Blog - Steve Mackay

Dear Colleagues

In contrast to the well defined structures of engineering, it never ceases to fascinate me how the topsy-turvy way business actually works. In many cases, defying the laws of logic (and as the old saying goes: rewarding the guilty and punishing the innocent).

There are six important issues to always bear in mind to extract maximum value from the business world whilst working in engineering.

Customers are not always obvious. Customers are not only the external guys who...

Dear Colleague

Although I can hear a few of you muttering... 'obviously a jack of all trades and master of none'; one of  my passions is the study of engineering professionals working and collaborating remotely especially in remote configuration and testing of industrial automation systems. The rapid growth in broadband, the need to reduce travel and accommodation costs as well as reduce green house gases (from travel), makes this a very relevant topic.

As the ITU remark; “It’s good to...

Dear Colleagues

As you know, with the recent release of the various Apple iPhones and iPads; innovation tuned into the market is highly prized and rewarded. Rupert Murdoch, the news media magnate, predicts that tens of millions of iPads will be sold over the next few years. He remarked about the Apple CEO, Jobs: ‘He's got such incredible focus. He's got such power inspiring the people around him who work for him. And, you know, it's -- it's a highly, highly disciplined company... and it...

Dear Colleagues

Remember those noisy motorbikes with plumes of smoke pouring behind them as they tore down the street? I grew up with them and aspired for one, although in some respects they were death-traps for teenagers. You don’t see many two-stroke engines on the road today; they have survived in lawnmowers, chainsaws and hedge-trimmers. Cheap, light and compact makes for a good garden appliance.

A two-stroke engine applies the KISS (Keep it simple Stupid) principle with panache, so...

Dear Colleagues

One thing that we as engineering professionals tend to shy away from, is asking for a raise or an increase in fees for services we deliver to clients. Engineers and technicians tend to enjoy and focus on the engineering and technical issues and generally get short changed on their fees and salaries. We get enormous satisfaction from doing technical things but contemplating our fee or hourly rate is often considered demeaning and unprofessional (and indeed for most of us...

Dear Colleague

Jay Forrester, inventor of Random Access Memory, is one of those pioneering engineers who, from an early age, liked to get his hands dirty and build things. In the thirties, when his parent's ranch had no electricity, he built a working, wind driven, 12 volt electrical generator out of old car parts. Jay recently pointed out "Students need to get into the real world and do things with their hands. Learn by doing... Many of today's students are out of touch with the real...

Dear Colleagues

Many of us tend to regard the developing (poorer) world as a great market for our so-called innovative products from the west. Let’s face it - with the inevitable doomsday talk of a double dip recession, there is a heightened twitchiness around the world at present, so any new market in which to sell our services and products is welcome. However, there is a rapidly developing area where new products are being designed and built in the developing (or poorer) world; this...

Dear Colleagues

I've just returned from presenting a series of intensive courses on Industrial Automation covering everything from process control, PLC's and industrial data communications. A subject close to my heart and vital to our long term success in maintaining viable businesses and engineering jobs. As I note below.

An incredibly successful application of industrial automation was  highlighted this week with the death of Nicolas Hayek, who 'saved' the Swiss watchmaking industry. You...

Dear Colleagues

At the end of this newsletter, you can get the details on downloading your 20 page chapter on good installation practice for PLC’s.

Why should you read this short note below about transferring power wirelessly? Well; like it or not, it is definitely a method that will be used extensively in the future. So, another useful concept to consider in your next design and to add to your engineering toolbox. Maybe not today, but very soon.

Transferring Power Wirelessly

Nikola Tesla –...

Dear Colleagues

When designing or constructing a product, we specify the requirements (and design features) in copious detail. But one set of items we tend to leave out are the unwanted requirements (or the do not do’s). This comment probably sounds odd (demented ?). However, we tend to focus on the positives in a design or in constructing or commissioning equipment. If you think of the recent Toyota recall, with the accelerator pedal operation which was not controllable, perhaps if the...

Dear Colleagues

We’ve all been watching the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. And we all have a response. There are those who are horrified about the environmental catastrophe, others who wonder about the technology and engineering expertise necessary at those depths and obviously there are those who consider the inevitable safety issues. There will even be those who are wondering about the future impact on the...

Dear colleagues

Andy Grove, the innovative and hard driving ex-CEO of the business behemoth Intel, and a famous chemical engineer, made the remark ‘Only the paranoid survive in business’ many years ago when referring to how he grew Intel so vigorously (and profitably) over many decades; despite dealing with enormous technical change, vigorous competition and rapid growth.

When you look around you at the carcasses of engineering companies, one can clearly see that technical change can be...

We Need Your Help: We are looking for a range of solutions for troubleshooting industrial data communications and networking systems and some critical safety hints for working with fiber.

A slight wrinkle to my normal newsletter: We are in the throes of constructing a list of troubleshooting tips and tricks for working with industrial data communications systems. We did this a few years back with electrical safety and received a tremendous response from everyone. (Interestingly it was noted...

Dear Colleagues,

It seems, on reflection, that over time I have had the dubious honour of travelling to ‘out of the way’ places. Two weeks ago, I participated in an Engineering Roadshow where we presented short lectures to engineering professionals in various out-of-city locations. A range of exhibitors promoted their wares alongside us. It is always particularly enjoyable meeting those of you who come along. The tricky challenge on these excursions seems always to be tangled up in the...

Dear Colleagues

As we all know there is a burgeoning environmental catastrophe occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. BP’s CEO has announced that a massive containment dome (also known as a cofferdam) will be dropped through 5000 feet of water to cover the oil leak and funnel the oil to the surface - something that has never been done before, let alone at these depths.

Engineering professionals always rise to the occasion - coming up with ingenious solutions to engineering problems (whether...

Dear Colleagues

The main reason, for writing this newsletter is to inform and educate (both you and me, I might add) and hopefully to ensure that you get value from our newsletters (and naturally open them !).

The one topic, which is still very “hot” is of course Arc Flash protection where we recently ran a well attended and actively debated conference. Evgeniy Mitev and Trung Nguyen (both of Rio) stated that: “An arc flash is the plasma cloud that develops during and following an...

Dear Colleagues

At the end of this note, there are three complimentary chapters for you to download. They are from our forthcoming bridging course on Engineering Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry.

We all know that no one is indispensable – companies and people come and go. Even the owner or ‘boss’ of a business is often a fragile commodity.  Bearing this in mind you could do the usual and simply go to work and truck along - go with the flow.  On the other hand, you could go a step...

Dear Colleagues

Last night, when preparing a presentation for Industrial Ethernet troubleshooting, a short note in a Fluke Networks booklet (no, I am not selling Fluke products) caught my eye. It was originally written for troubleshooting networks (the bane of my existence, especially when in a grubby noisy and wet plant environment); but equally applicable to general engineering problems.

Every successful engineering career involves troubleshooting and fixing at some time - admittedly other...

Dear Colleagues

I was somewhat surprised when my astute sister-in-law indicated that before she dates someone new she does a Google search and checks out his profile. Most of us leave some sort of electronic footprint on the internet today - who we are and what we do. Interestingly, many criminals and rip-off merchants (mainly white-collar )  spend fortunes altering search patterns, to ensure good stuff is placed up on the web in order to swamp the true, but unpleasant things written about...

Dear Colleagues

One of my good colleagues, Ric Harrison (our e-learning systems consultant), has written about the futility of this mad rush for certification and accreditation in everything we do…….read on…

If you were promised a starring role in a movie and were given the chance of coaching by Johnny Depp or Philip Seymour Hoffman, would you pass them over in favour of someone who had all the right teaching certification but never “made it” as an actor?
Similarly, if you had the...

Dear Colleagues

Theories should be treated with a degree of suspicion until proven beyond all reasonable doubt. You only need to remember the Y2K fiasco where Armageddon was predicted with the change-over from 1999 to 2000 on computer clocks - calamitous crashes and dreadful fallouts were forecast. Needless to say, nothing dramatic happened, although billions of dollars were spent in a frenetic push to “fix the problem”, which in most cases (if not all?) didn’t exist.  Similarly, I think...

Dear Colleagues

Although it will vary from region to region and from country to country, times are still a little uncertain in engineering. The traditional disciplines within electrical engineering, for example, no longer have the growth rates they had in the past.

An interesting prediction of top engineering jobs has come out of the USA (but also provides interesting predictors to other countries). One of the world’s top career experts, Laurence Shatkin, examined six industries in the USA...

Dear Colleagues

A useful chapter on Training with Impact

Get your advance copy of a chapter on Training with Impact from our forthcoming book on Presentation and Instructing Skills for Engineering Professionals – refer to the end of this newsletter.

Engineering Learning Heroes

I am always amazed by the incredible energy put in by especially young tradespeople, technicians and engineers in furthering their studies in their own time. (And I am not referring to the courses that allow...

Dear Colleagues

How many times have you changed jobs? Sadly, in today’s world, nothing goes on for ever, including your ‘spot’ in a company. Apparently, in the course of his/her career, the average employee can change jobs up to ten times. I would argue that currently this understates the situation. In the case of an engineering contractor this is even more profound. As I have mentioned before, when I started engineering in the seventies I used to think of a lifetime career in...

Dear Colleagues

As engineering professionals we should all be passionate about protecting our hard won designs and intellectual property from the pirates and less than scrupulous commercial denizens. There are many disturbing examples of ‘rip-offs’ occurring regularly around the globe – with some countries more guilty than others.

Despite what you think this is a topic relevant to us all. Whether an electrician or chief engineer, you work with intellectual property on a daily basis. And...

Dear Colleagues

I like to think I am one - an engineering entrepreneur that is. And vaguely successful. Although, I must confess that when I see the salaries earned by those uber successful engineers in oil and gas, for example, I know that it is arguable in terms of financial success (especially considering the risks I have taken). But I comfort myself with the great satisfaction I get (well, 90% of the time). I delight in engineers and technicians who have set up incredibly successful...

Dear Colleagues

Thanks for the flood of responses to the engineering quiz. Full answers are below and we would like to congratulate our winners:

Mr Patrick Richards
Mr Brett Dixon
Mr Mike Jones

(Drawn from all the correct submissions). All others with correct answers will be offered an e-book of their choice. Well done everyone.

Wanted: Green Engineers and Technicians

Some of you have tartly suggested over the past few years, that it would be gratifying to receive some convincing evidence...

Dear Colleagues

Although there is the inevitable hype about what an incredible economic year beckons us as we farewell the great recession, I have my reservations. I reckon things are going to remain challenging and that we are currently experiencing a paradigm shift which will effect how we work as engineering professionals. This is driven by a high level of unemployment, a shortage of capital, low profitability in companies, enormous debt weighing on all economies, China and India...

Dear colleagues

There is so much to celebrate this week – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice or simply the imminent New Year. We, at IDC, would like to wish you everything of the best for the remainder of this year. We hope you find some time for a well-earned break before a prosperous 2010. (My wife and I kicked off the holiday season amongst the vines and alongside the surf in the south western corner of Western Australia - where the Great Southern and Indian Oceans meet).

I am very...

Dear Colleagues

As the festive end of the year approaches – the season for giving, it is a great time to examine how we can use our engineering skills to do something for our fellow world citizens living in poverty. A billion people do not have safe drinking water, for example, and two billion do not have adequate sanitation. Outbreaks of avoidable disease and a high death rate result. An inspirational engineer in this regard is Amy Smith of MIT. She and her hundreds of mechanical...

Dear Colleagues

Whilst on a ship a woman enquired of Herbert Hoover (who later became US president in 1929) what he did for a living. His reply; “I am an engineer”, to which she responded; “But I thought you were a gentleman”. Attitudes to this profession and the practice of engineering itself have, however, changed considerably over the past hundred years. Although the science of engineering remains in motion (some of these trends are outlined below) there is no doubt that there are...

Dear colleagues

In these rather challenging times, it is especially important to value yourself and to extract as much value from your engineering expertise as you can. It is also imperative, however, to continually assess yourself in terms of your ability to indeed deliver true value and improve your expertise. What follows are a few suggestions on how to build value into your engineering:

• Measure yourself honestly and objectively when you execute your day-to-day engineering tasks...

Dear colleagues,

In 1902 CY O’Connor, one of Australia’s greatest engineers, constructed the longest pipeline in the world. It was designed to carry water from Perth to the desperately dry goldfields. During the final stages of its commissioning the project faced some problems. CY O’Connor suffered some vicious criticism before committing suicide – he rode his horse into the surf in Fremantle. Doubts were cast on whether the pipeline would work and there were unfounded rumours that he was...

Dear Colleagues

You’ve just won a great contract but have to work in a team. Great, a technical challenge, but in groups! As engineering professionals this is not our best scenario. You may be outgoing and extroverted, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that you have good team interaction skills. Engineering projects today, however, are increasingly complex and need a team to succeed.

Teams are brought together for specific projects, with some of the group often operating out of offices oceans...

Dear Colleagues

Murphy’s Law is especially quoted in engineering and as most of you would well know the gist of it is: ‘If anything can go wrong, it will’. Often, we add: ‘And at the most inopportune moment and in the most damnable way.’ (A little unfair - the assumption: A malevolent universe).

The Law’s (supposed) origin is from an engineering blunder. A Captain Ed Murphy, an engineer at Edwards Air Force Base, was dealing with a technician who incorrectly wired a strain gauge bridge...

Dear colleagues

Thanks to all +120,000 readers for your suggestions - please keep them coming.

As you know with your CAD design work, working in 3-d is almost upon us. You would have noticed the upsurge in 3-d movies recently. High definition images have already become established as a standard and it is very difficult to see much more improvements possible to 2-d images (As far as the human eye is concerned).3-d is now the focus area with cinemas replacing the boring old red-and-blue...

Dear Colleagues

Every now and again, one gets a handsome return for your tax dollars (thank you America). If you are working in renewable energy or energy systems, there is a complimentary and brilliant program (Homer) you have to add to your armoury (even if you are only mildly associated with energy systems). See the end of the newsletter for further details (no, I am not selling anything – courtesy of the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

I drank four coffees at midnight last night...

Dear Colleagues

Over the past few years we have heard a lot about virtual reality – computer generated worlds in which one can be completely immersed. Interestingly it has never quite fired up the engineering world. Virtual reality is obviously very prevalent in video games, but has not become overly convincing elsewhere (exceptions exist in very specialised applications).

A new hype, however, has crept up vigorously over the past year - augmented reality or AR. This is a concept I can...

Alleged Lightning strike

Dear Colleagues

We are flooded on a daily basis with too much data and because we are in such a hurry we often don’t verify the truth of an assertion. This was brought home to me yesterday with the following exchange about damage to an aircraft (shown in the photograph below). An expert confirmed that the damage was created by a lightning strike and then made some interesting comments about aircraft and lightning.

Apparently an American Airline pilot took the photograph after the plane had...

Dear Colleagues

My good sparring partner, Luke Hancock, who is our IT guru, has kindly made some comments on the new Windows 7 due to hit you shortly (thanks Luke). I initially thought Windows 7 was a wondrous new environment fixing the Vista problems, but his take (below) is somewhat more cautious. Read on.

Microsoft will be soon releasing Windows 7, a new version of the Windows operating system.  Industrial users tend to be hesitant about adopting a new operating system  (with often...

Dear Colleagues,

Networking is now a critical part of your career. And it shouldn’t be when you are urgently looking for a job before the “work” roof caves in. Networking is also not just about career development. It is about building successful companies and making your engineering career even more successful. It is about keeping in touch on a continuous basis, seeking new contacts and being generous with your information and know-how to a rapidly growing circle of friends and...

Dear Colleagues

When you have a permanent job in a company, your income is pretty certain. In the real, but cruel world of consultant, contractor and contract, however, life can be considerably more complex and fraught with danger. If the contracts are not handled correctly you could end up considerably poorer, despite putting in an enormous number of working hours. It may be worth re-considering the different options as outlined below. (And at the end of this newsletter is an extract...

Dear Colleagues

We are delighted to announce that this week we have become an IEEE Education Partner. As you probably know, the IEEE is the world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology and has over 360,000 members throughout the world.

We have also produced a number of complimentary books over the past few months, including; Greatest Engineering Disasters, Crazy Inventors, Engineering Careers for 2009, Crazy Inventions, Impossible Engineering Jobs, Job Interviews...

Dear Colleagues

Since the early seventies, I have watched as engineering careers have morphed into five distinct types: ‘corporate’, ‘learning’, ‘contract’, ‘skilled global’ and ‘manager’. I would be most interested to know what your type is and naturally, make suggestions on what you think of my categorisation. I will conclude by making some suggestions on how you can take advantage of these trends.

I believe each category still exists today, but the last two appear to be growing...

I am currently travelling with a roadshow, presenting short information sessions in various mining towns in the Australian outback. It has been quite fascinating to learn what is happening in these rural towns, particularly with the massive growth in China in mind.

What was especially striking, here in outback Australia, is the enormous demand for minerals and the incredible engineering skills shortage that has arisen as a result.

There is no doubt that the boom in mining and demand for...

From: Kevin Kelly and Coleambally Irrigation Co-operative Limited

Some interesting comments from Kevin Kelly

Thanks very much for your thoughful commentary and insight here, Kev.

______________________________________________________________

We were involved at the leading edge and have spent a bit of time at the bleeding edge implementing irrigation open channel flow measurement. Thankfully the technology has been retained in Australia.

 Regards,

Kevin.

 

Steve,
As always...

Dear Colleagues

One of the joys of an engineer is the opportunity to work on cutting edge projects – particularly when you are leading the way. Another is working on a ‘greenfield’ site - starting something completely new (instead of salvaging a failing project begun by others). These opportunities, however, are very rare these days. More commonly we tend to be involved in either tacking on an additional facility to an existing site or simply doing some small improvement to an existing product...

Some really great suggestions from the inimitable Ian McMillan on the 1st September 2009

Driving a good Engineering Presentation, but with or without Graphics?

Hi Steve

Me and my 2c-worth again.  Good one, I quite agree.  A picture is worth a thousand words, provided it's the right picture.

I use the gimp extensively for image manipulation - it's a Photoshop-type program, it's a free download, it's available for virtually every platform out there, it's unbelievably powerful, it's...

Dear Colleagues

We have all sat through interminably boring power point presentations, often riddled with the poor use of graphics. As engineering professionals we tend to stick to the technical side of things and avoid presentations full stop. However, there are times when they are unavoidable. Here are some really great tips that I have picked up (or stolen?), over the years, on how to use graphics/visuals, with panache, in engineering presentations.

There is no doubt that graphics...

Dear colleagues

There are many examples of products and companies developed during poor economic times - venerable companies such as HP, FedEx, CNN and products such as the iPod. Adversity spurred the creators on. However it is very rare to have a Eureka moment in design (the one when Archimedes purportedly ran down the street naked hollering, "I have found it!” – Similar to Steve Job’s comment at the end of this note). But innovation is a key element in driving any business or economy upwards...

The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is dedicated to ensuring our students receive a world-class education and gain skills they can immediately implement in the workplace upon graduation. Our staff members uphold our ethos of honesty and integrity, and we stand by our word because it is our bond. Our students are also expected to carry this attitude throughout their time at our institute, and into their careers.