Expanding Your Comfort Zone


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In the engineering world, there is increasing pressure to be a specialist, especially in technical roles. Does this intense focus on specialisation work against us, however, when we consider the wider requirements of the business? How can we bring added value to specialist roles, such as PCB layout designer or SMT machine programmer, which are key elements of the wider production introduction team, without getting distracted from specific objectives?

Software tools help us focus excellence in a specific role, but software must now add more benefit from team environments, even when derived from a widely spread collaborative flow, and bring a step change improvement in performance without the cost of distraction from our specialist operations.

As technology continues to evolve, there is always more to learn, whether it is how to better design a PCB or how to better prepare programs for SMT machines. These are not new tasks, but people performing them are continuously pushed to achieve greater efficiencies and performance. What often happens is that we end up with certain roles that are very specialized in focus, experience, and outlook. Software tools have grown up around these kinds of roles, providing added value, guidance and management, and in effect, promoting the specialisation itself. The issue, then, is how to effectively connect these specialist roles into a team or collaborative flow. Can we afford to distract people from their core strengths by asking them to acquire some level of expertise in areas that are related to their tasks, but outside of their direct role? How can we optimise teamwork as part of a flow without losing our focus on individual key goals?

Let’s take, for example, the PCB layout designer, a specialist on the design team who uses software to create PCB layouts. This role involves the use of specialised skills and experience, taking physical and electrical requirements from the schematic diagrams and laying out circuits on a PCB. Several cycles of PCB prototypes may be needed during the design phase to correct issues from the electrical design, the physical form and fit of a PCB into a product, and mistakes in the layout itself. Specialist design tools provide support in these areas, enabling the skills of the layout designer to be maximised.

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Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of SMT Magazine.

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