Design Tradeoffs

As many EMS firms are trying to grab a bigger piece of the design services market, one thing we’ve noticed when we tour their digs is how much more relaxed those designers appear. They are different in terms of setup – some sit in open cubicles, others have individual offices, and still others share a common but separate office, akin to a bullpen – but no matter the configuration, the occupants come across in control and unrushed.
Contrast that to the OEM designers we speak with, who almost uniformly come across as harried.
We’re not sure why this is. Perhaps those at EMS sites are more confident in their job security, knowing that more designs are being shipped their way each year, while their OEM counterparts feel under the gun, worried that their bosses, having already outsourced fabrication and (in many cases) assembly, might at any time let design go, too.
Even so, those designers who responded to our annual salary survey overwhelming were employed by OEMs. Does that suggest EMS designers are significantly fewer in number, harder to reach, or just less interested in filling out a survey? We don’t know.
What we do know, however, is that designers are as not easily compartmentalized as they once were. More have advanced degrees and increasing responsibility. They have become integral, even if more than one-third of respondents still worry about their jobs.
About three-fourths of those who responded were based in the US (probably because the survey was conducted only in English). Most of them have more than 20 years’ experience, suggesting that cost-cutting measures elsewhere aren’t decimating the field.
The average annual US household income was $63,000 in 2011. Given that, designers are doing well. Some 73% of respondents indicated their salary exceeds $60,000, with 17% revealing salaries topped $100,000. For comparison, the median income for a bachelor’s in engineering is $82,712. And most continue to get raises in line with or exceeding the average US raise of 2.8% last year. After the roller coaster of 2008-10, stability is welcome.
Keeping up with the Joneses is one thing. Keeping up with technology is something else. More than one-third of our respondents again said maintaining their technology fluency is their biggest challenge. That’s understandable – as consulting editor Jan Vardaman notes (pg. 20), advancements in everything from wiring materials to substrate systems are ahead. Moreover, an impending shift to copper pillar offers exciting possibilities for tighter silicon and package routing, but with those come the headaches of greater crosstalk and signal integrity issues. Technology, like life, is about tradeoffs.

One more note on the salary survey. Of those designers who recommend or approve products or services, only 78% get to weigh in on CAD tools. While we understand why some designers are out of the loop on this – many EMS companies buy tools as directed by an end-customer, user be damned – it’s still jarring in this day and age that those tasked with such a critical job don’t get a bigger say in how they perform it.

(I would be remiss if I failed to add that senior editor Chelsey Drysdale conducted the survey, compiled the data and wrote the report.)

Making the Rounds

We will be at several events over the next six weeks.

On Thursday, senior editor Chelsey Drysdale will attend IMAPS’ annual symposium in Long Beach, CA. There’s a number of EMS companies focused on medical electronics exhibiting and it will be interesting to hear what the latest trends are.

The following week, I will be at SMTA International, covering it for the magazine and cochairing (with CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY columnist Sue Mucha) the session “Global Strategies for Lowering EMS Costs” on Oct. 18 from 10:30-1 pm. CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY also is taking part as an exhibitor (booth 528).

On Nov. 8, I am honored to be speaking at Zuken’s US ZDAC users group meeting. We also will be out in force in mid November at Productronica, the biennial trade show to end all trade shows.

Looking forward to seeing you … somewhere.

Designer Salaries by Region, Revisited

Some readers have asked for a more complete explanation of the data contained in Table 5 of PCD&F senior editor Chelsey Drysdale’s annual designer salary survey.

The table shows the current annual salary range by region, but due to an editing error, the salary percentages were not broken out in a meaningful way.

The graph below should help. (Right click on the graph to enlarge it.)