Engineer Engages in a Process That Is Book Report

Excerpt from Book Report :

engineer engages in a process that is both technical, and social as he or she works to facilitate the creation of a product to meet the customer's needs. If this process were strictly functional application of mathematics, design specifications and materials testing, the bulk of the work could be done by a computer. But the design process is all together human, interwoven by cultural issues, communications issues, and the knowledge that is created as the engineering process travels from conception to completion.

In any design project there generally are different kinds of engineers - mechanical engineers, electronics engineers and so on. They speak different languages; they have different responsibilities, competencies and interests. To reconcile their different claims and proposals, negotiation is required. The book uses the example that refrigerators in the States are huge and in Europe they are small. Clearly there are technical reasons, but the main reason has to do with the way society works. In the U.S., people generally do not live in cities but out in the suburbs. Culture in the states regulates that refrigerators function best when they are large. In Europe, however, the citizens value going to the market two or three times a week. It is a cultural expectation of community, and an enjoyable enterprise. Therefore a mammoth refrigerator in the Europe is a waste of energy consumption and limited residential space. Cultural negotiation is therefore essential to the satisfactory completion of a project, and the engineer who understand the cultural issues of a project as well as the design and engineering issues will be prepared to succeed in today's world.

Relevance of book to Mechanical Engineering Studies, and points learned

The products of engineering design are everywhere, but whom or what determines their form and function? Their surfaces are usually cold, seemingly objective, as if they existed outside of history of the technologies that are so much a part of our lives. Because Designing Engineers was written by a practicing engineer, the book yields clues to this mystery by probing deeply into the everyday world of engineering. In doing so, it reveals significant discrepancies between our ideal image of design as an instrumental process and the reality of design as a historically situated social process that is full of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Louis Bucciarelli was a consultant to one project and participated in the design process for the other two. In the three projects he examines in the book, he evaluated the projects from the viewpoint of "the objective goals" - the way participants understood how things work - and "the engineering process" - the way they go about designing. What he learns is that engineering design is a social process that involves constant negotiation among many parties, not just engineers but marketing people, research scientists, accountants, and customers as well. Design is often presented as a rational, algorithmic process whereby students follow a series of prescribed steps to reach an end product. Recent work on engineering design indicates that it's not nearly as rational a process as we once naively thought. For example, Bucciarelli says that those who observe the process of engineering design find that it is not a totally formal affair, and that drawings and specifications come into existence as a result of a social process. The various members of a design group can be expected to have divergent views of the most desirable ways to accomplish the design they are working on. Therefore Informal negotiations, discussions, laughter, gossip, and banter among members of a design group often have a leavening effect on its outcome.

Critical Issues

Learning to think like an engineer means learning to do both analysis and synthesis, both alone and with a group of team members. The interaction among team members is just as important part of the process as minding materials within the design parameters, and performing flawless calculations. Learning within the team that is informal, social, and focused on meaningful problems helps create "insider knowledge." When an engineer can gain insider knowledge, learning to speak, write, and think like other members of a profession, that engineer is at a significant advantage, and is becoming a member of a community of practice.

Helping students understand the complexity of trades-offs involved in many engineering and technology decisions is another important aspect of case-based and problem-based learning. By walking through three different projects with the author, this book enables the reader to understand the human process of design engineering as if he were in a balcony, watching over the shoulders of successful engineers practice their trade.

Engineering and Philosophy seem to be two worlds apart. But 'things' and 'ideas' are not completely disassociated in this world. Their synthesis is certainly essential in engineering design. In this book, the author explores how the concerns of philosophers are relevant to engineering thought and practice - in negotiating tradeoffs, in diagnosing failure, in constructing adequate models and simulations, and in teaching.

Author's style

Designing Engineers describes the evolution of three disparate projects: an x-ray inspection system for airports, a photo print machine, and a residential photovoltaic energy system. In each case, the reader is taken through the hallways and into the meeting rooms of the company to watch over the shoulders of engineers as they engage in the manifold individual and collective work that goes into designing a new product.

One of the strengths of the book is the way Bucciarelli uses the very language of engineering discourse to uncover the many levels at which negotiation takes place.

As an engineer himself, the author used the hard terms to try to get a grasp on the soft terms of the human dynamics involved. Designing, it turns out, is as much about agreeing on definitions, and making sure everyone around the table understands the definitions it is about producing "hard" artifacts, design specifications, or manufactured goods.

If the author were to change the engineering language as he grappled with the human issues, students educated in the engineering arts would not have been able to grasp his message. The use of the hard engineering terms to discuss soft human engineering issues puts the reader, and new engineering student at home in his own environment, and helps him adjust to the human and philosophical issues as part of his own world, rather than projecting the reader into a different paradigm. This approach makes this book a difficult read for the non-engineer, but a powerful lesson for the seasoned or novice designer.

Air Disasters by Mike Sharpe

Thesis and content of the book

The subject of airship disasters is of significant interest to mechanical engineers who accept the task of designing products that affect the safety and well-being of the consumer each and every day. Whether the design project is a bridge which will carry hundreds of cars from one side of a river to the other, an airliner which is designed to transport passengers thorough all kinds of weather conditions for the duration of long-term repeated service, or a toaster that is expected to faithfully brown toast without bursting into flame, the designing engineer need to be aware of product failures if they are to learn to design products successfully.

The sole purpose of this book is providing a brief general introduction to 50 significant air disasters. In doing so, the author investigated only the surface issues regarding of the problems, without entering into much detail. More than 50 of this century's major air disasters are examined in relation to the causal factors involved in the crashes. The author identifies different categories which contribute to the crashes, such as:

human error adverse weather conditions mechanical failure collision

Acts of terrorism.

From the fiery 1930 crash of a British airship in France, through TWA Flight 800 in July 1996, the book contains more than 120 photos depict scenes from the disasters, which give the reader a realistic glimpse of reality to airliner failure.

The author provides concise accounts describe each of the ill-fated flights and investigation findings. However, from a reader's point-of-view, and from the standpoint of an engineer, the book may have been more interesting if the author had spent more time on fewer disasters. Relating briefly 50 air crashes is not the best way to write a book about this relevant subject. Some of the accidents are described in ten or so lines in total. Overall, the book gives a good general introduction to the naive person in this fascinating, dramatic and potentially morbid subject

Relevance of book to Mechanical Engineering Studies, and points learned

For the engineering student this book wets the appetite regarding engineering issues, but asks more questions than it answers. Looking at the list of 5 common factors for airliner failure listed above, the engineer can do little to deter acts of terrorism which bring an airliner crashing to earth. The recent events of 9-11, which were accomplished by box cutters and pocket knives, demonstrated that willing people can commit acts of terror which circumvent…

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