Electronic devices are an integral part of our daily lives and though, not everyone is aware of all the impact and advantages the work of Electronics Engineers provides them. Engineering Technology is used in every electronic system - if coffee machine, car or smartphone. Every electrical device needs circuits and power, while every electronic device needs data as input and gives output additionally. Regarding the wording there is a difference between "electrical" and "electronic" indeed. One can say an electrical device does not make a decision in any way, while an electronic device does. Both are important nowadays, meaning we cannot imagine a life without electronics, which was different a hundred years ago. The origin of Electronic Engineering is already considered in the late 19th century when great parts of the world were already connected and therefore able to send each other telegraphic messages. The next big technological invention was the radio, which inspired people not only to receive messages but also to send them - the birth of mass media. Many broadcasting channels appeared by amateurs after the first world war. And the electronics industry is evolving rapidly as the technical devices are getting more and more complicated. However, a life without Electrical Engineering and Electronic Engineering would mean a life without technology. Which steps an engineer has to take will be explained in the following using Lego as an example.
Being an Electronics Engineer
While Electrical Engineers mostly deal with high voltages, Electronics Engineers are taking care of the decision-making parts of the technical device meaning the Circuit Board. Nowadays a PCB, which means Printed Circuit Board, is the common way to implement electronics in a device. This Board has to fulfil several requirements - some of them depending on the product and others are always the same. Requirements, which are always the same are for example to choose elements that are working together properly. Additionally, one should keep the space and costs for a circuit board as low as possible as there is at least one PCB needed for every device. Hence, there is huge number of PCBs needed in every production. Requirements, which are variable and need to be defined depending on the used device might be the shape it needs to fit in the right place. Or as another example simply the information, which signals need to be processed. To achieve this, the technicians have mainly four steps to do until having a PCB in the end: Component selection, Placing, Routing and Conversion. These are further explained now with Lego as an example.
- Component selection: In the first step the technician needs to know, what purpose the PCB must fulfill. Mostly, they start with drawing a Mind Map and placing the electronic components in the way the workflow will be in theory. Now the real work starts as there are many variants of each component having different specifications. What the engineer now has to do now is looking through pages and pages of components with their specifications fitting their needs. Additionally, they have to watch out that they are compatible to each other. If we take Lego as an example.
- Placing: This leads the engineer to the second step: How shall he order it? Depending on the number of components there are almost endless ways to order the components on the Printed Circuit Board. Furthermore, the outlying shape can be influenced by the product the PCB will be built in. There also is another goal: To need the least space as possible for all required parts. For better understanding, here is a picture providing a visualization with the Lego-example.
- Routing: Additional to the placing-problems there also is another thing to keep in mind: The components are connected to each other. These connections are also a step for the technician he has to manage, called the routing. He or she needs to know which components need to be connected to each other. To make that discipline even harder, there are different layers, where the routes can be placed. One has to keep in mind to do the routing as efficient as possible, which itself influences the placing. Therefore, it is a very complex discipline. The following is a picture of a DVD player's PCB showing how complicated the previous engineering steps are outside of the Lego-example. Here you can also see the holes, which are necessary to fit in the DVD player.
- Conversion: Finally, after all those steps are done, the engineer can face the last problem. The work he created now must be translated so it is ready to be produced.
These steps can need to be done more than one time. Since everything is connected to each other, one change can mean starting to rethink about the placing, routing and even can mean needing different components, which again affect all further steps. But after the PCB is finished, it can be produced by printing - this is also the reason it is called Printed Circuit Board. And this can be now added to other Engineering Technology.
Future steps and problems
Engineering Technology is used in every technological device - if coffee machine, car or smartphone. Meaning we cannot imagine a life without electronics. And the electronics industry is evolving rapidly as the technical devices are getting more and more complicated. Thinking about the smartphone as an example, it is not only a telephone anymore, but also a camera, calculator and navigation system, just to mention a few functions. This makes the work of an Electronics Engineer even harder. Despite this, compared to other fields of technology, there are hardly any steps regarding automatization supporting the technician. Additionally, there is a worldwide lack of specialists in the field of Electronics Engineering. To be able to keep the progress and face the challenges the future will provide regarding the users' requirements, this industry will have to face substantial changes as the mentioned steps require a lot of time when doing it manually. Then again, the human work does at the moment still provide the best results and so huge amounts of money are invested into human engineering. The future of Electronic Engineering is therefore quite unsure, except it will gain importance.
Being an Electronics Engineer
Not for nothing, Electronics Engineering is at least a four-year Bachelor studies. Of course, there are various Master programs as well, all leading to a degree of Engineering. As an engineer one needs to have technical affinity as well as being able to work with many numbers and mathematics. Other than university, if one wants to join an Electronics Engineering Technology program, a popular organization accrediting post-secondary education programs is ABET. If a program is ABET-accredited it is officially fulfilling generally accepted criteria. Moreover, keeping in mind working on one of the greatest achievements of nowadays society can be a great motivation: A life without Electrical Engineering and Electronics Engineering would be a life without technology.