on July 17th, 2023

Engineering traits are pivotal for success in the professional world, driving efficiency and excellence in problem-solving. These distinctive qualities empower engineers to tackle complex challenges and devise innovative solutions.  

In the fast-paced engineering world, success isn’t solely determined by technical expertise and qualifications. The combination of skills, mindset, and habits sets exceptional engineers apart.  

This article will explore the five habits of highly effective engineers that contribute to their professional growth and inspire and influence those around them.  

Curiosity  

Engineers possess an inherent curiosity that drives them to seek out potential improvements even when things appear to be functioning well. They have a tendency to proactively address issues or anticipate problems with machines, devices, and equipment. It is not uncommon to discover underlying problems within these systems, almost as if they were intentionally designed to have a “best before” date.   

So, how do engineers find these underlying problems? These are some questions to ask yourself when trying to navigate through a problem:  

  1. Do you experience unplanned failures or breakdowns in your plant operations? 
  1. Where is most of your budget allocated and spent? Are there areas that could benefit from optimization or cost reduction? 
  1. Are you consistently meeting your production targets? If not, what factors may be contributing to the shortfall? 
  1. Are there any irregularities or anomalies in the data related to: 
  • Cost of production and maintenance? 
  • Production downtime? 
  • Maintenance overruns? 
  • Maintenance schedules? 

By asking these questions, you can gain insights into potential areas that require fixing, cost optimization, and operational efficiency within your plant. Analyzing data and identifying any irregularities can help uncover opportunities to enhance productivity, minimize downtime, and streamline maintenance processes. 

In a recent conversation with EIT’s Mechanical Engineering lecturer Dr Oyeniyi Alimi, he said that a couple of years ago, when he was a member of the executive community, they had customized a shirt with a quote from Thomas Edison’s incandescent bulb. It reads, “I have not failed, but I have found 1000 ways to not make a light bulb.” 

Dr Alimi says curiosity is at the forefront of an engineer’s practice. “If you are not curious, you have nothing to create or fix.” 

Engineering Curiosity with Nissan Cars 

Seeks Understanding  

Some issues and problems when detected, are difficult to comprehend. For example, the engineer may have found a potential threat to the longevity of the machine, but he/she may not be entirely sure of why this is a problem, how it can be fixed, or how severe it is. The only way to understand the problem or issue is by going into the machine and deconstructing it. Sometimes there are certain undetectable or unfamiliar nuances surrounding a problem, so they can’t be easily categorized.  

However, at other times this process does not apply to certain applications or equipment, as there may be an easy solution to the problem you are facing.  

To gain a comprehensive understanding of an issue, it is crucial to identify its root cause. One effective method for Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is the Five Whys technique:  

  1. Why is the machine breaking? It’s vibrating itself to bits. 
  1. Why is it vibrating so much? It isn’t properly lubricated. 
  1. Why isn’t it lubricated properly? The oil is contaminated. 
  1. Why is the oil contaminated? Because it has water in it. 
  1. Why is there water in it? Because the containers storing the oil are exposed to the weather. 

By employing the 5 Whys technique, you can uncover the causes of the initial problem, leading you closer to the root cause.  

Creativity and Innovation  

Many engineering problems and projects require a high degree of creativity and innovation. Creativity allows engineers to think outside the box and explore unconventional approaches. By fostering innovation, engineers can develop new ideas and perspectives that may lead to breakthrough solutions for complex problems. 

Many engineering problems involve constraints such as limited resources, time, or technical limitations. Creativity enables engineers to navigate these constraints and develop innovative solutions that optimize available resources and overcome limitations. 

Here are some prompts:  

  1. How can I approach this problem from a different perspective? 
  1. What assumptions am I making about the problem, and can I challenge or change those assumptions? 
  1. What if there were no constraints or limitations? How would I solve this problem differently? 
  1. Are there any analogous situations or industries that I can draw inspiration from to solve this problem? 
  1. How can I leverage emerging technologies or trends to innovate and uniquely solve this problem? 
  1. Can I consider unconventional or out-of-the-box ideas, even if they initially seem impractical? 
  1. How can I involve other team members or experts from different disciplines to generate diverse perspectives and insights? 

Engineering projects often face changing requirements, unexpected challenges, or evolving technologies. Creativity equips engineers with the ability to adapt to these changes and generate flexible solutions that can accommodate new circumstances. 

In addition, today’s competitive environment seeks engineers who can bring fresh ideas and innovative solutions.  

Creativity in Engineering

Use Data  

Data is the most valuable tool at your disposal. It helps you and others to understand an issue and communicate value. Analyzing data helps you find an issue before it finds you. Data justifies the changes and solutions you want to implement to the people who have the power to green light it or work with you.  

So, what data should you use to spark change in your workplace? Here are some examples for guidance: 

  1. Analyze data from other companies to gain insights into areas where your plant excels or lags behind in comparison. 
  1. Utilize historical data to demonstrate the improvements or declines in performance at your plant over time. 
  1. Identify and highlight trends that align with the challenges and experiences faced by your colleagues in the industry. 
  1. Emphasize the impact of significant events and changes on your plant’s operations, showcasing how they have influenced its performance. 

Good Communication  

Engineers must often translate complex technical concepts and jargon into understandable language for non-technical stakeholders. Strong communication skills allow engineers to bridge the gap between technical expertise and layperson understanding. 

Effective communication promotes a healthy exchange of ideas and perspectives within engineering teams. Engineers who can express their thoughts clearly and actively listen to others’ ideas are more likely to contribute to problem-solving discussions, brainstorming sessions, and innovation. 

Good communication also enables engineers to build rapport, understand client requirements, and effectively address concerns or questions. This strengthens client relationships, increases client satisfaction, and enhances the overall success of projects. 

How to ensure you have good communication skills:  

  1. Listen actively and attentively. 
  1. Speak clearly and concisely. 
  1. Adapt to different audiences. 
  1. Seek feedback and act on it. 
  1. Cultivate empathy. 
  1. Practice collaboration. 
  1. Continuously learn and adapt. 

Engineer traits are the bedrock of success in the engineering profession. From their problem-solving prowess to their analytical thinking, adaptability, and attention to detail, engineers bring a wealth of qualities that are essential for driving innovation and overcoming challenges.  

By understanding the importance of these traits and continuously developing them, aspiring engineers can pave their path to success, while seasoned professionals can continue to refine their craft. 

REFERENCES

The 5 Habits of Great Reliability Engineers 

7 Habits of Highly Effective Engineers

How to be an effective engineer? 

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