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Topic Title: Electronics Engineers Who Cannot Solder?
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Created On: 09 November 2013 07:39 PM
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 09 November 2013 07:39 PM
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jencam

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An interesting article with many comments over on EE Times

http://www.eetimes.com/author...._id=36&doc_id=1319212&
 10 November 2013 04:59 PM
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gkenyon

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Well, to start off, in Engineering Council Speak, are we talking "Engineers" or "Technicians"?

Or does it really matter?

Having witnessed first-hand 25 years ago when I wend through Electrical Engineering degree, the capability (or otherwise) of my fellow undergraduates, post-graduate tutors etc., in practical elements of the "art and craft" of electrical engineering and electronics, including soldering, I'm only surprised by the fact that this is only being raised in August 2013!

(Electrical Engineering, you might ask - many of the modules were shared with Electronics, and other combined subject honours degree, students in the Electrical Engineering & Electronics department, and 50% of my final year "majors" were electronics subjects.)

Will we get to the point that Engineers only need to "think" and not be able to "do"? And is that why we would struggle to build the Great Pyramid these days, even with our modern technology?

I think these fears are at the heart of the argument, but what is the reality?

All I can say is that I've learned far more useful things in Engineering from those with ZERO qualifications, but lots of experience, than I have from those with many high-level qualifications. And I also believe that many of the qualifications we do have for Engineering & Technology subjects focus too much on the Science of our field, without adequately addressing the Art and Craft which are individually equally important.

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 11 November 2013 09:35 PM
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Zuiko

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Originally posted by: gkenyon And I also believe that many of the qualifications we do have for Engineering & Technology subjects focus too much on the Science of our field, without adequately addressing the Art and Craft which are individually equally important.


True, they are equally important but different.

A BEng should be an academic degree, concentrating on maths and science.

Craft skills should be picked up elsewhere, preferably a craft apprenticeship alongside a level 3 C&G qualification (or equivalent).
 13 November 2013 08:30 AM
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jencam

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Is soldering an important skill for electronic engineers nowadays? Is it also possible to determine the personality and background of an electronic engineer from the style of their soldering in a similar way to claims made by graphologists about the style of their handwriting?

One school of thought is that electronic engineers don't really need to know how to solder because simulation has replaced much of the requirement to prototype and they can also create working circuits during the developmental stage using solderless methods of assembly. If they need to produce a working board then they can use a PCB assembly service with pick and place machines because hand soldering modern surface mount components is difficult. Another faction maintains that soldering is a such a ubiquitous manufacturing process for electronic products that engineers need to have an understanding of the fine art of gluing components using molten metal both by hand and by automated machinery.

Originally posted by: gkenyonAnd I also believe that many of the qualifications we do have for Engineering & Technology subjects focus too much on the Science of our field, without adequately addressing the Art and Craft which are individually equally important.


My son is in contact with several university lecturers who have informed him that undergrads start with a widely varying level of prior practical experience. At one end of the scale are the purely academic types who know the maths but cannot solder and often have difficulty using hand tools; do not recognise many electronic components or are able to determine well known components from their part number (like 2N3055 for a power transistor or 7805 for a voltage regulator); and have probably never taken apart an electronic device or used a CAD package. At the opposite end of the scale are students that have plenty of practical experience working on machinery, or have designed and built their own electronic products.

There is some debate and controversy about how much practical experience undergrads should have, with some lecturers thinking that they should have a basic knowledge of both the theoretical and practical aspects of electronics on the day they start, and other lecturers thinking that it's best if undergrads have no previous experience of electronics in a world where schools should teach the theory and the fundamentals of maths and physics.
 14 November 2013 06:31 AM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: Zuiko

True, they are equally important but different.



A BEng should be an academic degree, concentrating on maths and science.
I wholly disagree with this. The BEng degree should NOT be an "Engineering Science" degree if it purports to be a degree in a particular branch of engineering (e.g. "Electronic Engineering").

The science is, as you say "equally important" as the "art and craft", so an Engineering degree should focus equally on all three.



Craft skills should be picked up elsewhere, preferably a craft apprenticeship alongside a level 3 C&G qualification (or equivalent).
If that is the case, then should we defer graduates from obtaining MIET until they demonstrate the other "equally important" requirements of Engineering or Technology practice, i.e. have learned some of the Art and Craft?

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 14 November 2013 06:45 AM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: jencam

Is soldering an important skill for electronic engineers nowadays? Is it also possible to determine the personality and background of an electronic engineer from the style of their soldering in a similar way to claims made by graphologists about the style of their handwriting?
Not necessarily soldering in all cases, but I believe that the course needs to teach more practical elements, to demonstrate how the simulations and theory can be applied, understand their extent and limitations, etc.



One school of thought is that electronic engineers don't really need to know how to solder because simulation has replaced much of the requirement to prototype and they can also create working circuits during the developmental stage using solderless methods of assembly. If they need to produce a working board then they can use a PCB assembly service with pick and place machines because hand soldering modern surface mount components is difficult. Another faction maintains that soldering is a such a ubiquitous manufacturing process for electronic products that engineers need to have an understanding of the fine art of gluing components using molten metal both by hand and by automated machinery.
There is no substitute for practical experience. Not all electronics involves soldering, but all electronics involves turning the model you have into a working device, that operates effectively in real world environments. This requires practical experience, skill, additional knowledge not taught as part of the degree (at least when I studied), and an element of craft practice to realise the product itself.



Originally posted by: gkenyonAnd I also believe that many of the qualifications we do have for Engineering & Technology subjects focus too much on the Science of our field, without adequately addressing the Art and Craft which are individually equally important.




My son is in contact with several university lecturers who have informed him that undergrads start with a widely varying level of prior practical experience. At one end of the scale are the purely academic types who know the maths but cannot solder and often have difficulty using hand tools; do not recognise many electronic components or are able to determine well known components from their part number (like 2N3055 for a power transistor or 7805 for a voltage regulator); and have probably never taken apart an electronic device or used a CAD package. At the opposite end of the scale are students that have plenty of practical experience working on machinery, or have designed and built their own electronic products.
Agreed. When I was at University, the the scale also applied in different degree to the lecturers and post-graduates.



There is some debate and controversy about how much practical experience undergrads should have, with some lecturers thinking that they should have a basic knowledge of both the theoretical and practical aspects of electronics on the day they start, and other lecturers thinking that it's best if undergrads have no previous experience of electronics in a world where schools should teach the theory and the fundamentals of maths and physics.
But surely an Engineering Degree (as opposed to Engineering Science) should ensure that a suitable level of Mathematics, Science, Art and Craft are taught and exemplified by the students before Graduation?

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 14 November 2013 03:19 PM
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Zuiko

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Originally posted by: gkenyon
The science is, as you say "equally important" as the "art and craft", so an Engineering degree should focus equally on all three.


Not sure if that is a logical argument.

There are myriad skills that are important for a worker in any field of industry; but that does not say that a particular qualification should teach them all. That makes no sense. Different qualifications and courses are for different skills and knowledge.

If you were taking school leavers (for example) and teaching them the craft of Power Engineering (in which I work) that would take at least as long, in all probability longer - much longer - than an a academic degree. If the craft was taught properly at university, then there would be less (or no) time for the academic aspect.

It is unhelpful to confuse academic degrees with craft apprenticeships. Both the craft and the academic aspect would suffer.
 14 November 2013 03:26 PM
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Zuiko

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Originally posted by: gkenyonIf that is the case, then should we defer graduates from obtaining MIET until they demonstrate the other "equally important" requirements of Engineering or Technology practice, i.e. have learned some of the Art and Craft?


It is up to the IET and their members to decide what MIET means and what qualifications are required.

Engineering is a broad church. Craftsmen with a Gold/Black Card are eligible for MIET (that is how I applied).

As soon as you start to try and pin down what engineering is, and what an engineer does, it becomes a nightmare. The argument can be had ad infinitum. And indeed it is - engineers are constantly bickering amongst themselves what an engineer really is.

I'm very happy with a loose definition; and its great for people to enter engineering using different routes - craft apprenticeships or academic degrees depending on their particular skills. With that, I don't think that it helps to over-academicize the craft route, or turn an acedmic degree into an apprenticehip. They are different things. Keeping them different is good for the diversity of people in our industry.

Edited: 14 November 2013 at 03:34 PM by Zuiko
 14 November 2013 07:36 PM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: gkenyonThere is no substitute for practical experience. Not all electronics involves soldering, but all electronics involves turning the model you have into a working device, that operates effectively in real world environments. This requires practical experience, skill, additional knowledge not taught as part of the degree (at least when I studied), and an element of craft practice to realise the product itself.


This is something that my son absolutely agrees with. In a previous discussion I stated that he thinks that electronic engineering degrees really should be renamed electronic science, and also, that university engineering degrees are too academic and fail to sufficiently cover topics like business, marketing, legal matters, etc.

Originally posted by: Zuiko
I'm very happy with a loose definition; and its great for people to enter engineering using different routes - craft apprenticeships or academic degrees depending on their particular skills. With that, I don't think that it helps to over-academicize the craft route, or turn an acedmic degree into an apprenticehip. They are different things. Keeping them different is good for the diversity of people in our industry.


The problem with your argument is that it is an either or approach. Either you go down the craft apprenticeship route and learn practical skills, or you go down the academic degree route and learn theory. Is it not possible to learn both? Is there a good reason why a student of engineering should not learn both? Should youngsters considering an engineering career have to make a decision which route to go down at the age of about 14, or even 11, before most of them really understand the engineering industry and the roles of engineers and technicians?
 15 November 2013 02:09 PM
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gkenyon

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The problem with your argument is that it is an either or approach. Either you go down the craft apprenticeship route and learn practical skills, or you go down the academic degree route and learn theory. Is it not possible to learn both?
It is indeed possible, I did it without a formal apprenticeship, others I know with. However, there are more barriers in the way now, in particular:
1. More restrictions on when young people in education can work outside school/college time.
2. More consideration of H&S relating to young persons at work (don't disagree with this, but it's an impact particularly for Engineers)
3. Less opportunities for real apprenticeships that lead onto sponsored degrees (or equivalent).

Is there a good reason why a student of engineering should not learn both?
Indeed not. But if the Degree does not include elements of Art and Craft (which are required for "pure design" and "modelling" as well as the manual side of the job), then it is in my opinion not really an "Engineering" degree, but an "Engineering Science" degree.
Should youngsters considering an engineering career have to make a decision which route to go down at the age of about 14, or even 11, before most of them really understand the engineering industry and the roles of engineers and technicians?
No, I don't believe many young people are FULLY equipped to make a decision so early on.

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 15 November 2013 02:14 PM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: Zuiko

Originally posted by: gkenyon

The science is, as you say "equally important" as the "art and craft", so an Engineering degree should focus equally on all three.




Not sure if that is a logical argument.
Apologies, to me the logic is simple. If it's "maths and theory" it's "Engineering Science" not "Engineering", as it doesn't teach enough. Simple.



There are myriad skills that are important for a worker in any field of industry; but that does not say that a particular qualification should teach them all. That makes no sense. Different qualifications and courses are for different skills and knowledge.
Good general point.



If you were taking school leavers (for example) and teaching them the craft of Power Engineering (in which I work) that would take at least as long, in all probability longer - much longer - than an a academic degree. If the craft was taught properly at university, then there would be less (or no) time for the academic aspect.



It is unhelpful to confuse academic degrees with craft apprenticeships. Both the craft and the academic aspect would suffer.
I think you are confusing what I mean by "Art and Craft". Even a purely desk-based Engineer working on modelling/simulations needs to understand elements of "Art" and "Craft" to make their work effective. Whatever branch or field you do, the Art and Craft of Engineering have some general principles that I firmly believe can be taught, and are fully transferrable between different specialisms. Then there are specialist elements to the Art and Craft, which is why I'd anticipate a more focussed Engineering degree (such as Electronic Engineering) to cover at least some of them.

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 19 November 2013 12:41 AM
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kengreen

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I think that the general approach to this question is wrong right at the outset; you simply cannot separate the practical from the theoretical. If I had to choose one or the other I would go (reluctantly) for the practical engineer; such a man is more likely to produce a working device although it could be doubtful that it will perform to the best possible.

On the other hand the engineer with very good qualifications of the paper type ought to be able to design to the optimum level but, should he be ignorant of the inherent difficulties involved in construction (e.g. layout, screening, packing density) it may be that his design is not capable of rendering into hardware.

This is a matter of which I have a deal of experience. Building, for example, a 10-Mc/s I.F. strip is almost doomed to failure if the constructor does not know how to avoid unwanted feedback via e-m strays or how to gain room in a high density design.

It is my feeling that it is not acceptable for an engineer's design to be modified by a technician so that he can construct the device.

Ken Green
 19 November 2013 08:08 AM
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Zuiko

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Originally posted by: jencam

The problem with your argument is that it is an either or approach.


Quite the opposite.

I, myself, did a craft apprenticeship with a City & Guilds (did three C&Gs during the apprenticeship - electrical installation, inspect and test, and power engineering), then a academic/vocational HNC then an academic BEng(hons).

Nobody is restricted to either/or. I don't think it is useful to confuse or merge the scope and purpose of different types of qualifications.

My experience is far from unusual in the industry.

Edited: 19 November 2013 at 08:57 AM by Zuiko
 19 November 2013 08:58 AM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: kengreen

I think that the general approach to this question is wrong right at the outset; you simply cannot separate the practical from the theoretical. If I had to choose one or the other I would go (reluctantly) for the practical engineer; such a man is more likely to produce a working device although it could be doubtful that it will perform to the best possible.



On the other hand the engineer with very good qualifications of the paper type ought to be able to design to the optimum level but, should he be ignorant of the inherent difficulties involved in construction (e.g. layout, screening, packing density) it may be that his design is not capable of rendering into hardware.
With the greatest respect, this is wholly contrary to my observations, I'm afraid, and those of many people I work with. Those with ONLY academic qualifications may be able to make a device, but it requires the input of the experienced engineers and technicians to fine-tune the device and make it fit for purpose. Indeed, there have been cases of new graduates who do not have the capability to make a working device without a lot of input from their more experienced (but perhaps unqualified) colleagues.

Those with BOTH the academic capability, and suitable experience (whereby they gain the ART and CRAFT knowledge relevant to their level of work), are of course the best choice.



This is a matter of which I have a deal of experience. Building, for example, a 10-Mc/s I.F. strip is almost doomed to failure if the constructor does not know how to avoid unwanted feedback via e-m strays or how to gain room in a high density design.
So, you have developed some ART and CRAFT skills relevant to your area of practice, which is of course, commendable. And in certain cases, constructors may not be aware of all the technical pitfalls of a design - but the designer needs to, and this is, more often than not, taught at universities.

It's not all about "paper" - you have an Engineering insight which distinguishes you from a Scientist.

Indeed, Engineers don't need to know precisely what electromagnetism and electricity are to use them - we just need to know the parameters by which to utilise them [salefy] for the relevant applications.



It is my feeling that it is not acceptable for an engineer's design to be modified by a technician so that he can construct the device.



Ken Green
It depends how you define "technician" but I'm afraid I've seen loads of cases across a wide variety of Systems / Software / Electrical / Mechanical engineering disciplines, where the unqualified "technician" or "electrician" has HAD to change the design on-site because of the lack of experience of the "Engineer" specifying - will never work, won't fit, etc.! Of course, they seek the advice of the Site Engineer, but when this happens, 90% of the time the "technician" is correct!

I will send you a PM with a couple of other examples from my university course - pretty basic stuff that was way, way off the mark!

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 19 November 2013 09:03 AM
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Zuiko

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Originally posted by: gkenyonso an Engineering degree should focus equally on all three


Then the degree student will spend a third of their time on each, with a corresponding dilution of knowledge. You can't fit a quart in a pint pot.

Will such a degree provide the required depth of underpinning knowledge? Or will you have a student with a wishy-wasy appreciation of everything and an proper understanding of nothing?


What exactly is wrong with, say, a level 3 City & Guilds qualification tied to an apprenticeship, teaching craft skills? That is exactly what they are for.
 19 November 2013 09:05 AM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: Zuiko

Originally posted by: jencam



The problem with your argument is that it is an either or approach.




Quite the opposite.



I, myself, did a craft apprenticeship with a City & Guilds (did three C&Gs during the apprenticeship - electrical installation, inspect and test, and power engineering), then a academic/vocational HNC then an academic BEng(hons).



Nobody is restricted to either/or. I don't think it is useful to confuse or merge the scope and purpose of different types of qualifications.



My experience is far from unusual in the industry.
It is, I fear, different these days. I think that most Engineers should go through this route, OR the university qualifications system for Engineering should change.

In my University Electrical Engineering & Electronics department, in my year there were approximately 5% who had some REAL (i.e. not school lab or home constructor electronics project) experience at any technical level; the remainder were straight from O- and A-Levels or similar (my year was last to do O-Levels).

So, you see the problem only learning theory - there's no appreciation of the practicalities.

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 19 November 2013 09:51 AM
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Zuiko

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I can only talk about my experience in Power Engineering, where it is normal for engineers to either come up through the tools whilst gaining qualifications; or by spending significant amount of time on the tools or working with craftsmen after graduation.
 19 November 2013 09:59 AM
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gkenyon

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Ken, This is an excellent means of development, and im my opinion engenders best practice. I'm not 100% sure it's working that way across other engineering disciplines, though - and certainly not what we might want to call "technology" disciplines.

Of course I'd still prefer the degree course to be called "XXX Engineering Science" if it's purely academic, as it would appear (in many cases) to be.

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 19 November 2013 10:13 AM
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Zuiko

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Originally posted by: gkenyon

Of course I'd still prefer the degree course to be called "XXX Engineering Science" if it's purely academic, as it would appear (in many cases) to be.


A rose by any other name...

I think most people in industry, especially the students themselves, appreciate that an engineering degree is an academic degree and consists heavily, if not entirely, of maths, science, and the principles of engineering technology.

A lv.3 C&G is a craft qualification, and a perfectly good one at that.

Maybe if employers wished their employees to have both craft skills and academic knowledge they would ensure that they have a range of qualifications, including a C&G?

I don't have a 17th edition qualification for example. My work has been away from the scope of the standard for years; but my employers' client is starting to demand that all the engineers are 17th edition qualified!

I'll hardly never need to use it, but it looks like it is back to night school for another C&G for me!

Edited: 19 November 2013 at 05:22 PM by Zuiko
 19 November 2013 11:06 AM
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gkenyon

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I also have some C&G - but it's the "on the job" practical experience that makes up the most part.

What amazes me, however, is that if the academic qualifications were so important, how come I often see those with "less than degree" qualificaitons working alongside CEng and doing [what is purported to be] the same job?

So whilst I think we are probably all in agreement that "Engineering Degrees" don't teach "Engineering", but in the main the "academic science required for Engineering", as a profession seems we have got a long way to go to convince employers of the value of that education, and a reliance upon it as providing the basis for CEng / IEng as appropriate ?

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
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