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Engineers consider many factors when developing a new product. For example, in developing an industrial robot, engineers determine precisely what function the robot needs to perform; design and test the robot's components; fit the components together in an integrated plan; and evaluate the design's overall effectiveness, cost, reliability, and safety. This process applies to many different products, such as chemicals, computers, gas turbines, helicopters, and toys.
In addition to design and development, many engineers work in testing, production, or maintenance. These engineers supervise production in factories, determine the causes of breakdowns, and test manufactured products to maintain quality. They also estimate the time and cost to complete projects. Some move into engineering management or into sales. In sales, an engineering background enables them to discuss technical aspects and assist in product planning, installation, and use. (See the statements on engineering and natural sciences managers, and sales engineers, elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Most engineers specialize. More than 25 major specialties are recognized by professional societies, and the major branches have numerous subdivisions. Some examples include structural and transportation engineering, which are subdivisions of civil engineering; and ceramic, metallurgical, and polymer engineering, which are subdivisions of materials engineering. Engineers also may specialize in one industry, such as motor vehicles, or in one field of technology, such as turbines or semiconductor materials.
This statement, which contains an overall discussion of engineering, is followed by separate statements on 14 branches of engineering: Aerospace; agricultural; biomedical; chemical; civil; computer hardware; electrical and electronics, except computer; environmental; industrial, including health and safety; materials; mechanical; mining and geological, including mining safety; nuclear; and petroleum engineering. (Computer software engineers are discussed elsewhere in the Handbook.) Some branches of engineering not covered in detail in the Handbook, but for which there are established college programs, include architectural engineeringthe design of a building's internal support structure; and marine engineeringthe design and installation of ship machinery and propulsion systems.
Engineers in each branch have a base of knowledge and training that can be applied in many fields. Electronics engineers, for example, work in the medical, computer, communications, and missile guidance fields. Because there are many separate problems to solve in a large engineering project, engineers in one field often work closely with specialists in other scientific, engineering, and business occupations.
Engineers use computers to produce and analyze designs; to simulate and test how a machine, structure, or system operates; and to generate specifications for parts. Using the Internet or related communications systems, engineers can collaborate on designs with other engineers around the country or even abroad. Many engineers also use computers to monitor product quality and control process efficiency. They spend a great deal of time writing reports and consulting with other engineers, as complex projects often require an interdisciplinary team of engineers. Supervisory engineers are responsible for major components or entire projects.
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