on September 3rd, 2008

Dear colleagues

1. Thanks very much for your comments on engineering burnout - I will publish these anon. And naturally thanks for your amazing support on the very successful Roadshow throughout Southern Africa. One issue that was highlighted is the terrific and growing shortage of good engineering professionals - throughout the world – who are globally mobile. They are diminishing in number and obviously in demand. As one recently graduated female engineer remarked to me: ‘We are now in the golden era of engineering.’

I am now up in rural Queensland doing another Roadshow before spending a long time at home - thankfully. The UK (and eventually Canada) Roadshows are still some time in the future.

2. Older technologies have a habit of fighting back when new ones come along. Obviously this makes sense as there is a massive amount of engineering R&D, design and production know-how invested and one can't simply chuck all this work in the bin. A case in point is the venerable internal combustion engine using superchargers that force more air into the combustion chambers of its engine - an old idea used in the 1920’s with “blower Bentley’s”. It provides, however, a 40% increase in torque at low speeds. This can reduce the size of a car’s engine by 50%, use less fuel and result in fewer CO2 emissions. Other developments are electromagnetic controls used to open and close valves (independently) rather than with the mechanical pushrods operated by the camshaft.

This allows for the shutting down of cylinders and the switching from the traditional Otto cycle to the ultra lean Atkinson cycle, where less power is required. This can cut emissions and fuel usage by 20%. Other designs include the Daimler DiesOtto engine which runs as a petrol engine for high performance and changes across to diesel mode for low and medium speeds providing massive fuel savings. Soon cars will be breaking the 100mpg barrier. This is truly remarkable. And the much vaunted new technologies (which have been touted to replace the venerable internal combustion engine); such as fuel cells, hybrid systems and electric motors will be chasing a moving target as these older technologies innovate.

So what lessons are there here for us?

Don't change to new technologies simply because they are new. Examine older ones carefully and see whether you can build in new technology rather than replace it all with a completely new paradigm .My acknowledgements to The Economist and Edmunds.com for their information here.

In engineering as well as poker, I believe, in terms of applying new engineering technologies, my slight modification to Josh Billings’ comment is quite apt: “Life consists not in getting good cards but in playing those you hold well”.

Yours in engineering learning


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