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  • Should a Mechanical Design Engineer know everything about everything?

    Discussion in 'The main mechanical design forum' started by Archimedes, Apr 26, 2012.

    1. Archimedes

      Archimedes Active Member

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      I have worked as a Mechanical Design Engineer for a few companies of various sizes in a few different industries. In most of the jobs the same thing happens, I am approached with a design brief and proposed project plan, I review the spec and get on with it the job. Then during the design, issues come up that were missed off the brief (or only discovered during development) such as an electronic control panel would be needed, or maybe some ventilation fans are required, or the supports need some FEA, or the base material is changed from steel to a recycled plastic. Most of which might require a bit of reading, brushing up on the necessary calculations or processes required and there is never any time allowed in the project for additional training. It is always just assumed that the technical department knows everything.

      I was just wondering how other Mechanical Design Engineers felt about;

      1. Are you expected to be the expert on everything such as electronics, FEA, material science, manufacturing strategy, fluid and thermodynamics, control systems, 2D & 3D CAD, fault finding, design, aesthetics etc?
      2. In your opinion should you be to be an expert in all of those subjects?
      3. Is it ever acceptable to tell the boss/customer that you would have to do some research before completing the project?
      4. If you do need to do some reading then is there one book/website that has all the answers? (other than Wikipedia and the Mechanical Design Forum)
       
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    3. tonycro

      tonycro Well-Known Member

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      1. Are you expected to be the expert on everything such as electronics, FEA, material science, manufacturing strategy, fluid and thermodynamics, control systems, 2D & 3D CAD, fault finding, design, aesthetics etc?

      I don't think we can every know it all.

      2.In your opinion should you be to be an expert in all of those subjects?

      I've been a mechanical engineer within a electrical machinery service company for 14 years and gone from gradate clanky to design manager - and I know a lot about electrical machine design and repair, including all sorts of diverse fields.

      but, I don't know it all. But I do know what the consequences are of getting wrong and that's why I have design team with strengths in different areas; electrical synchronous, induction, DC, Draughting and so on. and when we don't know, we go outside and bring in consultants; the trick then is know enough to find one that actually knows something and not less than us !

      3.Is it ever acceptable to tell the boss/customer that you would have to do some research before completing the project?

      yes

      4. If you do need to do some reading then is there one book/website that has all the answers? (other than Wikipedia and the Mechanical Design Forum)

      no, and it is always worth researching properly - just cause it is on wikipedia doesn't mean it is right, multiple independent sources.


      tony
       
    4. Starlet

      Starlet Member

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      I agree with tony. You don't have to an expert in everything. Anyone can't to be expert in everything and we don't have much energy to do everything. Of course, the boss hope you are expert in everything.
       
    5. Dana

      Dana Well-Known Member

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      1, 2. You can't ever expect to be an expert in everything. Unless you work in a very narrow field, and engineer has to be a generalist... an expert, more or less, in his specific field, and a working knowledge (which is often just a knowledge of where to look for the answers) in the other related fields.

      3. Absolutely. Better to say, "I don't know but I'll find out," than to look a fool when they find out you don't really know what you're talking about.

      4. Just as no one engineer can know it all, no one source has all the information. Wikipedia is at best a good general overview of a subject, and at worst grossly wrong. Wikipedia is a good place to start a search... and a very bad place to finish a search. As you gain experience, it becomes easier to judge the quality of information.
       
    6. MDR

      MDR Active Member

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      You don't need to know everything at all times, but you do need to know what your limitations are and know where *and how* to look for answers.

      Never lie to a client. If you don't know, admit it. Try to never be put in that position by aggressively seeking answers and background ahead of time.

      Single sourcing any information is dangerous. When researching my book, I found all kinds of errors on the web, and even in books. Try to always find at least two references for any fact before trusting it.
       
    7. Archimedes

      Archimedes Active Member

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      It’s interesting to hear people thoughts on this. It sounds like the general opinion is that nobody should or could ‘know everything about everything’, which I would agree with.

      I thought there were going to be lots of posts from people saying that they believe companies expect the technical department to have too diverse technical capabilities within a very small team. Maybe most engineers have a clear set of guidelines detailing what is expected of them and it is rare that they have to deviate from this list of expertise.
       
    8. MDR

      MDR Active Member

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      I think most people are expected to wear a lot of hats, but in this connected age the engineer is more likely to seek expert assistance from vendors and consultants rather than be an expert at all things. I think the results are better this way, as well.
       
    9. MikahB

      MikahB Member

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      My situation is a little unique in that I am a "one-man-band" and act as a consulting engineer to a number of smaller (primarily automotive product) companies who do not have their own engineering in-house, or who need it supplemented.

      So, being a one-stop-shop for design, visualization (pretty renders), electrical, electronic, software, FEA, production techniques, costing, etc. is key to my ability to bring in work. That said, I preach to clients, contemporaries, students, mentors, and anybody else who will listen (and many who do not) that THE MOST IMPORTANT skill a good engineer can have is knowing when to say "I don't know, but I will find out."

      As was stated above, good engineers understand the consequences of being wrong. I'd much rather say "I dunno" than have to explain how I thought I knew but forgot to carry the 1...

      I routinely involve people smarter and/or more experienced than myself to guide, confirm, or refute my ideas and several times it has saved me a lot of time and headache up front. Other times, as we all know, even all the knowledge and experience in the world is not a guarantee of success. Sometimes you just gotta try it out before you will know for sure.
       
    10. CADJockey

      CADJockey Member

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      Only bad engineers think they know everything. Good engineers keep learning though, and they are also wise to ask others for advice.
      Your company doesn't have time to do do it right, but they have the time and money to live with the consequences?
      Realistically, projects have finite schedules. Work with Your Team/Manager and Project Management to make a plan you all can can believe in.
       
    11. Michael Ross

      Michael Ross Well-Known Member

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      I was just wondering how other Mechanical Design Engineers felt about;
      1.Are you expected to be the expert on everything such as electronics, FEA, material science, manufacturing strategy, fluid and thermodynamics, control systems, 2D & 3D CAD, fault finding, design, aesthetics etc?

      Yes, absolutely. Those are the subjects I studied in school exactly. (Well, not the last one, but my Dad was an art teacher.) Isn't it great they thought to teach me all that?

      (I actually have little patience for the tiny little aesthetic points, I simply step back and take orders. And, yes, I have been to styling reviews in Dearborn. I can assure you it doesn't get more anal than this. I leave that stuff to the people who like to press ahead on this front, and enjoy when I am given the freedom to apply my own aesthetic.)


      2. In your opinion should you be to be an expert in all of those subjects?

      No, of course not. But I am expected to do the work even though I am not an expert. I make mistakes, and learn from the fixing of them. If there is danger involved I devise testing until I am satisfied that safety is achieved. I keep managers abreast of the situation with sometimes brutal honesty. Then I soldier on. If it was easy or someone had done it before the work would be far less interesting and valuable.


      3. Is it ever acceptable to tell the boss/customer that you would have to do some research before completing the project?

      Is it ever acceptable to NOT tell them when it IS necessary to do research? They are counting on you to keep them informed or they are fools and you should go elsewhere.



      4. If you do need to do some reading then is there one book/website that has all the answers? (other than Wikipedia and the Mechanical Design Forum)

      You trust Wikipedia? You are an engineer. You are expected to be successful even without all the answers. If you must you copy success, or over design, or sacrifice on or two of the design trinity: Quality, Speed, Cost.


      Seriously, isn't this wonderful? Really interesting problems to solve! Including not having all the right tools (resourcefulness is the substitute), not all the right materials, not enough time or people (diplomacy, imagination, broad view, planning skills, people skills), never been done before. (Why would you want it any other way? You could be a draftsman or an assembler, nah.) These are after all just problems that always exist and always must be solved, so embrace them.

      This is life, such is life. Keep your chin up. Take care of yourself. Cultivate rewarding relationships. Minimize negative relationships. Be helpful and kind. Enjoy yourself. I am still being serious. This is not sarcasm or irony. Your enjoyment is totally a product of your own mind, it is no one's fault or responsibility but your own.
       

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