Is Software Compromising Good Engineering Design?

Found in: News

With significant advances in analysis software over the past decade, engineers are able to place greater reliability on software packages to solve engineering problems. While software decreases the time to undertake a complex engineering calculation, it has resulted in a significant weakness in parts of the industry with regards to engineers understanding underlying principles. It is therefore critical for engineers to understand the cause and effect of their designs, which is something that needs to be ingrained in university courses and again in the early stages of their career.

University engineering courses typically place significant emphasis on developing engineers with strong mathematical skills rather than practical application of structural principles. While this is an important skill of any good engineer, the new wave of software now supersedes the importance of mathematics skill to some degree and places greater emphasis on developing understanding. This is apparent in industry with high profile design issues often being found to be the result of a knowledge gap rather than incorrect numerical analysis.

For the majority of design situations, fundamental engineering principles can be used to assess problems in a much simpler and efficient manner than the results of computer modelling. Pritchard Francis believes by integrating real world examples with a range of materials into the university course, students will be better equipped to solve engineering problems in their graduate position. 

This will in turn assist students to interpret the output of numerical software with a level of confidence that the results support their understanding of fundamental theory.   

This year Pritchard Francis, in conjunction with the University of Western Australia (UWA), is supervising a group of final year civil and structural engineering students who are exploring this concept further, developing practical examples to demonstrate vital engineering principles. The intent of the research is to integrate these practical examples in UWA’s course units, providing visual representation of commonly pure theoretical concepts. In the years to come, students will graduate with a firm understanding of core engineering principles, placing less reliance on numerical analysis software for simple design solutions.

For any queries you have with regard to the above, please contact Chris Tyler on (08) 9382 5111.

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