Monday, August 06, 2012

Views on Engineers Australia

My views on Engineers Australia were formed at an early age, as a consequence, I'm not overly certain why I joined. I was born in England and as such from an early age I viewed if not read New Civil Engineer by the institution of civil engineers (ICE), The Structural Engineer by The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE). I mostly liked the D9 bulldozers, tunnel borers and the worlds largest walking machine. The Structural Engineer had very small print and lots of long curly S's, by the time I understood what such things were there presence had significantly diminished. I attended first construction sites around the age of 8, first a foot bridge joining two factory buildings across a canel, and then a highway bridge being constructed in Bawtry. Sometime after arriving in Australia the ICE replaced New Civil Engineer with Construction Today for its overseas membership. We moved around England, then to Zambia and then Australia, for my dad's career as he was attempting to get site experience to become an MICE, he was already a MIStructE, for family reasons he gave up on MICE. In Australia added Engineers Australia magazine by the Institution of Engineers Australia (IEAust). I was no longer just looking at pictures of big machines, now reading. Engineers Australia (EA) magazine was devoid of technical content, more of an advertsing and political platform, not even practical technical background to projects. Technical content came from elsewhere such as transactions or other entities such as the Australian Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), now the Australian Steel Institute (ASI). This is largely because the IEAust covered all engineering disciplines: actually it didn't it has been absorbing other institutions over the years (eg. electrical, radio, chemical). Industrial engineering is still largely independent but the institute of industrial engineers (IIE) also operates as the industrial engineering society (IES) with in the IEAust. Nobody really knows what the purpose of the IEAust is, there is constant confusion with the functions of APESMA (employees) and ACEA (consultants). Also a few years back the benefits of IEAust representing all engineering disciplines was diminished a few years back when Engineers Australia magazine was split into two different versions civil and general. For the most part they are mostly the same.

The IEAust membership have always had problems. First there were those who never progressed beyond graduate status, working in construction they complained it was easier for those in a design office to get minimal site experience compared to those on site getting minimal design office experience. There is thus an issue as to what is required to become an engineer. The IEAust hasn't really defined this in terms of engineering practice, they have defined it, if at all, mostly in terms of education: which is ridiculous. The rules are:

1) Bachelor of Engineering (4 year) = Professional Engineer
2) Bachelor of Technology (3 year)= Engineering Technologist
3) Associate Diploma/Advanced Diploma/Associate Degree (2 year) = Engineering Associate/Officer

Part of the reason is our industrial relations system and industrial awards. Professional Engineer is apparently used to differentiate train driver from the other thing: so all graduates with a B.Eng are professional engineers. Subject to the industrial relations system they have the potential to function as engineers and therefore should be paid as such, even if they don't actually function at the level of an engineer. Another ridiculous situation.

Now I have the educational awards for engineering associate and engineering technologist, I also started out attempting to get that for engineer. Now when my father graduated from Salford University, back in the 60's when Salford Unversity came into being, he sat about 1 hours worth of examinations in mathematics. At the South Australian Institute of Technology (SAIT), now the University of South Australia (UniSA), I sat 2 hour to 3 hour examinations in each and every topic of mathematics: it was the school of mathematics causing people to drop out of engineering, not engineering subjects. With one exception civil engineers at SAIT apparently didn't go through the school of mathematics, they tackled advanced engineering mathematics topics on an as needs basis: and no examination in. That is they did not have to learn mathematical theories, nor the derivation of theorems and corollaries. Engineers are not all equal and as far as I know the IEAust is typically dominated by civil engineers, occassionally by mechanical. My view of civil engineers is hardnosed, loud mouthed contract managers, not particularly highly conversant in the engineering sciences. The IEAust and APESMA has been pushing MBA's for the past 20 to 30 years, and its newest qualification is chartered executive engineer. It is not really doing anything to foster technical competence.

When I was studying the first year of the B.Eng in 1980's, we were explicitly told that in all likelyhood we would be the only person with an engineering background employed in an enterprise. Such does not represent an industrial environment with an highly established competent technical workforce. So to my view it was and is irresponsible of the IEAust to introduce chartered status based on work practice reports describing in hyperbole the individuals role on the job.

When it comes to major infrastructure projects one set of design loads is highly likely to be experienced on the job leading to failures during construction. For the vast majority of engineering projects the primary loading has a low probability of occurrence, and the system may not experience such loading for many years: at a point in time that it is too late to find out about a fault. Such defects are latent defects. For small systems, prototypes are designed and built, then tested to failure, with the design theory calibrated against. Errors in design thinking quickly show up. For large systems physical prototypes are far too expensive to test. It is therefore important that the design theory properly matches the proposed system. Peoples lives are at risk.

My view about mathematics at uni, was that it was abstract and esoteric and peoples lives are risk, it needs validating by science. Navier made the error of relying on the mathematics before scientific validation: his first bridges collasped during construction.

Engineers Australia seems dominated by persons concerned more with status and prestige than technical competence. So whilst CPEng is presented as some kind of quality check on competence, it isn't. Its a lot more about working for the right company and having time to waste writing silly work practice reports identifiying attained competencies, collecting enough brownie points. Most of the required competencies are irrelevant to the actual practice of engineering: they mostly fail to cover the real issues of technical competence. Far too much reliance is placed on the value of the B.Eng, but the B.Eng does not and never has covered established technology and engineering practice. The B.Eng is about the established engineering science. As I have said many times before traditional engineers pushed the frontiers of science and technology.

It is possible to push the frontiers of science with out developing new technologies. It is possible to push the frontiers of technology without new science. But neither of these is engineering. Last years engineer will always be this years technician. Some 80 plus years ago steel reinforced concrete was a new fangled technology, we needed a means of reliably putting it to use. We now have that means, reinforced concrete is an established technology. As a community we will be displeased if concrete structures fail unexpectedly. It is a technology with an established body of knowledge and it takes time to learn. But it does not require a 4 year B.Eng in civil engineering.

The communities primary concern is sustaining the expected performance of established technologies. Bachelor degrees however are about profession and status not the needs of the community.

I attended a chartered status seminar a few years back. One of the engineering associates there asked if they needed to be able to design a reinforced concrete column. My thoughts were yes, if employed in the structural section, it is part of the formal academic education of civil engineering associates. But the engineers response was mostly no. Engineers Australia has been diminishing the status of engineering associates since it absorbed the institute of engineering associates. Engineering Associates are not drafters, nor are they engineering technicians.

Engineering technicians typically have advanced trade certificates, whilst they may be able to design a new system, they lack the scientific knowledge to demonstrate its fitness for function on paper. They can test what they have built, but the test may place them and others at risk of injury. The engineering associate does have the scientific knowledge to demonstrate fitness for function without testing, and otherwise to conduct controlled testing to minimise injury. Drafters on the otherhand typically have no formal education and learn on the job, though they may have a diploma or associate diploma in drafting.

Engineers Australia is attempting to float a pinnacle in fresh air, when it should be building a solid foundation in the form of an army of engineering associates. Take the top 20% of them and make them engineering technologists. Take the top 20% of the engineering technologists and make them engineers. Dump this idea of school leaver engineers.

Further clarification, I work as a technical consultant for various manufacturers of structural products, they hold standard structural calculations for their products. Those calculations are typically deficient and below the standard I expect from engineering associates. I've been pushing out more detailed calculations. As consultants cycle round the manufacturers, it has become apparent, that the others have been following suite and increasing the detail of their work. By pushing more detail into the councils, the councils start asking more questions of others. That results in others experiencing delays where they thought they had everything wrapped up. Ultimately manufacturers are imposed upon to provide greater evidence-of-suitability for their products: for many calculation indicates their product is defective as does physical testing. Approval has been granted for years: that poses a problem for all parties concerned. But there has been no conspicuous history of failures: the structures are thus suitable for purpose they just don't have the desired and imposed over capacity. Since no change to the codes: getting the manufacturers to change is a problem: the council approved last week,why not this week? The basic change would be more stringent enforcement of documentary evidence-of-suitability, without retroactive imposition. The existing have to be found lower performance but acceptable structures: they have been approved they have to be acceptable. Such lower performance structures identified as a new class of structures/building subject to newly created conditions. Given the building code of Australia (BCA) is revised each and every year, such additional classification is required in anycase for few existing buildings will comply with the current years code.

The regulatory system is just seen as an unnecessary paperchase, keeping bludging public servants in cushy jobs. Everyone makes their stuff as strong as houses and twice as strong as it needs to be: not sure how they know such things, buts its what they regularly tell me. I should also note that many clients complain about some engineer they previously did business with, and builders I meet on site also complain about engineers. So quite frankly I glad I'm not an engineer, I don't want to be numbered amongst those which the expletives are thrown at. People need real technical guidance, not perons just feeding the paperchase.

I think it would be better to create an institution of technologists and rename the engineering associates/officers to Associate Technologists. Drop all this engineer, and engineering rubbish, and deal with technical science and technical design. To set our own ideals of what an engineer is, and nominate and elect persons to such honary title. Standards so high that we look down on the IEAust and its membership, who we otherwise equate to accountants, managers and other bean counters: and light years from being considered real engineers. I don't see why technolgists cannot define engineer and dictate the terms as it is supposed engineers currently dictating terms of who are engineering associates/officers and engineering technologists.

The supposed engineers have low standards, well the majority anyhow, not those who are really concerned about raising the technical standards. But that is the problem: the idiots aswell as the competent are both called engineers: and the argument deteriorates to arguing about train drivers not being engineers. The problem is that the incompetent B.Eng, MIEAusts and/or CPEng have a significant impact on public perception: they are more manager than advanced level technical professionals. So lets ignore them and forget about them.

As a community we need competent Associate Technologists in specific areas of practice such as machine design, fluid power system design, mechanical handling design, storm water drainage design, building structure design, road design. Most of the time these areas of practice can be considered in isolation from other areas of practice, occassionally some cross over assistance is acceptable, on other occassions persons conversant across multiple areas of practice becomes important. The latter situation is where the technologists come in. When hit the limits of the established science and adapting the established technologies, that is where the interface between technologist and engineer occurs. When push the frontiers of both science and technology that is when the engineer is born: engineers are born not made: and they are born in industry to the mother of neccessity and invention.

I totally object to calling persons engineers on the basis of accumulated parchments. I consider it an insult to our ancestors and an insult to our cultural heritage.