Computerizing the profession
A host of readers didn’t take kindly to an editorial that said “any” CAD operator can do design. They didn’t appreciate being compared to what they consider computerized draftsmen. Others felt the criticism of computer-based presentations was somewhat off-base as well.
Engineers are not CADs I strongly disagree with the first part of Leslie Gordon’s commentary (“Does Model-Based Engineering Make Sense?” June 14). She wrote: “Design is merely creating the geometry. Any CAD jockey can do ‘design.’ Engineering, on the other hand, uses physics-based rules to develop functional machines and mechanisms.”
I believe she is confusing the issue. It is certainly not true that any CAD jockey can do “design.” It might be true that any CAD jockey can do drafting, which might be classified as drawing what has already been designed. True design can involve a huge amount of creativity, and it is concerned with form, function, and costs, among other things. Good designers may also need to understand engineering fundamentals, and work hand in hand with more analytical engineers to ensure the integrity of their designs.
Not all engineers make good designers (although some do), because they aren’t creative or don’t have the common sense to get out of the rain. They might be good computer jockeys, number crunchers, and understand Newtonian mechanics or antenna theory, but wouldn’t know how to “create” something if their life depended on it.
W. D. Robins
In the commentary by Leslie Gordon, she made the blanket statement that “Any CAD jockey can do ‘design.’”
Now I may be new to the design and engineering field since I have only been involved since the 1970s, and I am not a degreed engineer, but is she really serious? I have been trained in drafting, mathematics, science, physics, multiple CAD formats, and came up through in the school of hard knocks. There are people trained to use CAD (including engineers) who can barely put two lines together, much less turn out designs for equipment that can be manufactured, assembled, and actually function properly upon completion. This statement is like saying that any clerical secretary, trained to put two complete sentences together can be a “Senior Editor” at MACHINE DESIGN.
Steven D. Mueller
It’s a common complaint I have heard at many engineering and software trade shows and events: There should be a clearer distinction between “designer” and “engineer.” Many complain what many so-called “designers” really do is just create a geometry. Period. There is no understanding of whether the device will actually work in the real world. In contrast, the term “engineering” or “engineer” implies the necessary knowledge of the underlying physics or mechanics that makes stuff tick and really work. — Leslie Gordon
Don’t blame the software
Your recent editorial, (“PowerPoint Can Kill,” June 14) says: “To most engineers, the idea of using graphs or models to convey concepts comes as second nature.” And you caution readers not to take PowerPoint lightly. To this concern, I’d like to add that the Internet can also negatively affect our thought processes. For example, when we read print, we generally comprehend and remember more than when we read the same text online. It doesn’t help that online articles are often crammed with links that seem to interfere more than enlighten.
The deep reading that comes naturally with print can be a struggle online. That’s because printed documents induce an attentiveness in which reading is more than skimming. The computer, once our servant, now becomes our master. And online content may be less important than the medium itself. So, while we enjoy the Internet’s benefits, we should question if we are sacrificing our ability to read and think effectively.
I am old enough to remember when engineers effectively communicated long before there was such a thing as PowerPoint. If you were lucky, you had an overhead projector for your meetings. More frequently, you used a chalk board. It may sound primitive, but writing out your ideas and logic this way forced you to focus only on essential points and think through your presentation beforehand. It seems the problem with PowerPoint is that it lets speakers get by without this sort of thoughtfulness.
And although I agree with you that too many presentations are just plain bad, PowerPoint is just the tool. I do finite-element analysis for a living, so the software is a necessity. I have not found any other media tool that lets me show people what is going on with their parts. But the main problem is not the tool, but the desire to automatize and oversimplify every task. It seems our motto these days is, “The less thinking, the better.”
As a frequent (and hopefully effective) user of bullet points, I want to dispel the notion that all bulleted lists are signs of intellectual laziness. They are not. A good bullet list can actually be the result of intellectual rigor. But it’s true that bad bullet lists result from the intellectual laziness you mentioned or some other intellectual shortcoming. But please don’t blame the bullets. And let’s make sure not to blame Powerpoint either.
I do appreciate that the editorial brings attention to the hazards of poor slides. But again, lets make sure to understand that poor slides come from poor communicators. Placing a pen in the hand of a poor communicator would likely result in a technical paper just as bad as their PowerPoints. If one cannot create an organized bullet list (which is much like the outline for a paper), how can one expect to create an organized paper?
The example of NASA’s excessive use of Powerpoint in lieu of technical papers is truly astounding, and hopeful ly someone learned a good lesson.
The June 14 article, “Energy-Efficient Hydraulics Slash Operating Costs,” contained an incorrect graphic related to energy consumption on injection- molding machines. The correct version, shown here, indicates that replacing constant- speed, electrohydraulic variable-displacement pumps with variable- speed pump drives cuts energy consumption well in excess of 30%.