Engineers over use PowerPoints to make technical presentations, and the results can be disastrous. So says Edward Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale University, who is an expert on statistical evidence and analytical design. Example: NASA executives had a fatal misunderstanding of the potential danger to the space shuttle Columbia because of overly simplistic PowerPoint presentations made by Boeing engineers. That may seem hard to believe, but Tufte made a convincing case when he spoke at a seminar in Boston yesterday. His viewpoint was validated by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in a report issued in 2003. “The board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communications at NASA,” the board wrote.
Why are PowerPoints a problem for technical communication? 1) They oversimplify complex technical data, 2) They tend to reflect the biases of the presenter, and 3) Information becomes even more filtered as PowerPoints are summarized and moved up a bureaucratic hierarchy. Tufte puts it simply: “Serious problems require a serious tool: written reports.”
A separate NASA task force investigating escalating communications problems in the agency made this damning statement: “It appears that many young engineers do not understand the need for, or know how to prepare, formal engineering documents such as reports, white papers, or analyses.”
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
A fun and informative tour you can attend at the upcoming Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis, MD&M Minneapolis, and other events there, is the Materials Innovation Tour on Wednesday afternoon. I'll be leading it.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies.
You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived.
So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.