Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bigger

It's funny, engineers have a reputation for being technical, and being specific detail oriented people, but often we just make it bigger. No concrete numbers to get everything right on the first physical prototype, we just make it bigger and hope. Yes, there is a lot of math and it is often specific, but as often as not, we make it bigger by some random percentage. 

Sometimes I look at old structures, bridges to machinery, and I see parts of them that are critically too small, just by looking. Spending three years doing FEA I've come to view joints, transitions and structures differently than I used too. 

By going bigger, in diameter for example, one can use a thinner wall for the same amount of strength. The end result is generally a lighter structure because the materials optimize the second moment of inertia with material where it is needed and less where it isn't. This a large part of why cars have grown. Old cars could not handle the crash safety standards that new cars can, and by the same token you could probably punch a hole in a new car's sheet metal far easier than a 40 year old car, providing it didn't rust away. Corrosion resistance is a whole other issue, that has improved in the recent past. To be honest, as an engineer, I see a good case to be made for buying new vehicles, the technology used to develop them is able to find more problems than earlier vehicles. Making things simply bigger is a most basic aspect of newer, more tested, structures, and it is a microcosm of the volume of engineering that is often thrown at the problems of the day. 

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