Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Technology in use in Engineering

I have a Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and I worked for 10 years as an engineer before becoming an educator. I still do some consulting and keep up to date in the field. With all the talk about educational technology, I thought it would be nice to share some of the technology currently being used by engineers so that educators have an idea of what college students will be learning.

Engineers, like everyone else, use office productivity tools (MS Office, Google Docs), email, and the internet. In fact, the internet is one of the engineers' best tools. Research, online catalogs from vendors, online reference guides and calculators, and discussion groups and forums are all used on a daily basis.

Computer Aided Design (CAD) is the next major technology that engineers use. Products are designed in 3D on the computer, analyzed, fit checked, and simulated before prototypes are even built. Multi-physics simulation software, Finite Element Analysis, and Computational Fluid Dynamics software are critical to being able to design, analyze, and test products virtually before spending more money on manufacturing and live testing. They can analyze and simulate almost everything that a product would go through, virtually.

There is also Bill of Material (BOM) software to keep track of all the pieces and parts, Manufacturing software to help the engineers figure out the best way to build a product and then programming the equipment to do the work.

3D printers are used to make functional models of the product for early testing. They either strip away material, or lay down material (a plastic) to create the parts. These 3D printers can fit on a desktop. There are also 3D scanners that can be used to take a real part and turn it into a 3D model in the computer.

When I worked at Sikorsky Aircraft, we did everything on the computer. Design, analysis, simulation, manufacturing layout, communications, coordination, and more. Even our manuals and references were all online. If we printed something out, it had a watermark on it saying that the computer network should always be checked for updated information.

Computers and software have always been important in engineering, but as computers have gotten more powerful, so has software and the tools that can be used. Things change quickly, so engineers have to be able to learn new software and tools on their own.

As a high school physics teacher, I teach 90% seniors. This means that I am usually the last science teacher that they will have in high school (they may be taking two sciences). I try to expose them to project based learning (how WPI does things and how engineers work) and different types of software and systems that are out there for science and engineering. I try to teach them how to do their own research and how to learn things on their own, because I know that is what they will need to be able to do in college and in the workplace.

I also try to encourage students who are interested in and good at science to look at engineering as a career. Our world needs more engineers to solve the world's problems and continue with improving our standard of life.

Engineering is obviously not the only career field using technology - medicine, manufacturing, even retail, all use technology in ever increasing ways. This means that the more our students are exposed to technology, the better prepared they will be for college and the workplace.

More information on engineering and engineering resources for educators:


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