Engineering is the discipline and profession of applying scientific knowledge and utilizing natural laws and physical resources in order to design and implement materials, structures, machines, devices, systems, and processes that realize a desired objective and meet specified criteria. The American Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (ECPD, the predecessor of ABET) has defined engineering as follows: “[T]he creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property.”
One who practices engineering is called an engineer, and those licensed to do so may have more formal designations such as Professional Engineer, Chartered Engineer, or Incorporated Engineer. The broad discipline of engineering encompasses a range of more specialized subdisciplines, each with a more specific emphasis on certain fields of application and particular areas of technology.
HistoryEngineers apply the sciences of physics and mathematics to find suitable solutions to problems or to make improvements to the status quo. If multiple options exist, engineers weigh different design choices on their merits and choose the solution that best matches the requirements. The crucial and unique task of the engineer is to identify, understand, and interpret the constraints on a design in order to produce a successful result. It is usually not enough to build a technically successful product; it must also meet further requirements. Constraints may include available resources, physical, imaginative or technical limitations, flexibility for future modifications and additions, and other factors, such as requirements for cost, safety, marketability, productibility, and serviceability. By understanding the constraints, engineers derive specifications for the limits within which a viable object or system may be produced and operated.
Problem solvingEngineers use their knowledge of science, mathematics, and appropriate experience to find suitable solutions to a problem. Engineering is considered a branch of applied mathematics and science. Creating an appropriate mathematical model of a problem allows them to analyze it (sometimes definitively), and to test potential solutions. Usually multiple reasonable solutions exist, so engineers must evaluate the different design choices on their merits and choose the solution that best meets their requirements. Genrich Altshuller, after gathering statistics on a large number of patents, suggested that compromises are at the heart of "low-level" engineering designs, while at a higher level the best design is one which eliminates the core contradiction causing the problem.
Engineers typically attempt to predict how well their designs will perform to their specifications prior to full-scale production. They use, among other things: prototypes, scale models, simulations, destructive tests, nondestructive tests, and stress tests. Testing ensures that products will perform as expected. Engineers as professionals take seriously their responsibility to produce designs that will perform as expected and will not cause unintended harm to the public at large. Engineers typically include a factor of safety in their designs to reduce the risk of unexpected failure. However, the greater the safety factor, the less efficient the design may be.
- Engineers Against Poverty
- Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief
- Engineers for a Sustainable World
Cultural presenceEngineering is a well respected profession. For example, in Canada it ranks as one of the public's most trusted professions.
Sometimes engineering has been seen as a somewhat dry, uninteresting field in popular culture, and has also been thought to be the domain of nerds. For example, the cartoon character Dilbert is an engineer. One difficulty in increasing public awareness of the profession is that average people, in the typical run of ordinary life, do not ever have any personal dealings with engineers, even though they benefit from their work every day. By contrast, it is common to visit a doctor at least once a year, the chartered accountant at tax time, and, occasionally, even a lawyer.
This has not always been so - most British school children in the 1950s were brought up with stirring tales of 'the Victorian Engineers', chief amongst whom were the Brunels, the Stephensons, Telford and their contemporaries.
In science fiction engineers are often portrayed as highly knowledgeable and respectable individuals who understand the overwhelming future technologies often portrayed in the genre. The Star Trek characters Montgomery Scott, Geordi La Forge, Miles O'Brien, B'Elanna Torres, and Charles Tucker are famous examples.
Occasionally, engineers may be recognized by the "Iron Ring"--a stainless steel or iron ring worn on the little finger of the dominant hand. This tradition began in 1925 in Canada for the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer as a symbol of pride and obligation for the engineering profession. Some years later in 1972 this practice was adopted by several colleges in the United States. Members of the US Order of the Engineer accept this ring as a pledge to uphold the proud history of engineering.
A Professional Engineer's name may be followed by the post-nominal letters PE or P.Eng in North America. In much of Europe a professional engineer is denoted by the letters IR, while in the UK and much of the Commonwealth the term Chartered Engineer applies and is denoted by the letters CEng.
LegislationIn most Western countries, certain engineering tasks, such as the design of bridges, electric power plants, and chemical plants, must be approved by a Professional Engineer or a Chartered Engineer or an Incorporated Engineer.
Laws protecting public health and safety mandate that a professional must provide guidance gained through education and experience. In the United States, each state tests and licenses Professional Engineers. In much of Europe and the Commonwealth professional accreditation is provided by Engineering Institutions, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers from the UK. The engineering institutions of the UK are some of the oldest in the world, and provide accreditation to many engineers around the world. In Canada the profession in each province is governed by its own engineering association. For instance, in the Province of British Columbia an engineering graduate with 4 or more years of experience in an engineering-related field will need to be registered by the Association for Professional Engineers and Geoscientists [(APEGBC)]http://www.apeg.bc.ca in order to become a Professional Engineer and be granted the professional designation of P.Eng.
The federal US government, however, supervises aviation through the Federal Aviation Regulations administrated by the Dept. of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration. Designated Engineering Representatives approve data for aircraft design and repairs on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Even with strict testing and licensure, engineering disasters still occur. Therefore, the Professional Engineer, Chartered Engineer, or Incorporated Engineer adheres to a strict code of ethics. Each engineering discipline and professional society maintains a code of ethics, which the members pledge to uphold.
Refer also to the Washington accord for international accreditation details of professional engineering degrees.
Relationships with other disciplines
ScienceScientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been. Theodore von Kármán
There exists an overlap between the sciences and engineering practice; in engineering, one applies science. Both areas of endeavor rely on accurate observation of materials and phenomena. Both use mathematics and classification criteria to analyze and communicate observations. Scientists are expected to interpret their observations and to make expert recommendations for practical action based on those interpretations. Scientists may also have to complete engineering tasks, such as designing experimental apparatus or building prototypes. Conversely, in the process of developing technology engineers sometimes find themselves exploring new phenomena, thus becoming, for the moment, scientists.
In the book What Engineers Know and How They Know It, Walter Vincenti asserts that engineering research has a character different from that of scientific research. First, it often deals with areas in which the basic physics and/or chemistry are well understood, but the problems themselves are too complex to solve in an exact manner. Examples are the use of numerical approximations to the Navier-Stokes equations to describe aerodynamic flow over an aircraft, or the use of Miner's rule to calculate fatigue damage. Second, engineering research employs many semi-empirical methods that are foreign to pure scientific research, one example being the method of parameter variation.
As stated by Fung et al. in the revision to the classic engineering text, Foundations of Solid Mechanics,
"Engineering is quite different from science. Scientists try to understand nature. Engineers try to make things that do not exist in nature. Engineers stress invention. To embody an invention the engineer must put his idea in concrete terms, and design something that people can use. That something can be a device, a gadget, a material, a method, a computing program, an innovative experiment, a new solution to a problem, or an improvement on what is existing. Since a design has to be concrete, it must have its geometry, dimensions, and characteristic numbers. Almost all engineers working on new designs find that they do not have all the needed information. Most often, they are limited by insufficient scientific knowledge. Thus they study mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and mechanics. Often they have to add to the sciences relevant to their profession. Thus engineering sciences are born."
Medicine and biology
- Engineering society
- List of aerospace engineering topics
- List of basic chemical engineering topics
- List of electrical engineering topics
- List of genetic engineering topics
- List of mechanical engineering topics
- List of nanoengineering topics
- List of software engineering topics
- Engineering economics
- Engineers Without Borders
- Sustainable engineering
- Industrial design
- Open hardware
- Science and technology
- The Innovators: The Engineering Pioneers Who Made America Modern
- To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design
- The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are
- Guide to Information Sources in Engineering
- What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History
- National Society of Professional Engineers article on Licensure and Qualifications for the Practice of Engineering
- American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
- The US Library of Congress Engineering in History bibliography
- ICES-The Institute for Complex Engineered Systems http://www.ices.cmu.edu
- History of engineering bibliography at University of Minnesota
- National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering
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