Engineering is the design, analysis, and/or construction of works for practical purposes. One who practices engineering is called an engineer, and those licensed to do so have formal designations such as Professional Engineer or Chartered Engineer. Engineers use imagination, judgment, and reasoning to apply science, technology, mathematics, and practical experience. The result is the design, production, and operation of useful objects or processes. The broad discipline of engineering encompasses a range of specialized subdisciplines that focus on the issues associated with developing a specific kind of product, or using a specific type of technology.




The crucial and unique task of the engineer is to identify, understand, and interpret the constraints on a design in order to produce a successful result. It is usually not enough to build a technically successful product; it must also meet further requirements. Constraints may include available resources, physical or technical limitations, flexibility for future modifications and additions, and other factors, such as requirements for cost, marketability, producibility, and serviceability. By understanding the constraints, engineers derive specifications for the limits within which a viable object or system may be produced and operated.


Problem solving

Engineers use their knowledge of science, mathematics, and appropriate experience to find suitable solutions to a problem. Creating an appropriate mathematical model of a problem allows them to analyze it (sometimes definitively), and to test potential solutions. Usually multiple reasonable solutions exist, so engineers must evaluate the different design choices on their merits and choose the solution that best meets their requirements. Genrich Altshuller, after gathering statistics on a large number of patents, suggested that compromises are at the heart of "low-level" engineering designs, while at a higher level the best design is one which eliminates the core contradiction causing the problem.

Engineers typically attempt to predict how well their designs will perform to their specifications prior to full-scale production. They use, among other things: prototypes, scale models, simulations, destructive tests, nondestructive tests, and stress tests. Testing ensures that products will perform as expected. Engineers as professionals take seriously their responsibility to produce designs that will perform as expected and will not cause unintended harm to the public at large. Engineers typically include a factor of safety in their designs to reduce the risk of unexpected failure. However, the greater the safety factor, the less efficient the design may be.


Computer use

As with all modern scientific and technological endeavors, computers and software play an increasingly important role. As well as the typical business application software there are a number of computer aided applications (CAx) specifically for engineering.

One of the most widely used tools in the profession is computer-aided design (CAD) software which enables engineers to create 3D models, 2D drawings, and schematics of their designs. CAD together with Digital mockup (DMU) and CAE software such as finite element method analysis allows engineers to create models of designs that can be analyzed without having to make expensive and time-consuming physical prototypes. These allow products and components to be checked for flaws; assess fit and assembly; study ergonomics; and to analyze static and dynamic characteristics of systems such as stresses, temperatures, electromagnetic emissions, electrical currents and voltages, digital logic levels, fluid flows, and kinematics. Access and distribution of all this information is generally organized with the use of Product Data Management software[1].

There are also many tools to support specific engineering tasks such as Computer-aided manufacture (CAM) software to generate CNC machining instructions; Manufacturing Process Management software for production engineering; EDA for printed circuit board (PCB) and circuit schematics for electronic engineers; MRO applications for maintenance management ; and AEC software for civil engineering.

In recent years the use of computer software to aid the development of goods has collectively come to be known as Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)[2].



The Oxford English Dictionary gives one, now obsolete, meaning of engineer (dating from 1325) as "A constructor of military engines". Engineering was originally divided into military engineering (which included construction of fortifications as well as military engines) and civil engineering (non-military construction of such as bridges).

The words engine and engineer (as well as ingenious) developed in parallel from the Latin root ingeniosus, meaning "skilled". An engineer is thus implied to be a clever, practical, designer.

With the rise of engineering as a profession in the nineteenth century the term became more narrowly applied to fields in which mathematics and science were applied to these ends. In some other languages, such as Arabic, the word for "engineering" also means "geometry".

In the nineteenth century in addition to military and civil engineering the fields then known as the mechanic arts became incorporated into engineering.


Engineering in a social context

Engineering is a subject that ranges from large collaborations to small individual projects. Almost all engineering projects are beholden to some sort of financing agency: a company, a set of investors, or a government. The few types of engineering that are minimally constrained by such issues are pro bono engineering and open design engineering.

By its very nature engineering is bound up with society and human behaviour. Every product or construction used by modern society will have been influenced by engineering design. Engineering design is a very powerful tool to make changes to environment, society and economies, and its application brings with it a great responsibility, as represented by many of the Engineering Institutions codes of practice and ethics. Whereas medical ethics is a well-established field with considerable consensus, engineering ethics is far less developed, and engineering projects can be subject to considerable controversy. Just a few examples of this from different engineering disciplines are the develoment of nuclear weapons, the Three Gorges Dam, the design and use of Sports Utility Vehicles and the extraction of oil. There is a growing trend amongst western engineering companies to enact serious Corporate and Social Responsibility policies, but many companies do not have these.

Engineering is a key driver of human development.[1] Sub-Saharan Africa in particular has a very small engineering capacity and as a result many African nations are unable to implement solutions to problems they face without outside intervention, even if the political and financial obstacles are overcome. The attainment of many of the Millennium Development Goals is primarily an engineering challenge and the achievement of sufficient engineering capacity is a prerequisite to achieving the MDGs[2].

All overseas development and relief NGOs make considerable use of engineers to apply solutions in disaster and development scenarios. A number of charitable organizations aim to use engineering directly for the good of mankind:


Cultural presence

Engineering is a well respected profession. For example, in Canada it ranks as one of the public's most trusted professions [3].

Sometimes engineering has been seen as a somewhat dry, uninteresting field in popular culture, and has also been thought to be the domain of nerds. For example, the cartoon character Dilbert is an engineer.

This has not always been so - most British school children in the 1950s were brought up with stirring tales of 'the Victorian Engineers', chief amongst whom were the Brunels, the Stephensons, Telford and their contemporaries.

In science fiction engineers are often portrayed as highly knowledgeable and respectable individuals who understand the overwhelming future technologies often portrayed in the genre. The Star Trek characters Montgomery Scott and Geordi La Forge are famous examples.

Engineers are often respected and ridiculed for their intense beliefs and interests. Perhaps because of their deep understanding of the interconnectedness of many things, engineers such as Governor John H. Sununu, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Nuclear Physicist Edward Teller, are often driven into politics to "fix things" for the public good.

Occasionally, engineers may be recognized by the "Iron Ring"--a stainless steel or iron ring worn on the little (fourth) finger of the dominant hand. This tradition was originally developed in Canada in the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer as a symbol of pride and obligation for the engineering profession. Some years later this practice was adopted in the United States. Members of the US Order of the Engineer accept this ring as a pledge to uphold the proud history of engineering. A Professional Engineer's name often has the post-nominal letters PE or P.Eng in North America. In much of Europe a professional engineer is denoted by the letters IR, while in the UK and much of the Commonwealth the term Chartered Engineer applies and is denoted by the letters CEng.



In most modern countries, certain engineering tasks, such as the design of bridges, electric power plants, and chemical plants, must be approved by a Professional Engineer or a Chartered Engineer.

Laws protecting public health and safety mandate that a professional must provide guidance gained through education and experience. In the United States, each state tests and licenses Professional Engineers. In much of Europe and the Commonwealth professional accreditation is provided by Engineering Institutions, such as the Institution of Civil Engineers from the UK. The engineering institutions of the UK are some of the oldest in the world, and provide accredition to many engineers around the world. In Canada the profession in each province is governed by its own engineering association. For instance, in the Province of British Columbia an engineering graduate with 5 or more years of experience in an engineering-related field will need to be certified by the Association for Professional Engineers and Geoscientists (APEGBC) in order to become a Professional Engineer.

The federal US government, however, supervises aviation through the Federal Aviation Regulations administrated by the Dept. of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration. Designated Engineering Representatives approve data for aircraft design and repairs on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Even with strict testing and licensure, engineering disasters still occur. Therefore, the Professional Engineer or Chartered Engineer adheres to a strict code of ethics. Each engineering discipline and professional society maintains a code of ethics, which the members pledge to uphold.

Refer also to the Washington accord for international accreditation details of professional engineering degrees.


Comparison to other disciplines



Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been.

Theodore von Karman

There exists a definitive overlap between the sciences and engineering practice; in engineering, one applies science. Students in mathematics and engineering both begin their education by studying the fundamental principles of mathematics, such as geometry, algebra, and especially, calculus. However, as the students progress, their foci diverge. The mathematics student continues to learn mathematics, consisting of advanced principles and concepts which typically build on those of the past. The engineering student begins to focus primarily on mathematical application. At the end of his education, the engineer will ideally understand most of the science necessary for the solution to physical problems. The scientist will know far more science than the engineer, but with much of this knowledge being too abstract for utility in real world applications.

Engineering is concerned with the design of a solution to a problem. A scientist may ask why a phenomenon arises, and proceed to research the answer to the question. Engineers do not deal with scientific phenomena, but may use science in solving a problem, and/or find out how to implement that solution. In other words, scientists attempt to explain phenomena, whereas engineers use that knowledge to construct solutions to problems.

Both areas of endeavor rely on accurate observation of materials and phenomenon. Both use mathematics and classification criteria to analyze and communicate observations. Scientists are expected to interpret their observations and to make expert recommendations for practical action based on those interpretations. Scientists may also have to complete engineering tasks, such as designing experimental apparatus or building prototypes. Conversely, in the process of developing technology engineers sometimes find themselves exploring new phenomena, thus becoming, for the moment, scientists.

However, engineering research has a character different from that of scientific research. First, it often deals with areas in which the basic physics and/or chemistry are well understood, but the problems themselves are too complex to solve in an exact manner. Examples are the use of numerical approximations to the Navier-Stokes equations to describe aerodynamic flow over an aircraft, or the use of Miner's rule to calculate fatigue damage. Second, engineering research employs many semi-empirical methods that are foreign to pure scientific research, one example being the method of parameter variation.


Other fields

There are significant parallels between engineering and medicine.[4] Both fields are well known for their pragmatism — the solution to real world problems often requires moving forward before phenomena are completely understood in a more rigorous scientific sense and therefore experimentation and empirical knowledge is an integral part of both. Part of medicine examines the function of the human body. The human body although biological has many functions similar to a machine.[4] The heart for example functions much like a pump,[5] the skeleton is like a linked structure with levers etc.[4][6] This similarity has led to the development of the field of biomedical engineering that utilizes concepts developed in both disciplines.[4]

There are also close connections between the workings of engineers and artists;[7] they are direct in some fields, for example, architecture, landscape architecture and industrial design (even to the extent that these disciplines may sometimes be included in a University's Faculty of Engineering); and indirect in others.[7] Artistic and engineering creativity may be fundamentally connected as the case of Leonardo Da Vinci indicates.

In Political science the term engineering has been borrowed for the study of the subjects of Social engineering and Political engineering that deal with forming political and social structures using engineering methodology coupled with political science principles.


See also




  1. Arbe, Katrina (2001.05.07). PDM: Not Just for the Big Boys Anymore. ThomasNet.
  2. Arbe, Katrina (2003.05.22). The Latest Chapter in CAD Software Evalution. ThomasNet.
  3. Leger Marketing (2006). "Sponsorship effect seen in survey of most-trusted professions: pollster"., pg. 2, The occupations most-trusted by Canadians, according to a poll by Leger Marketing... Engineering 88 per cent of respondents...
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Electrical and Computer Engineering Department University of Colorado at Boulder:The human physiological system can therefore provide an exciting, familiar, and quite "personal" system in which these important principles can be discovered and appreciated by engineering students
  5. Science Museum of Minnesota: Online Lesson 5a; The heart as a pump
  6. Minnesota State University emuseum: Bones act as levers
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lehigh University project: We wanted to use this project to demonstrate the relationship between art and architecture and engineering

Further reading


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