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Six strategic issues shaping the global future of mechanical engineering

Zhigang Suo's picture

(Initially posted at Applied Mechanics News on 21 May 2006)

The ASME commissioned the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF), a nonprofit futures think tank, to scan the world for the future of ASME. The IAF report, dated on 30 June 2005, listed the following six strategic issues:

  1. Global Harmonization of Standards
  2. Technology Innovation Networks
  3. Systems Thinking
  4. Attracting and Educating Tomorrow’s Engineers
  5. Collaborative Learning Communities
  6. Bioconvergence: Biology Meets Engineering

All these big words made me dizzy. I started with Issue 5, Collaborative Learning Communities, an issue that I was thinking about. This section of the report talked about blogs and wikis, and concluded with the following paragraph.

“Publishing under the current model is ASME’s second largest source of revenue and the association’s dependence on it impedes its ability to consider alternative approaches. ASME should take care not to become a closed system in a world favoring open systems for learning and publishing. As public attitudes shift, ASME will need a viable balance between its “bricks and mortar” programs and electronic channels. These collaborative learning communities are appealing to young engineers who need technical information on demand to do their jobs and appreciate the chance to stand out for their expertise. Members may also value access to discussions with a wide variety of experts.”

I found the 2004-2005 annual report of ASME. The top three sources of revenue were

  • Codes and Standards (40 millions)
  • Publications and conferences (16 millions)
  • Member dues (8 millions)

These strategic issues tied the financial security of ASME to the large trends of our time: the rises of Asia, open access, the Internet, and Biology. These trends pose significant challenges to ASME as (primarily) an American organization, with revenues derived principally from proprietary codes, standards and journals, and of a discipline based on physical sciences.

If you ever wonder where Mechanical Engineering might be going and how you and your organization might fit in this brave new world, this IAF report is a fascinating read. The big words in the titles aside, the report is very lucid. Understanding the challenges is the first step to innovation.

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