Industry Perspectives on Engineering

moderator: Keith Glover, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge
author: Travis Engen, Alcan Inc.
author: John Grace, ArvinMeritor Inc.
author: Robert Lucky, Telcordia Technologies, Inc.
published: March 7, 2013,   recorded: March 2004,   views: 2008
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The business leaders in this panel suggest that systems engineering may help reinvent entire industries. Travis Engen described Alcan’s enormous, global aluminum enterprise, involving bauxite mines, smelters, casting plants, and product and packaging facilities employing 88 thousand people in 60 countries. Alcan’s activities pack an enormous environmental punch -- particularly when it comes to water, which Alcan uses for power and aluminum processing -- so the company has turned to the notion of sustainability as an organizing principle. This is “elegant systems thinking,” Engen says. “From bottom to top…sustainability allows us to maximize value and helps us with external constituencies.”

At ArvinMeritor, engineers have traditionally viewed the vehicle components they create in a piecemeal way. Now, says John Grace, the company is trying to think differently and produce door and braking systems. This means looking simultaneously at how a component is used, its architecture, and the regulatory environment. “We’ve got to move to a different paradigm,” says Grace. “We’ll face a critical time where we have to change ...” When Robert Lucky looks at the Internet, he sees “a living thing of monstrous complexity.” How do you analyze its behavior, much less guide where it is going? Forces threaten to pull the Internet apart, and countervailing forces keep the network together. While the center is holding for now, Lucky believes the Internet badly needs a vision of the future.

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