Random Thoughts
Matters Mechanical

By Dr A Q Khan


In one of my earlier columns I described in detail the importance of metallurgical engineering in the development of an advanced and industrialized country. Mechanical engineering is also of great importance for this development. These two subjects, together with electronics engineering and computer sciences, can give a country a solid foundation for a strong industrial infrastructure.
Mechanical engineering is the most fundamental of all the engineering disciplines, using the most general approach to engineering subjects. It is a broad, multi-disciplinary and intellectually demanding discipline involving advanced theoretical, technological and professional activities. Mechanical engineers are to be found at the centre of industrial, technical and business decision-making. From jet aircraft to air-conditioning plants, from tunneling machines to body scanners, from technical consultancies to financial services such as insurance, mechanical engineers deal with design and production of the machines, systems and structures that are taken for granted in the modern world. Mechanical engineers can therefore work in a whole range of industries: aerospace, automobile, electronics, manufacturing and processing industries. The demand for professional mechanical engineers has always been high and relatively stable because it is less affected by recession in any single industry. They continue to play a key role in developing, operating and manufacturing new machines, devices and processes. They must be able to apply their own creative imagination and professional skills to combine theory and practice in a variety of situations. For this, they must have a deep understanding of scientific principles and engineering processes. They need knowledge in the physical sciences as well as skills and attitudes that any well-educated professional should posses and apply.
Mechanical engineering provides excellent broad education for today's technological world. Mechanical engineers model, analyze, set and manufacture the engines that power ground and aerospace vehicles; they design, operate and modify the power plants that convert the energy of fuels, atoms, wind and sunlight into electricity and they construct intelligent machines and robots in industry. They can also build a prototype of an electric car, develop computer and control systems for automobile and industrial processes, design interfaces between computers and mechanical and energy systems, develop energy management systems for industry, design and manufacture electronic products, develop new materials that can be used for commercial jets and design instruments for medical and high-performance systems.
Mechanical engineering education is a blend of traditional disciplines such as stress analysis, dynamics, heat transfer and fluid mechanics with contemporary subjects like micro-processor control and the range of techniques collectively known as computer-aided engineering (CAE). Computational modeling techniques such as finite element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) allow engineers to predict the performance of mechanical systems. Computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided machines ( CAM) ensure that products move swiftly from concept to finished article.
In short, then, the mechanical engineer is the backbone of the engineering profession. A degree from a good university enables mechanical engineers to achieve:
-- The ability to analyze and solve practical and conceptual engineering problems.
-- An understanding of the commercial and social constraints that effect the realization of engineering systems.
-- Practical skills in measurement, instrumentation and information technology.
-- Skills in communicating knowledge and ideas through the written and spoken word and through computer media.
Advanced studies in mechanical engineering provide the engineer with a balanced theoretical and practical introduction to fundamental engineering principles and their application to real industrial projects. The initial stages involve a thorough grounding in many important subjects. The modules students take during this period provide the core skills that are essential for their later career. Traditional topics cover mathematics, mechanics and thermodynamics while contemporary subjects cover computer-aided design, manufacture and testing (CADMAT), as well as business, finance and law.

The rapid development of electronics over the past few years has had a major impact on the field of mechanical engineering. Many engineering projects require people with a broad understanding of both mechanical engineering and electronics. One example is the use of electronics and computer control for engine management. This discipline combines mechanical engineering with electronics and is known as mechatronics. It is a new branch of mechanical engineering, most suited for those who like to follow a more analytical route leading to careers in, for example, the design of advanced machines, systems and products. It provides them with a broad understanding of mechanical and electronics engineering principles, enabling them to have the potential to design, interfere and analyze hybrid systems containing both mechanical and electronic components.

Automotive engineering, which falls under mechanical engineering, is one of today's most exciting, most demanding high-technology global businesses. Intense competition, sophisticated customer demands and challenging environmental requirements mean that technical innovation, leadership and performance are critical to success in this rapidly changing industry. Tomorrow's vehicles must define the leading edge of technology in such fields as power generation dynamics, electronics, control information management and communication. Engineering designs must operate in the harshest of environments and provide unparalleled levels of reliability and function.
Modern computer-based engineering applications require engineers with a high level of computational and simulation skills in addition to a general grounding in the principles of engineering sciences. For the reader who is not well-versed in engineering disciplines, in mechanical engineering in particular, I would like to emphasize that mechanical engineers must not only have a thorough grounding in engineering subjects, but also in basic sciences.

A modern curriculum covers metallurgy, computer and electronic technologies with the result that, with a good degree from a reputed foreign university, a mechanical engineer is well equipped to handle many diverse projects and problems. A list of the many important subjects a mechanical engineer has to learn is awesome and impressive. A combination of metallurgical, mechanical, electronics and computer software engineers can handle almost any challenging task.

In our country there are only a few well-qualified, mostly foreign-trained, mechanical engineers. Our main problem is the lack of well-equipped laboratories, state-of-the-art teaching aids, good modern prototypes of a number of present-day machines and enough qualified teaching staff.
While I was studying in Germany, Holland and Belgium I had the opportunity of going to the mechanical engineering departments and looking at the marvels of sectioned turbines, power generators, workshop machines, quality control precision equipment, compressors, diesel and petrol auto engines and rolling. One can learn a lot just by looking at sectioned equipment. Unfortunately, such facilities do not exist in our country. Moreover, no project or program here can succeed without the full commitment and support of the government and the freedom of the institutions to function independent of outside interference. This is a prerequisite for the flourishing of any institute teaching science and engineering, as it is too for other subjects.
Albert Einstein once said: "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, more violent. It takes a touch of a genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." Our job as engineers is to find pragmatic, quick, applicable, reliable and economical solutions to problems. Here certainly counts that he who never tries always fails, while he who tries more often than not succeeds. A great deal of talent is lost for want of a little courage and initiative. Unfortunately, most of our engineers do not seem to realize that it takes time, effort, initiative, and preparation to successfully tackle difficult and challenging jobs.
My friend and former fellow-student in Berlin, Akhtar Ali, has this thought-provoking advice for students and educationists: "Education is a process where the student should not just be a recipient of knowledge, but also steadily encouraged to be its contributor…. It is not sufficient for us to duplicate what the others have done but also to originate, even excel, at least in some areas, and this way contribute our share to the storehouse of human knowledge." (Courtesy The News)


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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