What is Engineering?

A practical outlook on the domain of Engineering

It is the Engineering that advanced humans from hunter-gatherers to stepping stone on the moon!

The term Engineering is generally said to have been derived from the Latin 'ingenium' which means "cleverness" and 'ingeniare', meaning "to contrive, devise".
Looking deeper at the terms 'ingenium' - sort of implies an innate quality, especially mental power, hence a clever invention.

The idea or more aptly perhaps - the domain of 'engineering' has existed since ancient times - from the time humans devised fundamental inventions such as the pulley, lever, wheel, and so many others. Each of these inventions has been quite consistent with the modern definition of engineering - as in exploiting basic mechanical principles to develop useful devises, tools or objects.

What is Engineering? Science vs Engineering

Let's start by understanding what is Science, and what is Engineering, by comparison, and how do these disciplines relate to each other.

Science & Engineering 

Science is a quest “to know”, “to discover”.
Engineering is a quest “to build”, “to evolve”.

Yes, it’s that simple! Now let’s understand from first person’s perspective…

A Scientist seeks to understand the nature i.e., the principles that govern the Universe.
An Engineer seeks to apply this understanding, to build things & to advance the way of living.

So far it seems quite easy, doesn’t it? Time to get more technical...

Technically (yet in a simple way!), we can now say that-
Science is logical Discovery, and
Engineering is creative Application.

Need to understand better? Ok, let’s dwell a little deeper into the definitions, with an example each.

Science seeks to explain natural phenomena through theory, hypothesis and experimentation; To ascertain natural laws.
Engineering seeks to apply these natural laws to practical applications and to solve the problems of real world.

For example,
Chemistry (Science) investigates the structure of Chemicals & their interactions, in terms of transformation & energy, to come up with the principles & laws of chemical interactions.
Whereas, Chemical Engineering uses these laws of Chemistry to evolve or design applications such as energy storage systems for electric vehicles i.e., batteries.

Dots are getting connected, aren’t they? We’ll now talk about how these disciplines connect.

In today’s world of fast paced advances, both the quests of Science & Engineering, are inter-dependent and need each other to progress. ‘Scientific breakthroughs’ enable Engineers to come up with ’Technological advances’ which in-turn provide Scientists with better apparatus to observe deeper and conduct better experiments. It is an interspersed cycle, wherein both the arenas empower each other.

And yes, Science & Engineering overlap each other too, and when that happens, a Scientific quest becomes ‘application oriented’ and an Engineering breakthrough becomes ‘science based’. And it is such Scientists & Engineers, the true visionaries, who not only discover the ways of the Universe, but also advance the civilisation.

That’s all about what is what and how are they related! Up for more? Go on and see what’s Engineering… 

Engineering  |  What is it?

As we said above, Engineering is creative application of scientific principles.

(Yes, you’ll find quite a few repetitions of phrases & definitions like these. Subtle repetitions help us remember better & longer, and it establishes the context of what’s to follow)

Ok, let’s break things down by understanding what does it mean by ‘Scientific principles’, ‘Application’ and ‘Creative’.

Scientific principles are the laws that govern the Universe. To be accurate, these principles are actually “our understanding” of the way the Universe works or the way it behaves. Over centuries, some of the greatest thinkers evolved these principles through keen observation & experimentation. Our understanding continues to evolve, thanks to the relentless efforts of our scientific community.

Now, Application simply means “to apply” i.e., to utilize the understanding of current scientific principles. Note that we say ‘current’, since our scientific understanding continues to evolve everyday, and what we know today might change or evolve with the progression of Scientific studies.

And, Creative implies “to create”.
“To create” implies to envision, imagine, ideate, design and manufacture, in that order.

Now we’re getting somewhere, aren’t we? But hey, wait! That’s not all, Engineering also encompasses some more stuff (if you like!), like-
👉 Process design i.e., effective usefulness or utilization of the product or equipment
👉 Reliability forecast, to predict their behaviours under specific operating conditions
👉 Efficient operations intended function, economics of operation and safety to life & property.

And finally, Engineering is about solving real world problems (challenges, we would like to say!). And, since it derives the applications from fundamental way of working of the Universe, effective Engineering (well, an effective Engineer) requires in-depth understanding of Science & Mathematics.

How did Mathematics get in here (?) you ask, well to place it in context, Scientific study goes through the process of observation (of behaviours & patterns), by collecting data & by performing experiments. These observations (sets of data) are then extrapolated by use of Mathematics, be it numerical analysis, geometry, calculus and so on, as applicable. Engineering then requires various sub-disciplines of Mathematics to apply this understanding to design a product, by use of (say) geometry to evolve Engineering drawings (on paper or by use of CAD - Computer Aided Design). Few more examples would be - use of binaries & a plethora of Engineering calculations for Software Engineering, predictive calculations of behaviours of mechanical or electronic parts under different operating conditions, statistical understanding of how a manufacturing process behaves, and so on.

And therefore, an Engineer requires mastery of fundamental Sciences & principles of Mathematics, to effectively design, make & sustainably manufacture the products.

For the etymology enthusiasts, here’s how the word Engineering came to be-
It all started with its roots in Latin, evolved into English, French, etc., and there are variants of the explanation of evolution of this word. But hey, the most interesting one (the ‘root’ of course) that we find is the Latin one - “Ingeniator” which itself comes from the words “Ingeniare” (meaning 'to create, generate, contrive, devise') and “Ingenium” (meaning 'cleverness').
So, in retrospect, Engineers are clever people (high five! to you all) who create & devise things of use.

There we are (!) right above the bundle of knowledge of what is Engineering. Wish to know this from first person’s perspective? Read on… 

Engineers  |  What do they do?

Engineers apply scientific principles to build and to create practical devices, machines & tools, to make the world a better place and to advance our future aspirations of being an advanced & an evolved civilization.
(Didn’t we say there would be subtle repetitions? And you see, now your subconscious mind sort of just knows the basic definitions, doesn't it? If it doesn't, perhaps you should start again! With a bit more of focus of-course)

Here are a few real world examples.

Example one, a scientist would say that when you apply a force on a body, it resists the resulting deformation, and that intrinsic resistance is called stress. An engineer then takes this principle to build rightly configured structures, engines, machine parts, rockets, and what not!
What's 'rightly configured' you ask? Ok, it means the right size (cross-section), shape or form (design of profile), with right connectors (more appropriately fasteners such as screws, dowel pins, rivets, and so on). Yes (!) this is just the tip of the iceberg. We'll explain in detail as we progress into further articles like this one.

Example two, when a scientist comes up with the law of ‘action & reaction’ (yes, we're referring to Sir Isaac Newton’s 3rd law of motion), an engineer applies it to build (say) projectiles, like a rocket propulsion system.
Probing a bit on this, rocket propulsion isn’t just about the 3rd law, it is also about due consideration of Aerodynamics, Gravitational effects, Material science, Fuel combustion in the engines and so on (more on that some other time!).

If we reflect a bit on this.... (reflecting yet…), and hey!, it is quite clear that an Engineer needs absolute understanding of different areas of Science to apply it, be it Fluid Mechanics, Metallurgical Science, Chemistry, etc.

Okay, we’re drifting away, let’s drift back to basics.

Well, now you know how Engineers find practical uses for scientific discoveries. They build prototypes and machines, perform experiments, tinker with existing technology to improve it, and other things more specific to different engineering fields.

Let’s summarise again, shall we? Ok, here we go.
Engineers envision, ideate, design, evaluate, develop, test, modify, install, inspect and maintain a wide variety of products and systems.
This is all accomplished with fundamental focus on functionality, reliability, operational economics and safety to life & property.

Reflection begins again… So now, with this understanding, we can surmise that the line between ‘being an Engineer’ and ‘being a Scientist’, gets blurred in most (if not all) endeavours of the Engineers. If you wish to be or to become a fine Engineer, you now know that you must be absolutely sound in the understanding of fundamental Sciences.

Okay! We shall now swerve into the area of how the Scientific & Engineering approaches differ, and yet are necessary to be understood, mastered & applied by modern Engineers. Let’s go!

Approaches of Science & Engineering

‘Inquiry’ is the essence of Science. ‘Design’ is the essence of Engineering.

When an Engineer masters the approaches of ‘Scientific Inquiry’ & ‘Engineering Design’, understanding, ideation & innovation begin to happen naturally, and concurrently.

Let’s build an understanding of these approaches, shall we?

Ok. Take a look at Figure-1.

Looks quite complex at first glance, yes! Let’s simplify it for you.

Start from bottom-left of Figure-1. Read each step bottom-up, and then come back here!

Okay? Alright then, let's begin with the explanation of left part of the figure i.e., Scientific inquiry, with a generic example.

Scientific inquiry is about probing into natural phenomena (a physical system or an object of study), like say, asking ‘why does an apple fall to the ground?’, then expanding to ‘how fast does it fall?’, and then expanding to ‘does everything fall at the same pace?’.

Further inquiry leads to measuring the distance of fall & time of fall, and then iterating with different distances & with different objects of varying mass. These measurements (or experiments), are then recorded (data collection). Armed with the data, a concrete description of the phenomenon is arrived at, like saying, all objects fall to the ground at an increasing velocity i.e., acceleration.

It is then, that the phenomenon is sought to be explained through a hypothesis. In this example, the hypothesis is of 'gravitational pull', which is then established as a theory (an abstract idea of human perception!), such as Universal Law of Gravitation, as proposed by Sir Isaac Newton in his series of books “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica”, meaning 'Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy'.

Now, we can simulate this example with Figure-1 and reflect to sink it in that Scientific inquiry follows a Bottom-Up approach.

Alright now, let's look at Engineering design. Start from top-right of Figure-1. Read each step top-down, and then come back here!

Okay? Let's begin.

Engineering design is about evolving physical objects or methods, to solve real world problems or human need.

When the need is to address short daily or frequent transports (or private commutes), Engineering design starts with coming up with concepts (abstract ideas) of how to make it happen, in a fast, efficient & economical way.
One of the concepts could be use of (say) chemical energy (combustion of fuel), followed by concepts of transferring the energy of combustion into rotation of wheels. Yes, this is what Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) do.

Once the concept is decided upon, the next step is to set the specifications (concrete description) such as how many people should it seat, how much of load should it carry, how fast should it move, how long should it go before needing a fuel-refill, and so on. It is then that the detailed design begins, which then is manufactured and converted into a useful product (a physical system), such as a passenger vehicle, be it a car, a bike, a truck or a bus, etc.

Yet again, simulating this example with Figure-1, it gets quite clear that Engineering design follows a Top-Down approach.

As we said earlier, mastering the approaches of 'Scientific Inquiry' and 'Engineering Design' precede innovation & inventions. It is this amalgamated way of approach, a sound mix of Scientific understanding and Engineering application, that differentiates a 'great engineer' from a 'good engineer'.

Okay! This completes the ‘knowing’ part. Let’s now look at the gamut of Engineering and conclude this discussion. 

Gamut of Engineering 

Mankind’s heritage of Engineering spans from structural monuments such as Stonehenge, Pyramids of Giza, Eiffel Tower, Hoysaleswara Temple, Taj Mahal and so on, to huge space structures such as the International Space Station, to building large scale canals for agriculture & transport, building propulsion to reach Mars, establishing maps to human genome, building electrical vehicles, making smaller & faster semiconductor chips, developing artificial intelligence, development of robotic prosthetics, dentures and many other accomplishments; the list goes on.

Engineering has continuously matured and has extensively expanded over the millennia, along with our knowledge and understanding of the Universe, more specifically of science, mathematics, the laws of physics and their applications.

Yet a number of technological advances remain to be innovated. As JFK once said, “we need men & women who can dream of the things that never were, and ask why not” (yes we modified it!), it falls on the Engineers of today to question, to innovate & to invent the the things that never were!

And those who do possess a strong desire to get going on about radical & ground-breaking innovations & inventions, zip to our careers' section and get in touch with us.