For Aron: Integration Engineers

>> 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.


  • Roy

    That reminds me of the Apollo 13 incident where they needed to make the CO2 scrubbers from the Command Module, which were square, fit in the scrubber bays in the Lunar Module, which were round. Granted that they were dealing with a situation that nobody would ever have foreseen, but still, it shows the non-standardization between two companies working on the same project; North American Aviation built the Command Module while Grumman Aircraft made the Lunar Module.

  • Relax Max

    "You Betcha?" Is this a Sarah Palin guest blog? Heh. Well, this is interesting stuff. I understood the "damn straight" part, and now I know what an "Integration Engineer" is. Sort of like a Continuity Editor in the movie business, only with a doctorate, right? This was interesting. Thank you.

  • Stephanie Barr

    "You betcha" was around before Sarah Palin used it as punctuation.

    And I expect it will be around after she's gone. Me, too, for that matter.

    And I don't have a doctorate, but I've had several stints as intregation engineer. My degree in engineering physics means I'm a dabbler, which is useful when putting together disparate systems and trying to make them work as a whole.

  • Aron Sora

    Now something makes sence to me, rocket tests are the first time all the subsystems of a rockets are working together. But still, all the interfaces and software should planned out during CADing. Or maybe have the contractors meet with the people building the parts they part connects with to make sure everything is working.


    How did they fix that? That's epic.


    So...I have the most insane idea for the shuttle, ever. Do you think it would be possible to strip all the tiles from the shuttle and replace it with aerogel and a thin ceramic to keep the aerogel in place. (It's insane and would increase the chance of damage to the shuttle) This could cut the weight.

  • Relax Max

    God, what a monumental chip you have on your shoulder. Don't be so defensive.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Aron, I'm thinking about your question.

    Relax Max, what are you talking about?

  • Relax Max

    I'm talking about blasting off about "You Betcha" being around longer than Sarah Palin. It was a joke: she says it a lot.

    I'm talking about you throwing in a comment about your personal doctorial status, when no reference (or even thought) was made to you or your education. Again, a joke.

    You seemed to really be reading between the lines of an innocent comment and reacting too strongly.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Max, I'm completely cool with not having a doctorate (a rarity, actually, in my family and my company). I was just demonstrating that a doctorate was not required.

    Actually, I think a doctorate might be a hindrance. The higher up you go in engineering, the more specialized one generally becomes. I'm a generalist, which is quite helpful with integration engineering.

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