8 Movies for Product Development Engineers

It is not just Sci-Fi movies that revolve around the world of tech toys and engineering. There are a number of great films, from documentaries to mainstream blockbusters, that have engineers as central plot characters or touch on some topic that is a part of every engineers world. Here are just a few of the ones that I have seen either without prompting or at the suggestion of other engineers who say it is a must watch…

The Light Bulb Conspiracy: “The Light Bulb Conspiracy” takes a look at the idea of planned obsolescence. The impact on society, the moral dilemma, and the economic motivations of a defined useful product life cycle provide an intriguing backdrop for a global conspiracy. The 1920’s light bulb industry generated the name for the film but the story can be applied to a number of different industries. Regardless of if it’s “good” or “bad” a variety of professionals could benefit from thoughtful consideration on the subject. Note: The film is very limited release and only available outside of the US or for a premium cost as an “Educator”, if you have the chance to see it or get a copy I highly suggest doing so.

Manufactured Landscapes: Lots of long drawn out shots of landscapes that have been created by the manufacturing industry. Shot and narrated with no positive or negative message to deliver this film delivers images that are thought provoking for anyone in the product development field. Also available on Netflix streaming

Apollo 13: The Ron Howard take on the widely known NASA mission must take some liberties, but overall the performance is solid. Of course engineers and designers are abound in the film, though not as the main characters. Similar to what many engineers in corporations say they do, keep things running in the background while others tout the overall plan (or occasionally take credit for their work). The scene where they put the contents of the shuttle on the table and tells group of engineers on the ground that this is all the guys on the shuttle have to fix the problem embodies what so many engineers have experienced in their careers.

21: A group of young, intelligent MIT engineers go gambling. Profits and high stakes drama ensue. Creative license is ripe in this one and it’s easy to understand where movie magic has taken over but I had to add the film because one of the founders of Solidworks, John Hirschtick, was a part of the team and used his winnings to help found Solidworks. Good thing for this blog he did, writing tutorials on how to use Solidworks won’t get me kicked out of any hotels. John confirmed his team membership on another blog

Tron: Watching the original now it is almost hard to believe that the graphics were “cutting edge” when this movie was released in 1982. Now a days even an entry level CAD user can whip up a dimensional grid with all sorts of geometry, and with a little legwork putting in a light cycle rendered to rival those in the film. As the graphics have progressed the underlying story has also been evolved with AI making strides and devices becoming more interactive (think Apple’s Siri) with each revision. Many people are attached to their mobile devices or computers, who knows maybe one day you will be able to be a part of it.

Ironman: Thirty years from now some engineer will be writing about the how Ironman used to be cutting edge. The movie uses theoretical design methods, CAD, and prototyping that very well may be common classroom experiences for engineers of the future. Sure some of the current young product designers and engineers will be slow to adopt new methods but to think that current CAD systems (Solidworks, Autocad, Solidedge, and the like) are going to maintain a similar look and function in the future is foolish. Some of these tools may stay around but others, more powerful and capable of solving future problems, are certainly in the works. Maybe those new tools will even be inspired but some of the movie magic of Ironman.

October Sky: Science fairs, physics classes and model rockets. You can’t make it through engineering school without at some point plotting the parabola of a launched object. Sure, not every engineer turns out to be a “rocket scientist” but many technical roles use similar concepts in their own way. The boys from West Virginia may have been able to save themselves a few prototypes if only they had today’s CAD tools. Simulation tools could have told them which of their nozzle designs and materials wouldn’t make it off the ground, then again watching something blow up in real life is a lot more fun than in a simulation (assuming no injuries or course).

Objectified: Storys from all sorts of product designers about their thoughts and relationships to the things that they create. After watching this there were a number of portions that I found contextually relevant  to conversations I was having daily. Luckily one of the best clips can be found all over the web, thanks to the fact that it revolves around one of the worlds most popular brands, Apple.

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