Quick poll: Governments around the world are encouraging new engineers for the future. Which discipline do you think needs the most support?
Martin Smith, Luvata Group IPR Administration Director and Director of Operational Risk Management comments:
A Brave New, Mechanical, World
When I started my career in engineering in 1966 at the National Gas Turbine Establishment R.A.E. Farnborough UK, there were 1000 apprentices on site, most aiming to become mechanical engineers. There were a few people interested in electrical engineering, but to me that just seemed like a lot of lights that flashed when you flicked a switch, which I found, frankly, boring! Concord, Harrier, Rockets, Moon Landers, Nuclear Submarines, Robots, these were the future, real hardware that would change the world and power industry for the future.
Within just a decade mechanical engineering seemed to take a back seat, first to electronic engineering, later computers, and in the last two decades software engineering. Universities found that uptake and interest in mechanical and electrical engineering took a nose dive, students were more interested in the "soft options"; business management, finance, and software were in vogue. Engineering studies were compacted into "mechatronics" with "business studies" appended. Interest in materials science for example withered into oblivion.
When I look at the engineering around me today I see very little that was not pioneered between 1860 and 1960, true there has been much development, things have become smaller, more efficient, and cheaper; but new? Nothing new springs to my mind, certainly nothing inspiring. There now seems to be design stagnation happening in computer software and the ubiquitous mobile phone; just how many applications do we really need?
Perhaps the time is now ripe for a renaissance in mechanical engineering, our survey seems to suggest that there is an appetite for it; our poll shows 34% wanting mechanical engineers to be encouraged by our governments, as against 4% for computer engineering, that is some turn around! But where should we look for the new markets, where should we invest, what kind of mechanical engineering should our students commit themselves to?
Excitement comes from living on the edge, taking on seemingly impossible challenges, advancing human activity into areas and places that involve positive risk. We have some great opportunities staring us in the face, climate change, and space for example. The challenges facing us resulting from climate change (whether or not caused by human activity) are literally "a matter of life and death" for millions of people; investment in new engineering will enable many of the causes to be countered, and the effect of others mitigated. Now that private enterprise is being allowed to take on the challenge of space exploration, a completely new horizon has opened up; the possibility of virtually unlimited power, inexhaustible materials, and exciting new science, is within our grasp.
All of these incredible possibilities require the design and manufacture of amazing hardware, and we will need some fantastic, motivated, and ingenious, mechanical engineers, in place, ready to do the job. So may I encourage you to do everything in your power to inspire our brightest, best, and just plain innovative, to become part of our mechanical engineering future!