A woman enquired of Herbert Hoover (later to be US president) whilst on a ship what he did for a living and he replied “An engineer”. She apparently responded: “But I thought you were a gentleman”. Since then, the practice of engineering has changed considerably over the past hundred years, and I want to explore a few trends and how you can grab advantage of them.

Dear Colleagues

A woman enquired of Herbert Hoover (later to be US president) whilst on a ship what he did for a living and he replied “An engineer”. She apparently responded: “But I thought you were a gentleman”. Since then, the practice of engineering has changed considerably over the past hundred years, and I want to explore a few trends and how you can grab advantage of them. There is still no doubt in mind, that there are some constants in engineering such as strong skills in maths and science (and the associated need to be meticulous and precise). And the ability to troubleshoot and to transform mere ideas into real useful objects.

Some of the current trends that are obvious are discussed in the next few paras. I do clearly see today, the need to be obsessively multiskilled and highly receptive to and embrace new ideas and approaches. There has been a merging of professions – mechanical/electrical/ IT and the emergence of new ones. In this ruthless world of change, some engineering professionals have been resistant to change and quickly find their skills redundant (e.g. one colleague of mine - a technician working in the industrial data communications area refused to move beyond  RS-232 and RS-485 into the realms of Ethernet and reluctantly retired).

As Sujeet Chand from Rockwell remarked: there are many more constraints when designing; so one has to be quite adroit in dealing with these (and getting one’s head around them). This includes such issues as energy efficiency, cost, climate change, safety and ergonomics.

One has to be able to collaborate widely and communicate continuously and well. And often in a virtual way using email/ the web/ web and video conferencing with different cultures located all over the world. There is a merging of collaboration with people and the resources on the web. All information is available on the web today in a searchable format meaning very complex designs can be quickly put together.

Outsourcing of non-core functions has often seriously emasculated engineering companies with loss of great engineering talent. This has left many companies with the only remaining ability to repackage old technology which eventually runs out of steam in this highly competitive market.

A lot of the very satisfying hands-on experience is not with us any longer, with James Truchard of National Instruments remarking that the mathematics has isolated us from grounded reality in many cases. We have lost the intuition due to this high level of abstraction. Fortunately with the new approaches to simulation and representing data in realistic simulations, we can move back to the hands-on intuitive approach again.

So what do we do about this:

  • Strengthen our communication skills in collaboration with other cultures and engineers from throughout the globe.
  • Strive for retaining the hands-on intuitive approach to doing engineering using the new 3-d simulation approaches
  • Embrace multiskilling and regard engineering as one vast interlocking field where your skills extend across the entire spectrum and your skills are not in silos.
  • Be wary of outsourcing and losing core resources and functionality
  • And I know I sound fixated but keep learning and absorbing

Thanks to Terry Cousins of TLC Software and Machine Design for giving me the incentive to write this.

And a brilliant quotation which I love today, from Christina Baldwin:  “Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix”.

Yours in engineering learning

Steve

Mackay’s Musings – 24th May’16 #601
780, 293 readers – www.idc-online.com/blogs/stevemackay