Scott wrote a fantastic blogpost about what engineering means to him and what the threats of crowd-sourcing are. I couldn't agree more with the questions he posed and they are questions you should think about also before sourcing out work:
If you are an engineering or design firm and are considering crowd-sourcing your project because you think it will save money, take a second thought on who is on your team. Is the person on your team someone who is educated and trained to think outside the given problem statement and anticipate future needs or requirements; or is it someone who just has the uncanny ability to solve a specific problem with an eloquent fix? Is it someone who is capable of developing a solution from concept to reality; or is it someone who will only be able to make incremental improvements to existing ideas? Is it someone who is able to support the design and determine root causes for any potential issues; or is it someone who will only to able to come up with another band-aid repair that addresses the symptom, not the problem? Do you have the time and resources to verify all the work your crowd-sourced team has done? Would that save you anything over having to do it yourself?
Sean also wrote a blogpost where his main point was that Engineers are the ones who make products and are losing jobs thanks to crowd-sourcing designs.
Before I give you my opinion about this topic, I want to say that our goal at GrabCAD is to make the Engineer's life better by eliminating traditional barriers, so we can all use better products in our everyday lives.
If you take a look at the barriers in our industry - barriers between CAD softwares, companies, fear about IP, Cloud, etc. - this blocks the route to better products. My true belief is that we can only achieve better products if we take more open approach to engineering. And this is what we are trying to do in GrabCAD. I know we haven't always got it right, but we care about engineers and are here to listen and improve every aspect of GrabCAD to break down those barriers.
Now, about crowd-sourcing design. The main aim for a GrabCad Challenge is to give companies a lot ideas about what they can do to improve the design or solve difficult problem they don't have enough resources for. Our hope is that even small manufacturing companies will have the same resources as a large company, like General Motors for example, and I believe our community of Engineers can enable that. Take a look at the Amarok challenge. There is one engineer working for this company and there simply wasn't enough resources to develop alternate solutions. Instead, they turned to us to run a challenge. They received 130 design ideas. They took time off, analyzed different designs, picked components from different designs and created a unique one, performing all the stress calculation and manufacturing drawings from scratch. They would never get similar results if they turned to an engineering services company. This is the power of open engineering.
About the prizes. I agree that an iPad2 is not a fair prize for an Engineer and it wasn't fair for the other engineers who didn't win. Our team is working very hard with each deal to convince companies to pay more and we are always ready to listen to engineers feedback about what we can do to make the Challenges fair and valuable for all who take part. I especially like the idea Sean mentioned in his blogpost - An engineer sets the price for his work and if the company decides to use it they need to pay it. I think this is something we will try in the near future.
I understand why traditional engineering service companies are afraid of crowd-sourcing design. They feel that their jobs will be taken away. I don't see it that way. I will see crowd-sourced design as one additional and very valuable step in the process of creating something new.
Scott mentioned in his blogpost that his father wasn't an engineer by education but he solved lots of engineering problems. I believe that non-educated engineers can do as good a job or even better than educated engineers in thinking of new solutions. In the GrabCAD Challenges we hope to see more people who are young engineers. learning to apply their knowledge or those who have just started to use Sketchup. And once we get all of these ideas out-of-the-box, then other engineers can come to play, trasforming these ideas into reliable and manufacturable shape and spreading their knowledge to others.
We can not guarantee if we will succeed in our journey to make Engineering more open, but we will be here trying very hard to do so. I believe we already have some things right when you see how many great designs are submitted to the Library for free, open to anyone.
Would love to hear your thoughts.