November 2002

At a recent department meeting, a mechanical engineer presented a "process improvement" he wanted to institute to the good old microwave department at our unknown company. He had studied the present system of microwave product design and concluded that he had a "better way". Let me summarize the present system below:

The microwave design process begins as a microwave electrical engineer like you works out the schematic and layout details of a clever design onto a paper napkin. He then wipes up some spilled coffee with said napkin, and it becomes known as the "final design." The EE hands it off to the mechanical engineering department, which then assigns an engineer to the project. Here a complicated process is followed in which one would assume that the talents of MEs are matched against the job at hand. A more accurate description is that an ME is assigned to the job based on availability, meaning you most likely get a mechanical person that nobody wants and who screwed up last job until it was cancelled. Notice I said "person" to be politically correct, but I have never seen a female microwave mechanical engineer in 23 years of microwave experience. That fact alone might say something about the personal hygiene of microwave MEs that scares all women away…

Anyway, the ME's assignment is basically to take the "final design" schematic napkin and rough circuit layout, and enter them into a drafting database tool such as AutoCAD or ProE. Along the way, the ME adds some notes to the drawing like "plate this part with gold" (which is often used to boost the ego of the EE), and types up a nice parts list. He also adds some kind of enclosure around the design, which is referred to as a "package," probably because the ME is subconsciously making up for a shortness in his male anatomy. He than adds some unintelligible notes about true positional tolerancing, in order to beef up his hours, and then hands the design back to the EE for approval.

The next step is very technical and is commonly referred to as "design tweaking". Here the EE marks up the ME's drawing with a red marker, revealing that none of the dimensions on the layout were correct on the original "final design". This is a natural step in the design process, because the EE during his lunch hour had technical discussions about the design with a more experienced designer (such as the Unknown Editor) who revealed to him some knowledge that was not indicated previously by the simulation. For example, "that design will never work, you moron, just pass me the pepper" or "you should have used a TriQuint amplifier, their rep is such a hot chick!" Anyway these technical discussions will have their necessary effects on the parts list and the layout, and it is up to the ME to make the drawing look like the most recent design. The steps between "final design" and "tweaking" are invariably repeated from two to four times before the design is finally finished and sent out for fabrication. What is wrong with this picture? Not a damn thing, I am sure you will agree.

Back to my ME colleague, who wanted to come up with a better way to complete a design. The weakness of the present system, he explained, was that the EE and the ME each have separate design databases. The EE continuously re-optimizes the circuit based on his own copy of the schematic, then passes his changes to the ME, who then has to "waste his time" making a series of changes to the design and documentation. This guy's big think-out-of-the-box breakthrough was that he wanted the EE and ME to share the same database for the design, so that the EE could make changes directly to the layout, making life easier for the ME (himself). His real complaint, though he didn't say it out loud, was that the EE and ME are not treated as equals.

So why is this so off-base that it is worthy of an Unknown Editor column? The main reason is that our well-meaning but dumb ME made a grave error in the assumption EEs and MEs are equals in a microwave company. That may be true in some industries, but not in the magical, mystical field of microwave design. Here we are basically using the ME department as slave draftsmen, the way that the Pharoahs used slaves to etch their accomplishments on the walls of the pyramids. You never saw King Tut chipping away with a chisel on a block of marble! If Mr. ME Bigstuff wants to be equal to an electrical engineer, why isn't he designing something that has moving parts, instead of working on a stationary box to enclose one of our brilliant microwave designs? Is a microwave package much more complicated than a shoebox wrapped around a $500 pair of Guccis? I doubt it. Next time, he should just have another doughnut and keep his pie hole shut during the department meeting, you dig?

Here is an org chart that is used by microwave departments around the world. Everybody take note of it, there might be a quiz later.


Microwave Food Chain


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