Blog - Steve Mackay

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That virtually unheard of quantity - surface tension - is the cause of enormous costs in the engineering world and a slight reduction in this rather arcane ‘force’ could save billions of dollars.


Dear Colleagues

That virtually unheard of quantity - surface tension - is the cause of enormous costs in the engineering world and a slight reduction in this rather arcane ‘force’ could save billions of dollars.

A Technical Refresher
As a refresher for those that are rusty – surface tension...

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“We are spurred on by the impossible” may be a fairly trite throw away line from Dyson’s Director of Energy Storage Development (Bruce Brenner). But it does show the attitude of the company driven by James Dyson in pioneering new inventions which are also commercialised with great success. As many of you would know - he has created products ranging from...


Dear Colleagues

“We are spurred on by the impossible” may be a fairly trite throw away line from Dyson’s Director of Energy Storage...

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Over 30 years ago, I attended an impressive demonstration of a company that had developed a nifty image processing system and fruit selector to sort good from bad fruit. A great idea but hugely expensive, only operational for a part of the season (fruit picking) and prone to breakdowns and many errors.


Dear Colleagues

Over 30 years ago, I attended an impressive demonstration of a company that had developed a nifty image processing system and fruit selector to sort good from bad fruit. A...

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here is nothing new under the sun - as the old adage goes. And when looking at the sleek new industrial buildings built out of state-of-the-art new materials such as carbon fiber or indeed, boring steel and concrete, it is surprising to see the renaissance of construction with wood – something I thought had disappeared for traditional city building.


Dear Colleagues

There is nothing new under the sun - as the old adage goes. And when looking at the sleek new industrial buildings built...

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Seemingly the target of 50 billion connected devices on the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020 is now somewhat overly optimistic. The estimate has been sharply estimated downwards to perhaps 20 billion interconnected devices. Quite a change from the original hyped up estimate.


Dear Colleagues

Seemingly the target of 50 billion connected devices on the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020 is now somewhat overly optimistic. The estimate has been sharply estimated downwards to perhaps 20 billion...

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I am always a little twitchy when I hear of the next latest invention based around renewable energy – whether it be solar panels or (self-driving) electric cars  - as far as saving the planet and reducing the carbon footprint.


Dear Colleagues

I am always a little twitchy when I hear of the next latest invention based around renewable energy – whether it be solar panels or (self-driving) electric cars  - as far as saving the planet and reducing the carbon footprint.

As we...

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Do you communicate and write well and have excellent problem solving skills? Do you have outstanding technical know-how and experience? Well – you have improved your chances of securing a good job immeasurably. Naturally, there are other skills required and the over riding need for good experience relating to the job.  But...


Dear Colleagues

Do you communicate and write well and have excellent problem solving skills? Do you have outstanding technical know-how and experience? Well –...

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Sherlock Holmes, that incredible detective, would be impressed with the new technologies and lateral thinking being employed to detect the ever more silent submarines (or subs) lurking below the surface of our oceans. Sonar (or acoustics) has been used in the past but is rapidly being ineffective.


Dear Colleagues

Sherlock Holmes, that incredible detective, would be impressed with the new technologies and lateral thinking being employed to detect the ever more silent submarines (or...

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We are assailed on a daily basis with inventions that will break the laws of Physics. Some are hard to disprove although eventually they are generally discredited. One only needs to think of the devices that were invented to provide perpetual motion. All stuff, nonsense and quackery.

However, there is a new kid on the block with a claim to overturn the Laws of Physics. A rocket drive.


Dear Colleagues

We are assailed on a daily basis with inventions that will break the laws of...

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Seemingly, the word is out that millennials (born from 1980 to 1996) are gaining a reputation for job-hopping. According to a recent Gallup report, 21% of millennials changed jobs in the past year. This is a huge number and considerably more than for older generations. Apparently the belief is that this rapid move in jobs can boost one’s career with greater salaries and more learning possible with this strategy.


Dear Colleagues

Seemingly, the word is out that millennials (born from 1980...

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I had a chuckle when I saw my old colleague (and sparring partner), Michael Brown, recently noting that process dead time is one of the most misunderstood issues in feedback control loops. Absolutely true - there is so much gibberish spoken about this topic. No matter what discipline of engineering you are in – you would have come across the problem of dead time.


Dear Colleagues

I had a chuckle when I saw my old colleague (and sparring partner), Michael Brown, recently noting that...

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Murphy’s Law is especially quoted in engineering and as most of you would well know says: “If anything can go wrong, it will”. Often, we add: “and at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way”.

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

Dear Colleagues

Murphy’s Law is especially quoted in engineering and as...

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In the past few years; we have seen some spectacular collapses of buildings and bridges. This is quite inexplicable to today’s structural designer and engineer who puts enormous effort into the careful use of materials and huge safety margins.

However, when a designer is operating at the limit of their expertise; mistakes still occur...

Dear Colleagues

In the past few years; we have seen some spectacular collapses of buildings and bridges. This is quite inexplicable to today’s...

Dear Colleagues

I know many of you will laugh knowingly when you hear of that famous engineering principle - the KISS principle. And most of you will know it means: Keep it simple, Stupid (other variations are Keep it short and simple). This should be a key goal in all engineering endeavours – particularly design. Of course, there is no suggestion that the design engineer or the user of the equipment is stupid. It is just that this is a very effective principle.

Historically Speaking...

You’ve just won a great contract but have to work in a team. And no matter how outgoing and extroverted you are as an engineer, you don’t necessarily have good team interaction skills. Engineering projects are increasingly complex and need a team to succeed. Especially today.

Dear Colleagues

You’ve just won a great contract but have to work in a team. And no matter how outgoing and extroverted you are as an engineer, you don’t necessarily have good team interaction skills. Engineering...

You may be one of the many engineering professionals not particularly enthused with the idea of making presentations – perhaps terrified on some occasions. The reasons may be that the audience shows obvious boredom and the poor presentations reflect badly on one.

Dear Colleagues

You may be one of the many engineering professionals not particularly enthused with the idea of making presentations – perhaps terrified on some occasions. The reasons may be that the audience shows obvious...

Have you experienced the frustration and futility of searching  and applying online for hundreds of jobs – particularly in the engineering and technology space? Perhaps, you feel that you are casting your resume into the abyss whenever you apply online.

Dear Colleagues

Have you experienced the frustration and futility of searching  and applying online for hundreds of jobs – particularly in the engineering and technology space? Perhaps, you feel that you are casting your resume...

“We only just need a plausible explanation as to why the emissions are still high!!!” was apparently the note from an unnamed Volkswagen employee to deal with the US regulator querying the actual levels.
You’re probably aware of this scandal where Californian regulators are pursuing Volkswagen (VW) to come clean about the real level of emissions from their vehicles...

Dear Colleagues

“We only just need a plausible explanation as to why the emissions are still high!!!” was apparently the...

A few weeks ago I was intimidated by an amazing collection of experts in biomedical engineering. I made a few suggestions on the way their careers would develop.

Dear Colleagues

A few weeks ago I was intimidated by an amazing collection of experts in biomedical engineering. I made a few suggestions on the way their careers would develop.

I clearly remember being a young student being very briefly indoctrinated into the mysteries of biomedical engineering at Groote Schuur hospital by...

Have you been working for a number of years as an engineering professional and have steadily moved into interdisciplinary practice? Where you examine the total system rather than simply one element of it.

Dear Colleagues

Have you been working for a number of years as an engineering professional and have steadily moved into interdisciplinary practice? Where you examine the total system rather than simply one element of it.

Further to this; are you proactive, demonstrate leadership &amp...

I am always intrigued by people who portray themselves as experts. We are all keenly aware of the carnage wrought on the financial markets by the so-called experts. Perhaps if someone had more aggressively questioned their assumptions, beliefs and actions (and presumably fat commissions), our world-wide financial well-being wouldn’t be as exposed today.

Dear Colleagues

‘Consultants and Experts borrow your watch to tell you the time’ ...as the well worn expression goes.

I am always...

An interesting little (simple) brain teaser for you – no matter whether what discipline or type of engineering professional you are.

Dear Colleagues

An interesting little (simple) brain teaser for you – no matter whether what discipline or type of engineering professional you are.

The Challenge

A tank at atmospheric pressure contains 1 kg of air. The tank is then pressurized with an additional 4 kgs of air. What is the resultant gauge pressure (in bars) in the tank after this 4 kgs...

Conflict is a key part of our lives as engineering professionals. Especially these days with so much change occurring. Conflict is a verbal (or indeed non-verbal) expressed disagreement between individuals or groups. It may occur, for example, between an engineering supervisor and employee, or manager and supervisor.

Dear Colleagues

Conflict is a key part of our lives as engineering professionals. Especially these days with so much change occurring. Conflict is a verbal (or indeed...

In the past, there was often a brawl between the IT and engineering groups as to who would control a particular activity in a business or plant. For example, one required a strong know-how in IT in order to adequately support one’s SCADA-based system – so there was always a debate as to who controlled it – the IT or Engineering departments.

 

Dear Colleagues

 

In the past, there was often a brawl between the IT and engineering groups as to who would control a particular activity...

As we know – engineering professionals often hugely underestimate their contribution and role in industry and society. Safety in the workplace especially when it comes to electricity is something we have to constantly keep our eye on and can continue to make a huge contribution.

Dear Colleagues

As we know – engineering professionals often hugely underestimate their contribution and role in industry and society. Safety in the workplace especially when it comes to electricity is something...

Perhaps like you, I tend to get somewhat peevish when confronted with yet another ghastly software package or computer interface which is unusable without considerable (indeed mind altering) training. And yet, surely usability is one of our most vital missions or requirements when designing and building a product (or indeed in delivering a service).

Dear Colleagues

Perhaps like you, I tend to get somewhat peevish when confronted with yet another ghastly software package or computer...

It is always worth remembering that our engineering skills can dramatically help many of our fellow world citizens living in poverty and horrendous conditions. For example, a billion people don’t have safe drinking water and two billion do not have sanitation, resulting in enormous disease and a high death rate – particularly for kids.

Dear Colleagues

It is always worth remembering that our engineering skills can dramatically help many of our fellow world citizens living in poverty and...

Even as long ago as the 1970's, our engineering school saw massively declining enrolments in power systems engineering. Everyone wanted to undertake the high tech type electronics and software type courses. Students were unexcited by power engineering as they perceived it to be old, inflexible and industrial ‘smoke stack’ type engineering.

Dear Colleagues

Even as long ago as the 1970's, our engineering school saw massively declining enrolments in power systems engineering. Everyone wanted...

‘You see things; and you say Why? But I dream things that never were; and I say Why not? (George Bernard Shaw). I believe that one of the great signs of leadership is in questioning what you do, in identifying new ways of doing things and taking your team or organisation to incredible new opportunities.

 

Dear Colleague

‘You see things; and you say Why? But I dream things that never were; and I say Why not? (George Bernard Shaw). I believe that one of the great signs of leadership...

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...

We have all sat through yet another interminable boring PowerPoint presentation often riddled with poor use of graphics. As engineering professionals we tend to stick to the technical side and most of us avoid presentations like the plague. However here are some really great tips I have picked up  (or stolen?) on how to use graphics (or visuals) in your next engineering presentation– well, with some panache.

Dear Colleagues

We have all sat through yet another interminable boring...

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If you build any sort of process or machine control system there is a very good chance that when you first put it into service or test it you will be plagued by some kind of ‘bug” either in the wiring or in the software. The proper term (for such bugs) is:  “Systematic Error in Design”

Dear Colleagues

If you build any sort of process or machine control system there is a very good chance that when you first put it into service or test it you will be plagued by some kind of ‘bug”...

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

An old jibe amongst pilots concerns what you need to fly 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 pilot if he tries to touch anything.


Dear Colleagues

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

An old...

Dear Colleagues

I often get comments from people wondering why I spend time every week writing these musings. Well; apart from the PR (for our engineering training) which helps to keep me off the streets, I actually learn even more from you guys with your responses.

1.    Buy or Roll thy own engineering software tools
One of those perennial issues we get confronted with on a regular basis is the choice of buying your engineering software off the shelf or writing your own...

Industrial network security is a rapidly growing problem. It impacts on all of us - ranging from the president of a company to the electrician or tech installing a PLC or instrument. Although, everyone is shrieking about the desperate shortage of cybersecurity experts and lack of training; this does not appear evident in job adverts or requests for training in this area – but that is a topic for another day...

Dear Colleague

Industrial network security is a rapidly growing problem. It...

No matter whether you are chief design engineer for Intel or a plumber, negotiation is a key skill which can contribute enormously to your career.

The art of negotiation can be a thorny topic. The wise words from a guru ring in my ear: “You don’t get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate”.

Applying these suggestions within my blog can put thousands of additional dollars in your pocket every year.

Dear Colleague

No matter whether you are chief design engineer for Intel or a...

We should always try and align our engineering works and activities within the ‘natural order of things’. This would appear to be challenging but is generally not a difficult undertaking – conceptually speaking, requiring a little finessing and can be done from tiny projects all the way through to massive undertaking such as the Panama Canal.

Dear Colleagues

We should always try and align our engineering works and activities within the ‘natural order of things’. This would appear to be...

As you all know – reliability is a highly sought after measure (especially in engineering) of how long a product or system functions correctly before failure. The ultimate goal is always a reliability of 1 or 100% reliability with no failure over the life of the product. Zero % (0%) reliability refers to immediate failure and should obviously be avoided.

Dear Colleagues

As you all know – reliability is a highly sought after measure (especially in engineering) of how long a product or...

Unbelievably, inspecting an item considerably more times as against fewer times than required, will both result in more errors being identified. The question is what is a good choice in terms of number of inspections. What are the Statistics here?

Dear Colleagues

Unbelievably, inspecting an item considerably more times as against fewer times than required, will both result in more errors being identified. The question is what is a good choice in terms of number of inspections.

What are...

Today, as engineering professionals, we are all lifelong learners if we are to prosper. Technology and indeed life is changing fast and we have to continually learn quickly and effectively new approaches, techniques and systems. Bear in mind that most learning is informal – i.e. through your colleagues and on-the-job. The good old traditional classroom course which we all used to attend is a dim memory.

A week or so ago I attended a superb (free or almost free) online course on learning...

You may be one of the many engineering professionals not particularly enthused with the idea of making presentations. The reasons may be nervousness, discomfort with strange audiences or simply that you are out of your comfort zone. Often it is not a particularly pleasant experience for both the audience or the presenter. You’re unlikely to ever hear from someone, who has to attend an engineering presentation, that they are really looking forward to it.

Dear Colleagues

You may be one of...

No one agrees 100% on what makes for plagiarism. Essentially, plagiarism is (generally blatant) copying of someone else’s work without giving them any credit or acknowledgement.

What puzzles me about plagiarism is that in giving credit to the originator of a particular concept or work can enhance one’s own work tremendously. When people read your article and see that it is backed by support from many other experts; they tend to find it more credible.

Dear Colleagues

No one agrees 100%...

Last week one of the true giants in engineering died. His name is Andrew (Andy) Grove (anglicised name from Hungarian) and he drove the microprocessor revolution (amongst other things). Due to the desperate situation in Hungary at the end of the Second World War, he immigrated to the USA and became one of the giants of the semiconductor industry.

One of his stock phrases (which formed the subject of one of his books) was: Only the paranoid survive in business.

Dear Colleagues

Last week...

Batteries, batteries….that is all we have been hearing of recently. This rapid movement to batteries will undoubtedly impact on the suppliers of electrical power such as power stations and the transmission/distribution networks as the use of batteries at homes will increase strongly. Driven by reducing costs of installations. And some very enthusiastic vendors such as Tesla who are all determined to drive the prices downwards with great vigour. Well, so they claim.

Dear...

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‘The Coming revolution in engineering education’ is always somewhat tedious to read – it is an old worn cliché. We seem to be supposedly having revolutions in everything these days. Certainly there is change coming in engineering education but revolution – I doubt it.

EIT Stock ImageDear Colleagues,

‘The Coming revolution in engineering education’ is always somewhat tedious to read – it is an old worn cliché. We seem to be supposedly having revolutions in everything these days. Certainly there is change...

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The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution has had a lot of media coverage over the past year. This refers to the big upswing in developments in robotics, artificial intelligence (think of self-driving cars), genetics and cloud-based computing. This list goes on and on, of course.

Dear Colleagues,

EIT Stock ImageThe so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution has had a lot of media coverage over the past year. This refers to the big upswing in developments in robotics, artificial intelligence (think of...

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The PLC is surely one of the workhorses in industry – no matter whether you are in industrial automation, electrical or mechanical engineering, you are likely to be confronted with one of these little beasts - a Programmable Logic Controller or PLC (or indeed, Programmable Automation Controller – PAC)...

Dear Colleagues,

EIT Stock ImageAs the truism goes: Over 80% of malfunctions with PLCs are associated with Input/Output modules and field equipment. Frustratingly true for someone who...

You’re probably tired of hearing the hype about the Internet of Things (IoT). Well, I am getting a little overloaded.

As you probably know – the IoT is the magic carpet that will connect devices (mainly sensors), enabling seamless communications and monitoring/control from anywhere in your plant, home or indeed the world. After I did some initial research last year on what the real magic is, I have become somewhat disillusioned with the flood of articles on the IoT.

Dear...

In my bookshelf, I have a marvelous engineering book from 32 years ago entitled: The Robotics Revolution by Peter Scott inscribed in my rather youthful hand: 6th Nov. 1984 London. With fairly minimal mention about software - focussing more on the mechanical, electrical and control aspects. However today at the beginning of 2016 one of the overriding trends are based around ‘The Robots are definitely coming’.

Dear Colleagues,

In my bookshelf, I have a marvelous engineering book from 32...

 

Dear Colleagues,

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” can really gnaw at you. How can you make sure that you’re being paid what you are really worth? Essentially your remuneration is based on the contribution you make to the business you work in. Whilst long hours are commendable, you will inevitably find the firm’s salesman lounging down at the beach during working hours drinking copious cappuccinos and earning double what you earn. Despite your engineering...

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.