). Delivering needed quality is also a top challenge for Japan as well as U.K. participants (28% in the U.K. and 26% in Japan versus 20% globally).

The majority of design engineers (92%) agree that collaboration skills are just as important as technical expertise, with Germany placing the greatest emphasis on the need to manage increasing levels of collaboration (19% versus 11% globally).

Other findings include:

  • 53% of survey respondents have adopted both agile and continuous improvement/delivery to enhance efforts.
  • 88% access “makerspaces,” testing labs or innovation centers for experimentation.
  • 85% feel responsible for final designs after they’ve been approved.
  • 81% want to continue working in their current industries, while 13% would like to gain experience in a different industry.

Molex previously commissioned surveys on innovation in automotive electrification, the future of cars, and the future of mobile devices.