Clare Goldsberry's Page 16, March 18 Perspective ``Should SPE change its name?'' implies that ``engineers'' today are all high-tech theorists who talk to each other at ANTEC and then return to air-conditioned cells far away from the factory floors. They do not get their education message out to what she calls ``the processors in the trenches.'' Some of that is true, of course, partly due to popular awe of the technical, fueled by current events (Internet, high-tech medicine) and people (Gingrich and Toffler). The computer is down has become equivalent to the boss is out, or worse yet, God is sleeping. The connection to God is not incidental. The Internet is the god that answers, the great ``out-there,'' even better than the older god that answered, agriculture, which was (and is) hard work.
Another contributor is the nature of university financing. The science and engineering de-partments need research money, which means grad students and Ph.D work, and no one wants to finance teaching undergraduates to run factories. After all, these institutions are filled with people who have chosen academia over industry as a daily way of life, and this appeals to their young disciples, even if the ``academy'' is a corporate research job.
But all is not lost. SPE is now running tutorials at ANTEC, where attendees can learn something of immediate use. They (we) realize the education gap, which is to some extent a generation gap, too. Several of us give seminars at the meetings, which Clare doesn't mention in her editorial, and which are proudly and unapologetically basic. I talk about thrust-bearing failure, how to read an ammeter, and why existing screws work, rather than how to design new ones. I use the word ``demystify'' to explain things, and I say my job is to help them do their jobs better.
I believe that the majority of our members are also factory-floor people, too. They don't give papers at ANTEC because they don't want to talk about what they do and have no reason to do so. In fact, most of them don't go to ANTEC, which is attended by around 10-15 percent of the members, and has now become a place for academics to publish their research, and for the few material suppliers who still have development budgets (notably Dow) to publish their findings.
Nevertheless, it is still worth attending for the practical-minded, to make contacts, attend the mini-trade show, go to a seminar or two, or even look for a new job. Reading technical papers is daunting and hearing them presented is slow and inefficient, but with the help of abstracts one can always learn something useful. Worth special mention are the student sessions, dominated by Penn State/Erie and a few others, where many authors try to do work that matters on a factory floor, now.