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Is engineering hands on enough for me?

  1. Dec 15, 2013 #1
    I really like working with my hands, I like to get down and dirty but I also love math and science especially when applied to aerospace.

    For example there was an article where NASA had started using 3d metal printing to produce complex parts with honeycomb structures reducing weight but not sacrificing performance.

    Would an aerospace engineer get to design a part, for example the fuel injector plate of a rocket engine. Then hit the print button and hold the designed piece in his hand a few hours or days later.

    Then take that piece to the lab and test it and see how well it works and document his findings.

    For example take a look at these pictures, this is the stuff that I want to be doing and I just want to make sure that I am not going the wrong way. I know it may be a bit childish to include pictures but I really dont want to just sit in a cubicle doing math unless there is some real product that I create or test later on.

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  3. Dec 15, 2013 #2


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    It depends on the job that you get out of school. There are engineers who only will sit down and program or make cad models. There are also test engineers that will go out and test the part. There are some that will do some combination of both.

    Most likely a technician will do the actual manufacturing or button pressing for building the part, but as an engineer you will get to handle it as well. I suggest you try to be a systems test and integration engineer. That will allow you to work with the physical parts.
  4. Dec 15, 2013 #3

    I see, is that the same thing more or less as manufacturing engineering. I was doing some research and they seem to be involved in the production aspect quite a bit more. But they don't do any design or 3d CAD work which I also enjoy.

    I guess I'd like to design the part on a CAD, then test it/ prototype it and tweak it and bring it to production quality.

    I don't really care about the actual assembly of production models themselves, but I would like to build a prototype and be involved in the R&D for that.

    For example the F-22, I would have loved to design the engine with a team, using CAD software, then having the parts made by our suppliers, then going over to the shop with all the parts and putting the first test model together and analyzing it
  5. Dec 15, 2013 #4


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    I don't think you realize just how big a project like that really is. I don't know anything about the F-22 specifically, but getting from the start of a new engine design to testing the first prototype takes literally thousands of engineers and maybe two years or even longer. There's no way any one person gets to "see it all" along the way.

    Click the tab for "stage 2" here to see what's actually involved in "building a jet engine" - and the video doesn't show anything about what is involved in making the parts.
    http://www.rolls-royce.com/interactive_games/journey03/ [Broken]
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  6. Dec 15, 2013 #5


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  7. Dec 15, 2013 #6


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    To be fair to both sides of the picture, sometimes the engineers who spent most of their time designing and modeling on computers do get to see a more of the hardware than they want - if it's in the form of broken bits after it didn't do what it was supposed to do. That's usually the point where you have to stop following the design rules and procedures, and actually start thinking!

    Nowadays in aerospace, you don't test components or engines "to find out what will happen". You already know what will (or should) happen from computer modeling. The purpose of the tests is to confirm the models were right, not to find out things you didn't know already.

    When I started in aerospace, there would probably be 20 or 25 prototypes of a new engine design built, and you almost expected 4 or 5 of them would self destruct while they were being tested. On the first engine I worked on, it took literally a year before we managed to get it to start up and run properly at idle speed. Today, if you wanted as many as 5 prototypes, somebody would give you a very hard time about why you couldn't do the project with four. And if the very first test doesn't run for several hours and cover the whole range of operating conditions with no major problems, some very senior people in the company will want to know why.

    The notion that what engineers do is "tinker around with stuff until it works" is history, in any high tech engineering field.
  8. Dec 15, 2013 #7
    I see, well I guess I've been sold a bill of goods then.

    I totally understand that a jet engine is extremely complex, and requires many different disciplines, but i thought that to actually design an engine, you needed to design it in 3d cad, then have the prototype manufactured and assembled and finally tested.

    My impression was that the AE engineer was involved in each of those steps but the more research that I do, I see that the 3d cad aspect is what is being done by engineers most of the time.

    The fabrication of the parts is done by techs, the assembly of the prototype by a different group, and the testing by a different group.

    Recently I embarked on building a 100watt guitar amplifier, I sourced all the parts and taught myself all the basic of electronic circuits, and parts resistors, transformers etc. Over a period of two months I soldered this 1000 piece machine bit by bit and has 4 glowing beautiful tubes. :)

    I've always been a tinkerer, in fact my next project was going to be to build a small liquid propellant rocket engine. With a full launch control system etc.

    I thought that as an AE engineer, my life would be part cad but part getting my hands dirty almost 50-50.

    But it turns out from the research that I've been doing on the internet that for most engineering jobs thats not the case.

    This what I though AE was but on a grand scale:



    The engineering technology degrees teach you how to fabricate materials but you wont get any input on the research and design side. I just dont want to copy a design, but be a part of the initial stages and then later look at it and say, I designed that, then I put it together and now I test it and what ever it is, it runs wonderfully.

    I know that there are jobs out their in engineering that are very hands on but the majority it seems are more cubicle and cad based.

    One of the main attractions in engineering for me was the belief that I'd get to "play" around with high tech especially with propulsion systems.

    Im glad that I know this know because I dont think I'd be too happy just working on the cad all day long, and the chances of an engineer getting the hands on type of job in AE seem like a slim sub sector to aim for.

    Maybe I can just keep engineering to a hobby where I can enjoy the fruits of my labor in a more direct manner.
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  9. Dec 15, 2013 #8


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    Typically employers want to pay as little as they can to get the work done they need. An engineer is expensive, and for the most part companies would prefer they spend their time in front of their computers designing the next generation of products than playing with the current generation. It is cheaper to pay technicians to do this work.

    To be sure, often an engineer needs to get his or her hands on the product to troubleshoot or debug but if you spend too much time in that mode it will become clear you're not that good at your job...

    A lot of engineers I know (myself included) do hands-on projects at home for fun.

    That said, some engineering jobs are more hands-on than others, but while there are exceptions of course, typically the more interesting, better paid jobs are in front of a computer, on in the lab.
  10. Dec 15, 2013 #9
    I see...thank you for your input.

    Are there certain types of engineering that are generally more hands on than other types?

    My research has led me to believe that:

    Mechanical engineering and Manufacturing engineering would generally be the two most hands on type of areas

    Also another question if I may, what are the career prospects for those as engineering tech's? I know they are looked upon as glorified shop works but I dont see too many jobs for these types of positions or maybe I'm not looking in the right place.

    I was looking Purdues Aeronautical engineering technology program and I didnt really get a good grasp of where their graduates end up working. Just curious about the field
  11. Dec 16, 2013 #10


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    To compliment what the others have said, in the defense and aerospace field these projects involve a lot of engineers.

    I am developing a FADEC (full authority engine control) for a GE jet engine. Im on a team of 4 people for 1 small piece of the fadec. there are about 3 other small pieces of the engine controller, that each require a team that size. then a team a little larger is working on integration. 10 are doing software. a few are building test equipment. All in all there are 40 engineers working on the initial design of an engine controller. this is just the control box, doesn't have anything to do with anything else on the engine.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2013
  12. Dec 16, 2013 #11


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    and FYI the F-22 uses a pratt and whitney engine.
    If you want to design engines, I recommend working at either pratt and whitney or GE Aviation.

    Also to build a prototype of that level of instrument, production is involved, and it is done in a very similar way as they would produce it. They just do not produce a lot of them at once, and it takes longer to produce each model to due variations.
  13. Dec 17, 2013 #12
    I see, thank you for clarifying that, I guess the nature of the beast is such that the complexity requires very specialized groups that work on each sub component and that to make something of that magnitude is impossible for one man.

    The jet engine it seems at the production level is too complex for one man to master and design every section or large parts of the engine.

    A man working on the fuel spray injector will need lots of thermodynamic experience, while the man developing the FADEC for example will need lots of experience with electronics and programming.

    BTW I was reading on wikipedia that the FADEC takes away the power to manipulate the fuel flow into the engine manually.

    I would think that manual control of fuel flow would still be required or desired and that they two systems could be co-developed and switched on-off as required.
  14. Dec 17, 2013 #13
    I would look into Purdue's Bachelor degrees in engineering technology. They have Electrical, Aeronautical, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Engineering Technology. Very hands on, but also a lot of theory as well.
  15. Dec 17, 2013 #14
    Is it hard to find jobs with such a degree?
  16. Dec 17, 2013 #15


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    By manual control they mean physical linkage. Modern engine control have done away with a hydraulic or mechanical (wire cable) connection controlling fuel flow. It is 100% digital (ie processed through electronics). However most Fadecs have two or three channels of redundancy. before full fly by wire was introduced they did have joint hydraulic/fbw systems.

    typically the requirements for the fadec are determined by mechanical and electrical engineers who design the engine. for instance a mechanical engineer will determine how much fuel is required at a certain operating condition. mechanical and electrical engineers will determine what position a nozzle has to be such that the required fuel flow is produced. then will then designate to the fadec designers what electrical power is need such that the nozzle position is properly implemented. Keep in mind that is a high level overview of a portion of the design for one component.
  17. Dec 17, 2013 #16
    No, there's a pretty large market for Technologists- the bridge between Technicians and Engineers. Purdue is also amazing at getting grads jobs, they have huge career fairs.
  18. Dec 17, 2013 #17
    Thanks guys really appreciate the help I've gotten
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