We have this week placed up a selection of papers from a few of our conferences (see http://www.idc-online.com ). We all know the expression:" There is no such thing as a free lunch". But we have gone to considerable effort to collect these materials; so most assuredly they are good quality.
Engineering for quality, not longevity, is being brought home to us every day with loved ones who are often being sustained by machines. Now, I have no intention of engaging in debating the minefield of ethics in this area; well outside my competence and powers of persistence. As our technology improves in this area and we have a massive number of people who are aging, we are going to be increasingly confronted with this issue.
Our thrust as engineering professionals has always been on providing machines which will last forever (well, that is what we are often told in the marketing materials). I reckon a lot us intrinsically believe the human is yet another machine. There would be definitely mixed feelings if you designed an instrument which stopped working based on when the quality of output dropped off. We tend to be forced by the financial types and managers in our business to keep flogging that instrument to perform; despite poor quality data or performance; until it really does die. They then reluctantly allow us to upgrade to a new instrument.
When I did a medical electronics course, oh so many years ago, Prof. Chris Barnard, the eminent heart surgeon, remarked wryly when he dubiously looked at our early, primitive heart pacemakers: "The purpose of medicine is to improve the quality of human life; not to prolong it". There is no doubt that a heart pacemaker today can provide an incredibly high quality of life (as compared to those early ones in the sixties and seventies which were perhaps, brutal on the human body). We have an enormous growth in medical engineering technology (This seems to be reasonably recession proof ?) and growing associated costs and an aging western population increasingly needing access to this technology.
Despite the current economic travails, we find ourselves in, there are enormous engineering opportunities opening up with the aging of the population in terms of provision of improved quality in working comfort and health. We are all aware of the obvious ones such as vision degradation as you get older, to lower levels of endurance and powers of concentration. From providing engineering assistance at work, to the home and to leisure. I can think of a myriad of issues. For example, where a 65yo technician (as against a 21yo) may be highly skilled but is unable to physically get to examine an defective instrument but needs a remote method of accessing it; to inability to work in harsh freezing conditions for the same periods of time; to limited physical strength in lifting something up quickly and in controlling an instrument with the dexterity of a 22yo. Our safety guru, Dave MacDonald, will probably agree that there are many safety issues that need to be addressed with an older working population; which may not be such an issue when you were younger.
So what am I saying here in terms of action steps ?
- Think of an engineering professional who may be 65yo (not 21yo) working on your plant when it comes to providing easy access to instruments and equipment
- Seize the massively growing opportunities in medical technology and for older workers by taking your designs into this field
- When working with people in healthcare perhaps consider the focus on quality of life when engineering solutions
Yours in engineering learning,