Author Archives: FrauTech

Most designs are a solution to a problem. But a lot of times you can’t always solve the problem the way you want. The ideal solution might require a redesign of interconnecting parts that you can’t necessarily change. Or it might require time to test components that you don’t have. Sometimes you have to pick the next design iteration because it’s available or works within your time frame. But how can you be sure you’re not sacrificing the best solution for something that’s easy? Sometimes you need to have an interim solution. Sometimes you do have to make the quick and dirty choice while still working towards something long term. I’ve had several problem child pieces of hardware lately and this decision has come up several times. Often I’ve been forced to come up with a practical quick fix. It’s tough when you do that to keep the momentum up…

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There’s a phrase: jack of all trades master of none. I was thinking of one’s progression as an engineer. When you graduate college you are in many ways like a Swiss army knife (drawing from rowland jones). You have a wide variety of basic tools but are probably not particularly good at any one thing. In many ways college teaches one the ability to learn engineering. And then you spend the rest of your career learning engineering. But at some point you have to start narrowing it down. Especially if you are, like me, a mechanical engineer or as one of my classmates put it a mercenary engineer. My degree qualified me to work in any number of disciplines: mechanical systems, fluids and heat transfer, structural analysis, flight and aerospace technologies, and manufacturing. The first job you take can often lead you down the path of a particular discipline within your…

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There’s been a constant call in the media to recruit more people into science, technology, engineering and math. I’ve talked a lot about this issue on my own blog. Mainly that I believe the argument that we are graduating too few people into STEM disciplines is one propagated by industry to keep wages low on the one hand but also to feed their desire to expect more and more from entry level employees and cut back on training that was standard in the past. There’s been reports on both sides, arguing that impending mass retirement will create a shortage and others that we’re falling behind other countries and need to catch up. Other concerns are probably valid but mis-targeted. Analysis I have done on open jobs shows that the kinds of engineers we’re actually short of are software engineers and programmers and developers rather than the more core engineering disciplines. But…

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the variety of authors we have at Engineer Blogs. We have a mix of  academic and industry engineers and each arena provides its own challenges and goals. But one major thing we have in common is probably getting the test equipment you need. In the photo, USN avionics technician Norton is repairing a test bench (via Morning Calm News). Test equipment can kind of run our lives and our schedules if we aren’t careful. Academics are probably familiar with scheduling time at strange hours and working around the other researchers and students who might need to share the same equipment. Those of us in industry have similar issues with whose project takes priority for the EMI chamber or the oven. Does heat treating a production piece after a weld take priority over an emergency investigation of a material that might be failing at lower…

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It’s 20 minutes until when you’d normally leave your office and your boss rushes in. There’s something wrong in manufacturing. Or maybe there’s some particular analysis that needs to be done for the customer or some report that he needs for his boss. Of course, you’re the only one that can help. Does this sound familiar to you? If so you’re probably trying to figure out what to do about it. Allison Green over at Ask a Manager recently answered a question from a reader that covered this very topic. In fact, they are an electrical engineer. They wonder what you do when you’ve become the go to person and are maybe under appreciated as well. Click the link to go over to the Ask a Manager blog, read Allison’s response, and check out the readers’ discussion.  Here’s a snippet of what the original writer is talking about: I feel under-appreciated for…

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Engineering has changed a lot and continues to change. I think a lot of the technological aspects of this are pretty obvious. But something that might be more appropriate to this economy is what engineering means as a profession. I remember earlier this year when we asked on here whether engineering was a respected profession. But now I think there’s a new question being asked: whether engineering is a stable job. According to the census bureau there are something like 1.6 million engineers employed in the US. A whopping 12% of those are direct employees of state, local or the federal government. It doesn’t list how many engineers are indirectly funded by the government by working on government grants in science or engineering, working for companies that receive direct payment for goods and services from the government for infrastructure programs or even direct commercial goods, or how many are employed…

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We all know there are plenty of issues with meetings in the workplace. And Allison Green over at Ask a Manager even did a piece on making sure your meetings are productive. But lately I’ve been thinking about another kind of work meeting: the training seminar. Whenever a procedure’s being changed ever poor engineer, planner, and specialist often has to sit through an hour of training to learn what the new process is. One of my major beefs is that often training is not customized. Sometimes you end up in the same room with individuals who use the software for hours every day to its full capabilities and others who are not familiar with it at all. The way a designer looks at software can be very different from the way someone in configuration or manufacturing might use that same software. One might be overly familiarized with a certain side…

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I wouldn’t normally credit engineers with being overly optimistic. But sometimes you’re so focused on one thing you don’t think about potential failure points in other ways. There’s been a lot of retrospectives coming up on the 10 year anniversary of September 11th. But one interesting question posed, by an economics podcast Marketplace, was whether the post 9/11 focus actually made us less prepared for natural disasters. They argued that the focus on terrorism left certain agencies, like FEMA, who typically had entire staffs focused on disaster preparedness scrambling to focus instead of national security needs. That agencies who were used to sharing information on weather conditions and risk scenarios now were encouraged to be careful about publicizing information all in the name of national security. But as far as security is concerned, this caution is probably the right strategy. Not far off the WWII mantra of loose lips sink…

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I’ve been thinking about writing lately, particularly the skill involved and various writing styles and approaches to writing. It’s been talked about here on Engineer Blogs before. GEARS has talked about writing for labs and his particular preferences for the ritual of writing as well as writing proposals. And I’ve talked about technical writing before. But I’m thinking today about more basic writing skills. As in natural spelling and grammar spells (which you know of course means I’ve just doomed myself to those sorts of mistakes in this post). How important are those kinds of skills to an engineer? I’ve seen plenty of engineers who lack these basic skills. Their handwritten notes often misspell the same word in several different ways within just a few sentences of one another. Their word documents often include homonyms and disjointed sentence fragments as well as run-on paragraphs. Beyond these basics there also tends to be…

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What if every person’s perception of time was arbitrary and completely different? What if what seemed like months to you felt like days to someone else? I’m not talking about psychology here, I’m talking about this week’s theme: deadlines. The academics here at Engineer Blogs already weighed in with things that are familiar to their world; Miss Outlier talked about long term deadlines, GEARS talked about procrastination, and Cherish talked about the difficulty of getting started. Paul Clarke gives some tips about dealing with deadlines and whether to approach them as the tortoise or as the hare. Unlike academics most of my deadlines are much more short term. Sometimes you get two days to pull off a major design and drawing change and sometimes you get two hours to put together part of a report an executive is going to see. My issues with due dates are often that different…

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