Electrical and Electronics Engineers Career
Electrical engineers apply their knowledge of the sciences to working with equipment that produces and distributes electricity, such as generators, transmission lines, and transformers. They also design, develop, and manufacture electric motors, electrical machinery, and ignition systems for automobiles, aircraft, and other engines. Electronics engineers are more concerned with devices made up of electronic components such as integrated circuits and microprocessors. They design, develop, and manufacture products such as computers, telephones, and radios. Electronics engineering is a subfield of electrical engineering, and both types of engineers are often referred to as electrical engineers. There are approximately 299,000 electrical and electronics engineers employed in the United States.
Electrical and Electronics Engineers Job Description
Because electrical and electronics engineering is such a diverse field, there are numerous divisions within which engineers work. In fact, the discipline reaches nearly every other field of applied science and technology. In general, electrical and electronics engineers use their knowledge of the sciences in the practical applications of electrical energy. They concern themselves with things as large as atom smashers and as small as microchips. They are involved in the invention, design, construction, and operation of electrical and electronic systems and devices of all kinds.
The work of electrical and electronics engineers touches almost every niche of our lives. Think of the things around you that have been designed, manufactured, maintained, or in any other way affected by electrical energy: the lights in a room, cars on the road, televisions, stereo systems, telephones, your doctor’s blood-pressure reader, computers. When you start to think in these terms, you will discover that the electrical engineer has in some way had a hand in science, industry, commerce, entertainment, and even art.
The list of specialties that engineers are associated with reads like an alphabet of scientific titles—from acoustics, speech, and signal processing; to electromagnetic compatibility; geoscience and remote sensing; lasers and electro-optics; robotics; ultrasonics, ferroelectrics, and frequency control; to vehicular technology. As evident in this selected list, engineers are apt to specialize in what interests them, such as communications, robotics, or automobiles.
As mentioned earlier, electrical engineers focus on high-power generation of electricity and how it is transmitted for use in lighting homes and powering factories. They are also concerned with how equipment is designed and maintained and how communications are transmitted via wire and airwaves. Some are involved in the design and construction of power plants and the manufacture and maintenance of industrial machinery.
Electronics engineers work with smaller-scale applications, such as how computers are wired, how appliances work, or how electrical circuits are used in an endless number of applications. They may specialize in computers, industrial equipment and controls, aerospace equipment, or biomedical equipment.
Tom Busch is an electrical engineer for the U.S. government. He works at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, and much of his work involves testing equipment that will be used on the Navy’s ships. “We get equipment that government contractors have put together and test it to make sure it is functioning correctly before it goes out to the fleet,” he says. “The type of equipment we test might be anything from navigation to propulsion to communications equipment.” Although much of his work currently focuses on testing, Busch also does design work. “We do some software design and also design circuits that go in weapons systems,” he says.
Design and testing are only two of several categories in which electrical and electronics engineers may find their niche. Others include research and development, production, field service, sales and marketing, and teaching. In addition, even within each category there are divisions of labor.
Researchers concern themselves mainly with issues that pertain to potential applications. They conduct tests and perform studies to evaluate fundamental problems involving such things as new materials and chemical interactions. Those who work in design and development adapt the researchers’ findings to actual practical applications. They devise functioning devices and draw up plans for their efficient production, using computer-aided design and engineering (CAD/CAE) tools. For a typical product such as a television, this phase usually takes up to 18 months to accomplish. For other products, particularly those that utilize developing technology, this phase can take as long as 10 years or more.
Production engineers have perhaps the most hands-on tasks in the field. They are responsible for the organization of the actual manufacture of whatever electric product is being made. They take care of materials and machinery, schedule technicians and assembly workers, and make sure that standards are met and products are quality-controlled. These engineers must have access to the best tools for measurement, materials handling, and processing.
After electrical systems are put in place, field service engineers must act as the liaison between the manufacturer or distributor and the client. They ensure the correct installation, operation, and maintenance of systems and products for both industry and individuals. In the sales and marketing divisions, engineers stay abreast of customer needs in order to evaluate potential applications, and they advise their companies of orders and effective marketing. A sales engineer would contact a client interested in, say, a certain type of microchip for its automobile electrical system controls. He or she would learn about the client’s needs and report back to the various engineering teams at his or her company. During the manufacture and distribution of the product, the sales engineer would continue to communicate information between company and client until all objectives were met.
All engineers must be taught their skills, and so it is important that some remain involved in academia. Professors usually teach a portion of the basic engineering courses as well as classes in the subjects that they specialize in. Conducting personal research is generally an ongoing task for professors in addition to the supervision of student work and student research. A part of the teacher’s time is also devoted to providing career and academic guidance to students.
Whatever type of project an engineer works on, he or she is likely to have a certain amount of desk work. Writing status reports and communicating with clients and others who are working on the same project are examples of the paperwork that most engineers are responsible for. Busch says that the amount of time he spends doing desk work varies from project to project. “Right now, I probably spend about half of my time in the lab and half at my desk,” he says. “But it varies, really. Sometimes, I’m hardly in the lab at all; other times, I’m hardly at my desk.”
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