The 9 Universal Rules of Engineering

Disclaimer: This is rehashed from an article I wrote in July 2017 for GineersNow. Some parts are added or edited for clarity.

Engineering encompasses a wide variety of subject areas. For the common man, it is all about the structures and the machines, being the visible outputs.

But the truth is that anything that interacts with human senses that involved careful calculation, intricate manufacturing, or any application of mathematics and sciences are already considered to be engineering.

Despite the differences, engineers always follow design and analysis in the process. That’s what engineering is all about: being able to use technical knowledge in assembling, developing, and constructing under certain protocols.

The universal rules in engineering below are reminders of the profession as a whole, no matter which subfield you are in.

Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is, at best, only an opinion. To prove that a system or design works, it has to be analyzed. But that can only be done if supported with the stringent analysis complete with proof that they are safe. If it is done without confusing numbers as attachment, that’s not really engineering.

Design is an iterative process. The necessary number of iterations is one more than the number you have currently done. This is true at any point in time. The problem with most engineering designs is that they have to be proven in actual every time before they become perfect. Sure, they work in theory but that’s not exactly how it will appear once materialized. It’s a stressful process of trial and error before the engineers get to conclude which one works well in real life.

When in doubt, estimate. In an emergency, guess. But be sure to go back and clean up the mess when real numbers come along. At times when engineers do not hold the formulas in computing certain values, or confronted with an urgent situation needed with an expert’s advice, it would be best to estimate and guess respectively. Contain the human nature of engineering at circumstances where they are excusable.

Your best efforts will inevitably wind up being useless in the final design. Learn to live with the disappointment. Especially if you’re in a working team, your inputs will less likely come out as individual efforts, but most likely as a whole. If you think that one member of the team barely helped in producing the final design, it is their problem and not yours. What’s important is that you’ve contributed and you’ve practice your skills. You will just have to live without being awarded for your toil.

Sometimes, the fastest way to get to the end is to throw everything out and start over. There is a good reason to do it all over again with engineering projects: when everything about them just seems to be out of place and the engineers seem to be lost. The odds are that a fresh start will be less problematic and will yield a better, faster result than continuing with the existing design. Do not be afraid to go back to the drawing board.  

There is never a single right solution. But there are always multiple wrong ones. A problem can be solved in many ways, they say. Sometimes, that involves going through all the wrong ones. Stay resilient in finding that one solution, among the many, that will work.

The fact that an analysis appears in print has no relationship to the likelihood of its being correct. Before an engineering project becomes successful, it will have to go through an explosion or worse mishaps. It is a product of imperfect design application, because not all that works in theory works in practice. There is no direction correlation between the two, unless the engineer performs a validation. But yeah, with an explosion.

A bad design with a good presentation is doomed eventually. A good design with a bad presentation is doomed immediately. Engineers can never conceal which aspect of the project is bad: the design or the presentation. Either way, it will be doomed; but depends on which one is bad. It cannot be both bad.

Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which. The true measures of an engineer are how he or she finds ways to make use of the classroom learning to something useful, and how he or she applies the value of mathematical and scientific theories in real life.

Source: Dave Akin                                                                     


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