Episode 76 — Creative Diversity

creativediversityWhat is your creative style, and when might it be most effective? We talk about creative diversity with electrical engineer Kathryn Jablokow in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • Brian finds it best to have multiple solutions ready for every engineering problem he encounters, because potential solutions have a nasty habit of failing to be fully effective.
  • Carmen jokes that his preferred problem-solving style would be to pull a “Castanza” and sleep under his desk.
  • Our guest is Kathryn Jablokow, an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Design at Penn State University. Her teaching and research interests include problem solving, invention, and creativity in science and engineering, as well as robotics and computational dynamics.
  • Despite an initial interest in physics, Kathryn transferred her major to electrical engineering so that she could “build things” and programmatically control them.
  • As part of her graduate work, our guest help build a giant walking machine, officially known as an “Adaptive Suspension Vehicle.” Do any of our listeners know to which corner of the earth this vehicle has disappeared?
  • We decide against describing the mathematical details of three-dimensional rigid body dynamics in a audio podcast; our listeners breathe a sigh of relief!
  • Kathryn authored an article titled “Engineering Styles” for the ASME website in March 2011.
  • Creative diversity can be described by four key variables: creative level, creative style, motive, and opportunity.
  • Creative level describes the potential capacity that one brings to the creative process; this includes raw talent, experiences, education, and practiced skills.
  • Creative style describes one’s cognitive preference for either adapting existing structures and methods to new uses, or innovating completely new structures and methods.
  • Knowing someone’s creative level tells us nothing about their creative style.
  • A well-known model of cognitive style is Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation theory. A normal distribution exists across this continuum, both for the general public and for engineering professionals.
  • Our cognitive style remains fairly fixed over time, although we are capable of engaging in creative activities that are either more adaptive or more creative than we like, hence making us “uncomfortable.”
  • Neither adaptive creativity or innovative creativity is better than the other; each can be beneficial depending on the problem and situation at hand.
  • We perceive those with a differing cognitive style to have a lower cognitive level.
  • Motive describes our willingness to stick with a problem until it is solved, and each of us is motivated by a different set of intrinsic and extrinsic factors.
  • Opportunity describes whether or not we perceive the conditions around us as being amenable to creative solutions.
  • Technical managers may have to overcome both “person-person” and “person-problem” gaps.
  • We debate whether companies and managers really want “creative thinkers.”
  • Inventive problem-solving techniques such as TRIZ and SIT can lead to new solutions, regardless of one’s creative style.
  • Kathryn recently helped teach a massively open online course (MOOC) titled “Creativity, Innovation, and Change.”
  • Our guest co-authored an academic paper( pdf) that examined concept maps drawn by engineering students with creative styles ranging across the Adaption-Innovation scale.
  • Kathryn can be found on LinkedIn. She can also be reached via email: kwl3 -=+ at +=- psu.edu.

Thanks to JohnathanMcCabe for use of the image titled “20141129_i.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 75 — Vectored Thrust

f22Mechanical engineer Herb Roberts shares his stories of developing an advanced jet engine for the US military in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • Jeff admits he’s never torn apart an engine, although he spent a lot of time repairing his 1968 Pontiac Firebird convertible, which had an incredible knack for discovering inopportune times to break down by the side of the road.
  • Instead of rebuilding engines, Jeff was far more likely to be found fooling around with his father’s “Trash 80” computer (from soon-to-be-defunct Radio Shack).
  • Our guest for this episode is Herb Roberts, a professional engineer who helped develop a Pratt & Whitney turbofan engine to power the U.S. military’s F22 stealth fighter.
  • Herb seemed to exhibit “The Knack” from an early age, and enjoyed building Heathkit devices.
  • While wandering around his college campus one day, Herb came across a booth run by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). This led him to read the books “Herman the German” and “Not Much of an Engineer.”
  • Brian mentions Ben Rich’s book, “Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed.”
  • Herb once worked at the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory (RFRL), named for aeronautic innovator Gus Raspet. The facility, located on the campus of Mississippi State University, is well-known for developing advanced composite materials.
  • While a student at MSU, our guest worked on some of the earliest unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Herb also worked with engineers from Honda as they began their development of the HondaJet.
  • Two teams competed for the F22 contract in 1986: Team A was Lockheed/Boeing/General Dynamics, and Team B was Northrop/McDonnell-Douglas.
  • The Lockheed team produced the YF22 prototype fighter, while the Northrop team built the YF23 demonstration vehicle.
  • Herb’s employer at the time, Pratt & Whitney, developed an after-burning turbofan (the F119 engine) capable of powering either the YF22 or YF23.
  • Specific fuel consumption (SFC) describes the amount of fuel used by an engine in producing a unit of thrust.
  • A turbofan’s bypass ratio divides the mass flow rate of air drawn through the fan disk (thus bypassing the engine core) by the mass flow rate of air passing through the engine’s combustion chamber.
  • When work on the F119 engine began, Pratt & Whitney engineers didn’t know what the associated airframe would look like, or even how many engines would be required.
  • While Pratt & Whitney used advanced materials to lower engine weight, General Electric increased efficiency by implementing a variable-bypass design.
  • Herb describes a 1992 accident at Edwards Air Force Base, where an F22 crashed following a low-altitude pass over the airfield.
  • Prepared to engage in computer-aided design, our guest was mildly surprised to be assigned a drafting board on his first day at Pratt & Whitney.
  • Prior to the advent of finite element analysis (FEA), engineers would calculate stress and strains using “Roark’s Handbook.”
  • Despite its limitations, beam and plate analysis worked sufficiently well for Pratt & Whitney engineers to design the J58 engine that powered the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
  • Herb worked with his colleagues to develop model elements, based on the “rule of mixtures,” that permited three-dimensional structural analysis.
  • As a result of being moved from “non-exempt” to “exempt” employment status after his first year on the job, Herb actually took a pay cut despite receiving a six percent raise, as his overtime income was substantially reduced.
  • Our guest is obviously an extroverted engineer, as he recognizes other engineers by their shoes!
  • Herb recommends that engineers try to be 500 percent better, rather than just five percent better.
  • Our guest can be reached by email: herbertroberts -=+ at +=- gmail.com. He can occassionally be found on Twitter as @too_many_rules.

Thanks to Robert Pernett for use of the photo titled “Lockheed F22 Fighter in Flight.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 74 — Ideas Without Words

lightbulbElectrical engineer Bob Schmidt joins the discussion of how engineers convey important concepts without using words.

  • Beyond writing down a few words to remind him of key details, Brian likes to dive straight into analysis or development when he has a new design idea.
  • Brian often uses LTSpice to analyze electrical circuits.
  • A debate ensues about the importance of being “neat” while making design sketches, and how the purpose of such drawings differs between mechanical and electrical engineers.
  • Our guest for this episode is Bob Schmidt, who previously joined us to talk about “Troubleshooting in Episode 48.” Bob is the author of “An Engineer’s Guide to Solving Problems.”
  • We mull over Chris Gammell’s recent comment (at 9:39 mark) that the NPR radio show “Car Talk” was never specifically about cars, but rather about the process of troubleshooting automotive problems.
  • Jeff shares a troubleshooting story related to replacing a water spigot on the outside of his house.
  • Carmen, Brian, Adam, and Bob take turns telling their own horror stories about plumbing.
  • The importance of eye protection is emphasized by some misadventures endured by Brian and Carmen.
  • Jeff shares a quote by Heather Martin about the relationship between drawing and thinking.
  • Our guest argues that “Ideas with Fewer Words” would be a more accurate description of how engineers use figures and diagrams.
  • Bob is especially irritated by engineers who fail to include units on their graphs.
  • Block diagrams can be useful in organizing thoughts about system inputs and outputs.
  • Jeff shares his experience of trying to implement IDEF0 for documenting manufacturing processes.
  • While whiteboards are good for gathering group input, Bob emphasizes the need to quickly save the results before the whiteboard can be erased, causing critical notes to be permanently lost.
  • Jeff and Bob lament the difficulty of keeping track of one’s ideas over the years.
  • Describing a figure as it is drawn on the whiteboard can help promote a common understanding of the figure’s meaning, claims Jeff.
  • Mind maps can help organize seemingly unrelated ideas and thoughts.
  • Bob creates lists in Excel to capture his ideas.
  • Dan Roam’s book, “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures,” is mentioned by Jeff.
  • Bob and Jeff talk about drawing on paper napkins; is it just an “engineering” thing?
  • Our guest shares his success in using “annotated photographs” to share information with colleagues.
  • Forward looking infrared (FLIR) images have proven useful for Brian in his professional work.
  • Bob notes the growing interdependence of all the engineering fields.
  • Coming out of college, Jeff interviewed with Cray Computer, and was disappointed to learn that they mostly needed help with thermal issues.
  • Jeff shares another troubleshooting story, this time related to his problems establishing good TV reception.

Thanks to Ramunas Geciauska for use of the photo titled “Idea Bulb.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

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