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Join Date: Mar 2007
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Design Before Degree?

03/08/2007 1:46 PM

I plan to go to university in September to study mechanical engineering. I'm strong at my science and maths A-levels but have not really designed anything before. Will this matter very much? Could you recommend anything simple that I could make which is not too expensive and that I could make at home? Do you know any websites that provide guides to making things? Any advice or help would be appreciated.

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#1

Re: Design before degree?

03/08/2007 2:20 PM

Paper airplanes?

A robot? - lots of good kits out these days.

Model suspension bridge? Model rockets? Build a bike from scratch? Take a welding course? Rebuild a car engine? A clock? A trebuchet? A gyroscope? A pumpkin cannon? One of those Rube Goldberg machines that show up on Youtube? A matchstick house? An elaborate string of falling dominoes? Some structure made of playing cards? A garden mobile?

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#2

Re: Design before degree?

03/08/2007 5:01 PM

I just got out of school, and the majority of guys I graduated with had never really built much of anything! It's pretty disheartening, but thats basically the case. If you can really get into physics (kinematics in particular) before College (ah, Uni for you UK folks) you'll make it through fine (mechanical engineering classes are physics- over and over, just in continually more detail).

as far as building something, anything and everything- Taking things apart to see how they work is good also...but make sure that you're not just destroying things.

as posted above, cars are great, if you have one, do your own maintainence & repair- I played around with radio control stuff as well, cars, boats, planes. build your own computer, saves quite a bit of cash, and you can make it how you want- I got components from newegg.com and pricewatch.com, I learned quite a bit out of it, sure its all electrical (ah, but there is cooling components to consider, thats our domain) but in the real world, mechanicals and electricals work together constantly, and cross-discipline stuff comes through all the time. Built a racing canoe, and later on a collapsible canoe, designed a pedal-power submarine and an ultralight aircraft (never did build either of those though, lack of money and space and all that). I had the good fortune to grow up in a wood and metal shop, so tools (and experience from my old man) were readily available. Working as a draftsman during the end of grade school and early college (uni) helped too. Built a recumbent bike out of schrounged parts and canibalized bikes, built furniture, both quick junk and quality stuff, helped build a backhoe, and used it to build houses (again, parents always had projects going on, I was pretty much born into it)- basically, if there's something that you can enjoy doing, design/build something to go along with it, that way you can stay interested.

search google for "DIY" (do it yourself) or "build your own" stuff (might want to specify approximately what you have in mind to build) lots of plans, designs, and guides out there for basically anything you could think of, and oftentimes forums dedicated to it- if there's something that you'd like to have, see if you can rig one yourself first.

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#3

Re: Design before degree?

03/08/2007 6:53 PM

"Do you know any websites that provide guides to making things?"

Go to <notscar.wik.is> There you will find a pdf file that you can download to make a model Stirling engine from a test tube, some marbles and other simple materials.

There are also links to a free eBook on Heat Transfer, and many resources related to Stirling engines. Look for BoydsHouse, RoyUkCo for various types of steam and stirling engines you can build without the resources of a machine shop.

Your can also use google to search for arts and crafts to make.

If you want more, send me a private message.

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#4

Re: Design before degree?

03/08/2007 8:16 PM

I strongly recommend downloading a model plane sketch and build it. You'll start learning how to read drawings, and, with a little math and research, to understand some basics of fluid mechanics. Try a sailplane: they're light, can be built for free fly, and do not need engine. Inexpensive, so far. And have fun! At least, I love airplane models. And believe me: they're not toys. They're actually small airplanes.

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#11
In reply to #4

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 6:29 AM

Another suggestion: what about a wind mill made from scrap material, assembled as an airplane wing, and motoring a small toy DC motor?

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#5

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 12:55 AM

No, you don't need to know how to design before going into university. If you're really strong in your science and math, I don't see you having too much problems in engineering. Does this mean that you shouldn't go into design now? Certainly not!

You start with what are your interests are. Is it cars? airplanes? boats? Maybe even submarines? or rockets?

Study up on these things and then go into making experiments. When you're good and ready, design your own and build it.

Make mistakes and learn from them. I'm quite sure that by the time you graduate, you'll be far ahead of the rest of the guys who just wait for information to be fed into them. Good luck.

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#6

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 1:56 AM

Of course having the inquisitive mind us engineers have, you must be concerned with having no (or little) design experience.

Don't be! the courses you will encounter (several hours worth) will promote applying your astute math and physics skills to practical applications such as design.

And don't forget the definition of Engineering:

en·gi·neer·ing /ˌɛndʒəˈnɪərɪŋ/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[en-juh-neer-ing] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation

–noun 1. the art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences, as physics or chemistry, as in the construction of engines, bridges, buildings, mines, ships, and chemical plants. 2. the action, work, or profession of an engineer. 3. skillful or artful contrivance; maneuvering.

Care of http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Engineering

For your information, I work in University Academia (and Automotive R&D). So have fun and help make the world a better place young man!

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#7

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 3:57 AM

The practical application of theory using playthings (should they be renamed learningthings[rhetorical question]?) is a useful activity.

Many years ago a Mamod stationary meths-fired steam engine was attached to a fair amount of Meccano to produce a steam-powered tea-stirring machine [TSM], for example. The TSM was followed by various elaborate cranes in the same materials used for hoisting objects of all sorts past the kitchen window downstairs while causing concern to more senior members of the household and consternation and despair to all.

None of these machines was terribly practical, though they worked.

Lego is another valuable learningthing, the uses for which extended into a training course entitled, "Working With People" in the early 1980s.

Design is about applying suitable equipment and facility solutions to problems within a business framework. Someone with strong science and mathematics tendencies is well placed to do design, particularly if a tendency to learn from experiment is on-board as well.

Please do not be over-concerned, and please enjoy the ride.

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#8

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 4:38 AM

There are many aspects to engineering, not just design. I ended up as a design engineer but my initial interest was in drawing rather than designing. I think that as you study you will find yourself becoming interested in a particular area of engineering. Just follow your instincts.

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#9

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 4:44 AM

You'll have loads of time to stretch your brain . How about a shop floor/site job in engineering - Understanding the place where things happen for real will give you the edge in understanding practical design.

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#10

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 5:44 AM

As a field service engineer for many years, I'm going to thow my two-cents in here. If you really want to learn how things work and how to and not to design, go to several companies in various industries and travel with their service personel.

I can't tell you how many times I've said nasty words because of design and mechanical engineers who did a wonderful job of packaging something for production, but had no idea how it was going to be used or repaired, either in the field as in a large x-ray machine (CT/MR, milling machines, etc) or a smaller device that can be returned to a central shop for repair.

All too often the things are designed so that the part that fails the most is the one that is hardest to get at. Or, someone decided to spec a $.50 part in a high use area that you know is going to fail when spending $2.00 would provide a quality part that would last.

All this goes to reduced downtime for the customer, greater customer satisfaction with the end product and more faith in your service team for not having the machine down for hours to change simple parts.

I've said for years that mechanical and design engineers (and architects) should be required to do some apprentice work before they design. It's great to sit and design for production, but everything you guys design, people like me have to fix. The field engineering crew never gets to talk with the design group in most companies; it's some unwritten law. It would help the end user and the company in the end if there were some interaction between the guys who design and the guys who repair.

Maybe it can start here.

Regards to all.

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#12
In reply to #10

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 6:37 AM

Hear, hear.

I totally agree. In my place of work, we have a clarifier or centrifuge. The design engineer brilliantly decided to put the speed sensor deep inside it where, if it goes bad, you need to dismantle the whole thing just to replace it. Dismantling and reassembly takes a couple of hours at the very least. That's a couple of hours of production loss.

It's not just design engineers. Project engineers repeatedly install our instruments either without reading the installation instructions or simply disregarding them. I've lost count of all the instruments or valves that I've had to relocate because they've put them where it's most convenient for them instead of most accessible for maintenance.

If there's one request I've got for an aspiring mechanical engineer, don't just focus on the mechanical part. Think about other aspects as well.

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#20
In reply to #10

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 12:55 PM

Boy have you hit a nerve! And the problem is not limited just to things that "cast a shadow."

Most of my career has been spent developing software. Between robotics, real-time operating-system design, and user-interface design, I've spent probably 60% on user-interface design. I take considerable pride in my work and go to great lengths to make an interface easy-to-use, and so, consequently, I'm extremely impatient with poor interfaces that look pretty - and many of them don't even get this far - but are opaque to Common Sense. Every time I see one of these dogs, I believe even more firmly in the maxim: "90% of everything is crap."

A few days ago I installed my fiance's EyeTV box so that she can watch TV on her new Mac mini. It, in turn, was connected to her new Scientific-Atlanta DVR/cable box. On the table before me sat Sci-At's horrible, button-studded remote, and my iPod nano. What a stark difference between a poorly-designed product and one that somebody actually bothered to design well! Jeff Raskin's The Humane Interface should be required reading for anyone designing a product which interacts with humans - and that includes machinery that must be repaired from time to time!

Also, while setting up her Mac, I installed an HP printer and registered it online. Even though the printer is connected to the computer by means of a USB cable, the registration crapplet, together with the printer, wasn't smart enough to query the printer for its own ID, model number, and serial number. I had to enter these things by hand. Even so, the crapplet failed and had to be re-started. I looked on HP's website for a customer-feedback link, but couldn't find one. But there WAS a link that directed comments to HP's CEO, Mark Hurd. I flamed his product and the obvious dearth of good engineering principles demonstrated by his company's product:

Dear Mr. Hurd,

Once in awhile you encounter a person, usually acting in some sort of
a service capacity, who is so unfit for the position that you
sometimes wonder in astonishment how in the world such a person ever
got the job (nepotism, perhaps?). Fortunately, such encounters are
relatively rare, even in my world. However, I was unfortunate enough
to have two such encounters last week; one with a person, one with a
product.

The person I have in mind is not an employee of Hewlett-Packard. This
person, in fact, has nothing at all to do with HP as far as I know.
But in the process of installing (and attempting to register) one of
your printer products, I quickly came to feel the same way about the
process as I did when dealing with a particular shipping clerk last
week at Kinko's/Fedex. But instead of trying to get through to a fool,
I was attempting to install one of your products on our new Macintosh
system. The effect was very much like a vivid deja vu experience,
except that this one was real. To wit:

Cast
L = Lady at counter
E = Me

(E walks up to counter with odd-shaped parcel in hand)

L: May I help you?
E: Yes, I'd like to ship this item. What sort of packaging does it require?
L: We're not allowed to ship things like that. You'll need to package it.
E: Yes, of course. What sort of packaging does it require?
L: We can't ship it like that, sir.
E: I completely agree: you can't ship things like this. So what sort
of packaging does it require?
L: You'll have to package it yourself. We're not allowed...
E: Does Kinko's sell packaging here so that I can, indeed, package it myself?

(Incredulous customer behind E shifts weight uncomfortably)

L: We can't ship that thing sir.
E: By saying "We can't ship that thing, sir," do you mean you cannot
ship it at all?
L: Not like that.
E: Then how like, if not like this?
L: You'll need to package it in something Fedex approves.
E: Perhaps Kinko's sells such packaging?
L: Yes.
E: Perhaps, then, you could sell me such packaging as would meet Fedex
requirements for suitable packaging?
L: Sir?
E: In other words, may I have a box to ship this thing in?

(E scans shelves; locates suitable container)

E: That box?
L: Yes?
E: May I please have that box?!
L: Well, I can sell you that box. They're not free.

(Incredulous customer leaves)

E: May I buy that box? That one there?
L: Yes. But you'll have to pack that item yourself.
E: Would you please sell me that box?!
L: That one?
E: Yes. That one.

(L gets box)

L: This one?
E: Most definitely this one!!
L: That will be extra.
E: I don't care how extra it is. Would you please sell it to me?!
E: And may I also have..er..buy that package of bubble wrap there and
that roll of packing tape over there?

(L gets items)

L: These?
E: Yes, those.
L: Anything else, sir?
E: Yes. After I pay for these items, Melinda (not her real name), I
would like the phone number of your supervisor.
L: There is no supervisor here, sir.
E: Is there ever a supervisor here?
L: Yes.
E: Is that supervisor who is not here now but who is sometimes here
your supervisor?
L: Yes, sir.
E: Does that supervisor have a phone?
L: Yes, sir.
E: Does that phone have a number?
L: Yes, sir.
E: Please give me that number.
L: The supervisor isn't here, sir.

(E pays, L gives E receipt)

E: Have you considered a change of career, Melinda? I mean, seriously?
Have you?
L: I like working here, sir.
E: I never suggested otherwise.
E: Have you ever thought that both you and your customers, such as you
have, might appreciate you more were you to, say, fill another
essential function here?
L: You mean change jobs?
E: Something like that, but not change companies.
L: What kind of job?
E: Well, have you noticed that every time someone comes through that
door (pointing to door), those papers over there blow onto the floor
from that table and your co-worker here has to go over there and pick
them up each time?
L: Yes.
E: Go over there, to that table, and sit on those papers. Do you understand?
L: Sir?
E: By sitting on those papers, you allow your co-worker here to do
your job without the distraction of those papers. A job you are
clearly unable to competently perform yourself. So, by sitting on
those papers, you fill a critical need. That is important to your
company's well-being, and to your own. Moreover, you are emminently
qualified to do that job: you have mass and occupy space. That is all
that is demanded of a paperweight. From now on, that is your job. I
shall call your supervisor and explain your situation. You needn't do
anything. I'll take care of it myself. Good day.

(E packages item and takes package to co-worker)

E: I'd like to ship this package.
C: Certainly, sir.

By way of analogy, Mr. Hurd, dealing with that lady's co-worker was
qualitatively like dealing with my other printer, a Canon:
straightforward and hassle-free. Until I attempted to install your
printer on this system, setting up this Mac was a pleasure - nearly
effortless - in spite of the fact that I have never before set-up a
Mac (I am an experienced Linux user myself). Even your online
registration applet hanged and refused to allow me to enter the
printer's serial number. I had to kill the applet and start over (in
this respect it was much like my experience with Microsoft Windows).

Like the first shipping clerk, Mr. Hurd, your printer's installation
process was impenetrable. But really, why should anyone have to put up
with such nonsense when there are clearly superior products out there
costing no more than yours? Clearly I will never willingly deal with
that lady again. Surely you can understand why? Consequently, we're
exchanging our Photosmart 3180 All-In-One for a Canon whatever (we
don't really care what it is so long as it is made by Canon). With the
purchase of our new Macintosh, your printer was included free - and
worth every penny.

-e

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#13

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 6:50 AM

I am a recent grad of the University of Cincinnati here in the states. UC is known world wide for their co-op program. It takes college students and puts them in the field whiel earning class credit. Companies who take on co-ops know that they are getting less than qualified engineers, but they usually team then with experienced engineers to help them along the way. In the 2 positions I held as a mechanical enigneering co-op, I learned 10x what I did in the classroom. This goes deeper than jsut engineering as well, you get real world experience that a classroom cannot provide. Things like dealing with production personnel, hitting budget targets, etc. I would strongly recommend you attend a school that has a co-op program. I do not know where I would be today without it.

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#14
In reply to #13

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 7:54 AM

Matt,

I agree 100%. If you don't get in and get your hands dirty, you don't know how things work outside the drawing board. I still would like to encourage you all to get outside the factory, the cubicle and go visit with the guys that fix this stuff and find out was is working, isn't working and how things can be improved. You'd be very surprised at how well the field engineers have been at resolving problems that haven't been taken care of for months or years in the factory because we can't catch the right ear.

In the medical industry it's even more difficult. Since I work for a manufacturer, by FDA rules, I can't modify the equipment or add anything to it unless it goes back through engineering and FDA approval.

How easy and quick it would be if I didn't have 10 layers of other people to get to before word got to a design engineer. Then we had a design engineer that knew what we were going through in the field and could jump on the issue with an understanding of what service faced rather than just production.

Sometimes changing the design of a part, replacing the part with something more reliable, or changing another item in assembly will have a large impact on service and customer satisfaction when they purchase your million dollar plus machine, or several hundred smaller products.

Management and senior engineers may be able to teach alot, but many come from old schools and just watch numbers in the factory and not over all. What they spend in service never comes back around to impact what they think they've saved in production. Failure analysis and cost/failure analysis is another issue I have seen go by the wayside in many companies. It has a great impact on the overall scheme of things.

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#17
In reply to #13

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 9:30 AM

Another couple of cents' worth. All these suggestions are good and the more hands on, varied experience you can gain outside the classroom the greater the benefit inside. With that hands on, practical knowledge you will have an advantage over the majority of your classmates (as well as many of your instructors) because, as you learn the theory, you may already have a pretty good idea of how it can be applied. I think you will also find that the best classroom instructors are those who can combine theoretical with a wealth of practical knowledge. Unfortunately, based on my experience, they are in the minority.

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#24
In reply to #17

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 7:12 PM

I once worked with an engineer who had a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell. He was writing an application to functionally simulate the ion source of one of our company's ion implanters (used to make microchips). The code contained a number of measured constants taken from a working machine. Two of them were the voltage across and current through a 200-amp (max) heater inside the source. He was puzzled by the fact that the voltage and current didn't seem to have a linear relationship. His code would predict one thing, but measurements taken on the machine showed a very different picture. He pored over his code looking for some kind of mistake in his implementation, but to no avail. Having never actually had hands-on training - the kind U of C's co-op program offers - he had no concept of resistive temperature coefficients! Of course it was non-linear! The resistance of metals increases with temperature. Book-smart, street-dumb.

-e

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#22
In reply to #13

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 1:21 PM

I once lived on Hollister, near Vine St.

-e

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#15

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 8:12 AM

How about an Arab Democratic Republic?

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#16

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 8:20 AM

Above all, please do not start a trend to change how all engineers started out, which is taking things apart!

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#18
In reply to #16

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 11:01 AM

I agree absolutely!

Also, an imprtant part of design is to understand how things fail and to improve upon them.

And, in the words of Albert Einstein:

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."

University will provide you with knowledge - it is up to you to provide the imagination.

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#21
In reply to #18

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 1:00 PM

Indeed. University will only give you tools and teach you how to learn what you need to solve your problems, it will not teach you everything. Solving the problem itself is up to you.

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#19

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 11:53 AM

Build these first and they'll award you an honorary doctorate...

-e

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#23

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 2:09 PM

On learning by taking things apart, I have to agree. I learned a lot that way. How do you think I learned all this stuff about what goes wrong in the design cycle????

Just kidding. I started taking things apart when I was old enough to pick up tools, and that's been a long time ago. Well, I have to admit, I learned about the design issues by taking things apart as well.

It's hard to fix a machine if you don't disect it first!

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#25

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 10:02 PM

I think you have the cart before the horse. The knowledge you get in school allows you to design things, but it's not the only thing an Engineer does, and we seldom work alone. People often confuse Engineers with Inventors, or Scientists, we seldom are. We work ith them in some cases, called R & D, but most supervise technical process and people. Some specialize in Testing things, others in making them. Depends where your interests is.

I think someone mentioned it, but see if the University has a Co-Operative agreement with Industry. I highly recommend getting into it.

BTW, the Supervisory Engineer always make more than a Design Engineer.

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#26
In reply to #25

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 11:09 PM

WmS,

I do believe I have the cart and the horse in the correct places. I have many friends in the various disciplines of engineering and have had for many years.

The difference between R&D, inventors and engineers in their various forms is well know in my head; and I've dealt with them all over the years. I have even been involved doing some prototype work on some medical equipment used for knee surgery. I went from helping with some of the electrical and mechanical design to helping build the thing.

Let's leave the fact that we're discussing engineering out of this for a minute. Let me just say that this goes on in most disciplines taught in US schools these days. A lot of book knowledge and nothing about what to do with it. In AZ, the secondary schools are teaching to a test. If the kids don't pass the test, not only do they not get to graduate high school when they take it in their jr year, but the school gets a failing grade for the kids not passing the test. Never mind the special ed kids who can't pass it in the first place.

This mind set is going on thoughout the country, not only in secondary education, but through post secondary education. What good does it do anyone to read and regurgitate a math formula if you don't know how to apply it? I'd much rather know where the formula is located with some background on its application and how to use the thing than just memorize it.

Enough said. I think the trend is pretty clear through this thread that this is what is going on. You really need to take whatever steps you need to educate yourself and make sure you have the skills you want. Whether you learn them from a mentor above you, or the little guy underneath you who has something to share; it really doesn't matter.

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Guru

Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 4513
Good Answers: 88
#27
In reply to #25

Re: Design before degree?

03/09/2007 11:32 PM

Edp,

One ascends to one's level of incompetence. The time-worn Peter Principle. Engineers who are in it for the money are the worst "engineers" I've ever met, bar none. Other things float, too - especially in corporations - but this is a public forum...

Engineers who can, do. "Engineers" who can't, supervise.

Oh, I see you're in the Midwest - The Land of Missed Opportunity. The most brain-drained region of the country. Well, that explains it.

-e

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Associate

Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Gilbert, AZ
Posts: 25
#28
In reply to #27

Re: Design before degree?

03/10/2007 7:45 AM

Europium,

I agree with what you are saying, but it doesn't apply to engineers only, it's all facets of life and business.

As for being in the midwest-NOT. This is the Southwest. Arizona, particularly Phoenix is quite high tech with several semiconductor fabs for Intel and other companies. Not to mention Boeing, and several other aerospace companies. Biotech firms, etc.

ed

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Guru

Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 4513
Good Answers: 88
#29
In reply to #28

Re: Design before degree?

03/10/2007 7:50 AM

Sorry, my message was intended for Post #25. My apologies. I'm a little cross-eyed by friday.

-e

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Associate

Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Gilbert, AZ
Posts: 25
#30
In reply to #29

Re: Design before degree?

03/10/2007 11:17 AM

europium,

no problem.

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