>> Saturday, June 26, 2010
Aron asked: What does a integration engineer do in the modern age? I thought most system interfaces where standardized.
Aron, you're such a dreamer. Actually, in the world where USB and computer connectors are becoming more and more predictable, in a world where one makes thousands if not millions of a single model of a unit, you may be right.
It's not true of space exploration or many of your other rarified engineering fields. People talk about standardization in these fields, but what they mean is that everyone should be building stuff like *they* do. Instead, contractors win contracts for subsets of complex few-of-a-kind spacecraft that will need to interact with other subsets (built by different contractors) but will likely hire subcontractors to built part of their subset rather than building the whole thing in-house.
Each contractor, subcontractor, and NASA will want to be the last word to define the many (many many many many) interfaces involved. Even if NASA puts its foot down and defines all the ones between subsets and spacecraft, they rarely dictate interfaces internally (though there's an argument that doing so makes sense, but that's a different post). However, it wouldn't matter if they did. Contractors still use the interfaces that are cheapest or associated with favored vendors, and they'll just ask for an exception. And they'll probably get it.
Do you need integration engineers to make sure everything works together using this and that interface? Damn straight.
However, even if interfaces were all standard, you'd still need integration engineers, because all the different pieces are built by different groups and different companies, with often independent software and computers and all that good stuff. And integration engineers test it and make sure it all works together like it's supposed to. Integration engineers are often the ones who put all the pieces together for procedures and instruction so people can use the equipment.
Do we need integration engineers. You betcha.