We all know that not enough school students are going into engineering and a common theory is that, for many, it is too difficult when there are less taxing ways of earning a living. This fantastic new and ever-evolving software can only be a good thing in this respect – school students can use their imaginations to create projects while only having to dabble in the technicalities.
What concerns me, whilst appreciating that in the face of some excellent technology that this is a glass half empty argument, is that engineers will evolve whose potential is defined by the tools they use. At the moment, our engineers have to go through university or apprenticeships to learn about engineering and, hopefully, the engineering is understood. But, as time progresses, there is bound to be more emphasis on design, rather than engineering, as the software is doing the engineering for you.
Fundamental engineering will then gradually become a forgotten art, which could be seen as unimportant if design engineers are churning out beautiful designs that are sound from an engineering perspective. But…
As someone put it to me recently, ‘kids know how to stick a couple of Arduino boards together and what that can do, but they don’t understand what the electrons are doing’. And without that ‘nuts and bolts’ knowledge, can engineering progress? Will true invention become impossible because our design engineers are designers rather than engineers? Could a designer come up with Mars rover, a Dyson cleaner or even a Large Hadron Collider? Or does that require real engineering knowledge?
It is, perhaps, an unnecessarily negative outlook and while engineers are being trained properly it should not become an issue. But with CAD packages becoming so capable it may be that current engineering education is like teaching students to use a slide rule after the pocket calculator had been invented.
If you have any observations, please add them as a comment below.