Letters to the editor: volume 17, issue 6
Image credit: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash
In the July 2022 issue of E&T, readers discuss how the title ‘engineer’ can be reclaimed, the importance of inclusive language and more.
Let media know about misuse of ‘engineer’
I would endorse Malcolm Joynson’s letter, ‘We can get status if we really want it’, in the March 2022 issue of E&T. I have been a member of the IEE/IET for over 50 years, and if anything our status has deteriorated. When I began my career, drivers of steam locomotives were referred to as ‘engineers’ by the media. Today, this has expanded to include technicians and repair service personnel. Moreover, the software industry feels free to use the title ‘engineer’ as it wishes.
Imagine the furore if building contractors called themselves ‘architects’, supermarkets called checkout staff ‘accountants’, or debt collectors were termed ‘lawyers’. Even highly experienced nurses would face disciplinary action for describing themselves as ‘doctors’, though many of their tasks were once performed by physicians. These professions militantly defend their status; engineers seem to be far too passive.
I would add to Mr Joynson’s call for lobbying by the Engineering Council and institutions, that there is an immediate opportunity for engineers themselves to become active. Misuse of the term ‘engineer’ is simply ignorance, and once the media’s letter and email boxes fill with requests not to confuse us with technicians, or repair persons, editors and producers will direct staff to use the correct terminology. Please would individual members, and particularly local IET organisations, get involved by sending letters or emails to correct transgressions and hopefully the next 50 years will not see further deterioration of our status.
Anthony Gardner CEng MIET
Why inclusive language matters
I enjoyed ‘The Virtual Top Gun’ in the June 2022 issue of E&T, but wish to challenge its use of the term ‘unmanned’ to describe remotely piloted or uncrewed systems. It is really easy to create an unmanned aircraft: just operate it with a female crew! My wife is a woman and not a man. Should she pilot an aircraft or crew a boat she would not become a man. The vessel would be crewed but with no man in sight.
Historically, of course, we have used ‘man’ interchangeably with ‘human’ when describing such things generically, but there are lots of things we have done historically that we no longer consider acceptable. Uncrewed is a perfectly credible alternative, has the same number of syllables and requires no acronyms or abbreviations to be changed.
While this may seem to some like mere pedantry, there are real-world implications that matter. I was recently at an ‘Unmanned [sic] Maritime Systems Technology’ conference. There were more Christophers in the room than women. In a competitive market for skills we cannot afford to alienate talented people just because we are unwilling to update our language to include them. They must feel that our industry is a place where they belong.
It might not matter much to many of those currently in the defence, engineering and technology sectors, because these are male-dominated professions. Why would we care? Because the health of our profession, and the performance of our organisations, depends upon attracting and retaining the best talent in sufficient quantity. We are in a stiff competition for such talent, and representation and language matter in achieving this.
Leadership is about how you make people feel, and if we are not inspiring women and girls in sufficient quantities to join our industry and profession then we ought to do better.
Changing our language to be inclusive and attractive to under-represented groups is cost free; it just takes a bit of empathy and humility, and the potential benefits are significant. Why wouldn’t we?
Steve Prest CEng MIET
Commodore, Royal Navy
E&T magazine is an exciting read. The June 2022 issue describes how engineers are addressing challenges such as the sea environment, hybrid working, autism and rethinking plastics among others. It led me to realise engineers can solve many of the world’s challenges. However, many challenges are not so much technical, but occur because people do not necessarily get on together.
For an extreme example of what engineers could do, a while ago the cover of E&T showed a picture of Africa with a 100km by 100km solar array imposed on the Sahara Desert area that in theory could supply the whole world’s energy needs. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen due to unrest and the inability of different countries to cooperate. Yes, it would be a colossal engineering task – but technically it could be done, and think of the benefits!
Maybe we engineers should work harder to reduce inequalities, unemployment and deprivation by putting pressure on our leaders and encouraging increased cooperation with engineers in other countries to make our world a safer, happier and personally fulfilling place to live in. Let’s live in hope and optimism.
Martin Letts MIET
Benefits of a start in industry
There is, as CJ Poole writes in the June 2022 issue (Letters), nothing new in student apprenticeships. I started an industry-based student apprenticeship with Standard Telephones & Cables Ltd in January 1958, the course being run in conjunction with Woolwich Polytechnic. During the four-year sandwich course (college for six months and work for six months each year), I received a broad range of general engineering training, from welding to working in an experimental laboratory developing techniques to produce epitaxial transistors.
The training satisfied the training element for Membership of the IEE and the course resulted in the award of a diploma of technology (engineering), rather than a degree, since only universities could confer degrees. A few years later, however, an offer was made to replace the diploma with a degree, which I declined. The student apprenticeship set me up for an interesting and fulfilling career in engineering.
Prof Paul Murray FIET
Practical insights from apprenticeships
Like many of my colleagues, I undertook a 1-3-1 sandwich course as a student apprentice with a major electrical manufacturer, with solid training fulfilling the EP1 and EP2 (Engineering Practice) requirements under the auspices of the EITB. This was accepted for covering certain training aspects of membership of the IEE. I graduated from Bristol University (the 3 in the ‘sandwich’) in the late 1970s. My practical training in many departments on multiple sites gave me a very practical insight to the engineering sector, to complement my studies. Guaranteed paid summer placements were very useful too.
Like Mr Poole I fear with the loss of EITB and JBEM organisations student/graduate apprenticeships on offer have been forgotten and we are now reinventing a forgotten wheel.
For a thorough explanation of apprenticeships in the 1970s and 1980s, can I recommend the 1976 publication ‘Apprenticeships in the United Kingdom’, which can be found at http://aei.pitt.edu/37008/1/A3053.pdf.
A C Paddock CEng MIET
Hyperautomation solutions already exist
My postgraduate project in the early 1970s involved the analogue simulation of vehicle deformation under impact. During my subsequent 50 years in manufacturing and engineering I worked on several discrete event simulations, building large complex models of actual factories, effectively trying to create digital twins.
However, most of my career has involved change management, effecting large-scale improvements in manufacturing performance using tools under such banners as Continuous Improvement, TPM and Six Sigma. It strikes me that what is described in the ‘How can businesses embrace hyperautomation?’ section of ‘Is Hyperautomation Worth the Hype?’ (February 2022) already exists in the data built up by experts (operators) on the shop floor employing TPM, or supervisors running Six Sigma programmes.
In effect, they have the framework, and data lacking only the software pigeonholes to fill to give them an alternative view, and the ‘what-if’ capability. This is good news for the leading performers in that they don’t need to embrace a separate initiative. Using these tools can enable them to extend their performance lead even further.
A word of caution to the implementers. My experience has shown ideal top-down structures do not easily meet with the upward-facing data, particularly where the non-discrete anomalies are known at the shop floor, but the communication gap, data dictionary is not bilateral. Time should be taken to discuss these disconnects.
Brian Burgess FIET
I found the article on plastics recycling very interesting (E&T June 2022), but it was narrowly focused. Recycling is important, but the best place to start must be to reduce the quantity of waste produced in the first place.
Here’s an idea. A typical single-use plastic bottle is far taller than it is wide, and often wider than it is deep. Its surface area, and hence weight of plastic used, is far greater than it need be. For example, a typical plastic 2,272ml (4-pint) milk bottle in the UK is 270mm tall and weighs 36g excluding lid.
More than a quarter of this weight is unnecessary. If it were cylindrical, to minimise its surface area it would have a height and diameter that are equal, about 142mm. Assuming the thickness of plastic is the same, it would weigh 26.2g (over 27 per cent less) and be 142mm tall. If you multiply this saving by the number of bottles you get through in a year that is quite a lot of single-use plastic! Even more when you multiply up by the global population that uses plastic bottles of this kind.
Consumers would need to get used to buying products in bottles that look smaller. If they cannot, they might be persuaded to buy the bigger packs, as the surface area increases by less than the percentage increase in volume. Either way, the payoff would be worthwhile.
Michael Hartz CEng MIET
Smart meter mirage
Richard Bristowe’s letter ‘Who benefits from smart meters?’ (June 2022) was very interesting. I didn’t realise quite how misleading the propaganda has been. At the very least, we were told, they should not require the householder to make any meter readings. This claim was, however, a smokescreen.
In the fanatical green initiative supported by scientific idiots in government, smart meters would allow continuous monitoring of all consumers’ energy consumption and, crucially, when it is being consumed.
This matters because current green energy generation cannot cope with massive fluctuations in demand, only steady-state usage. Hence, all consumers must be persuaded to stop using energy at peak demand times. The only way to do this in a democratic society is by price. If you wish to use energy at peak-demand time, like in the morning before work or dinner time in the evening, be prepared to pay for it with punitive pricing.
DAD Duncan CEng MIET
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