SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS. “Scientists study the world as it is;
“Scientists study the world as it is;
engineers create the world that has never been”.
Theodore von Kármán
There exists a specific connection between the sciences and engineering practice. In engineering, people apply science. Both areas - science and engineering - rely on accurate observation of materials and phenomena. Both use mathematics and classification criteria to analyze and communicate observations.
Scientists must interpret their observations and make recommendations for practical action. Scientists may also have to complete engineering tasks, such as designing experimental apparatus or building prototypes. On the other hand, in the process of developing technology engineers sometimes explore new phenomena and become scientists themselves.
In the book What Engineers Know and How They Know It, Walter Vincenti says that engineering research differs from scientific research. First, it often deals with areas in which the basic physics and/or chemistry are well understood, but the problems themselves are too complex to solve in an exact manner. Examples are the use of numerical approximations to the Navier-Stokes equations to describe aerodynamic flow over an aircraft, or the use of Miner's rule to calculate fatigue damage. Second, engineering research employs many semi-empirical methods that are too far from pure scientific research, one example being the method of parameter variation.
As stated in the revision to the classic engineering text, Foundations of Solid Mechanics: "Engineering is quite different from science. Scientists try to understand nature. Engineers try to make things that do not exist in nature. Engineers stress invention. To embody an invention the engineer must put his idea in concrete terms, and design something that people can use. That something can be a device, a gadget, a material, a method, a computing program, an innovative experiment, a new solution to a problem, or an improvement on what is existing. Since a design has to be concrete, it must have its geometry, dimensions, and characteristic numbers. Almost all engineers working on new designs find that they do not have all the needed information. Most often, they are limited by insufficient scientific knowledge. Thus they study mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and mechanics. Often they have to add to the sciences relevant to their profession. Thus engineering sciences are born."
5. Why Study Engineering?
Engineering is the way of realization of technological progress. Engineers and engineering make a major impact in the everyday lives of most of us. Engineering qualifications and experience are a foundation for many different careers.
In recent times it has become fashionable to talk about post-industrialized economies – in which services take over from manufacturing under the “law” of comparative advantage. This theory is substantially flawed. Services are more difficult to export than manufactured goods, and in any event a significant part of demand for services comes from the manufacturing sector itself. Therefore engineering - the realization of technological progress - is crucial to creating a modern balanced economy.
This does not overlook the inevitability of migration of some activities as part of the phenomenon known as globalization. But the notion that is still held by some governments is that manufacture and export constitute a “good” model and globalization (export of jobs and value creation) is “bad” and dangerously misleading. As markets become more integrated and the borders between nation states become less rigid and regions emerge as the rational units of economic activity, the question arises as to what activities logically belong within a region and what should be outsourced to more appropriate locations. Engineers applying the tools and techniques of modern engineering have accelerated this process of greater organisational fluidity and a more international approach to satisfying demand wherever it arises. Value creation is becoming less constrained geographically - information engineering is accelerating this process of change.
This evolution is either exciting or scary, depending how you look at it. Let us consider just three significant issues.
Firstly, in many engineering activities we see a new kind of challenge emerging – increasingly international business structures. Research and development can take place in one location, materials and subassemblies can be sourced from several locations worldwide, manufacture can take place in areas located far from R&D and raw material supply and final markets can be anywhere. The skill of the engineer in designing information systems and configuring operational technology determines how all this fits together competitively and profitably. It means that an engineer can face the challenge of coping with multi-location, multi-cultural relationships at a very early stage of a career.
Secondly, engineers have been at the forefront of turning time into a distinguishing feature of the product creation process. With a faster and more even distribution of ‘know-what’ and ‘know-how’ the difference between success and failure can depend on speed-to-market. This requires a high level of engineering knowledge and skill in operational system design and supply chain management to achieve what is commonly termed “time compression”.
Thirdly, it is sometimes said that certain developed countries are “post-industrial”. This is, I believe, short-sighted. What is happening is that the structure of industrial activity is shifting in a way that locates individual functions where they logically belong. Therefore we find in the more advanced economies of the world those parts of the supply chain and operational functions that are best placed there. Conversely the activities in which other countries enjoy a comparative advantage will attract other activities. Modern systems engineering addresses this issue head-on.
Engineers have often found themselves in key positions in industry and commerce. The reasons for this are easy to discern, given the importance of systems technologies in any modern economy and the trends to globalisation outlined above. However this trend goes further and broader than businesses that can be classified as “engineering”. To take just one example, the Chairman of one of the UK’s leading banks (Sir George Mathewson of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group) is a highly qualified engineer whose global experience has propelled the bank into major initiatives on behalf of leading international clients. This will be less of an exceptional case as we move ahead in an increasingly global industrial economy.
As a closing remark I find myself referring to a recent article by one of the UK’s most distinguished engineers, Lord Bhattacharyya, Professor of Systems Engineering at the University of Warwick. Writing in the February 2006 issue of the journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Lord Bhattacharyya advances a very powerful argument for developing in the UK the same level of skills that are found in financial engineering in what he terms “real” engineering. This will involve a more collaborative approach to relationships, recognising that globalisation provides as many opportunities as threats and understanding how a new generation of engineers stand to gain most by this process of change. It is truly a “revolution in the making” that emphasises the value and potential of studying engineering in the early 21st century.
Dr Daniel Park
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