Technical Design versus Engineering

I (Conrad) hold that engineering takes place at the frontiers of science and technology (which is effectively the view of the WFEO). Engineering is therefore a high risk activity with uncertain outcome. Most people expect certainty in the outcome of their projects, they know what they want, and are reasonably confident about the feasibility of their concept: something similar exists already. The uncertainty which people have is whether or not the proposed technology will be fit-for-function or otherwise compliant with regulations. Determining fitness-for-function and suitability-of-purpose is not engineering: it is technical assessment or evaluation. Designing something so that it is fit-for-function is technical design.

To express the concept in the form of quick slogans:

Last year’s engineer is this years technician


Technicians Apply, Technologists Adapt, Engineers Originate

Once we, humanity, have an established body of knowledge which can be applied to assess fitness-for-function then the engineering is effectively over. When something fails, it is rarely because of some unknown phenomena, it is more likely to be a failure to apply the established body of technical knowledge to the proper design of the technology.

If engineering is not considered to take place at the frontiers, then it is simply a rational scientific design process, and anyone with suitable education in science and mathematics can carry out engineering, and could be called an engineer. The WFEO and Engineers Australia however prefers to give people with different levels of education different names. In Australia there are 3 academic levels of so called “engineering ” practitioner these are:

  1. (AQF-6) Engineering Associates (or preferably Associate Technologists)
  2. (AQF-7) Engineering Technologists (preferably simplified to Technologist)
  3. (AQF-8) Engineers

Since I (Conrad) hold that engineering does take place at the frontiers of science and technology, I prefer to avoid the use of the term engineer and engineering, and use the terms Associate Technologist and Technologist in the broadest sense, and use Design Technologist to narrow the activity down. {Engineers Australia classifies me (Conrad) as an engineering technologist}

Some 80% of all technologies should be within the scope of Australia’s traditionally educated 2 year qualified Associate Technologists, if and only if they were permitted to gain the necessary opportunity to put their education to work and gain the experience about the established technologies. Traditionally students of engineering, no matter what academic level, study science and mathematics, their knowledge of its application to specific technologies is dependent on employment in a given industry. With their competence further dependent on the competence of the graduates supervisor, and otherwise the aptitude of the individual.

Strictly speaking an Associate Technologist should graduate highly conversant in a specific area of practice: that is supposed to be the purpose of such academic programmes. For example if we, Australia, have a shortage of stormwater drainage specialists then we should train Associate Technologists in stormwater drainage not educate broadly based civil engineers. The civil engineers would require further training on the job, and their last studies in stormwater drainage could have been a year or more before graduation. The Associate Technologist should be ready to get started with real world stormwater drainage design projects. The engineers task is to tackle those issues which are not to be found in textbooks, industry manuals, or national standards: to generate the knowledge that the next generation of associate technologists will be taught: just as their predecessors did.