The role of an electrical design engineer: duties and skills
Updated 13 June 2023
Electrical design engineers work in industries like aerospace, architecture or energy. Their work includes designing and testing electrical systems and their components, and they specialise in areas like motors or navigation systems. Learning about the role and its requirements may help you decide if it's the right career for you. In this article, you can explore the role of an electrical design engineer, including their duties and skills and the education and experience necessary to pursue the profession.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
What is an electrical design engineer?
An electrical design engineer – or electrical engineer or design engineer – plans and develops electrical systems and devices. It's their responsibility to plan and conduct the research needed to make systems accurate and suitable for the projects they're working on. They also participate in product manufacturing processes. Through their research, electrical engineers determine the best functional design options. This research also helps them control the financial aspects of a project and make sure their designs align with the project's budget.
Duties of design engineers
Design engineers work with complex industrial and commercial electrical systems. Some also handle domestic systems, and their work environment can impact their daily responsibilities. Here are some typical duties associated with the role:
Developing electrical systems
The key goal for design engineers is to develop, maintain, implement and improve electrical systems and their components – all of which requires them to have strong technical and manual abilities. When engineers enter the profession, they typically have at least a basic understanding of the digital tools they operate while designing systems. These engineers use tools like computer-aided design (CAD), word processing and file-sharing software that allow them to visualise their ideas, describe them and share them with colleagues or seniors within the manufacturing and design teams.
Researching design and engineering solutions
Design engineers use their research abilities to develop effective solutions. This helps them make sure their ideas comply with industry standards and national electrical system regulations. In their work, they may use electrical codes of practice, such as those that the Health and Safety Executive supports.
Design engineers create electrical project plans that help them and their team create highly-accurate physical versions of systems that reflect their initial designs. For example, they may produce front view technical drawings of medium voltage switchgears. Other types of documentation that engineers create include socket and power distribution plans or wiring diagrams.
Developing purchase orders
A purchase order is a commercial document that a buyer issues to inform the seller about products they want to buy. Electrical designers develop ideas for electrical and wiring systems and present them as diagrams and drawings. Their employers may also require them to inform the team about the components, equipment and materials for installing such systems.
In the past, engineers did this manually by determining each component of a system, including light switches or wires. Nowadays, they mostly use electrical design software. This software automatically summarises any necessary installation materials once engineers have finished creating a digital version of the project.
Making sure projects meet safety regulations
Electrical engineers may participate in the manufacturing process to make sure the team follows their documentation when they produce a system and its components. Throughout the project, engineers follow safety regulations, which various acts specify, including the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, the Electrical Equipment Safety Regulations 1994 and the Supply of Machinery Safety Regulations 1992. These acts cover electricity use in the workplace. As they create systems, it's the engineer's responsibility to design them in a way that's safe for users and those who install them.
Supervising and training electrical design specialists
Electronic engineers are senior specialists with at least five years of in-field experience, and employers often ask them to guide new team members. In some instances, engineers provide on-the-job training to technicians or aspiring electrical engineers. This allows these more junior members of staff to familiarise themselves with the workplace's standards and adjust to the environment or tools they might use daily.
Key skills in electrical design engineering
Soft skills that electrical engineers use include communication, teamwork and time management. In addition, succeeding in this role requires a range of hard skills and knowledge of role-specific tools. See below for details of some of the hard skills that benefit design engineers:
Power distribution is a key aspect of electronic systems. Successful electronic engineers understand different types of distribution structures, which include radial, loop and network systems. For example, engineers may design their electrical systems to adjust to any power outages by including components that allow the structure to switch automatically to another one. This helps ensure the power distribution's continuity.
Electrical or wire routing is the process of passing wires through an environment to reach a connection area. Electrical engineers frequently pass wires through walls, ceilings or underground when designing their systems. It's helpful for engineers to learn how to ensure that groups and bundles of wires stay intact if there's a lot of vibration or motion. Engineers can avoid safety hazards by understanding various routing and wire protection principles.
Schematic capture, or schematic entry, is a step in the design process during which an engineer creates and documents the final arrangement of a system's components. Usually, the goal is to create a digital representation of a paper design, for which engineers use specialised software. Digital tools that support schematic capture include circuit simulation or printed circuit board design packages.
Requirements for electrical engineers
Different employers may have varying requirements for electrical engineers that depend on the industry in which they operate and the complexity of their projects. Here are some basic educational, experience and professional requirements for this role:
There are several paths to becoming an electrical engineer, including a course, apprenticeship or direct application. If you're considering going to university or college, choose a course in electrical or electronic engineering. Related degrees that may help you include applied physics, mechatronics or electromechanical engineering. To qualify, universities require at least two or three A levels, typically including maths. If you want to become an engineer by obtaining a diploma, look for colleges that offer level 4 or 5 Higher National Diplomas in electrical and electronic engineering.
An apprenticeship may be a better option if you want to study part-time while working in electronics. Programmes that prepare you for an electrical design engineering career include degree apprenticeships in electronic technical support or higher internships in electro-mechanical engineering. Their entry requirements are usually four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 and some A levels, including maths or a scientific subject.
When employers are looking to hire electrical engineers, they will usually focus on a candidate's practical experience. Typically, candidates require experience in designing, estimating and coordinating services. This is equivalent to at least two years of experience in a similar electronics or electrical engineering role. Leadership experience is also desirable for roles that require you to oversee or train other technicians.
Professional qualifications for electrical engineers vary between organisations. Some useful qualifications include certifications in disciplines such as 8D deployment for complex issues. It's also highly desirable to have a certification that showcases your familiarity with digital toolsets such as AutoCAD and FORAN.
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