Sunday, November 10, 2019

Even Engineers don't know what engineers do!

Those persons calling themselves engineers don't know what "engineers" are meant to do!

The education defined by the Washington Accord which essentially defines a modern engineer does not have anything to do with the role engineers typically occupy.

Engineers have spent decades defining a body of knowledge (BoK) to aid in the design, of now established technologies, to be fit-for-function. Whilst these technologies maybe considered to be "engineered" they do not need "engineers" to design them. The only time engineers are required to design specific adaptations and instances of such technology is when silly out dated legislation is in place, such as the licensing system in the USA and registration system in Queensland (Australia).

From the beginning engineers were the ingenious contrivers of the engines of war: not the replicators. The simplest way I have described the occupations is:

  1. Engineers Originate
  2. Technologists Adapt
  3. Technicians Apply
The education provided by the 4 year B.Eng is not about established technology nor how to design such technology. The education is concerned with science and mathematics, with notional reference to established technologies. If a study programme does provide extensive coverage of design of established technologies then it is not a compliant B.Eng.

The education provided by the compliant B.Eng is meant to enable a person to tackle problems where there is no established BoK concerned with a technology. It is for tackling problems at the frontiers of science and technology. Graduates should be able to derive new design theory where no theory currently exists, to be able to question existing theory and identify flaws and limitations and provide theory which over comes those limitations. {On the job tasks which are equivalent of completing a masters research degree; except don't get awarded a scrap of paper, instead awarded the solution of a real world problem.}

When it comes to established technologies then Australia's traditionally educated 2 year qualified engineering associates should be capable of assessing fitness-for-function using an established BoK. The established BoK is typically embodied in text books, industry manuals, design guides, codes of practice and national standards.

The WFEO Sydney accord defines an occupation they call engineering technologist, and an education typically provided by a minimum of a 3 year bachelor degree. This degree may still have the title B.Eng or it may have the title B.Tech, irrespective of the degree name, it may still often be 4 years in duration. To be suitable for the occupation of "engineer" however the degree needs to meet the requirements of the Washington accord, not simply have the defined 4 year duration. Similarly just because a degree is 3 years duration doesn't result in educating an engineering technologist unless it meets the criteria of the Sydney accord.

So we have a defined occupation which requires an extra year beyond that actually required for the task at hand. Whilst the WFEO Dublin accord defines a 2 year education for technicians, the 2 year education is not compatible with the skill set of traditional engineering associates. {To be clear the IEAust  and the unions (APESMA...) have spent some 30 years diminishing the skills of engineering associates. My interest is to reinstate that skill set both in terms of education and in terms of experience and training gained on the job.}

As a consequence I proposed the new title and occupation of Associate Technologist, not the least of which is to remove reference to engineering in the occupational titles and job activities.

The education for Associate Technologists should provide an individual who is highly conversant with the established technology and the established BoK required to adapt and implement such technology for specific purposes.

The development path is basically as follows. The engineer introduces new technology or is requested to review new technology, they then develop the BoK needed to assess the fitness-for-function of that technology. The BoK can then be used to assess variants of the technology for specific purposes. Technologists take guardianship of the BoK and expand and develop it as they implement multiple instances of the technology and identify the limitations of the BoK and the technology. As  the BoK becomes refined it moves from being in-house reports and published research papers, into being published and widely available industry manuals. At such point the persons familiar with the BoK is significant, and the BoK is established and validated knowledge, and design can now pass to Associate Technologists.

The Associate Technologists can then take the development further and develop simplified prescriptive solutions for a wide variety of common uses. Design technicians can then take these prescriptive solutions and develop still simpler prescriptive solutions for use by trade technicians and trades people.

To clarify with simple example, an Associate Technologist can design any beam from first principles. A design technician can design a beam using published beam formulae and load capacity tables or design capacity tables. A trade technician can select a specific beam type from suitable span tables, as can a trades person. The difference between a trade technician and trades person is the amount of qualitative and quantitative science involved in their activities: with trades people having least involvement. An electrician works with relatively simple electrical systems, whilst an electrical technician works with vastly more complex electrical systems. An auto mechanic works with cars/trucks whilst a mechanical technician works with anything mechanical. This is with respect to the skills imparted by formal education and  training, it does not consider the natural abilities of the individual before or after such training.

The important issue to note is that which was engineering in the beginning is not engineering today, and will not be engineering tomorrow. So someone may be an engineer at the start of their career, but if they spend 40 to 50 years just designing variants of the same thing, then they are not doing engineering. They are not doing engineering, because some 5 years after introducing the technology, society could start training Associate Technologists to design the technology. These Associate Technologists do not have to figure out what to do, they simply have to get on with doing it (with regard to science and mathematics).

I short the world is wasting global resources to educate people who do not actually have the capability to ever do a thing called "engineering" and if they do, they will never have the opportunity to do a thing called "engineering". They will have the opportunity to apply and adapt established technologies to be fit for some specific purpose, and use technical science and technical mathematics to assess such fitness-for-function: but this activity is not engineering.

Engineering only occurs when cross the frontier of science and technology. Once the frontier is crossed, the boundary is shifted and the engineering is over. So the technologies are engineered, but engineers are not required to design variants of the generic technology to suit a specific need and purpose.

To create legislation which requires an engineer for such established technologies is extremely wasteful, inefficient and unproductive. The education provided to the WFEO Engineer is not relevant to the task at hand,and they need to spend some 5 to 10 years becoming conversant with the technology and the associated technical science. Whilst the education given to the WFEO "Engineering" Technologist is meant to cover the specific category of generic technology and its associated technical science.

All the recent failures:

  1. Lacrosse Tower
  2. Grenfell Tower
  3. Opal Tower
  4. Mascot Tower
  5. Tullamarine Freeway Sign Collapse
In all cases  either the design-process was defective, or the fabrication and construction processes were defective. For the most part there was lack of control over converting the design-intent into the finished article. Requiring "the thing" that the IEAust calls an "engineer" will not fix this problem. Proper quality assurance programmes need implementing in design and construction. All the quality systems I have seen on the side of consultants are based on simply renaming contract document management systems to QA systems.

Tracking communications between designer and contractor is irrelevant if the information being generated by the designers is defective and the designers do not have adequate checks on the design. 

At present there are regulatory controls on design specification and documentation with respect to the performance of the finished "building". The original assumption was that with out controls people would just build what ever they wanted: therefore assumed they were able to build the thing. Since traditionally design and builder were one and the same entity, not a problem. But with the passage of time things have become split. Designer and builder are two or more separate entities, and over-the-wall-design is practised.

That which is designed may theoretically have the required performance if it can be built, but chances are it cannot be built as intended. Materials properties changed by manufacturing processes is one obstacle to achieving the required end-product. It is therefore important that design-for-manufacture (DFM), and design-for-assembly (DFA) and design-for-construction (DFC) take place: where construction is taken to refer to on-site and manufacture refers to off-site activities. Or where in manufacture the wok piece is taken to the tools, and construction the tools are taken to the work piece. The point is that there is an extra stage of design which has to be conducted after get the detailed design of the finished object. Sure there should be concurrent design taking place in an attempt to specify something which is buildable in the first place. But until the fabricator is selected and there resources are known, the practicality of buildability is just wishful thinking. Production processes need to be designed along with complementary tooling.

When implementing the established technologies, there is expectation of certainty in achievement. The frontiers of science and technology are to be avoided. The only frontier is that haven't pursued this specific project before. Whilst there is uncertainty and potential variability, they are all otherwise expected deviations. For example until start exploring the ground and the soil, rock and water below the required footings cannot be finalised. But whatever is encountered there is an expectation that suitable footings can be designed. That what ever may be encountered the basic techniques and technologies which can be adopted, adapted and applied, they exist already, and any special tooling required can be designed. On condition that the people involved are adequately conversant with both the established technologies and associated technical science (BoK). 

My contention is that we are not educating and training the right people and that professional cults are impeding the ability of humans to adapt to the task at hand. These cults should not be granted more power by implementing poorly design legislation. Legislation built around a distorted description of the task at hand.

Yes! To legislators and the public at large it may seem like advanced science and mathematics, but to those with the appropriate 2 year qualifications it is not complex, it is not advanced, it is routine. Many engineering calculations are no more complex than grade 9 algebra or grade 12 calculus: whilst only a few people may have completed grade 12, and fewer still grade 12 calculus, everyone should have completed grade 9 algebra.

Higher education needs to keep up with that which we are now able to teach in the basic 10 years of compulsory education: else those with a bachelor degree will be less capable than the next generation which completes grade 10.

So at the very minimum, it is not 4 year qualified "engineers" we need, it is 2 year qualified Associate technologists, which need to be required to do the work. No need for registration or licenses: they have formal educational awards. Whilst they can be faked they can also be checked, as can the license.

The issue isn't whether the person as a degree or not. The issue is here is a job that needs doing, is this person able to do the job? How do you know? How have you checked their work? Who is checking their work, and how do you check their work? It is an issue of succession planning and sustaining an established body of knowledge.

Of course they get it wrong if they didn't know how to do it in the first place? But who said they know how? Probably the IEAust, indicated the person was appropriately competent through grossly inappropriate assessment processes for chartered status. Professional cults impeding proper assessment of required competencies.

So if there is to be legislation there should be some basic legislation for learned societies. such as:
  1. They have a published body of knowledge (BoK) for each occupational category
  2. They demonstrate competence as guardian or the BoK
  3. They demonstrate an ability to share and disseminate the BoK
  4. They have the following grades: cadet, associate, member, fellow
  5. The grades are stepping stones, and all have to start at the bottom (cadets includes, students, graduates and all others who have neither the minimum education or experience to be an associate)
  6. Minimum entry point is associate: Minimum of 5 years experience at the level of cadet completing appropriate graduate development programme. Minimum requirement for member is 5 years experience at Associate pursing an appropriate development programme. Minimum requirement for Fellow is 10 years at level of Member pursuing an appropriate development programme. Typical expected distribution is 20% cadets, 60% associates, 15% members, and 5% fellows. If there are higher percentages in the higher grades then the requirements for progressing are not hard enough.
  7. Minimum Education one or more associate degrees (AQF-6).
  8. They comply with the Australian qualification framework (AQF). Movement from one level to the next implies increase in depth of knowledge, increased personal responsibility and increased independent thought. Qualifications have to be defined starting at AQF-1. The qualifications have to be properly articulated to enhance occupational mobility.
  9. The organisation to represent an hierarchy of occupations, which are typically expected to work as part of a team. (eg. trades, drafters, designers, technical scientists. Whilst members having a trade are likely to exceed those having science qualifications, the expectation is that only those tradespeople interested in progressing to associate or work very closely with associates will be interested.  Trades will typically have a different body of knowledge, and likely have different organisations involving artists.)
  10. The organisation is not permitted to hold more than 20% of the people in a given occupation or broad area of practice. (eg. practitioners should have at least 5 organisations to choose from to protect diversity and provide alternative perspectives. So can have an organisation which represents generalists engineering, and more specific ones representing mechanical, civil, structural, electrical. Or put another way the IEAust has to loose its national monopoly: its colleges become separate institutions. Not a major imposition given more than one nation which speaks English, and which have various more worth while learned societies: so more productive to create local branch of a more international organisation.)
  11. Legislation will require a minimum of Associate to practice without supervision.

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[(10/11/2019)] : Original