Blog - Steve Mackay

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...

Dear Colleagues
We have created a few more short videos (in 5 min segments) and associated book chapters on PLC installation and Programming.

It is clear that we are not in a boom time at present. Many of the more entrepreneurial engineers amongst us have either been moved out or move out and set up as independent consultants. Or you may head up a division of a company where one of your many responsibilities is ensuring good cash flow. Or you are selling your much-in-demand skills after...

Let’s face it; if you haven’t got one; at least one of your colleagues has. As an engineer or technician, is it a worthwhile endeavour? - A year or two involving a potentially jaded professor providing you with potentially questionable concepts?

There is no doubt that currently, MBAs have an uncertain reputation with employers. And the quality of MBAs offered range dramatically from the outstanding to the ghastly – there is absolutely no comparison in worth between a Harvard MBA and one...

Dear Colleagues

Through my observation of engineers and technicians over the past 30 years I have discovered that certain traits or habits make them successful - very successful, in some cases. I believe that we can all become extraordinarily able through the adoption of these practices. Thanks to Buckbee and Covey for the inspiration to write this.

1. Know your Process, Operator and Client/Customer

Firstly, before you can commence engineering a project you need to have an in-depth...

Dear Colleagues,

Steve is away from the office this week, so in his absence we have included a segment from one of our recent press releases for you. Obviously, these can be construed to be promoting our training (which they are) but we have had many case studies appearing over the past 12 months with this new form of learning from all walks of life (even one gentleman in Canada who is over 70 yo who is still working and updating his skills):

Online training via the internet really is coming...

Dear Colleagues

We have this week placed up a selection of papers from a few of our conferences (see  ). 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...

Dear Colleagues

A brief note today, as I have "crocodiles snapping at me" whilst working with the team here on finalising our accreditation application to present a Masters degree in Industrial Automation.
Engineering software and videos

We now have a two short videos (<5 mins) prepared by Terry Cousins on power quality issues. It is particularly challenging to compress everything into this short time; but useful educationally.

The power quality videos are:

* When the Lights Go...

Dear Colleagues

A short <5 minute video on Electrical Power Quality, presented by the inimitable Terry Cousins (of TLC software), is up for your perusal: There will be more going up over the next few weeks (emphatically non-sales).

In response to my blog last week I am grateful to Dave Macdonald, our safety control systems expert (and author of three highly praised books on the topic), who has kindly put together the item below on systematic...

Dear Colleagues

Don’t forget - we have a complimentary presentation on Transformer Failure in two weeks time. Details at the end of this newsletter.

As engineering professionals, we are surely closer to the driverless car than the paperless toilet

There is an old jibe amongst pilots regarding the basic requirements for flying a modern plane: The answer is a computer, a pilot and a dog. The computer flies the plane; the pilot’s sole task is to feed the dog and the dog’s job is to bite the...

Dear Colleagues

I receive comments now and again querying why I spend an hour or two, per week, writing these musings. Well; apart from the PR for our engineering training, they keep me on my toes and interestingly I learn even more on the various topics from your responses. At the end of this blog are details regarding the recording of our latest webconference session on “Industrial Wireless Disasters” But now for my musings:

Buy or Roll thy own Engineering Software Tools

A decision...

Dear Colleagues

Contrary to my effusive praise for the USB (esp. compared to RS-232); I received a list of woes relating to its use from you dear readers. I have placed some of your comments up on the blog site. Thanks very much for your quick and often detailed responses.

As engineering professionals, do we save enough energy?

I have watched with interest the collapse of oil prices - and then, in the past month or so, their upward trajectory. The upward trend, in many cases, is as a result...

Dear Colleagues

Recently, when looking at our local electronics’ supermarket, the pile of 32 Gigabytes USB memory sticks, now costing less than $100, caught my attention. It made me ponder, yet again, the ubiquitous USB standard and its industrial usage. There is no doubt that Ethernet is a strong industrial standard used widely around the traps - but USB offers a real alternative. Spend a few minutes considering it as you read the following.

Over 2.5billion USB (Universal Serial Bus) devices...

My dream (well, one of ’em), when I was in my early twenties as a young engineer, was to travel and work extensively throughout the world. However, having done this (and being on an engineering business trip at present), I am a little more circumspect about travel and prefer the home turf. There is this belief, regarding work overseas, that it is not only exotic, but lucrative. Most often, though, this is not the case and one merely lands up elsewhere because the boss said so!

We all know...

Dear Colleagues

No matter how good a proposed solution seems to be it will have some unintended consequences and as engineering professionals this directly impacts on us. A couple of weeks ago we discussed the great new low energy LED lights. These have been installed as traffic lights in Portland and are saving big $ in energy. BUT…. they are the cause of numerous accidents. With the older lighting technology, a great deal of energy was wasted as a result of the heat that was generated...

Dear Colleagues

My mailbox buckled under the strain of responses from my discussion on lighting last week. Thank you all for your comments. I have put a selection up onto my blog site.

Don’t forget another in our series of complimentary 45 min. webinars (no sales spiel) entitled: “Major disasters in engineering and technical marketing (and how to avoid them)” on Wed 14th May (details at the bottom of this note).

1.0 Engineers and Techs – Rip up your power cables
You probably sigh, as I often...

Dear Colleagues

Thanks for your comments on my blog, including those chastising me! I try to respond to everyone that mails me and where possible I put your comments up onto the site.

Don’t forget another in our series of complimentary 45 min. webinars (no sales spiel) entitled; “Major disasters in engineering and technical marketing (and how to avoid them)” on Wed 14th May (as detailed below).

1.0 The LED knocks out incandescence big time

If you’re like me; you’re probably a little...

Dear Colleagues

We have yet another in our series of complimentary 45 min. webinars entitled; “Major disasters in engineering and technical marketing (and how to avoid them)” This one is running on Wed 14th May. At the end of the day, we are all selling something so if you are involved in the technical world; an engineer, technician electrician…. this should be of benefit. See below for details.

Over a hundred very interactive (and indeed chatty) participants attended the PLC webinar...

Dear Colleagues

Don’t forget our Major Disasters in PLC Projects webinar on 21st April – details at the end.

1. Scavenging for Endless Energy – without Batteries

After initially being a doubting Thomas, I’ve become quite enthused with the new wireless networked instruments available (whether flow, temperature, pressure based or …….) which operate for up to ten years (or longer), in some cases, with a single battery. And now, I am astounded to find that the next generation to be...

Good morning to you all

Three items today.

1. Sarah Montgomery, Our conference manager, has kindly made available some of our papers from our recent SCADA and Industrial Automation conferences. Click here to download these.
2. Don’t forget our Major disasters in PLC projects webinar on 21st April – details at the end.

3. Build your engineering technical reputation especially during these hard times

We have all noticed that certain engineering professionals in the firm develop into...

Dear Colleagues

Two items today. On this April Fool’s day I hope you are enjoying a laugh - with the economic storm clouds gathering we do need to retain a sense of humour.

1. Major disasters in PLC projects (and how to avoid them)

In this complimentary 45 minute webinar, we will look at the intrigues of PLC installations, the programming of their hardware and software and how to achieve good practice. It is running on the 21st April. More details can be found at the end.

2. Drawing...

Dear Colleagues

Engineering whitepapers

We are building up a great source of complimentary engineering information. Thousands of useful articles are available on topics ranging from data communications, instrumentation to electrical and mechanical engineering. These are located by clicking on downloads at

Go for outstanding engineering designs by suppressing your subconscious

I have been reading through selected bits of what must be an outstanding book on...

Dear Colleagues

Two things on this fine day:

1. Major Disasters in Power Quality (and how to prevent them)

Why not join us for another in our series of live, online webinars on 2nd April 2009? These are complimentary and are available to you to thank you for all your support over the past 20 yrs.

2. Fill your Engineering Gaps

As an engineering professional, have you ever worked outside your comfort zone? It is a challenging experience, but ultimately rewarding - learning to master a new...

Dear Colleagues

Two things today.

1. WA Industrial Roadshow next week in Perth/Bunbury/Karratha and Kalgoorlie

We are running complimentary seminars on Industrial Ethernet/Electrical wiring regs/hazardous areas. More info :

2. Engineering the intelligent building

It’s 7.00am. You wake up to the gentle sounds of your favourite CD playing. The lights in your bedroom "fade up" and then follow you around your home as you walk into the kitchen to drink...

Dear Colleagues

Two items today:

1. Real life cases of motor failures and how they were solved

Late last year we presented brief complimentary webinars on the subject of Avoiding Disasters in Industrial Wireless. This was very popular – we had to add extra sessions to handle the demand.  Now, in keeping with the theme of; Avoiding Engineering Failures, we invite you to join us for the next in this series, entitled: Real Life Cases of Motor Failures and How They Were Solved.

2. How to do...

Dear Colleagues
The economic stimulus package that president Obama signed into life last week had an interesting side effect. Most of the jobs created (or protected) require some sort of qualification or degree. According to Higher Ed (2/23, Ledeman), “a minimum of 54% of the 3.7 million jobs created require at least a post secondary certificate”. And a large chunk of the rest, require some sort of specialized training. So even though many of these programs are designed to help the more...

Dear Colleagues

First of all, thanks for the enormous response to common sense tips on safe practice and commissioning. We have been working on putting this into booklet form and will release it in the next few days. It will include a few hundred great suggestions (and unfortunately a few very effective, but risqué suggestions that cannot be reproduced!). One particularly interesting point has drawn horrified responses already - understandably:
………and still are unsure and want to ensure...

Dear Colleagues

Back into the engineering fray or selling a unique engineering skill

You may have been out of main stream engineering for some time or you may be eagerly looking to get into some niche area of technology. Or indeed, your company has a new skill set to sell and you may be struggling to get it over the line. Some of the following may be posing problems:

• There is a gap in your career and hence your employment history
• Due to the implosion in the markets, your former...

Dear Colleagues

Moving into a new engineering job or simply moving from college to work

I have noticed that a number of you (perhaps more than usual in the past year of boom and bust) have just started a new job. This can be an enormously painful experience – whether it is a job straight from college or merely a new position in a new company. Herewith a few suggestions on the best strategies to ensure your engineering career grows in your new environment:

Don’t be disappointed. Set...

Dear colleagues

1. Just before launching into my somewhat brief consideration of smart grids please think about this: We are running a forum on smart grids in Melbourne, Australia, in September 2009, and we are looking for technical papers or suggestions.

2. On August 14, 2004, a power surge was detected in northern Ohio, USA caused by a failure of high voltage transmission lines. This resulted in probably the worst blackout ever in North America. The so-called “smart grid” could have...

Dear Colleagues

Your survey

I was intrigued by the economic survey that you (almost 1000 respondents) happily undertook last week. Interestingly enough, the results indicated that for slightly more than half of us (54%), things were the same or better. And for the other 46%, things were worse. What does this mean? I have always maintained that the shortage of engineering professionals means that we should keep on truckin’ – producing high quality work and focusing on economic...

Dear Colleagues

1.  As an engineer are you hurting or furiously busy ?

Whilst there is no shortage of bad news about the economy, many of my colleagues are furiously busy (and we also can’t find adequate (competent) instructors for some of the varied training projects we are engaged in), there is a level of unease in the engineering community. We have prepared a simple survey about how it affects you - which will take you 2 seconds to undertake. We will publish these results by the end of the...

Dear colleagues

1. Back to school

After being a few (or indeed many) years in the workforce, is it worth going back to school, or, for my British Commonwealth readers; engineering college or university? Especially in these recessionary economic times? This depends on several things, including; your industry, long-term career goals and your financial situation. If a graduate degree, or indeed any further study, makes sense, this rather despondent (and slack) period of the economic...

Dear Colleagues

I trust that you have had a great break over the past few weeks. I certainly had too much sea, wind and surf; but managed to improve my windsurfing skills. To kick the year off really well; we would like to give you a few gifts in appreciation of your support over many years. Naturally, we hope this will give us some PR for our engineering training courses for 2009.  We would be grateful if you would forward this email to any of your colleagues so that they can access...

Dear Colleagues

In our home, we celebrate a Scandinavian Christmas on the eve of the 24th December. Whatever your religion or culture may it be a time of peace and goodwill. Thanks so much for all your incredible support and feedback throughout the year. I appreciate this so much.

Over the upcoming holidays, take a few moments to think clearly, take notes and make changes about how you want to operate next year. The best is to write your objectives down for the year ahead. Be brutally...

Despite the current economic travails, I read about the importance of renewable energy and wind power on an almost daily basis. But is it making such an impact? Should we bother researching it? The engineering challenges have been significant, but I am absolutely convinced that this technology is developing fast and will make a significant contribution. It may contribute directly to your career, or you may become involved in an industry supporting renewable energy. It may have an impact on your...

Dear Colleagues

1. Well, a year has barreled past with bewildering speed and we again make our comprehensive 2009 Engineering Planner/Diary, free to the first 30 of you that request one. These books are full of useful engineering design formulae and tables with space available for each day’s notes.

2. Let’s face it - whether we like it or not; we all work with computer systems today. I was reading a really nifty list of mistakes that even IT pros make (thanks to Debra Littlejohn...

When I was a junior engineer in a large multinational company, I was always bemused by the succession planning for engineers and technicians. Potential for advancement up the technical ladder in your early twenties was great - from trades, technician or graduate engineer level all the way up to plant manager. And then, if you were very good, you had the opportunity to gain the position of chief engineer. But after this, unless you were politically very astute, well connected or possibly...

Dear Colleagues

A good engineering colleague, Terry Cousins, was scratching his head yesterday wondering how a day share trader could possibly add value by trading stocks on an hour-by-hour basis (and I am not referring to traders who buy a blue chip companies and invest for the long term). Terry owns a successful company which has manufactured and sold over 200 hi-tech products around the world. These are based on an eclectic mix of hardware and software, ranging from applications in power...

Hello to you all,

Steve is languishing in hospital having had a rather tatty, ruptured appendix removed.

In the past you contributed to the following document:

Commonsense Engineering Safety Tips When Commissioning a Plant

The first paragraph from the foreword in the document is included here:

Dear Colleagues
As an old engineering colleague of mine, wryly remarked to me recently - engineering and technical graduates are often like babes in the wood when newly on-site, as their practical and...

Hello to you all,

Steve is languishing in hospital having had a rather tatty, ruptured appendix removed.

In the past you contributed to the following document:

Commonsense Engineering Safety Tips When Commissioning a Plant

The first paragraph from the foreword in the document is included here:

Dear Colleagues As an old engineering colleague of mine, wryly remarked to me recently - engineering and technical graduates are often like babes in the wood when newly on-site, as their...

I was somewhat bemused – actually horrified - at an innovative use of tagging at some nightclubs. A tiny RFID tag is apparently injected into a regular nightclubber’s arm to allow him/her to side-step the interminable queues – she/he merely has the tagged arm scanned! This also allows the nightclubber to run up a bar tab without using any cash. Walmart gave the technology a kick along in 2003 when it made tagging mandatory for all suppliers. These suppliers were not overly enthused...

Dear colleagues

Most of you will chortle quietly when it comes to protecting your intellectual property (IP). “What intellectual property?” you may think, with some exasperation. But you will be surprised at how often the simple ideas that you have developed over the years become intensely valuable property. IP represents the property of your mind or intellect. There are various types of IP, such as; patents, trademarks (letters/phrases/logos), designs (shapes or appearances of...

Perhaps a generalisation, but I believe as engineering professionals we tend to work independently, without much enthusiasm for communication - something regarded as the domain of politicians rather than of engineers or technician. It is, however, critical to our success. Charlene Tribelhorn, one of IDC's top instructors in this area, has contributed to my blog- her suggestions are summarized below.

Communication is vital to our success because the results of ineffective communication are...

Dear Colleagues.

We’ve all heard about the incredible unused capacity of the brain, but recent research I have been perusing is impressive and will have an enormous impact in our engineering worlds. Most scientists have thought the brain to be ‘hardwired’ or fixed – well, soon after birth anyway. However, Doidge points out that the brain has an incredible ability to change itself – it is actually very ‘plastic’. No matter your age. He has backed up all his work with solid scientific and...

Dear Colleagues

I must gratefully acknowledge Dave MacDonald, our engineering risk consultant (currently examining risks at an international airport), for detailed advice on risk engineering in this note. I have been horrified by the basic misunderstandings by our so-called financial experts on risk, especially concerning the fact that risk is not randomly distributed and thinking that each event has no bearing on the next event in a sequence (as you can see unfolding on TV over the past...

Dear Colleagues

Over the past few weeks, I have received a number of concerned notes relating to the financial disaster slowly unfolding in the US and elsewhere. My focus tends to be on engineering (naturally enough) but I believe a comment is worthwhile. Although I am definitely not an expert in complex financial issues -  In essence, I believe we have to stay the course in what we do on a day-to-day basis. Due to the impact of considerably less credit available, projects and firms will...

1. These pieces that I write every week aim to pass on some tiny, condensed bit of information to engineering professionals. The amazing thing, however, is that I get far more learning passed back to me from your comments. Thank you.

2. Negotiating is always a thorny topic, but I can guarantee that if you haven’t already utilised the techniques that I have outlined below, you can now make yourself a few thousand additional dollars a year. And for your firm, millions of dollars - real...

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.