September 15, 2020
The summer is winding down as I write this, and we have experienced roughly our third significant heat wave in Ohio. Reminded that we were in the “dog days” of summer, I did a quick search to remind myself why we call them the “dog days” in the first place. It’s because of the position of the dog star, Sirius, marking the hottest days of the year, which the ancient Greeks and Romans believed could portend fevers and catastrophes.
Not exactly what I needed to hear in 2020. Uncertainty is still clouding most industries, but there are some silver linings here and there.
In addition to higher temperatures, August also brought the latest round of 2nd quarter financial reporting. In the vendor community, the news has been mixed. While a few CAD and simulation software providers have taken a hit, most are weathering the pandemic as well as could be expected, and a few are seeing increased interest in their cloud or software-as-as-service solutions. Mobile workstation vendors have seen an uptick in demand in some markets. The 3D printer space has probably been affected most significantly, with many vendors reporting year-over-year revenue drops of 20% or more. Two of the biggest names in the space, 3D Systems and Stratasys, announced major restructuring (see page 8). There have been a few mergers. I expect we’ll see more announcements as we head into the fall.
For engineering firms, the outlook has also been mixed. Organizations that specialize in sectors like hospitality, retail, aerospace, automotive or construction have seen demand contraction and, in some cases, chaotic market conditions. Most companies have successfully transitioned to remote work, but are bracing for a drop in demand.
What does this mean for engineers moving forward? The current pandemic is expected to increase adoption of automation technologies and digitalization. In some cases, that is because manufacturers have had to rethink how their facilities are arranged to accommodate worker distancing. In others, companies are trying to address vulnerabilities in their supply chains that were exposed by current events. Some companies have found that being forced into digital collaboration has helped accelerate some product development processes.
Designers and engineers who have both embraced these technology solutions internally to enhance and accelerate their own development cycles, and those who are designing products that will help their customers do the same, will have an edge in both the near term and the long haul.
This issue is focused on the design and development of autonomous and electric vehicles. The automotive industry was already at a crossroads prior to COVID-19. OEMs are facing a future in which people buy fewer cars and use them in new ways (i.e., ride sharing, or short-term rentals in urban environments). Despite economic conditions, automakers have continued to push forward on creating viable self-driving cars to help meet the evolving needs of their customers.
Our team of writers has taken a look at the design challenges involved, and how simulation will play an even larger role in vehicle development. We also examine how connected cars will tie into the digital thread, and how virtual reality is being leveraged. Senior Editor Kenneth Wong even takes a look at a unique problem for electric vehicles: without engine noise masking other sounds, what new acoustic design challenges will automakers face?
We hope you enjoy the issue. As always, feel free to reach out via email or on our website to share your thoughts and feedback. In the meantime, try to stay cool, stay positive and stay safe.