More from 1954… Industry’s Pulse

1954 Industry Pulse: Engineers’ ability to think creatively should not be overlooked because it can allow them to come up with solutions to current challenges and problems, and be more efficient in their systematic process.
By CFE Media November 27, 2014

Featured stories in the December 1954 issue includes simulating radar with sonar, speed-switching circuits, and designing aircraft power boosters. Courtesy: CFE MediaHappy 60th, Control Engineering! Our magazine first published in September 1954. This monthly column in 2014 will resurrect some of our favorite material from the 1954 and 1955 issues. Technologies have progressed, but they continue to pave the way for today’s innovations. Here is a full-length article penned in 1954 that talks about how engineers need creative thought in their day-to-day routines to help them find solutions to new problems and challenges.

The engineer’s systematic way of attacking problems is his greatest intellectual asset. But if engineers aren’t careful, systematizing may smother their creativity.

When faced with a new situation, engineers proceed roughly as follows. They gather and collate data. Then they sort and group the variables and work up equations that make the data manageable. This routine not only helps them solve the problem at hand; it simplifies future work on all similar problems.

But watch out for pitfalls. Systematic thinking raises the ability of the norm and accelerates product development. On the other hand, engineers who put all their confidence in a safe set routine become confined by their method. Their intellect and imagination rust. The engineer becomes a bookkeeping engineer rather than a creative one.

Fortunately, machines now grind out a lot of engineering results. A leading manufacturer of computing and accounting machinery conservatively estimates that 2,000 engineering desk calculations were made in 1948. Through 1951, the number of those equivalent calculations increased 40% per year. From 1951 to 1954, the number of equivalent calculations doubled each year. The yearly doubling will continue through 1955.

In this way, machines can relieve engineers of a lot of slogging. It’s up to each of us to see that the hours of routine that they save are converted to many hours of creative thinking. Every engineer ought to concentrate on recognizing needs and problems and breaking them down to computer routines. This takes thought. Thought takes time.

So we propose a New Year’s resolution. Let engineers put aside all their sharply focused work for at least a half-hour every day. And during that half-hour, let them think of the broad objectives of their work.

If you employ engineers, remember: You can’t make engineers think, but you can let them think.

– 2014 Edits by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media,