Should the Young Woman Engineer of the Year award be ditched? Just one of the opinions that has landed in the E&T postbag this month.
Awards should encourage all
Having just received an email inviting me to attend the Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards Ceremony, I'd like to question its approach to 'encouraging other women to enter the profession'.
I have no doubt that the best intentions of the IET are at heart with such an event, but in the 21st century could it have the reverse affect and actually discourage women from becoming engineers?
By holding a ceremony purely for women, it could be perceived that women can't compete with men in the profession, therefore we have to have a special event purely for them to guarantee a female victory. I believe it would encourage more women to follow this career path if they see women winning awards where there are no barriers to entry.
It's worth noting that professions where the majority are female don't highlight the achievements of men – they treat all members equally. There is no male teacher of the year award or male nurse of the year award; instead their awards are by category (primary school teacher of the year, community nursing award etc).
Is there any firm evidence that the Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award has encouraged other women to become engineers?
Having a specific award raises other issues. Should we have a Minority Engineer of the Year Award? If we don't, are we saying that we don't want to encourage minorities to engineering? Teaching and nursing treat all their members equally regardless of their gender, race or background.
With a skills shortage often cited in engineering, and engineering not in the top 10 degrees studied in the UK, we need to encourage everyone – not just women. Men are not entering the profession in the same numbers they used to.
We should focus all our energies on creating a solid UK manufacturing base before focusing on specific groups to join our profession. It's no good encouraging women to become engineers when there are not enough jobs (particularly in manufacturing) for existing engineers both male and female.
John Wallace MIET, Hove, East Sussex
Congratulations to Trevor Warren (Letters, Vol 5 #18) for his comments on the new electrical unit of 'number of homes' that is often used when referring to the electrical output of generating plants.
This new unit must be a variable, as national newspaper reports have quoted 500MW as equivalent to 100,000 homes (The Times, 14 May 2010) and 1GW equivalent to 700,000 homes (The Sunday Times, 13 June 2010).
I've been amusing myself wondering what the 'home' would subdivide into. Would it be kitchens in a home, and cookers in a kitchen? Then in a French newspaper report I found the answer – its 'inhabitants'. They quoted '36 million kWh' as equal to 16,000 inhabitants.
Never mind the funny units, there must be a formula somewhere for the standard number of inhabitants in a home, and number of homes supplied. All we need is a maths genius to come up with it.
J Hamill CEng MIET, Stockton on Tees
The answer to Trevor Warren's request for a usable definition for the 'kilohome' seems clear to me: One kilohome is, surely, 'one thousand times smaller than one megahome'.
Andrew Slattery, by email
Timing is critical
'We're Alright Jack' (Vol 5 #18) leaves me with an overwhelming feeling of dread that the techniques for workplace assessment currently in vogue have become the the nirvana of all that is best practice.
Time and motion studies took many forms. At their most sophisticated, Methods Time Measurement analysed data from single-frame cine shots and allocated times to motions perceived from study without the need for a stopwatch, even to the ability to calculate the length of time it took for a signature derived from the peaks and troughs of the pen's travel.
This technique and many others contributed to the whole subject of cost and waste reduction, spawning a huge raft of techniques along the way. To limit 'industrial engineering' to the perception of a man with a stopwatch and clipboard causing mayhem among the shopfloor proletariat would have Frederick Taylor turning in his grave. It is vital to cost processes, and so we have to measure, like it or not.
Sure, Kaizan, Kanban, Lean and Six Sigma have merit in today's industrial tapestry, but they are part of the industrial engineering grand plan, not a replacment for it, and as such owe their very being to generations of engineers' experimentation with concepts and procedures. To consider them 'fashion icons' is both short-sighted and gratutitous to some of us 'industrial engineers', who consider them merely as tools in a large toolbox of never-ending diversity and progress.
PHC Winterton FRSA CEng MIET,Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset
I worked for a Japanese OEM for 17 years and was taught the skills of industrial engineering as part of my role in engineering, as were all production supervisors. My own research has confirmed that Lean cannot operate without the core principles of F W Taylor and the detail of Galbraith.
Cellular production, line balance etc cannot be implemented correctly unless time is balanced and to balance time one has to measure it. How can waste in a process be measured without quantifying it in terms of time?
Taylor is alive and well and the basis of all Lean manufacturing systems. Where the Japanese got it correct, was to use their staff to eliminate the waste.
Dr Colin Herron MIET, by email
Measure of success
As Dan Little points out (Letters, Vol 5 #18), Britain signed the Convention of the Metre in 1884 and in 1889 UK government was the proud recipient of a prototype kilogram and a prototype metre that would be regularly calibrated against the master copies. These prototypes (and the master copies) were selected at random from a batch that was 'Made in England'.
How many readers have thought of where the names watts, newtons, farads, joules, grays and kelvins came from? They were named after British scientists – in fact, more Britons have given their names to units of measure than from any other country. If one looks at how the metric system developed, one will see that British scientists have played a bigger role than the scientists of any other country.
Martin Vlietstra CEng, Fleet, Hampshire
Lost for words
I often retire to bed with a crossword puzzle still to be completed, and to this end I have had a couple of electronic dictionaries on the bedside table. I also have a DAB digital radio there that is powered from an AC/DC converter plugged into a wall socket, which is not easy to reach. So as not to have the converter permanently powered up, I recently fitted a controller operated by a remote control unit, which I could keep on the bedside table. This uses a radio link rather than the IR of the standard TV remote.
The system works well, but within a couple of weeks I realised that both dictionaries were not responding as expected and, indeed, they have both now failed completely. One of the units was several years old and I just thought that it was old age, but when the second, purchased relatively recently, also packed up my theory now is that it was the radio signal being generated in close proximity to the dictionaries that was the root of the problem.
Have any other readers had this problem?
Norman Williams, Rugby
In April this year I am undertaking the toughest challenge of my life, the Marathon des Sable, a 154-mile ultra-marathon in the Sahara Desert dubbed the toughest footrace on Earth. I am doing this to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and E&T readers can support me at www.runningrob.com
Am I the only chartered engineer to have done such an event?
Rob Shenton, by email
Names for engineers
When I first entered this profession in the latter part of the 1960s, the issue of what to call ourselves was in full flight. I see from recent letters in E&T that it still is.
Those in doubt should take themselves off to Saltash and look at the Royal Albert Bridge. On the portal it simply says: 'I.K. Brunel – Engineer'. If that's good enough for him, it's good enough for the rest of us. I for one am proud to wear that badge.
Michael Poole, Paraparaumu Beach, New Zealand
When asked 'what do you do?' I usually say 'I'm a professional engineer' and then expand on it by saying, 'in light electrical engineering, which specialises in the design of communications, control and computer equipment and systems'.
Could we not use the pre-nominal ProfEng? It is distinctive and indicates that we have a sound theoretical underpinning as well as hands-on knowledge and experience.
Geoffrey Rowley MIET, by email