We work with engineers every day, some manage engineers, hiring engineers, looking for new engineering opportunities, and so on. But, when was the last time we asked ourselves “who is an engineer?”. Have we invested the time to understand the meaning of being an engineer?
On these occasions, we like to start from the basis, from the official definition. As per Cambridge Dictionary:
An engineer is “a person whose job is to design or build machines, engines, or electrical equipment, or things such as roads, railways, or bridges, using scientific principles”.
It sounds like, the “scientific principle” is a key point here. If you are an engineer, you are a scientist, and you are applying scientific principles.
In fact, that used to be true. Though, we need to look into it again to understand what happened to the engineering work. What has changed? We analyzed this question with the help of our “thinking friend”, 9 Windows.
To remind everyone, 9 Windows is a system operator that helps us think in space and time.
For more information refer to our previous blogs about 9 Windows: 9 Windows thinking, 9 Windows help us think in space and time, About cellphone future with 9 windows and functional model, Beyond plasma in microelectronics with 9 windows.
9 Windows is one of the creative thinking tools available in PRIZ Innovation Platform.
The chart below describes the functionality of the tool. All the fields should be filled (ideally in order as numbered).
The results of our analysis are shown below. You are more than welcome to read in details, but what is written is less important than the process and ideas generated as a result.
The basic engineering activity was related directly to the engineering system – creation, development, and problem-solving. The flow of the interaction between an engineer and the system is shown below.
An engineer is directly affecting an engineering system.
An engineering system operates and generates problems. The engineer analyzes the problems, applies physical knowledge, solves problems, and innovates. To succeed in such a process, an engineer needs to develop his knowledge in physical science – physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc…
In modern times the flow has changed: a control system appeared between an engineer and an engineering system.
An engineer is affecting a control system to affect an engineering system
As shown in the diagram, the distance between an engineer and an engineering system is currently increasing. The control system separates the thinker and the system. An engineering system operates and creates problems. But the problem solver, in most cases, is not able to impact the system directly. He affects the control system as an intermediate instrument.
An engineer tries to solve problems by managing engineering patterns based on management principles.
Modern engineer is less focused on physical science and much more on controlling (managerial) science. This results in the loss of natural knowledge. I am sorry to point it, but this is what I observed many times. Engineers may know how electroplating equipment is managed, but they may not be aware of the basic principles of electrochemistry. The situation is that they often do not need basic physical knowledge. We all know that mechanical engineers can successfully sustain chemical processes and wise versa. Why? Because they are working with the control system and not with the chemistry or mechanics of the process. The most challenging part of the work, however, is problem-solving. Engineers may be good at sustaining but typically fail in solving problems related to the process.
We cannot change the trend, but we can help to solve problems. The only way is to use problem-solving tools and think like a problem solver.
It is not enough to be an engineer in the modern world, and it is necessary to be a problem solver.
Professional problem solver uses creative thinking tools for problem solving and innovation. PRIZ Innovation Platform is exactly that. It is a unique SaaS that helps engineers think and generate solutions and ideas.
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