What is Professional Engineering?
Do you watch 'Top Gear', 'Richard Hammond's Engineering Connections' or 'How do they Do That?' on television? Do you notice everyday items such as ships, bridges, fridges, escalators, computers, tractors, aircraft, oil refineries, MP3's, aspirin, cola, chocolate biscuits or potato crisps?
Wherever you are when you read this, look around you. Can you identify a physical object that an engineer did not have some role in its creation. Having difficulty? Almost all physical objects rely to some degree on the work of engineers.
The word engineer covers a wide range of job roles. Two broad categories are those who work with physical objects and those who work with information about these objects. The work of professional engineers is mainly in the latter category. They are involved in top level tasks in design, management and investigation.
The industrial revolution, which started in the 18th century and is still continuing, resulted in major improvements in comfort, health and travel. Science played an important role in this change but the inventive genius of professional engineers, often operating ahead of science, has been the prime mover.
Without the great engineers of the past we would still be living in houses heated by open fires, drinking polluted water and travelling on horseback.
In the nineteenth century when engineering was evolving as a distinct discipline, professional engineers covered a range of what are now separate engineering disciplines - civil engineering, structural engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and naval architecture. Because of the great extent of knowledge now required in each discipline, professional groupings have formed including:
- Civil engineering - infrastructure such as transport facilities, (e.g. roads), water resources, sewerage, foundations, etc.
- Structural engineering - bridges, building structures, etc.
- Mechanical engineering - mechanical systems
- Electrical engineering - generation and delivery of electrical power
- Electronic engineering - electronic devices
- Chemical engineering - the chemical conversion of raw material to more useful forms
- Naval architecture - ships and offshore facilities
- Aeronautical - aircraft
Nowadays much of the work of professional engineers is multi-disciplinary and there is an increasing need for those who, in addition to a specialisation, have broad experience and knowledge.