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Encouraging engagement ensures engineers’ existence

27 June 2011

Not our alliteration, but Kevin Ison’s; a man who believes the ubiquitous ‘app’ has the power to bring engineering to a new generation

Engineers are vital, not only to industry but to society as a whole. They build our roads and bridges and design the vehicles we use to traverse them. They create the machines that help us when we are sick and entertain us when we are bored. They put us on the moon and are at the cutting edge of technology. But engineers are a dying breed.

The engineering sector, whether civil, electrical or mechanical, is facing a potential crisis due to the lack of qualified people taking up the profession. This is being compounded by the fact that engineers with many years’ experience are leaving the industry to retire or to take up careers elsewhere.

This article looks at one potential solution to the problem in the form of software application development and highlights how the ability to access applications like Autodesk’s Inventor Publisher Mobile while on the move can be a major benefit to companies across the sector.


The shortage of engineers
Engineering UK, which promotes the difference the profession makes to society, estimates that 578,000 skilled workers need to be recruited by 2017 to meet the expected growth in demand. However, there has been a 17% drop in the number of students taking up engineering courses at universities in recent years. This is unlikely to improve with proposals to increase tuition fees in England and Wales.

Further afield, the European Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI) highlights concerns that a shortage of engineers in certain countries could jeopardise EU plans for the future of the continent. It goes on to point out that there has been a decrease over the last 15 years in the number of those graduating from university with an engineering qualification.

There is also growing concern across different sectors that vast numbers of engineers will disappear into retirement as the baby boom generation reach their 60s. Not only will this lead to unfilled vacancies, but it may also result in the irretrievable loss of decades of engineering knowledge.

As such, it is vital that the engineering skills gap is closed as soon as possible to allow new entrant engineers the opportunity to benefit from this large reserve of knowledge.
Young people need to be encouraged into engineering while still at school and college, so that they can study appropriate subjects and earn the qualifications needed to enter the profession, including mathematics, science and computer skills. This will only be possible if they find engineering engaging and something they can relate to and understand.

Unfortunately, access to engineering, let alone engagement, is currently proving difficult to achieve in formal education as there is a shortage of qualified mathematics and science teachers. Therefore, if it is not forthcoming from the classroom, this engagement needs to come from elsewhere.

A solution
Today, one potential route is provided by smart phones and other mobile devices such as the iPad or iPod. We have seen a whole spate of pad and tablet devices emerging over recent months, many using the android operating system, towards which the new generation of budding engineers and designers are well disposed. The advent of these kinds of new exciting gadgets allows people to have access to educational resources wherever they are and highlights the fact that any organisation can create apps designed to educate, assist, inform or entertain that are relatively simple to access by anyone with a smart phone.

This offers the engineering community an excellent opportunity to reach those so far untouched by engineering. The best of these solutions will allow those new to engineering to explore the subject, to achieve an understanding of how it works and hopefully to develop an enduring interest.

This underlines the key point that the community needs to make easily accessible, exciting new methods and approaches available to prospective new engineers and designers if it is to succeed in attracting them into the fold.

Apps for creative minds
One such approach that clearly fits into this category is Autodesk’s TinkerBox, a fun, free-to-play physics puzzle game, which runs on the iPad. Aimed at young people with an interest in physics, TinkerBox allows users to experiment with designs and build their own assemblies, providing an exciting way of teaching and learning engineering through creative problem solving.

To solve the challenging mechanical puzzles and physics problems presented in TinkerBox, players insert gadgets, assemble components and test their inventions. Completing each challenge inspires players to create more and increasingly complex innovations. The game’s Invent mode enables players to design their own contraptions and share them with friends.

For those users already interested in pursuing a professional career, Inventor Publisher Mobile from Autodesk would be a suitable app to aid the learning process and help develop the awareness and understanding of the next generation of engineers. This app is effectively an interactive maintenance and instruction manual that engineers can carry with them wherever they go.

Traditionally, in order to install, decommission, maintain or repair a piece of equipment, engineers would need to refer to large paper manuals. These are often unwieldy, impractical to carry around and easily damaged, resulting in a loss of information. In addition, they may also be outdated, whereas an electronic doc accessed through the web can easily be current all the time.

In contrast to this traditional approach, Inventor Publisher is easy to use and allows for a 3D design of a piece of equipment to be broken down into its component parts to show how they work together. This information can then be uploaded to a mobile device using Inventor Publisher mobile, so information that traditionally required vast paper tomes can now be carried around easily on the iPhone or iPad. This approach has great potential for helping to develop and extend the interest of budding engineers as it enables them to explore in intimate detail the workings of common machinery.

If new engineers are to be encouraged into the industry then new methods of engagement are needed. Apps offer the opportunity to achieve this both cost-effectively and efficiently, while at the same time helping the engineers of the future to learn more about the fundamentals of their chosen discipline.

Kevin Ison is manufacturing marketing director (EMEA region), Autodesk


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