Innovation - is a historically irrevocable change in the method of production of things.
J. Schumpeter


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Prof. Oleg L. Figovsky

On The Training of Innovative Engineers

O.L.Figovsky (NTI, Inc. USA, California) & K.L.Levkov(Tel Aviv University, Israel)


Economists think the modern world industrial production is in the middle of dominance of the fifth technological wave and we even see the beginning of a realization of some scientific advances of the sixth one.

The actual implementation ofthe sixth technological wave requires access to a much higher level of development of Technosphere. Just a half century ago some technological features of it could exist only on the pages of science fiction.Improvement of existing and development of many new scientific and technological fields is taking place with an ever increasing complexity of technical facilities and technologies.This leads to an increase in intellectual and material costs for applied research and experimental development. The material costs for realization of specific projects, as well as its successful completion, are determined to a larger extent by the qualification of people who implement it.

In the development and implementation of innovationsboth scientists and engineersalways take part.If the innovative project involves the creation of instruments and equipment, then highlyskilledworkers are added to the project staff.Scientists deal with the scientific sphere, while engineers are tasked with engineering and technology. By definition, science is a knowledge pool based on observable facts and verifiable truths, summarized in the form of structured systems, which can be conveyed to and confirmed by other experts.Unlike science, the activities of the engineer are the creative application of scientific principles to the planning, creation, management, operation of technology which should improve our daily lives.In short, if scientists are exploring the nature with the purpose of comprehending its laws, then engineers use the already known scientific laws and principles for the development of economic solutions to technical problems.Engineer'swork is an independent type of work and in that it differs from the duties of scientists.In the triad scientist-engineer-worker the engineer is the central figure of scientific-technical progress.Evidence of this is a constantly increasing share of engineering work in the implementation of modern technical facilities.This is due to the increasing complexity of new technologies. Increasing dominance of the flexible automated production plants and machines in the industry in not too distant future will significantly reduce the manual labor and the number of workers. As for the engineers in the enterprises and firms of developed countries, their number will increase.This is due to stiff competition in all sectors of industry that is involved in the present and future need for constant innovation, carried out mainly in the engineering activities.

The need to develop advanced technological systems based on the use of various combinations of many physical, chemical, biological, mathematical and information laws, principles, effects, and models determines the appropriate requirements for skill level and creative potential of engineers.Formation of these requirements is based on a model of a specialist and socially constructed image of a recognized expert in a particular activity.In this case it is amodel of aprofessional engineer.This model is an acceptable for the specific professional environment ideal end result of the educational process where society receives a specialist with the necessaryqualificationsfor both current level of scientific and technological progress and also suitable for a near future.

Forming of a model of an engineer is a complex and ambiguous process.This complexity is due to the fact that there are dozens of engineering specialties.Within each engineeringprofession theremay be several areas of specialization. Most of these areas are in innovation, production and maintenance.In addition, each developed country has a license system to maintain quality of an engineering education and recognition of engineering qualifications. These systems are implemented in each country, as a rule, by national non-governmental professional organizations. The engineering associations have its own bodies for accreditation of educational programs and certification of specialists.The most authoritativeprofessional organizationin the United States and worldwidededicated to assessing the quality of engineering education programs at universities is theAccreditationBoardforEngineeringand TechnologyUSA(ABET).ABET defines the criteria of a typical engineerthrough mandatory general requirements for graduates of universities.In accordance with these requirements as a result of training graduates must acquire the ability to:

- Apply scientific, mathematical and engineering knowledge

- To plan and conduct experiments, analyze and interpret data

- Design systems, components or processes in accordance with the tasks

- Work in teams on interdisciplinary topics

- To formulate and solve engineering problems

- To recognize professional and ethical obligations

- Communicate effectively

- Demonstrate the broad erudition, which is necessary for understanding global and social impact of engineering solutions

- Understand the need for the ability to learn constantly

- Demonstrate knowledge of contemporary issues

- Apply the skills and modern engineering techniques needed for engineering work

Similar and additional qualifications of the engineer are in the lists of national councils ofother countries.Undoubtedly each of the mentioned requirements is important for the formation of the professional status of engineers.However, the question arises how within a limited 6 years program do you train the future specialist with all of the aforementioned abilities & qualities?For a number of professional skills within this learning period it is only possible to achieve the initial skill level, on which it could be built upon. Subsequent levels are achieved in practice by self-development to fill the knowledge gaps and in the continuing study through the specialized courses in the system of postgraduate education.

Initial level of training is based on verbal, visual and practical learning methods, by which the future engineers form a basic system of knowledge that is further broaden through workshops, production practices, courses and laboratory work.Final thesis project, which completes the process of university education, is an effective factor in the integration of acquired knowledge, the development of systematic thinking and certain autonomy in decision-making.However,the project is usually completed under the supervision and with aid of the instructor in charge of overseeing the thesis work, and it can not bring young professionals beyond the realm of entry-level qualification.In their early career young professionals withinitial (pre-productive) qualification level works under the supervision of more experienced colleagues and does not make independent final technical decisions.

The next level of qualification can be called an applied level. It includes an active and creative application of academically acquired knowledge to solve problems in the area of persons specialty. Usually it happens through engineering activity associated with the production and maintenance.In a production environment, the criteria applied to achieving the qualification level is the ability of the specialist effectively and independently address emerging manufacturing problems associated with the replacement of components, materials, frequent changes in product design, development and adjustment processes.In the service sector achieving professional maturity manifests itself in an independent problem solving tasks related mainly to maintenance, repair and modernization of existing technical systems, instruments and mechanisms.

Highest level of engineers qualification can be called a productive level. Such specialist can solve difficult problems during the process of developing new technological devices in a creative way. The creation of new systems, devices and machines in the modern age often requires going beyond traditional scientific and technical fields. Complex technical devices rarely are purely mechanical, electronic or optical.For example, much of the equipment for chemical and biological research or for medical use is a clever combination of various sensors, electro-optics, and analog electronics with microprocessor control systems and connects to a computer or computer network through a standard or wireless interface. Developers of new technologies, devices, and materials must now know not only their own field of study but also have a grasp of adjacent fields and have a creative frame of mind and also have a good understanding of the fundamental sciences.

Of all the diverse requirements for engineers in general and innovative engineers in particular, the most important is the advanced ability to make decisions that lead to new technical solutions and the ability to find the necessary information and to educate themselves.These qualities are the foundation of the engineer'sproductivity and creativity.Without denying the importance of such qualities for an engineer as the ability to communicate and persuade, to create and maintain a positive atmosphere and friendly relations in a team, demonstrate knowledge and understanding of contemporary issues, follow the rules of professional ethics, as well as a number of other auxiliary qualities, it is the most important to provide, promote and stimulate the development of main skills, chief among which is inventive (innovative) thinking style, formed from the early childhood through school and university through constant mind development.

Man's ability to think he owes neither to God nor to Mother Nature.God created the brain - the organ of thought.But the ability to think is a product of upbringing and education as well as the result of a normal development of the biological brain.In this context, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers said: "Most people do not know how to think becausepeople can sneeze and coughfrom birth, but thinking must be taught."The process of thinkingin a logical senseamong educated people, including scholars, artists, engineers and inventors, is based on such mental operations as analysis, synthesis, comparison, generalization, classification, specification and abstraction.With their help a man can get into the heart of a problem at hand, and consider the properties of the various elements of the problem, discern the relationships of those elements, and usually the solution is found.Formation of thinking skills should be a mandatory part of the training process, beginning with a kindergarten.The development of the thinking operations must take place in the everyday educational process in schools of various levels of training and by addressing practical problems in the fundamental sciences, logic, psychology, technology, etc.

For example, for tasksand problematic situations that require mental dissection of a complex object into its parts, situations like this require analyzing skills.In the theory of inventive problem solving (TRIZ) the method of analysis is the basis of many techniques for eliminating technical contradictions, for example the principle of segmentation, the principle of local quality, principle of taking out etc. Other times engineer uses the reverse process of combining the components of the future system into a single unit, which is similar to a cognitive operation of synthesis.Various thinking techniques are the basis of most inventive methods.

Virtually the entire training of an engineer should occur in close connection with the formation of systematic thinking, based on all the variety of cognitive processes, forms and methods of thinking.In contrast to thecognitive processes, forms of thinking are the formal structures of organizing ideas development.Psychologists distinguish between three forms of thinking -a notion, an opinion and an inference.On the basis of notions and opinions someone can make inferences. An inference can be inductive, deductive, and by analogy.In turn, an analogy can be straight, subjective, symbolic and fantastic. Thanks to analogies, for example, known ways of formulating and solving problems in one branch of human knowledge can be applied to another branch and vise a versa.In this respect, very revealing is the statement of Albert Einstein that his analysis of struggles and experiences of the protagonists of Dostoevsky had facilitated him in the formulation of new tasks in the area of physics.So the principles of solving life's challenges, that Dostoyevsky set and applied in his masterful works of fiction, Einstein was able use for setting goals and solving entirely new problems in physics, which eventually led to his discoveries in the area of the theory of relativity.

Most engineering colleges and universities lack courses designed to teach students the basic skills of innovative engineering.This is due to limited amount oftraining hours and the traditional system of education in these schools.These reasons do not allow to create a separate section of courses, whose purpose would be the practical application of acquired knowledge in the development of creative and systemic thinking, creative imagination, teaching analysis and synthesis, system engineering, methods of formulating and solving inventive problems.

This need is long overdue and requires, in addition to the regular required courses, training of special engineering-teaching staff with high level of qualificationin practical work experience as an innovative engineer.The purpose of these engineers-educators will be to integrate and apply the student's academic knowledge for solving engineering tasks and actual projects.In addition, it requires modernization of curricula and teaching methods, as well as their adaptation to the needs of this aspect of engineering training.The essence of this upgrade is making fuller use of the didactic potential of each subject to deal with practical examples of problems in various subject areas.

To some extent this problem is solved[v1] by a teaching method proposed by authors of that article. It allows to significantly improve the efficiency of the educational process towards the expansion of interdisciplinary perspectives and the development of systemic thinking. The basis of this method is the principle of two-dimensional learning (let's call them vertical and horizontal dimensions). The vertical component of the curriculum is based on a logical structuring of educational material within the investigated domain, where the older topics are the basic foundation for subsequent ones. So the learning process goesfrom simple to more complex.To give additional horizontal component of the same topic an instructor defines the place of that topic in the current interdisciplinary space (in the systemic knowledge framework) and gives examples of its engineering application in its own area together with other areas where the same principles can be applied.

Here are simple examples of using two-dimensional model of training.

Example1.Physics.Electricity. Ohm's Law.Basic concepts formed in the previous topics: electromotive force, electrical resistance, electrical current (electrical engineering), the inverse proportional relationship (mathematics).The vertical dimention of learning: explanation of the physical essence of the Ohm's law and the finding an unknown valueof the triad of parameters (voltage, resistance or current).

The horizontal dimension of learning include:

a) The list and short abstract of practical problems based on the theory of linear electric circuits and the use of Ohm's lawfor their solution (calculating cross-section of electrical wire for power transmission and winding wires of electric machines, the choice of fuse, the calculation of heating elements, the calculation of additional resistors and shunts for the measurement circuits etc.);

b) the formulation and clarification of the similar laws (isomorphisms) with the general semantic and mathematical model:

- Ohm's law for magnetic circuits;

- Ohm's law for pneumatic and hydraulic circuits;

- Ohm's law formechanical drives (transmissions);

- Ohm's law for railway rolling stock, etc.

c) Ohm's law as a particular case of the generic law of action of the driving force on physical objects;

d) a general law of action of the driving force on physical objects (an interdisciplinary definition of Ohm's law):

"The result of the impact of the driving force on any physicalobject (body or particle) is directly proportional to the magnitude of the force and inversely proportional to the resistance exerted by the object during its motion";

d) Definition of various driving forces: the linear mechanical, mechanical torque, hydraulic, pneumatic (gas), osmotic and light pressure, electromotive force (EMF), the magnetomotive force (MDS), and others;

e) Definition of various types of resistance: electric, magnetic and aero-and hydrodynamic, rolling friction and sliding friction, and others;

f) Definition of opposing forces and how they differ from the resistances.

Example 2. Basic algebra.Task 1.From the town A one car started to drive to town B while another car left town B toward town A at the same time.One of the cars can go the distance between these cities in"a"minutes, and the second one in"b" minutes. After what time will they meet?

Basic concepts: distance, time, speed.

Solution:T = a * b / (a + b).

Task 2.Two painters, having begun work at the same time, should paint the room.One can do all the work in an "a"minutes, and the second one in a"b" minutes. What time do they need together to complete the work?

Basic concepts: area, time, work speed.
Solution:T = a * b / (a + b).

Task 3.Two electrical resistors are connected in parallel.One of them has a resistance of an "a" Ohm, and the second one of a"b" Ohm.

What is their total resistance?

Basic concepts: resistance, conductivity.

Solution:R = a * b / (a + b).

First of all, students should solve these problems one after another. Then they should explain why the problems related to mechanics, economics and electrical engineering have the same solution (a common mathematical model).You can then summarize, with the active participation of students, that similar problems with the same mathematical model can be created in many other areas, but they all can be united by one definition: "If two (or more) of the productive factors simultaneously working on achieving a joint final result, the outcome is equal to the inverse of the sum of their performance."

An important aspect in the realization of the didactic potential of these tasks is to explain two opposing concepts: productivity and resistance. Performance of a car is it's speed, which is the distance covered per unit of time. Labor productivity is the amount of work done per unit of time. Output of a resistor is his conductivity (the value of an inverse resistance) as a parameter that determines amount of current passing through it.Next, you must indicate and explain the essence of semantically related parameters when applying mathematical models: productivity, electric current, magnetic, heat, air, hydraulic, transport, information and other streams.The resistance to the movement of a car is a combination of factors (friction, air resistance), which it must overcome and which does not allow the car to move at light speed.In Task 1 values "a" and "b" are measures of a resistance, since if they would be zero, then the car would cover the distance between cities instantly.Resistance (slowing down factors) of the painting process (task 2, the values of "a" and "b") are due to limited technological capabilities, lack of good organization, poor working conditions, fatigue, aversion to work, etc. In the absence of slowing down factors work would be completed very quickly. Resistance (task 3, the values of "a" and "b") is a property of the material from which it is made to hinder the passage of electrons.In the absence of electrical resistance in a circuit applying a source of electromotive force creates an infinite current.Thus, if we talk about achieving a certain result within a certain time, that time is proportionate to a resistance. It should be noted that even the value of electrical resistance correlates with the time factor.It is numerically equal to the time it takes electric charge of 1 Coulomb to pass through a resistor (with non-zero resistance) under a constant electromotive force of 1 Volt.

Two-dimensional didactic, as demonstrated in simple examples, immediately activates extra thinking, takes a student beyond the scope of the subject and creates an associative link with the existing systemic knowledge in its various incarnations and perspectives.For a student with the developed creative thinking, accustomed to interdisciplinary perception of topics of study, it would sparks additional interest (rather than rejection), a proposal to state the general case of Ohm's law for a bicycle chain or to formulate Newton's first law in the psychological interpretation.Such "creative" students often become innovative engineers in high demandeverywhere, since they are capable to tackle even "unsolvable" problems.One organization with higher need for such experts is DARPA-Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (USA).This Agency needs people with a strong creative imagination andnon-trivial style of engineering thinking in order to:

-make a suit,providing protection from enemy fire and bad weather, wound healing and increasing various the abilities of human body;

- make a soldier and equipment invisible to the enemy in all ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum but with an ability to see the enemy in all ranges at once;

- look beyond the horizon, as well as through water, land, and the wall;

- create a flying car and a flying submarine, as well as the UAV able to be airborne for months or years, etc.

A modern system of engineering education should nurture and develop students with higher creative capability to tackle problems like that.This requires substantial changes in its methodology.

The idea of multi-dimensional learning is not new.Even Rene Descartes, a famous French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and physiologist, once wrote: "All science is so interconnected that it is easier to learn them all at once, rather than any one of them separately from all others."And again: "The pronouncements of the learned can be reduced to a very small number of general rules."This means that there is a relatively small number of systemic elements of world's knowledge, which in various combinations and relationships can form much larger number of subsystems (domains).The elements of systemic knowledge include laws, theorems, axioms, rules, principles, effects, mathematical and semantic models.Separate scientific disciplines are build out of these as from bricks.The same elements of knowledge in an unmodified or modified form may be applicable to different subsystems and subjects.It also confirms the principle of isomorphism, which states that many different phenomena and processes though different in nature are of similar properties and characters and therefore have the same formal mathematical descriptions.Two-dimensional learning approach is based on that systemic quality, and main principle is the associative binding of a topic under study with other subject areas and application of practical problems pertinent to the subject.

The method of two-dimensional didactics significantly expands the professional horizons of students and to a large extent determines their professional mobility in the future.Professional mobility allows an expert to adapt to new technological conditions by learning new technology and equipment, to quickly acquire the missing skills and the ability to switch to another specialization.Professional mobility implies a high level of generalized professional skills based on interdisciplinary ideas and practical applicability of mathematical models, physical, chemical, biological and information laws, rules, principles and effects.With the rapid changes in technology and equipment professional mobility is an important component of the qualification structure of an engineer.

The high educational level and well developed thinking abilities allow to offer a solution to a particular problem, but does not guarantee the absence of systematic errors in that solution which must be subsequently found and corrected.If a developer or a development team are guided only by their individual or group experience in system development, the inevitable errors may occur that may affect the viability of the project being developed. Individual experience does not always include all possible influencing factors in a variety of conditions with various manifestations which must be taken into account when designing a new and complex system.This is important because the set of factors taken into account not only determines the quality of a new system, but also the consequences of its subsequent implementation in real life.Positive and negative experiences of development of engineering projects and their implementation allowed to formulate a unified approach tosupport the whole life cycle of the systemsfrom concept and design to production, operation and disposal.These approaches, calledsystemsengineering, allow the development of sophisticated high-end systems even in the presence of many constraints:structural, technological, economic, ergonomic, safety, reliability, EMC, climatic, environmental, etc.Systems engineering is a holistic, focused on the final product approach responsible for the creation and execution of processes, covering various engineering disciplines and to address the needs of customers and direct users of the product.This approach is implementedthrough the use of methods of achieving high quality and reliability, cost effectiveness and compliance to the schedule of the project or program throughout the life cycle of the system.

Disorganized thinking without any clever methodology often leads to sorting through myriads of options trying to find a solution to a complex problem.To substantially reduce the time necessary to find an acceptable or close to an ideal inventive solution of a problem there are various methods of managing creative thinking.The most effective of the existing methods is the theory of inventive problem solving - TRIZ. Structurally, classical TRIZ consists of the following sections:

1.Laws of Development of Technical Systems.

2.Information Fund TRIZ.

3.Vepolny analysis (structural substance-field analysis) of technical systems.

4.Algorithm of inventive problem solving- ARIZ.

5.Methods of creative imagination (TRI).

TRIZ accelerates the inventive process by removing an element of chance: the sudden and unpredictable insight, blind search and reject of all options, the subjective factor, andsoforth. In addition, the aim of TRIZ is to improve quality and increase the level of invention by removing the psychological inertia and enhancing creative imagination. The use of TRIZ develops creative thinking, and also allows to predict the development of technical systems and to solve inventive problems of any complexity and in any field.

Thus, an innovative engineer is an engineer who achieved a productive qualification level, having a developed innovative decision-making in a certain field of science, engineering and technology and its related fields.Above all the foundations of such skill level are: quality of education in the fundamental sciences and technical subjects, proficiency in computer technology, software and design techniques necessary for particular field, knowledge and use of the modern methods of information search and retrieval, system engineering and methods of enhancing creative thinking. Emphasis on the practical use of acquired knowledge should be present in the process of training future engineers, as well as improving the system of postgraduate education and learning. Such programs require serious changes in methods of training of engineers in general and innovative engineers in particular.

The most advanced teaching methods are designed for a student with a proper motivation.The final result of any education depends greatly on the student's desire to acquire particular skills and become a member of the professional community.Professional motivation consists of personal and societal parts.Personal motivation is focused on a solution to a specificissue or a problem.Its emergence is due to various reasons and circumstances.These causes can be of professional, social, personal and academic nature.In the educational facility the personal motivation is usually the basis of various learning techniques like problem-solving, search and research methods.A student is not considered to be a vessel, which must be filled, and the lamp, which must be light!This idea belongs to J.H. Pestalozzi - one of the most famous teachers in the history of mankind.When either a student or a specialist is genuinely puzzled by a specific problem he or she becomes a pragmatist searching and sifting through all possible information also carefully interpreting it in the projection on finding the desired solution.Desire (motivation) and persistence in solving problems is an essential component of success.Renowned actor and director Charlie Chaplin in this regard, said: "People often ask me how did I get an idea which inspired this or that movie.I still can not comprehensively answer this question.Over the years, I realized that the ideas come when they are passionately sought after, when your consciousness is transformed into a sensitive camera, ready to capture any momentum, impulse of imagination - then a piece of music or a sunset can suggest some great idea. "There are cases when personal professional motivation grows into a general motivation, when a specialist or a student, fascinated by a prospect to solve an interesting or socially significant problem realizes that his or her current level of expertise is not enough to do it, and decides to improve in the chosen specialization or even change the career and acquire another skill set.

A general professional motivation is an action of certain stimulus or inspiration, which determines not only the choice of a profession but also a motive behind persistent day-to-day work fulfilling duties and meeting the challenges of chosen profession. It is formed under influences of various factors and realities surrounding a person, but also as a result of career studies. Most influential factors of surrounding reality are a level of respect and prestige which a family and society in general show toward representatives of different professions. Noticeably, there were periods in the history of humanity when several outstanding composers created music of highest quality, other periods were of talented artists and painters, yet another were physicists. Obviously, prestige of a profession in society plays a great significance and influence on choice of people, which in turn is influenced by a need of society in one or another occupation and a role of different profession in society. Where does the assurance of somebodys calling come from? There are people (usually very few) who has a distinct talent in music, math or languages. But there are many more simply talented young people who would have a great success in either biology, medicine, physics or other area. And it is in that situation the current prestige of profession, what is a public opinion about it, how media respect it, exerts a major influence. As a result a young person may start to think (consciously or subconsciously) that semiconductor, lasers or space rockets are his or her calling. However recent decades in developed countries saw a significant drop in interest of youth in science and engineering, much less desire to participate in developing new technology. Signature professions became lawyers, managers, medical doctors. Any engineering specialties are missing from that list. As a result many students who are admitted to engineering and technology departments of universities have actually lower average which prevented them to go to more prestigious at the current time departments. There are less people willing to create new technology than willing to manage, trade, be lawyers, actors, top models and bankers. Bigger part of talented youth are drawn or better word 'drained' to non-manufacturing, service areas of professional pool, which inevitably weakens scientific, engineering and inventive potential of society. One example would be modern Israel. It has highest number of lawyers per capita in the world. Nevertheless that fact does not lead to decrease of willing to study law at the universities. There is similar situation in modern Russia, where to be an engineer, technologist, scientist is absolutely not prestigious and even anti-prestigious.

That situation requires from governmental agencies, media, popular science organizations to make a U-turn toward restoring a higher prestige of scientific and engineering occupations. USA currently changes drastically its attitude toward education and professional orientation of school students. It is a part of a new governmental policy to provide substantial advances in science and technology. These plans were announced in US President Barack Obama's speech April 27, 2009 at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. He said: I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it's science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent - to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.

Realization of a new sixth technological wave will lead to emergence of new scientific and technological fields which in turn will inevitably lead to an increase in numbers of engineers. New technological era will widen the list of engineering specializations. Global economy will increase even more the competition, and as a result, changes in technology will become even faster in all areas of human activities. To maintain competitiveness of products now and in the future engineers need to have high level of qualification, innovative mind-set, professional mobility and strong motivation. Anticipating the predicted radical changes in science and technology there is a great necessity in acknowledging by society a greater importance of engineering activities and changing principles, methods and approaches to organizing the system of engineering education.


[v1]when successful inventors and innovative engineers participate in universities as teachers and instructors

 

 

Posted on the website: 2011-11-12

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