Future of Engineering

Feb 26 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

As my final guest post here I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the future of engineering: both in education and in western society. I thank you all for reading my few posts here, not as many as I would have wanted, but of course I keep myself busy posting on my own blog Design. Build. Play. and over at Engineer Blogs. I have really enjoyed the conversations and comments here.

On that note, on my first post here a subject that came up in the comments was whether to teach engineering in school. But even in my public education experience we did plenty of engineering projects, only didn't know what that's what they were. I'm sure many students are familiar with the infamous egg drop project.

There's been discussions on the 'net about how we teach science before college. There have been a lot of complaints that teaching science in elementary, middle and high schools is akin to teaching auto repair without actually having a car to work on. I think more hands on experiments are crucial for where we want to go before college and in college as those were my most memorable experiences.

I've built an egg drop case, a car that was propelled by a C02 cartridge, a ramp and even a trebuchet. The problem with the last two were that a lot of work was required on our own and for those of us who didn't have parental support in building these projects they were much more difficult and it was much easier to cut corners. It'd be nice if build projects in school were done with access to a school shop and school materials. This is what made my engineering projects actually doable. It's not teaching if you have to do and learn everything on your own.

The other concern is if we're recruiting only people who have a familiarity with the topic due to the support of family and friends. And that's not always going to bring in the most qualified people.

But as I discussed in my last post on this guest blog, how do you recruit people into an industry that has its problems?  Besides the obvious problems I mentioned there there's a lack of government and public support for the STEM fields right now. I mean, there's a pretend support that we "need more scientists and engineers" but that has yet to be backed up with government money or private corporations doing business here.

One of my fellow engineers, Chris Gammel, just wrote a great post on starting a technology manufacturing company- then and now. He looked at the success of the guys who started HP and the relative comparison of startup costs and how to compete with low cost foreign manufacturing sectors.

It's definitely difficult to start up a company that actually makes something in the US these days and that's a problem much of western society has had to deal with. When intellectual property is often absorbed by the countries that make the high tech devices designed by engineers here they no longer need the education and higher paid engineers in the west.

But there are still some places where western nations could succeed and even cooperate with the rising and growing manufacturing countries. I think about Germany that's been able to keep much of its manufacturing by focusing on high precision and high quality items. In fact, German engineering is renowned in many places and many auto components manufacturers are based over there with not only the engineering but the manufacturing as well. And that may be where other countries can find their niche.

Right now we're exporting software and financial instruments. But these are not products from a country that was great because it could make things. Auto makers, aviation and defense manufacturers tend to be the last holdouts in this country and I think we can do better. There's probably not enough profit in green and sustainable energy by itself but combine that with space exploration, machine manufacture, energy equipment for industrial applications, and high tech building design and I think we have a start. If we could take back much of the computer, cell phone and medical device manufacturing we've exported I think we'd be even stronger.

So I hope the future in education and in the grand art of making stuff is bright. Thanks for reading me, please chime in with your own opinion on STEM education and the future of engineering and manufacturing, and I hope to still have great conversations with many of you I've met here in the future.

One response so far

  • GEARS says:

    It seems too many UG engineering programs have gone the way of "theory of engineering" rather than "this is engineering". There are very few universities which still have a project-based program where the students consistently learn applied skills. There's too many classes where you sit in front of one PowerPoint lecture after another, which is a bane of the STEM education system. At the same time, it's difficult for universities to have machine shop programs due to the injury insurance and upkeep of the machines.

    For the programs that I know of that have extensive machine shop elements and project-based courses, the whole program is one stupid student away from shutting down from one lawsuit. If you could somehow bring machine shops back to universities without the fear of lawsuits, that'd be a start in the right direction. However, we as a nation are good at producing lawyers and litigating the shit out of everything.