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Engineering is the applied science of acquiring and applying knowledge to design, analysis, and/or construction of works for practical purposes. The American Engineers' Council for Professional Development, also known as ECPD, (later ABET ) defines Engineering as: "The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property." One who practices engineering is called an engineer, and those licensed to do so have formal designations such as Professional Engineer, Chartered Engineer or Incorporated Engineer. The broad discipline of engineering encompasses a range of specialized subdisciplines that focus on the issues associated with developing a specific kind of product, or using a specific type of technology.
Branches of Engineering
Engineering, much like science, is a broad discipline which is often broken down into several sub-disciplines. These disciplines concern themselves with differing areas of engineering work and to some extent can be outlined as follows, howevever this classification is broad at best. Although initially an engineer will be trained in a specific discipline, throughout an engineer's career the engineer may become multi-disciplined, having worked in several of the outlined areas.
For each of these fields there exists considerable overlap, especially in the areas of the application of sciences to their disciplines such as physics, chemistry and mathematics.
Engineers borrow from physics and mathematics to find suitable solutions to the problem at hand. They apply the scientific method in deriving their solutions. If multiple options exist, engineers weigh different design choices on their merits and choose the solution that best matches the requirements. The crucial and unique task of the engineer is to identify, understand, and interpret the constraints on a design in order to produce a successful result. It is usually not enough to build a technically successful product; it must also meet further requirements. Constraints may include available resources, physical, imaginative or technical limitations, flexibility for future modifications and additions, and other factors, such as requirements for cost, safety, marketability, producibility, and serviceability. By understanding the constraints, engineers derive specifications for the limits within which a viable object or system may be produced and operated.
Engineers use their knowledge of science, mathematics, and appropriate experience to find suitable solutions to a problem. Engineering is considered a branch of applied mathematics and science. Creating an appropriate mathematical model of a problem allows them to analyze it (sometimes definitively), and to test potential solutions. Usually multiple reasonable solutions exist, so engineers must evaluate the different design choices on their merits and choose the solution that best meets their requirements. Genrich Altshuller, after gathering statistics on a large number of patents, suggested that compromises are at the heart of "low-level" engineering designs, while at a higher level the best design is one which eliminates the core contradiction causing the problem.
Engineers typically attempt to predict how well their designs will perform to their specifications prior to full-scale production. They use, among other things: prototypes, scale models, simulations, destructive tests, nondestructive tests, and stress tests. Testing ensures that products will perform as expected. Engineers as professionals take seriously their responsibility to produce designs that will perform as expected and will not cause unintended harm to the public at large. Engineers typically include a factor of safety in their designs to reduce the risk of unexpected failure. However, the greater the safety factor, the less efficient the design may be.
As with all modern scientific and technological endeavors, computers and software play an increasingly important role. As well as the typical business application software there are a number of computer aided applications (CAx) specifically for engineering.
One of the most widely used tools in the profession is computer-aided design (CAD) software which enables engineers to create 3D models, 2D drawings, and schematics of their designs. CAD together with Digital mockup (DMU) and CAE software such as finite element method analysis allows engineers to create models of designs that can be analyzed without having to make expensive and time-consuming physical prototypes. These allow products and components to be checked for flaws; assess fit and assembly; study ergonomics; and to analyze static and dynamic characteristics of systems such as stresses, temperatures, electromagnetic emissions, electrical currents and voltages, digital logic levels, fluid flows, and kinematics. Access and distribution of all this information is generally organized with the use of Product Data Management software.
There are also many tools to support specific engineering tasks such as Computer-aided manufacture (CAM) software to generate CNC machining instructions; Manufacturing Process Management software for production engineering; EDA for printed circuit board (PCB) and circuit schematics for electronic engineers; MRO applications for maintenance management ; and AEC software for civil engineering.
In recent years the use of computer software to aid the development of goods has collectively come to be known as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).
The history of the concept of "engineering" stems from the earliest times when humans began to make clever inventions, such as the pulley, lever, or wheel, etc. The exact etymology of the word engineer, however, is a person occupationally connected with the study, design, and implementation of engines. The word "engine", derives from the Latin ingenium (c. 1250), meaning "innate quality, especially mental power, hence a clever invention." Hence, an engineer, essentially, is someone who makes useful or practical inventions.
From another perspective, a now obsolete meaning of engineer, dating from 1325, is "a constructor of military engines". Engineering was originally divided into military engineering, which included construction of fortifications as well as military engines, and civil engineering, non-military construction of such as bridges.
The first electrical engineer is considered to be William Gilbert, with his 1600 publication of De Magnete, who was the originator of the term "electricity".
The first steam engine was built in 1698 by mechanical engineer Thomas Savery.
With the rise of engineering as a profession in the nineteenth century the term became more narrowly applied to fields in which mathematics and science were applied to these ends. Similarly, in addition to military and civil engineering the fields then known as the mechanic arts became incorporated into engineering.
The first PhD in engineering (technically, applied science and engineering) awarded in the United States went to Willard Gibbs at Yale University in 1863; it was also the second PhD awarded in science in the U.S.
In 1990, with the rise of computer technology, the first search engine was built by computer engineer Alan Emtage.
Engineering in a social context
Engineering is a subject that ranges from large collaborations to small individual projects. Almost all engineering projects are beholden to some sort of financing agency: a company, a set of investors, or a government. The few types of engineering that are minimally constrained by such issues are pro bono engineering and open design engineering.
By its very nature engineering is bound up with society and human behavior. Every product or construction used by modern society will have been influenced by engineering design. Engineering design is a very powerful tool to make changes to environment, society and economies, and its application brings with it a great responsibility, as represented by many of the Engineering Institutions codes of practice and ethics. Whereas medical ethics is a well-established field with considerable consensus, engineering ethics is far less developed, and engineering projects can be subject to considerable controversy. Just a few examples of this from different engineering disciplines are the development of nuclear weapons, the Three Gorges Dam, the design and use of Sports Utility Vehicles and the extraction of oil. There is a growing trend amongst western engineering companies to enact serious Corporate and Social Responsibility policies, but many companies do not have these.
Engineering is a key driver of human development. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular has a very small engineering capacity which results in many African nations being unable to develop crucial infrastructure without outside aid. The attainment of many of the Millennium Development Goals requires the achievement of sufficient engineering capacity to develop infrastructure and sustainable technological development. All overseas development and relief NGOs make considerable use of engineers to apply solutions in disaster and development scenarios. A number of charitable organizations aim to use engineering directly for the good of mankind:
Engineering is a well respected profession. For example, in Canada it ranks as one of the public's most trusted professions.
Sometimes engineering has been seen as a somewhat dry, uninteresting field in popular culture, and has also been thought to be the domain of nerds. For example, the cartoon character Dilbert is an engineer. One difficulty in increasing public awareness of the profession is that average people, in the typical run of ordinary life, do not ever have any personal dealings with engineers, even though they benefit from their work every day. By contrast, it is common to visit a doctor at least once a year, the chartered accountant at tax time, and, occasionally, even a lawyer.
This has not always been so - most British school children in the 1950s were brought up with stirring tales of 'the Victorian Engineers', chief amongst whom were the Brunels, the Stephensons, Telford and their contemporaries.
In science fiction engineers are often portrayed as highly knowledgeable and respectable individuals who understand the overwhelming future technologies often portrayed in the genre. The Star Trek characters Montgomery Scott, Geordi La Forge, Miles O'Brien, B'Elanna Torres, and Charles Tucker are famous examples.
Occasionally, engineers may be recognized by the "Iron Ring"--a stainless steel or iron ring worn on the little (fourth) finger of the dominant hand. This tradition began in 1925 in Canada for the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer as a symbol of pride and obligation for the engineering profession. Some years later in 1972 this practice was adopted by several colleges in the United States. Members of the US Order of the Engineer accept this ring as a pledge to uphold the proud history of engineering. A Professional Engineer's name may be followed by the post-nominal letters PE or P.Eng in North America. In much of Europe a professional engineer is denoted by the letters IR, while in the UK and much of the Commonwealth the term Chartered Engineer applies and is denoted by the letters CEng.
In most Western countries, certain engineering tasks, such as the design of bridges, electric power plants, and chemical plants, must be approved by a Professional Engineer or a Chartered Engineer or an Incorporated Engineer.
Laws protecting public health and safety mandate that a professional must provide guidance gained through education and experience. In the United States, each state tests and licenses Professional Engineers. In much of Europe and the Commonwealth professional accreditation is provided by Engineering Institutions, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers from the UK. The engineering institutions of the UK are some of the oldest in the world, and provide accreditation to many engineers around the world. In Canada the profession in each province is governed by its own engineering association. For instance, in the Province of British Columbia an engineering graduate with 4 or more years of experience in an engineering-related field will need to be registered by the Association for Professional Engineers and Geoscientists [(APEGBC)] in order to become a Professional Engineer and be granted the professional designation of P.Eng.
The federal US government, however, supervises aviation through the Federal Aviation Regulations administrated by the Dept. of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration. Designated Engineering Representatives approve data for aircraft design and repairs on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Even with strict testing and licensure, engineering disasters still occur. Therefore, the Professional Engineer or Chartered Engineer or Incorporated Engineer adheres to a strict code of ethics. Each engineering discipline and professional society maintains a code of ethics, which the members pledge to uphold.
Refer also to the Washington accord for international accreditation details of professional engineering degrees.
Relationships with other disciplines
Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been.
There exists an overlap between the sciences and engineering practice; in engineering, one applies science. Both areas of endeavor rely on accurate observation of materials and phenomena. Both use mathematics and classification criteria to analyze and communicate observations. Scientists are expected to interpret their observations and to make expert recommendations for practical action based on those interpretations. Scientists may also have to complete engineering tasks, such as designing experimental apparatus or building prototypes. Conversely, in the process of developing technology engineers sometimes find themselves exploring new phenomena, thus becoming, for the moment, scientists.
In the book What Engineers Know and How They Know It, Walter Vincenti asserts that engineering research has a character different from that of scientific research. First, it often deals with areas in which the basic physics and/or chemistry are well understood, but the problems themselves are too complex to solve in an exact manner. Examples are the use of numerical approximations to the Navier-Stokes equations to describe aerodynamic flow over an aircraft, or the use of Miner's rule to calculate fatigue damage. Second, engineering research employs many semi-empirical methods that are foreign to pure scientific research, one example being the method of parameter variation.
As stated by Fung et. al. in the revision to the classic engineering text, Foundations of Solid Mechanics, 
"Engineering is quite different from science. Scientists try to understand nature. Engineers try to make things that do not exist in nature. Engineers stress invention. To embody an invention the engineer must put his idea in concrete terms, and design something that people can use. That something can be a device, a gadget, a material, a method, a computing program, an innovative experiment, a new solution to a problem, or an improvement on what is existing. Since a design has to be concrete, it must have its geometry, dimensions, and characteristic numbers. Almost all engineers working on new designs find that they do not have all the needed information. Most often, they are limited by insufficient scientific knowledge. Thus they study mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and mechanics. Often they have to add to the sciences relevant to their profession. Thus engineering sciences are born."
Medicine and biology
The study of the human body, albeit from different directions and for different purposes, is an important common link between medicine and some engineering disciplines. Medicine aims to sustain, enhance and even replace functions of the human body, if necessary, through the use of technology. Modern medicine can replace several of the body's functions through the use of artificial organs and can significantly alter the function of the human body through artificial devices such as, for example, brain implants and pacemakers. The fields of Bionics and medical Bionics are dedicated to the study of synthetic implants pertaining to natural systems. Conversely, some engineering disciplines view the human body as a biological machine worth studying, and are dedicated to emulating many of its functions by replacing biology with technology. This has led to fields such as artificial intelligence, neural networks, fuzzy logic, and robotics. There are also substantial interdisciplinary interactions between engineering and medicine.
Both fields provide solutions to real world problems. This often requires moving forward before phenomena are completely understood in a more rigorous scientific sense and therefore experimentation and empirical knowledge is an integral part of both. Medicine, in part, studies the function of the human body. The human body, as a biological machine, has many functions that can be modeled using Engineering methods. The heart for example functions much like a pump, the skeleton is like a linked structure with levers, the brain produces electrical signals etc. These similarities as well as the increasing importance and application of Engineering principles in Medicine, led to the development of the field of biomedical engineering that utilizes concepts developed in both disciplines.
Newly emerging branches of science, such as Systems biology, are adapting analytical tools traditionally used for engineering, such as systems modeling and computational analysis, to the description of biological systems.
There are connections between engineering and art; they are direct in some fields, for example, architecture, landscape architecture and industrial design (even to the extent that these disciplines may sometimes be included in a University's Faculty of Engineering); and indirect in others. The Art Institute of Chicago, for instance, held an exhibition about the art of NASA's aerospace design. Robert Maillart's bridge design is perceived by some to have been deliberately artistic. At the University of South Florida, an engineering professor, through a grant with the National Science Foundation, has developed a course that connects art and engineering. Among famous historical figures Leonardo Da Vinci is a well known Renaissance artist and engineer, and a prime example of the nexus between art and engineering.
In Political science the term engineering has been borrowed for the study of the subjects of Social engineering and Political engineering, which deal with forming political and social structures using engineering methodology coupled with political science principles.
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- ^ Vincenti, Walter G. (1993). What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History. Johns Hopkins University Press.
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- ^ Ethical Assessment of Implantable Brain Chips. Ellen M. McGee and G. Q. Maguire, Jr. from Boston University
- ^ IEEE technical paper: Foreign parts (electronic body implants).by Evans-Pughe, C. quote from summary:Feeling threatened by cyborgs?
- ^ Institute of Medicine and Engineering: Mission statement The mission of the Institute for Medicine and Engineering (IME) is to stimulate fundamental research at the interface between biomedicine and engineering/physical/computational sciences leading to innovative applications in biomedical research and clinical practice.
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- ^ a b Royal Academy of Engineering and Academy of Medical Sciences: Systems Biology: a vision for engineering and medicine in pdf: quote1: Systems Biology is an emerging methodology that has yet to be defined quote2: It applies the concepts of systems engineering to the study of complex biological systems through iteration between computational and/or mathematical modelling and experimentation.
- ^ Science Museum of Minnesota: Online Lesson 5a; The heart as a pump
- ^ Minnesota State University emuseum: Bones act as levers
- ^ UC Berkeley News: UC researchers create model of brain's electrical storm during a seizure
- ^ a b Lehigh University project: We wanted to use this project to demonstrate the relationship between art and architecture and engineering
- ^ a b National Science Foundation:The Art of Engineering: Professor uses the fine arts to broaden students' engineering perspectives
- ^ MIT World:The Art of Engineering: Inventor James Dyson on the Art of Engineering: quote: A member of the British Design Council, James Dyson has been designing products since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1970.
- ^ University of Texas at Dallas:The Institute for Interactive Arts and Engineering
- ^ Aerospace Design: The Art of Engineering from NASA’s Aeronautical Research
- ^ Princeton U: Robert Maillart's Bridges: The Art of Engineering: quote:no doubt that Maillart was fully conscious of the aesthetic implications...
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- ^ Bjerklie, David. “The Art of Renaissance Engineering.” MIT’s Technology Review Jan./Feb.1998: 54-9. Article explores the concept of the “artist-engineer”, an individual who used his artistic talent in engineering. Quote from article: Da Vinci reached the pinnacle of “artist-engineer”-dom, Quote2: “It was Leonardo da Vinci who initiated the most ambitious expansion in the role of artist-engineer, progressing from astute observer to inventor to theoretician.” (Bjerklie 58)
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- Billington, David P., The Innovators: The Engineering Pioneers Who Made America Modern, John Wiley & Sons, 1996. ISBN 0-471-14026-0
- Petroski, Henry, To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, Vintage, 1992
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- Lord, Charles. Guide to Information Sources in Engineering, Libraries Unlimited, 2000. http://lu.com/showbook.cfm?isbn=9781563086991
- Vincenti, Walter G. What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993
- Main lists: List of basic engineering topics and List of engineering topics