Friday, March 16, 2018

Current Views on What is Engineering?

May consider that I have little respect for engineers. Not entirely true, I have respect for people of history which we grant the title engineer. I have little respect, zero respect for those who claim the title engineer as exclusively theirs. (eg. I have zero respect for Engineers Australia and equally little respect for its MIAust/FIEAust membership {a few exceptions}, as for Queensland's RPEQ's I believe them to be a bunch of self-certifying incompetents who wouldn't know their knee from their elbow. RPEQ's seem to be little more than a rubber stamp brigade who fill in silly numbered forms. Of course that is based on my experience of the self-certified manufactured structural products which flow into South Australia. I have a certain expectation that those RPEQ's responsible for highway bridges and multistorey buildings are more capable than those responsible for simple structural products. But since all lumped into the same bag, I cannot consider that RPEQ is more competent than someone who merely as an appropriate education in technical design.)

Engineers Australia being incapable of defining anything, came up with the notion that engineering is that work done by persons with the 4 year B.Eng (the fake honours degree). That is a stupid definition and hampers the use of the English language. Additionally it seems they deliberately absorbed the institute of engineering associates to downgrade and remove the occupation from the workplace. We originally had 2 year qualified engineering associates and 2 year qualified drafters. Drafters were not engineering associates. They had different qualifications, for example Associate Diploma Mechanical Drafting versus Associate Diploma Mechanical Engineering. The latter learnt mechanical engineering design from first principles (eg. derivation of beam theory etc...). A 4 year B.Eng is not required to design, beams and columns or other mechanical/structural elements. More important than the scientific basis of the design methods, is being fully conversant with the technology being designed. Whilst a drive shaft and a house rafter may both be beams they both have characteristics beyond simply supporting a load as a beam.

We had an on again/ off again construction and mining boom because Engineers Australia indicated we had a shortage of engineers. A shortage of engineers is highly questionable. Clearly over on LinkedIn that are a lot of unhappy migrants.

I have various concepts of engineering:
  1. Technicians Appy, Technologists Adapt, Engineers Originate
  2. Engineering takes place at the frontiers of science and technology
  3. Engineering is the art and science of maximising the benefit from the available but otherwise limited resources.
  4. Engineering is a rational scientific process of design.
If engineering is maximising the benefit from the available but limited resources, then if those persons calling themselves engineers declare a shortage of engineers, then we have a problem. Clearly those persons calling themselves engineers, are not engineers, as they do not have the capability of getting the job done with the available resources. Thus the shortage isn't concerned with getting more of what we have, but replacing what we have with real engineers. On the other hand that is just misdirection as the work doesn't require engineers.

My understanding of the WFEO accords (Washington, Sydney, Dublin) is that they define certain occupational roles and education considered suitable to fulfil those roles. These don't match existing roles, and therefore expect some upheaval. The problem is that the so called engineers haven't got the picture. We have silly industrial relations system which says higher the education the higher the pay, irrespective of employer and value to that employer. Those with the fake 4 year honours degree get a higher starting salary than those with the typical 3 year bachelor degree. School leavers want high paying jobs so they opt for the higher level qualification: if they have the capability then why not? Problem is they don't really have the capability required of the engineer. Those people of the past with with 3 year B.Sc degrees or no degrees at all seem to have contributed a lot more to society than those with the B.Eng. These graduates are claiming  they should have status and prestige which is not due to them: neither they nor their immediate predecessors gave us civilisation or our scientific knowledge.

Which have a distorted culture, whereby if people are taught then apparently they don't know. with that kind of attitude we wouldn't have any knowledge in the first place to be disseminated via the schools. Our scientific knowledge and our technology came from people with curiosity, motivation and the necessary aptitude to asks questions and seek answers.

When the 2 year qualified engineering associate was taught beam theory the purpose was and is to understand  the limitations of such theory. When the 4 year qualified "engineer" is taught beam theory it is so that when they encounter the unusual they can derive similar theory. The purpose of the B.Eng is not so that someone can spend 40 years stuffing numbers through M=wL^2/8, someone with a 1 year AQF-Diploma can do that. Similarly  building models with Bentley RAM Build is not engineering. The fact such software can be written is an indication of established technology with established body of knowledge to assess suitability of purpose.

Engineering requires access to workshop laboratories to build and test prototypes. Engineering is not the mere testing and collecting of technical data, technicians can do that. Engineering seeks scientific understanding where there is none. Bridges, buildings, aircraft, ships, and machines can all for the most part be designed by engineering associates (those that existed before Engineers Australia downgraded their skills). Since the skills have been downgraded and different occupations defined, the former engineering associates are now effectively replaced by 3 year qualified engineering technologists (Sydney Accord), and the role of the new engineering associates equated to Dublin Accord engineering technicians (persons more skilled than drafters but not as skilled as our original engineering associates).

Given the WFEO definitions, technologists and technicians are more important than engineers. The prime need of our society is to implement more instances of established technologies, and maintain those that we have. Such activity requires people highly conversant with the technology and the technical science used to evaluate and assess suitability of purpose. A 4 year B.Eng contains breadth in scientific knowledge, it  does not contain depth nor breadth/depth of knowledge with respect to established technologies. Those with the B.Eng need industry to impart the necessary knowledge of the established technologies, this can take anything from 3 years to 6 years to get a minimum grasp of the technology. Though 20 years experience is probably more preferable. Clearly a 3 year B.Tech cannot make up for 20 years experience, but it can resolve that initial minimum 3 years to get up to speed with the technology. A 4 year B.Eng in civil engineering does not involve 4 years studying stormwater drainage, nor structural design. Likewise a B.Eng in mechanical doesn't involve 4 years studying strength of materials and machine design, nor HVAC.

Some 80% of all technical design is within the scope of those educated in an appropriate 2 year qualification, to spend 4 years is a waste of national resources. Professional cults and modern day rum corp need to be stopped in their tracks. There is work to be done, and we need the resources to get it done: we have the population to do it. But the population doesn't have the appropriate education or training.

It is also unhelpful to keep creating fake B.Eng degrees the likes of mechatronics, computer systems, manufacturing management, transportation, to name a few. Clearly these areas of practice are concerned with specific technologies: the engineering has been done, technical design and implementation of the associated technologies is the current task.

Where's the engineering in the electric car? Or Roma the Engineer, good that she is promoting engineering, but 6 years involvement in the design of the footings and spire of one building: that seems duller than watching paint dry: and the building, the Shard how useful is that? What were the challenges, what frontiers were encountered? To my mind a frontier of technology, without a frontier of science doesn't equate to engineering. A frontier of technology, without frontier of science, merely requires the application of the established body of science to the technology. Ok! It maybe more involved than mere application: the point is the science is there, but it's never before been applied to such technology, and therefore how to apply is the unknown factor: not the science itself.

Similarly RoboGals (founded by Marita Cheng), good that introducing kids to engineering: but clearly don't need a degree in engineering to program robots, nor to design and build them from available component parts.

Engineering is the frontier, the problems for which we don't have text book solutions, the problems for which you will not find a suitable technique in the published literature. Engineering is where the engineer is the pioneer of both the science and the technology. The rest is rational scientific design: technical design to get away from using the term engineering design.  I need a new phrase because Engineers Australia is in the way. The last thing Australia needs to follow is Queensland and the USA, they have messed up engineering. The Queensland registration and American PE licenses distort engineering: diminish engineers to technical lawyers and rubber stamp brigade. They have these definitions, and the registration and licenses they grant are for technicians yet they refer to them as engineers. These registered and licensed individuals are not the people who will put a human colony beyond Pluto: they have neither the imagination nor ingenuity so solve such problem {Whilst we have the technology to achieve this, it is not very practical and therefore we need to invent new technology and that will involve knowledge at the frontiers of science.}

If engineering is that work done by engineers, and engineering is simply a rational scientific approach to planning, design and management. Then a  1 year qualification AQF-Diploma is that is required of an engineer. If engineering is at the frontier, and taking that current B.Eng is a fake honours degree, then accepting the 2 cycle approach of  the Bologna process seems the way forward. A 3 year B.Tech to get on with the work that needs doing, followed by either a 2 year M.Tech or M.Eng, depending on focus. The M.Eng by reasearch only, the M.Tech by extended studies. The role of the engineer is to push knowledge into the system and down the line towards the technicians. People expect that we can design and assess things by calculation not by building and testing prototypes.

If the word "engineer" on the other hand is to be reserved as an elist title by an occupational cult, then the rational scientific planning, design, and management of technology needs to be named using some word other than "engineering". Then new legislation needs to take this into consideration, and old legislation (eg. that in the USA and Queensland) needs to be revised accordingly.

Take the 2010-2011 Queensland floods for example, one of the persons involved with management of the Wivenhoe Dam was according to the policy manuals required to be an RPEQ, that person wasn't. The person was qualified to be so registered, but their registration had not been renewed. As I understand the manuals were revised and the requirement for RPEQ removed, no indication of what the qualification requirements were replaced with. My point is that requirement isn't for an engineer, but for a competent technologist fully conversant in water resources management and its associated technology. That is 3 year B.Tech, studying water resources management and its associated technology, not a 4 year B.Eng studying this, that and the other.

It is the not the B.Eng that we need to modify to meet the needs of industry, or of society. It is industry which needs to understand the person they require does not require the same qualifications as the person currently holding a job function. Last year's engineer is this years technician. 

Last year had a problem needed to solve that problem, this year we have a technology and a body of technical science to assist us with planning, design and managing the implementation and operation of such technology. This year we need to educate people about the technology and its associated science. We want stormwater drainage systems which are fit for purpose, we want air conditioning systems which are fit for purpose. This isn't engineering, we as a society know how to assess fitness for purpose of such technological systems. If a system is implemented and not fit-for-purpose we can typically identify a failure to make use of the established body of scientific knowledge: we rarely find we have hot some frontier of science and have some new phenomenon to investigate.

If we are going to grant exclusive use of the title "engineer" to an elite few then let's make sure that when they operate in industry they are significantly more capable than engineering associates. Let's make sure than when I visit a site I don't have to listen to how useless the typical B.Eng MIEAust is: people who seem more intent on causing problems rather than solving them: people who seem to be arrogant and disrespectful to the rest of the community {sure such incompetence creates work for my father and myself fixing the mess up: but the problems could have been avoided in the first place that's the point of employing people with advanced technical education.}.

These people did not give us our civilisation and they are not required to maintain it into the future. Engineers may well have given us our civilisation, but the B.Eng, MIEAust, CP.Eng NER's, are not those engineers, they just have a mass of post nominal detritus after their names: which indicates little more than they have a 4 year B.Eng with some trite experience under the supervision of someone with equally trite experience. The last time I checked the assessment criteria was so generic, irrelevant and independent of technical competence that it did little more than determine a person would make a suitable employee: working at McDonalds for example testing starch content of spuds. The people to definitely stay away from are those who have also purchased "Ing." to tack in front of their name: don't confuse these fools with those having valid German/European qualifications.

The lack of status granted to those with a B.Eng is largely because they desire more status than they deserve. They seem to want credit for the work of our ancestors than for their own actual contribution to society. Mostly they do not put the B.Eng to work, and do not pursue work of the nature, for which the B.Eng was invented. If simply designing established technologies along established principles, then the work can be done by technologists, the role does not need to be filled by an "engineer", and the future replacement for that job can be and should be a technologist.

Let's make sure those with the B.Eng are actually capable of doing the work, for which they were supposedly educated. Whilst there are few frontiers of science and technology, there are plenty of frontiers where science has not yet been appropriately applied to existing technology, and where scientific data needs collecting and useful design models need developing.

Engineering is not just about crunching numbers: a mindless unimaginative block of silicon can do that. We now live in an age where computer models can be developed and placed in the hands of sales people and even the customer without any need for training. Customers can play around with parameters and search out their own parametric variant of an established technology, and at significantly less cost than paying one of those things called an "engineer". Paying one of them "engineery" things could cost a small fortune and not find a suitable solution for your needs. So computer software is clearly going to pave the way to better adapting existing technology to better suit the needs of end-users. So merely having something, as insignificant as a scrap of paper with B.Eng written on it, doesn't make you an engineer, neither does designing technology to meet your own needs or the needs of others.

We need new terminology, and we need legislation which benefits society over and above the wants and whims of professional cults. Professional cults should not be granted monopolies and those with such, should have their benefits and privileges taken away (eg. doctors, lawyers, architects, and "engineers").

Related Posts

[16/03/2018] : Original