Saturday, March 19, 2011

Educating Engineers

Education has been one of the most sensitive subjects of discussion in this country. To most people the level of education one receives will determine the quality of life one would enjoy later. Is this the truth or a myth? No doubt that education is a very important component of a civilized society. It is in fact considered as the most basic rights of a human being. The issue is how do we define or what do we consider as education?

As far as engineering education is concerned it should consist of the various aspects of producing good and wholesome engineers who are very much relevant to the society and civilization. It is not limited to being an engineer who is very good in technical areas like design and analysis but also able to apply and relate to the way of life of the community. For instance, it is of little use to have a beautiful and structurally strong building if the parking lot is not easily accessible to the users. As more engineers become a part of corporate organizations, they need new skills and knowledge on management including marketing, financial, human capital and even on business and economy. Engineers should be able to produce as good management reports, financial analyses and business proposals as design calculations and technical drawings for an iconic building. The question then, is our engineering education system capable of transforming our engineers to be managers and corporate players?

Everybody would have his or her own views on this. The fact is everyone of us especially IEM members has a fair share of responsibility to make this ideal thinking a reality. So often we hear how our graduate engineers are not equipped to enter the job market. Many cited the lack of communication skill and proficiency as the main stumbling block. This is nothing new but can this situation be rectified merely by expressing our shock, dismay and disappointment? Has anything been changed in the way of engineering education to change the end products? Can the engineers in the academic world who are directly involved with engineering students not seeing this and take the necessary action? Can the engineering corporations not doing something substantive to ensure their corporations are sustainable?

It is clear that engineering education needs to be transformed to prepare our engineers to face the challenge as Malaysia moves towards a developed and a High Income Economy nation. If individuals and corporations are not capable, then who should lead the transformation of engineering education in this country? Indeed, as the essential component of nation building, we engineers need to pull our socks and shape up to ensure the nation stands proud on the world stage. Perhaps we should remember what C.S Lewis once said ‘Experienced: the most brutal of teachers: but we learn. My God what do we learn.’ Let us share our experience with the incoming members of engineering fraternity in the true sense of the word!


One of the main feature or globalization is the ease of mobility around the borderless globe. However, in most cases, mobility refers to the transmission of data and information in communication. From the conventional fixed line technology, communication has moved to many steps into the 4G spectrum. This has changed the way we live our daily life. The same kind of borderless mobility however does not apply to the movement of human and goods. While human trafficking is viewed negatively, issues involving traffic movements especially in urban living are becoming more complex.

Although new technology has been part of the improved people movers system, such as for the LRT, ERL, Monorail or even KTMB rail network, there are other aspects of transportation system which the technology alone cannot resolve. This is because transportation system involves physical rather than virtual infrastructures. How do we then, come up with an intelligent integrated transportation network when the required infrastructure is not there? Instead of solving the problems for the users, the physical limitations can be a real turn off for the system to be fully utilized. With the cost of infrastructures running into billions of Ringgit, it is imperative that a comprehensive plan is needed before we embark on the construction journey. Otherwise the future generations would be paying a very high price to just move from point A to point B.

Road and rail networks have to be part of residential and commercial centres for them to contribute to a better way of life hence meeting the objectives of the networks themselves. Conversely, the system will have to be of a high standard in terms of reliability and trustworthiness. It is in this light that we, engineers, can play a better and more effective role. Planning a transportation system which allows for the integration of the various modes of transport as well as the diverging needs of a community is the ultimate challenge to ensure the perceived future benefits of mobility are realized and not limited to mere data and information transportation.

Engineering A Clean Life

For years, energy saving was one of the better known initiatives within the built environment when one talks about cost savings. It was in no way related to the survival of mankind. As a result, innovating energy saving products was the main focus of the power related industry. From the use of energy saving electrical fittings and accessories to high efficiency motors, it was all about optimizing the consumption of electricity. Conversely, factors influencing the efficient use of energy such as harmonics and power loss for electricity and better fuel economy cars are closely examined with many research hours devoted to them. While awareness on energy conservation was growing, global warming was still in its infancy.

There is no doubt that energy is one of life’s essentials. No activity can ever get done without energy being consumed. In today’s life, requirements for energy for daily activities are almost taken for granted. We consume electricity like the supply will be forever. We will jump the moment there is a power outage affecting us. We consume fossil fuel with little regards for the potential damage the resultant carbon emission would have on our environment. The question is, can we live our normal life without energy, especially electricity?

The level of awareness on the need to have sustainable development and better managed energy production has probably increased over the past few years. Many programs and initiatives are carried out by the relevant parties to create more responsible energy consumers. Going green is almost fashionable. We have Green Buildings, Green Technology, Green Energy, Green Living, Green Fuel, to name a few. The fact however remains that these terms are just beginning to creep into our daily life. To create a successful green culture would require more than just organizing or participating in green programs or activities. It has to be a way of life, simply because Green Living goes beyond the usual understanding of reducing wastage and recycling materials. Other than living a simple life with less dependent on energy as we know today, the challenge is really to innovate in identifying the source for clean energy. This means that the source for energy generation does not result in drawbacks which could adversely affect human life. Otherwise the irony of global warming causing people to consume more electricity to cool themselves off which in turn creates warmer atmosphere will continue as a vicious cycle. Whether the source is hydro, wind, solar or even uranium the bottom line is human should endeavor to live harmoniously with nature! Can we engineer that kind of Green Living?

Managing Sustainable Future


The 51st Annual General Meeting for The Institution of Engineers Malaysia was successfully convened recently. Congratulations are in order to those who were given the mandate to serve IEM in various ex-officio capacities for the 2010/2011 term. The Presidential Address touched on several matters closed to the heart of all engineers in Malaysia today. The theme of Engineering Mobility, Globalisation and Green Technology for a Sustainable Future was very relevant to the challenges faced by the engineering fraternity and related industries. As the role of engineers and in particular IEM, becomes more prominent in our society, it is imperative that all members are aware of and understand the very existence of IEM and the various mechanisms or strategies put in place to live up to the aspirations of the founding members. It is in this respect that we wish the new office bearers all the best to lead the way for IEM to move forward to the next level of excellence.

Project Management is probably one aspect of engineering practices which is becoming a focal point in today’s nation building. While construction industry is considered one of the drivers for economic growth, project management skill will ensure that driver gets to his or her destination in a timely manner without any unreasonable deviation. The fact that project management has evolved to become a more wholesome profession on its own, is in itself a challenge to all engineers. One wonders, is the skill to become a Project Manager so difficult to acquire that often times a project suffers from poor management? Alternatively, what is the Critical Success Factors (CSF) for a project management team to succeed? Do we need to spell out the Key Result Areas (KRA) hence Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for each project as further guidance, in addition to the Critical Path Methods (CPM) most engineers would have learned especially in relation to Construction or Production Management? Indeed, with the advent of Facilities Management, Asset Lifecycle Management, Value Management and so on the need for engineers to be good managers could not be over emphasised.

It is hoped that the feature articles and reports which highlight the various aspects of project management in this edition of JURUTERA would contribute some ways to a better understanding of project management and value management amongst us. The paper series on Structural Eurocodes continue with an insight on issues affecting the local standards. The usual columns on safety, travel notes and other updates on activities and fund raising for our building should offer continuous supply of adrenalin to last for another day be it in the office or out on the field.

Together We Do It


This column has been touching on several aspects pertaining to the submission, vetting and subsequently acceptance of an article for publication in JURUTERA in the past few editions. In general, this is aimed at bringing greater awareness amongst the readers of this monthly bulletin. It is hoped that this greater awareness would translate into better responses from the members of IEM, be it in the form of constructive ideas through feedbacks or even better by sending valuable contributions via technical articles.

Towards this end, the readers are informed of the future themes of JURUTERA two months in advance in the anticipation of greater participation. It would be an uplifting experience for the team to read readers’ comments in their e-mail inbox. At least they know that their hard work did not go unnoticed. Perhaps it is our culture to only comments when something bad happens rather than making effort to be fair by giving credit when it is due and stick when it is necessary. With the advent of mobile e-mail tools, sending e-mails are literally at one’s finger tip to most people.

There are a few groups of people working behind the scene to ensure that this monthly bulletin reaches you on time. The challenge for the team is to do it over and over again every month. Of course there have been and most probably will still be hiccups along the way but rest assured that the production processes are reviewed and improved continuously.

The theme for this month is Mining and Quarry Engineering. Although this area of engineering may be foreign to most people now, the cover story and the accompanying articles should be rather enlightening. An Introduction and Overview of the Structural Steel Design to MS 1993 is another insight for the industry. The usual columns on safety, engineering miscellany, engineering and law, travel notes and other updates should provide an interesting break from your routine.

Finally, in spite of the co-pilot being away attending to a private matter, the flight continues without much disruption. Most important of all, the expected menu to keep everyone freshened up in time for landing is still served timely. Happy reading!

Into The Job

Brace for Landing

The plane had been on autopilot for a while when the first-time co-pilot took over the controls. Hopefully, the passengers did not notice the slight wobble. With sweaty palms, he flew for a few hours, while at the same time, trying to get acquainted with the Pilot, the First Officer and the Chief Stewardess. Everyone in the cockpit was an ‘out-sourced’ personnel, doing other things for a living when not flying. In fact, they worked on their computers even in the cockpit. Shhh …

Occasionally, the Pilot checked out the passengers and returned remarking that some First Class passengers complained why it took so long to traverse a ‘routine’ stretch … they had been on the same flight before, and recalled that the on-board screen showed a faster passage. Another passenger remarked that they are not getting value for their money, as the travel agent had a good deal with the airline to promote the flight but did not make sure that the airline could live up to its promises. Luckily, there were also those who enjoyed the ride better than the autopilot mode, perhaps the plane happened to be flying low over a scenic landscape. It is the view, not the flight that counts!

Then the co-pilot received a private call. A family affair needs his urgent attention. Nobody was impressed, especially since they would be landing soon. Reluctantly, the Pilot, still on his computer, took over. “Don’t take too long,” he demanded, hoping that the co-pilot could be back in time for the messier business of landing. The First Officer graciously offered to help. The Chief Stewardess thought, “Oh, my God ...” Relax, since the Pilot clocked more flying hours, a crash landing was not a concern; besides, the First Officer is an unusually seasoned person.

The co-pilot sheepishly left the cockpit for some private conversation, at the same time feeling both guilt and relief. Perhaps after landing there would be a change of crew. Since everyone is ‘out-sourced’, who will be on duty next is anybody’s guess. As a non-profit carrier, the airline had difficulty securing full-time highly qualified flight crew. The airline had been lucky to get a good advertiser, so at least now it is not bleeding profusely like the good old days when advertising was done in-house. But now the passengers expect a more delicious main course!

So, ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belt, put your seats upright ... (and pray). Thank you for flying with XXX Airline and hope to see you again soon.