We're expected to cover a wide variety of fields for a given project, including mechanical power transmission, electrical circuit protection, servo driven motion control, hydraulics, pneumatics, magnetics, lubrication, optics, and chemical compatibility. That's a pretty diverse list. The term "engineer" is used as a catchall, but it doesn't convey the broad list of tasks and fields we must cover to solve that problem.
What are we, then? We're the multi-talented, multi-skilled tool used to solve problems -- society's Swiss Army knife.
Oh, there may be some tasks needing a larger blade than that found on a Swiss Army knife. Some of us are highly specialized. Some focus on one or two aspects of the problem to be solved. One way or the other, we're going to cut right to the heart of the problem.
Even though National Engineers Week has passed, get the word out -- tell people what sort of knife you are.
Another way to look at engineering that I like is that engineering is creative.I know there are engineers that are mostly involved in operations and maintenance, but those activities can require creativity at times.
I have had the wonderful opportunity to work in design in the spacecraft and many other industries where what you are doing has never been done before.This really brings out creativity in engineering.On one project we had a group of PhD Physicists whose job title was phenomenologist.They were there to answer a specific question about what the system we were designing was meant to deal with.Their role, as with many scientists doing science, was to describe nature.That can be very challenging.Often though, to do that they have to design instruments, etc.That is really engineering, not pure science.
Rob, you are so right on with that comment. My father was a designer at a government electronics lab. He always stressed the ability to write for engineers. He saw too many of the engineers he worked with getting little or no credit for their ideas because someone else had to be brought in to write them up.
Hi TJ, I'm delighted you included "a writer" in your list of the disciplines required of an engineer. As a journalist covering engineering, I've long been impressed by the writing skills of engineers. Of course that may be engineers who took their high school and college education at a time when writing was emphasized for all disciplines.
T.J., this is a great concise summary of what engineers do. I might add "negotiator" (working with manufacturing, purchasing, etc. in order to balance their needs without sacrificing product performance), and sometimes "policeman" (making sure that everything is being done according to the design specification).
For those of us who work with legacy designs, you could also add "historian" -- reviewing design history to see why a particular decision was made, or how a particular problem was tackled in the past. (Depending on how far back the legacy designs go, "archaeologist" might be a better term for this).
The common theme underlying all of the roles you mentioned is problem solving. It's worth nothing that, even though the problems we are tasked with solving are technical in nature, it takes more than just technical skills to solve them. In spite of the stereotype of the antisocial engineer, it actually takes a lot of people skills, too.
I like the Swiss Army knife analogy, TJ. And I think today's engineers have an ever-expanded palette of disciplines, methodologies, and specialty areas that they are expected to be versed in for problem solving. That said, what specific skill areas do you think are ever more critical to have in the engineer's so-called knife repetoire?
As additive manufacturing (including 3D printing) becomes increasingly popular among businesses as a quick and easy solution to creating and evaluating prototypes and end-use products, the debate about whether to outsource production or to purchase equipment for in-house use is at the forefront of industry discussions.
With increasing terrorist threats overseas, organizations are thinking about how best to defend themselves here and abroad. Engineering can play a role, especially when it comes to putting a barrier between yourself and the bad guys.
In the last few years, use of CFD in building design has increased manifolds. Computational
fluid dynamics is effective in analyzing the flow and thermal properties of air within spaces. It can be used in buildings to find the best measures for comfortable temperature at low energy use.
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