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Mechanical engineering: What are we in for?


Current technologies are vastly different than the technologies in place when most mechanical engineers started.

When mechanical engineers are in school, few of them know exactly where their degree might take them. I was one of those engineers. Being exposed to many aspects of this fascinating engineering program, I was awed by the range of career choices—steam and power generation, automotive design, structures. However, only a few courses—thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, and heat transfer—prepared me for the area I ended up in, partially by choice but mostly by having mentors that instilled a passion in me that continues to guide me more than 35 years after graduation. The area of mechanical engineering I ended up in was HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection design in buildings, specifically healthcare, but that was after a few years of preliminaries and, as I found out, nothing like I learned in school.

Current technologies are vastly different than the technologies used when I started. Computers, computer programs, the Internet with online information, equipment calculation and selection programs, 2- and 3-D CADD drafting, and building information modeling (BIM) are all tools to help mechanical engineers do their jobs. However, unless you know how the data are developed, what the database looks like, what it is made of, and how it generates results based on an engineer’s input, one cannot be sure that the output is correct, much less close to what the answer should be.

Looking at a single computer-generated selection, for example, can distort your view of the family of curves of pumps and fans so often necessary in making a final selection. But then again, with an engineer’s “feel” and gut instinct developed through years of experience and mentoring, the process becomes clearer and more accurate.

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