Does Engineering Matter and is Free Trade Really Free?

And, I don't think engineering matters here any more. I dare anyone in the United States of America to prove me wrong.

Stephen J. Schoonmaker
Chambersburg, PA
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Review Article
  • Engineering matters where trade is free November 04, 2005
    Reviewed by 'Michael'
    Maybe you should hop on that European made Airbus and fly overhere, so you can find out for yourself how misinformed you are about the places you more or less describe as having no laws and so on. Don't believe everything you hear on U.S. television.
    Speaking as a 'Western' engineer who has gone where the jobs are, I have experienced firsthand what life is like and how business is done in one of the countries you talk about in such harsh terms. And it is not like you describe at all. Quite the opposite. Compared to the various 'Western' so-called free and democratic countries where I have lived/worked, I am now much more free, safe and able to do what I want, how I want, where I want and when I want.
    For example, if I want to start a business, I can be up and running tomorrow. There are some common-sense laws that I would have to comply to, but since they are common-sense laws and I have actually got a conscience, I'd be happy to. Things like getting staff, buying materials and selling products are all done based on free trade, i.e. if you don't like the price, don't buy it, or go to the (amply available) competition. The only parties involved are those who demand and those who supply. Try that in the U.S., or even better, in Europe. Good luck!
    Given this, Engineering does matter here. Engineering is one of the best ways to improve society (e.g. by building better houses, roads, hospitals, bridges, you name it) and to differentiate your products in the free market. There are, after all, more ways to sell products and make profit besides being the cheapest, muscling out all the competition or cooking the books.
    However, if a society chooses to support a system where nothing is more important than that a few billionairs becoming zillionairs, even if that means sacking everybody or killing people for profit, well hey, that society gets what it deserves. A little restraint could go a long way. Don't forget, the people in these 'Asian' and other countries are not stealing U.S. jobs, these jobs are offered to them by U.S. companies. Don't like it? Don't buy at WallMart!

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  • Product Design and Engineering November 01, 2005
    Reviewed by 'Rolf'
    This article describes very well certain problems occurring in part of the western world, including the Netherlands from where I am sending this. Therefore I rated it with 4 stars. All of us have to go for 5 stars, however, and in my humble opinion I have some ideas which might contribute. Questions we need good answers to: what can we do, what should we do, what better way to deal with the situation than by our own (industrial) strength?

    Many say that we have to move from products to services. But even if this would be fully true, how do these services reach us? Most consumers wouldn't want to give up their flatscreen TV, laptop, iPod or mobile phone, which enable these services. So we do need products. Consumer needs, both known and latent, should be the primary driver for product development. If this fails, or the communication about it fails, then the story ends here. "Consumer" may of course also be a business, such as an airline, a retail shop, etc., etc.

    The next step is to realize the products. A trivial prerequisite is that it can be done with profitable business activity. The text below is quoted from experts and applicable to my field which I would best describe as design for product realization, specifically with plastics. The philosophy behind these quotes, however, is generally applicable in my view.

    * A multidisciplinary team is fully involved and committed from the earliest design stages until full-scale production and beyond (you need to have an answer to end-of-life issues too, regardless of your opinion about them).

    * During product design and development there will be detailed discussions between different team members, each of them entering others persons' fields of expertise: tear down those remaining walls between departments and between companies!

    * Stay up to date on new technological developments, innovative materials, etc., actively search for their (potential) benefits, translate these into product design opportunities, and then compare all alternative solutions before choosing. If you decide to stick to the old way, this decision should be based on such a comparison, and not on incomplete infomation or on the desire to avoid risks associated with new conceptions.

    * Tool making starts at the same time as product design (this is definitely needed for realization of plastics injection molded products, but the idea behind it should apply to other activities too).

    It is easy to list a few dozens of such quotes and I will gladly supply the sources to anyone interested. But do all industries work this way? Of course, no one ever said it will be easy, any change will appear to be disturbing, and errors are possible in a change process. If you don't want product development and manufacturing to move away from you, then make sure to offer a better alternative to the persons taking care of financing!

    I would welcome any critical comment on the above.


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  • engineers need to become nimble October 31, 2005
    Reviewed by 'Rachael'
    Great article. But it doesn't address a couple of key areas.

    Engineering, engineers are key. It does matter and here's why.

    Firstly, any country trying to compete on the global market has to have enough electricity to compete. This means that the country has to build the infrastructure to have enough electricity. And that means raw materials to create the electricity, or nuclear power - a commodity that is tightly controlled. Hold that thought:

    For 'western' engineers to survive I truly believe that each engineer needs to apply his (proven) problem solving skills in different directions - without waiting for the major employers, major corporations or government to give approval. I don't believe self-sustaining sources of energy will come out of an initiative by the government, nor from the fuel companies who right now are gaining yet larger profits quarter over quarter by keeping everyone reliant on fossil fuels. The innovations have to come from within - from engineers who set out to independently solve a problem. Engineers are some fo the coolest people on earth - give them a problem and they will work to solve it! So get savvy. get active and go out and solve your own problems - because no one else will do it for you.

    Preferably, invent a self-sustaining source of energy, so that those other countries can access electricity, and then we can have a truly global market where everyone is on an even playing field. Call me an idealist. I am. I also try to see reality and realize that waiting for 'permission', waiting for someone else to fix something, does nothing for the average 'you and me' in the street.

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  • I agree but... October 27, 2005
    Reviewed by 'Hemanth'
    I think the gist of the argument is that engineering is taking a back seat when compared to profits. that may be true but isn't the comparison faulty? It is capitalism which enabled the rise of industrial and technological development and it is the same capitalism which is dictating todays trends. I think a mistake is being made when it is assumed that engineering growth in the late 20th century in US was solely driven by a quest for engineering excellence. The enterprise is basically looking for oppurtunities to fill a need and simultaneously be profitable. So events progress in such a way that the product of these two factors remain more or less constant. So make your conclusions..

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  • Free trade is really free when those who build .. October 27, 2005
    Reviewed by 'Joseph'
    Free trade is really free when those who build the best for the best price sell the most. We in the US, for instance with autos imosed trade restrictions in the early 80's at the same time we were building piles of junk with people who getting paid 27.00 hour plus exorbatant benifits for the consumer, consequently the Japanese easily came into this country and built actual quality autos with non-union labor and have done nothing but continue to kick our collective butts. Where are those of us designing gizillion mile per gallon cars here?

    Where are those of us designing non-military (and maybe even that is becoming questionable)
    consumer goods that are so overwhelmingly better than those coming in from overseas that people will buy them for the prices that are incurred here?
    Whining doesn't put food in ones mouth, work does.

    Joseph Crenshaw
    Mechanical Engr.
    Dallas, Texas

      3 of 3 found this review helpful.
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