A fairly common definition of an engineer is "a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics, and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems." National Engineers Week is about raising the awareness of engineers and engineering, and yet this is the definition people see? We must do better!
What skills do we need to work on any given single project? What hats might we wear? At any point in solving that problem, we are:
a drafter, creating the documents that will be used to create the solution;
an optimizer, fine-tuning the solution;
a writer, creating the user manual;
a salesman, convincing customers your solution is worth buying;
an inspector, making sure the solution matches the idea that sprang from your head;
an accountant, keeping track of the costs of the solution to stay inside the budget;
a librarian, collecting and organizing the component and material documentation that comprises your solution;
and a detective, tracking down the loose wire or the short circuit.
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?
Iterative design — the cycle of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a product — existed long before additive manufacturing, but it has never been as efficient and approachable as it is today with 3D printing.
People usually think of a time constant as the time it takes a first order system to change 63% of the way to the steady state value in response to a step change in the input -- it’s basically a measure of the responsiveness of the system. This is true, but in reality, time constants are often not constant. They can change just like system gains change as the environment or the geometry of the system changes.
At its core, sound is a relatively simple natural phenomenon caused by pressure pulsations or vibrations propagating through various mediums in the world around us. Studies have shown that the complete absence of sound can drive a person insane, causing them to experience hallucinations. Likewise, loud and overwhelming sound can have the same effect. This especially holds true in manufacturing and plant environments where loud noises are the norm.
The tech industry is no stranger to crowdsourcing funding for new projects, and the team at element14 are no strangers to crowdsourcing ideas for new projects through its design competitions. But what about crowdsourcing new components?
It has been common wisdom of late that anything you needed to manufacture could be made more cost-effectively on foreign shores. Following World War II, the label “Made in Japan” was as ubiquitous as is the “Made in China” version today and often had very similar -- not always positive -- connotations. Along the way, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other Pacific-rim nations have each had their turn at being the preferred low-cost alternative to manufacturing here in the US.
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