International Engineering Ambassadors
Insight into the life & course of international students.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

A Hands-on Approach to Engineering

Written By:  Birju N Galaiya

Hello guys! In this blog I shall tell you all about the practical aspects involved with Mechanical Engineering- in other words all the fun stuff. Engineering obviously is not a reading subject but more of a practical subject where you apply your knowledge in labs using equipment and sometimes create your own structures.

I am sure you guys would have done some laboratory work in school such as electric circuits and testing Newtons laws. During my first year, we had many lab practical sessions where we were required to understand the lecture content and try verify various theories. Some examples include tensile testing of materials, pipe flow analysis, wind tunnel calibration and verifying the perfect gas laws theory. With the help of PhD students, we worked in groups during the lab sessions. I personally felt involved by conducting experiments, drawing graphs, analysing the results and working in a team.  The instructors guided us through the experiments by explaining the procedure and how to go about using the equipment (few were complex and confusing!). Yes, the labs do force you to think outside the box- why do the results vary? What were the errors? How can the experiment be improved? I believe the constant questioning is an important skill to have as an engineer because there is no right or wrong solution. Lab reports were mandatory and required me to put in several hours of writing it up. Report writing is a key skill in any industry and this continuous practice polishes the skill every time- you always learn something new. No one likes writing reports but hey you will be writing them in your job so might as well start writing them from now!

During the second semester and now in my second semester, there is a greater emphasis on using software packages to solve engineering problems. For instance, using a computer package called Solidworks; we created a 3-D model of a hydraulic cylinder that we dissembled. In this modern world, technology is taking over the world and for engineering hand drawn designs are now being replaced by computer models which are accurate and much, much easier to create (trust me on this one). I took quite a bit of time understanding the tools and features that allowed me to build my cylinder piece by piece with precision. I admit it is sometimes frustrating but with help of other students I got the hang of it and enjoy using the software now. For math, MATLAB lets you solve complicated equations with ease. The software is basically a calculator and your friend because it saves you time from doing repetitive or long calculations such as iteration or solving matrices. With these software packages I feel I am more employable because IT skills are essential nowadays.

Do you want to create a device from scratch? In my first year, I got this opportunity during the Engineering Applications Week in the workshop. For one week instead of having lectures, we made a vice (mechanical apparatus used to secure an object to allow work to be performed on it) using by combining several steel pieces. There were so many machines all having different functions. With the assistance of demonstrators, we gained knowledge on how to create a component from an assembly drawing. We learnt the basics of vertical and horizontal milling together with turning and tapping drilled holes (if any of these methods sounds new to you, research about it!). On the final day, I was nervous as I wasnt sure that all my components would fit together. Piece by piece I bolted the vice together and luckily it worked and it's something that I can look back on and say "I achieved that". For those who are interested in the manufacturing process, this experience would be invaluable.

Overall, the degree requires a lot of practical work which makes it quite interesting. I hope these examples give you a good sense of what mechanical engineering students would do in labs and which skills you can pick up during the course of your degree.

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