“Manufacturing is more than just putting parts together. It’s coming up with ideas, testing principles and perfecting the engineering, as well as final assembly.”
Sir James Dyson
Founder of the Dyson Company
“The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.”
CEO & CTO of SpaceX
CEO & Chief Product Architect of Tesla Motors
Engineering is old, as old as the human civilization itself. It was born out of the need of humans to modify their environment to provide their basic needs such as food, shelter and security. It was also motivated by the human desire to have a better, easier and more comfortable life. Some of the ancient engineering marvels such as the wheel and the pyramids are still with us until today and they will be around to amaze future generations for millennia to come. These marvels were achieved by talented individuals who were clever enough to manipulate the laws of nature to achieve incredible feats. While the ancient engineers did not have to go to universities and graduate with engineering degrees, they still needed to observe, study and hone their skills to be able to achieve what they have achieved. Today, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education has developed into an intentional and systematic field of study. STEM is considered, the world over, by the policy makers, industry and community at large as being an extremely important bastion for the prosperity and security. While engineering thinking and mindset are often associated with the creation of technological solutions, clearly they can be used well beyond that. As engineering thinking and mindset are credited with seeing the no-obvious solutions and opportunities, it can be applied to a variety of world challenges in management, business, policy making and medicine to yield high value. As a matter of fact the Business Insider reported in 2013 that “33% of the S&P 500 CEOs’ undergraduate degrees are in engineering and only 11% are in business administration.”
This book will try to outline and explain the engineering mindset and thinking techniques in a manner that more is accessible and useful to both to engineers and non-engineers to apply in both engineering and non-engineering contexts.
1.1. What is Engineering?
Engineering is the professional discipline of adding value through systematically applying the principles of science and mathematics to Conceive, Design, Implement and Operate (CDIO) products, services, technologies, systems and solutions that improve the quality of life. Using the CDIO process, engineers are able to use raw materials, energy and information to develop useful products supporting economic growth in a wide range of human activities.
Today there are numerous engineering disciplines to address the wide variety of industrial needs and economic activities. These include aeronautical, civil, chemical, computer, electrical, electronic, mechanical, and petroleum engineering. Emerging engineering disciplines, including biomedical and mechatronic engineering are developed in response to the increasing complexity and multidisciplinary nature of the world we live in today.
1.2. CDIO Process
It is said that technology is the manifestation of our dreams. This describes engineering very accurately as it takes our dreams and make them reality through the Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate (CDIO) process. The CDIO process reflects the life cycle of technology and the best way to demonstrate this process is through the journey of a product, and since I like airplanes, I shall choose the A380. The A380 is the world’s largest passenger plane. Manufactured by Airbus, the plane has a wingspan of 80 meters and a speed of over 1000 km/h. For the A380 to be able to serve its purpose, countless engineers, technicians, managers, financial experts and lawyers needed to work on Conceiving, Designing, Implementing and Operating it.
Everything that is intentionally made by a person starts as a thought in the brain. Hence the first part of the process of making anything is to Conceive it. I presume that the idea to make the world’s largest passenger plane was toyed with by the Airbus technical and management team and many discussions took place before approving the idea. In the context of engineering a product, this stage is called Conceiving. We can be Conceiving a totally new product, such as a new fuel or a new method to communicate, a small part of a bigger product, or we can Conceive a new plane that will have the same components like any other similar plane. So the Conceiving stage of an A380 will result in an “idea” of building a large plane that will serve a certain segment of the market. This stage requires a thorough understanding for the business, regulatory and technological context and can involve sophisticated teamwork and various focus groups to enable the complex decision making required to venture into such a long term commitment of making a passenger aeroplane.
Conceiving the plane as a super system will set into action numerous processes to CDIO subsystems necessary to make the plane a reality, however we shall focus on the plane itself to demonstrate the CDIO process.
With the Conceiving stage completed, the Design stage will begin. Here engineers will be making a series of complex technological calculations, tests, decisions and compromises. There will be many conflicting requirements to consider, including safety, technical, economical and legal requirements. Calculations and experiments will aid decisions on considerations including how big the plane will be and how many engines it will have. A key feature of the Design stage is to anticipate where and when any part of the plane may fail and to try to prevent this. Predicting and preventing failure is an important skill that engineers need to hone to be able to build products that are safe to use time and time again. Interestingly, in order to prevent future catastrophic failure, engineers need to ensure that they push parts to the limit and make them fail. This way they will understand the limits of the safe operation of the systems they are making. To achieve this, engineers make models that they push to the limit in wind tunnels and computer models that they simulate in computers using specialised software. Eventually the Design stage will yield detailed engineering drawings that outlines the sizes, materials and specifications of all the parts of the plane.
Notice that the plane is still far from being a reality. It has moved from being a thought or an idea to being a series of drawings and lists of materials on paper or a computer. Our plane is now ready to come to life, to be Implemented. The Implementation stage is when engineers take their designs and transform them into real products. In the case of the A380, engineers need to decide how, where and when each part of the plane will be made and tested and how it will be integrated into the super system (the plane). While the final assembly and testing of the plane takes place at Airbus factories in Toulouse, France, different parts are manufactured all around the world. For example, the jet engines of the plane are made by Rolls Royce, the tyres are made by other tyre manufacturers and so on. Fast forward and we have a plane ready for delivery, complete with custom paint and interiors as requested by the customer. But the process does not end here.
Engineers still need to think of how will the plane Operate safely after its delivery and this is done through the preparation of service and maintenance standards and training and licensing programmes for the staff that will maintain the plane while with the customer. Modern engineering is pushing the limit through thinking of how the aeroplane can be modified and improved in the future as well as having plan how its parts will be recycled when it is eventually retired.
I hope that this quick account has shed some light on the CDIO (Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate) process. It is useful to mention here that the account provided above is a macro CDIO, within it each and every component of the plane has been through the CDIO process as well. The process is logical and can be used by everyone to bring new ideas to life. It can be used to make a toaster, a car or a space shuttle. When working on each stage of the CDIO process, engineers ask themselves the following questions in relation to the product they are making and how are they making it
- Is it desirable? Will the customer desire what I am making? Does it solve a challenge or satisfy a need?
- Is it economically viable? Will the customer be willing to pay for it? Is there a way to make it cheaper and add more value?
- Is it feasible? Is the technology to make it available?
- Is it ethical and legal? Does making or selling it infringe on any law or intellectual property (IP)?
- How can I make it safe for both those who make it and those who use it?
- How can I make it easy to make and use?
- How can I reduce its impact on the environment even when it is no longer in use?
This book shall dedicate a chapter for each part of the CDIO process each stage will be explained in further details and tools help us Conceive, Design, Implement and Operate better will be shared.
1.3. Civilisation, Engineering and Technology
Since 2.6 million years ago, when humans began altering their environment using stone tools, major changes which have occurred have always been associated with one form of technology or another. Technological revolutions are marked by rendering a scarce resource (material, energy, information, knowledge) more widely available. This often is accompanied with far reaching economic, political and social consequences. Technological revolutions bring about radical changes that, literally, life is never the same again after their introduction. Throughout history, a number of technological revolutions shaped the world that we live in. A list of these revolutions is given below.
Putting fire under control (800,000 BC)
Controlling fire was a great technological feat. It gave humans access to energy when its most needed, ie for warmth and food cooking; which in turn enabled humans to extract more calories from the food they are eating, hence improving their survival chances.
Agricultural Revolution (8000 BC)
Unfolded in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, mastering agriculture was a real technological triumph that required putting huge amount of knowledge into a practical use. It permitted humans to get more out of the land they lived on and aided the formation of the first cities. Cohabitating the cities had a huge impact on the way civilisation evolved as it enabled the concentration of cognitive capital that led to the accumulation, growth and recording of knowledge which was the basis for all future human development.
Invention of the Wheel (3500 BC)
Although it is very difficult to imagine our world without wheels, there was a time when there were no wheels to go around. Transportation was very difficult and ineffective. Archeological evidence supports that the wheel was first invented in Mesopotamia as well. As it is true for other technological evolutions, the invention of the wheel set humanity in motion in many ways. This paved the way to all future human developments and revolutions.
Scientific Revolution (1534-1700 AD)
Although the idea of printing press appeared in different parts of the world, the first use of printing press to print books is reserved for Johannes Gutenberg who used the printing press in 1450 AD to print copies of the Bible. Coupled with other innovations, this technology helped unlock the resource of information as more people could have access to books, which used to be very expensive. Continuous recording, organising and refining of information into knowledge and spreading it led to the scientific reasoning and questioning of the religious views on how the universe works. Nicolaus Copernicus’s publishes De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) and Andreas Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human body) are often cited as marking the beginning of the scientific revolution and the age of reason.
Industrial Revolution (1712 AD)
The development of the steam engine led to the dawn of the industrial revolution. Energy stored in coal can now be unlocked and used to power trains and machines that brought down the cost of production and brought about the era of mass production and consumerism with all its economic, political, social and cultural implications.
Digital Revolution (1950 AD)
Programmable machines are directly connected to the development of large knitting machines that used punched cards to automatically operate the machines producing pre-designed patterns. The first programmable computer was designed in 1936, but the 1950s are generally accepted as the beginning of the digital revolution era that we still live in today where computers became so ubiquitous that we do not even feel their presence while they take care of our cars, fridges and washing machines.
Information & Communication Revolution
As the computer became more powerful, cheap and easy to use, it ushered in the digital era which is synonymous with the Internet and the World Wide Web. The digital revolution changed the way we work, study, trade, communicate and entertain ourselves. The digital world is now so vast that it competes with the real world and there are researchers who predict that the digital elements of our lives will end up redefining what is meant by being a human.
The oversupply of huge amounts of information, free of charge and on demand is changing the world beyond recognition. This is especially true in areas of education where education systems are evolving to reflect the reality that education is about constructing knowledge rather than just remembering facts. The knowledge revolution is related to the knowledge economy where information are constructed and organised into knowledge that can be utilised to create economic value. Knowledge management is also allowing us to gradually use machines to perform tasks that need human decision making.
The colour of the 21st Century is green. As sustainability takes center stage, green economy and green development is moving towards the mainstream of the political, cultural, technological and educational debate.
Above is a brief account of the story of humankind from a technological perspective. It is clear that technology has played and will continue to play key roles in advancing the human cause. This needs to be balanced with a holistic personal and professional development to ensure that we have the wisdom to use the power unlocked by the technology in a wise and sustainable manner.
1.4. Humankind Future and the Grand Challenges
Now, more than any other time in the history human kind, engineers are required to provide solutions to ensure the survival of the human race. The National Academy for Engineering (USA) identified 14 Grand Challenges that we need to address in the 21st Century to have a chance to make it into the 22nd Century. These Grand Challenges are listed below and they can be used to guide engineers as they pursue their careers.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Make solar energy economical
The sun represents a wonderful source of energy that cannot be matched by anything that humans have made thus far. Although only a fraction of the solar energy arrives to the earth surface, it is sufficient to provide 10,000 times the energy needed to power all the commercial activities that the planet needs. But there is a catch, solar technology is not economical! The current photovoltaic cells are only 10-20% efficient and the cost of manufacturing them are still relatively high. Another challenge that is associated with solar energy is the inadequacy of energy storage mediums to capture the solar energy and store it and transport it to be used when and where it is most needed.
Provide energy from fusion
Fusion is how the sun makes its energy. Single proton nuclei of two hydrogen isotopes are fused together to produce the heavier nucleus of helium and a neutron. In the process some mass is converted into energy following Einstein’s equation E=mc2. Although fusion has been demonstrated on small scale, the engineering challenge is to build a reactor that can withstand the huge pressure and temperature associated with the fusion reaction.
Develop methods for carbon sequestration
Commercial and industrial human activities are often associated with emission of carbon dioxide, among other gasses. This is now becoming a challenge as carbon dioxide is contributing towards climate change. Carbon sequestration involves storing carbon dioxide away from the atmosphere. There are a number of ways to achieve this, including underground and underwater storage and in depleted oil and gas reservoirs. The technology is still expensive, however, this area is a hot bed for innovation whereby we can look for areas that we can convert carbon dioxide from waste to wealth, i.e. converting it into something useful rather than just storing it away.
Manage the nitrogen cycle
Nitrogen represents around 79% of the atmospheric air and it represents a very important substance for life as it is an essential component of amino acids which in turn are building blocks for proteins. Living organisms, including humans cannot utilise atmospheric nitrogen directly and nitrogen needs to be combined with carbon before it can be absorbed by living organisms. This important stage is done by the plants we eat with the help of some micro-organisms. To complete the nitrogen cycle, some organisms use nitrogen nutrients as a source of energy and return nitrogen molecules. With more and more food production, human are putting more nitrogen based fertilisers into the environment and these are not being converted back into free nitrogen, contributing to the pollution. Engineers need to device innovative ways to improve the efficiency of various nitrogen related activities.
Provide access to clean water
It is heart wrenching that 1 out of every 6 people living today does not have access to clean running water. Access to clean running water and adequate sanitation is an important requirement to leading a healthy life. Although 70% of the earth is covered with water, most of this water is not suitable for human consumption, either because it is polluted or is salty seawater. Engineers can play a key role in providing access to clean water for both drinking and other activities such as agriculture through the development of technologies that could help purify the polluted water and prevent more water from being unsuitable for human use.
Advance health informatics
Information technology has the potential of improving health care and reducing its cost. This can be done through digitising existing medical results for individuals and groups and producing a robust health information system that enables health professionals to detect, track and respond to health emergencies and pandemics.
Engineer better medicines
Every person is different while the medicine we use is the same. The development of equipment for fast genetic profiling and organism specific antibiotics can help revolutionise personalised medicine and biomedical engineers are expected to play a key role in this. Engineers can also contribute towards the creation of medicines and treatments that target only the diseased tissue reducing side effects and speeding up recovery.
Prevent nuclear terror
Engineers have the responsibility to protect the society against the potential threat of terrorist attack using radioactive materials. This is mainly done through securing radioactive waste and preventing unauthorised access to them as well as developing technologies to detect and respond to any attack.
Cyberspace is a very important domain in which we are spending increasing amount of time in and performing more and more activities especially trade and communication. With highly sensitive national and personal information as well as billions of dollars in transactions going through the Internet, the cyberspace is becoming a field where criminals and terrorists operate. Computer and software engineers need to develop solutions that make online interactions safer for everybody.
Restore and improve urban infrastructure
Infrastructure systems are the foundation on which our civilization is built. They include water, sewer, roads and telecommunication systems. Engineers are facing the huge challenge of modernising the infrastructure systems for cities to enable them to continue to support the increasing human population.
LEARNING & COMPUTATION
Reverse engineer the brain
The human brain represents one of the final frontiers of human discovery. It is highly effective and efficient, and no computer can match the capabilities of the brain. Learning how the brain thinks and learns will have tremendous impact on our capability to build powerful computers.
Enhance virtual reality
Although virtual reality is often associated with computer games and entertainment, enhancing virtual reality can have a great and positive impact on the more practical aspects of our lives. It can help engineers design new products and allow users to test them before making them. Surgeons can perform virtual operations before cutting into real people.
Advance personalised learning
We all learn differently. Technologies are increasingly available to allow the personalisation of the learning experience taking into account the different learning styles, paces and preferences of different learners. Currently web based courses and Massive Open Online Courses represent the beginning of this wave and the future carries more exciting possibilities including real time monitoring of brain activities of learners to ensure the most effective an rewarding learning experience.
Engineer the tools of scientific discovery
Engineers will continue to Conceive, Design, Implement and Operate tools and equipment that will enable scientific discovery, allowing us to further our knowledge about the universe.
1.5 Society’s Regulation of Engineering
Engineering is an important profession. Engineers can make technical decisions which involve the safety of the public as well as the allocation of huge amounts of money. Just like medicine and law, the practice of engineering is legally regulated by professional bodies. These engineering professional bodies perform a number of very important duties which include licensing engineers to practice through regulation of their membership; accreditation of engineering degree programmes offered by universities and ensuring that these programmes meet the necessary professional requirements; and approve the technical standards used for designing different engineering components.