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Culture Clash PUBLIC ACCESS

Globalization is Creating New Industrial Powerhouses-but Where Does that Leave the Old Ones?

[+] Author Notes

Executive Editor

Mechanical Engineering 127(12), 36-38 (Dec 01, 2005) (3 pages) doi:10.1115/1.2005-DEC-4

This article highlights that depending on whom you ask, we are building a future in which everybody enjoys a share of the world’s wealth, or we are eroding the economies of the developed nations in pursuit of cheap wages. It is not likely to stop any time soon. In a worldwide economy, everyone is a potential partner and potential competitor. Factory workers in the United States or Germany compete for jobs with counterparts in Korea and Indonesia. Even the not-for-profits compete. After watching the European Union make headway with its standards in China, ASME led a drive to form the Consortium on Standards and Conformity Assessment. Over the years, ASME and the engineering profession were shaped by many influences-by wars, depression, and the coming of cars, electricity, rockets, and computers. Each has had a hand for good and bad in shaping the world. Globalization is only the latest development in a long tradition.

We live in an age when a car designed and assembled in the United States can contain parts made in Spain, South Africa, China, and Brazil, and many people are thinking about that.

Depending on whom you ask, we're building a future in which everybody enjoys a share of the world's wealth, or we're eroding the economies of the developed nations in pursuit of cheap wages. It isn't likely to stop any time soon.

A few weeks ago, an administrator of one of China's leading technical universities told an international gathering in Germany that his school wants to train engineers to think, and work, "in a more global way." A little more than a year ago, a group of U.S. organizations led by ASME opened an office in Beijing to establish a presence for American codes, standards, and technical services in the world's hottest industrial economy.

It's all part of the social and economic phenomenon of our time that we call "globalization."

The administrator, Gong Ke, vice president for international affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing, was in Darmstadt, Germany, where he talked about the country's ambitious plans for engineering, and everyone took notice. After all, China's superheated economy has been led by the growth of its factories, and now the countries that lost manufacturing jobs are wondering how long it will take for the engineering to ship offshore, too.

About a third of China's 20 million university students pursue engineering, Gong said.

Their education isn't perfect, he admitted. It tends to overspecialize and to ignore non-technical subjects.

"The challenge for engineering schools," he said, "is how to train engineers to adapt to change in industry, to update knowledge by themselves, to understand new breakthroughs in science, to develop new techniques."

Another challenge is how to train China's engineers "to have the ability of cross-cultural communication."

And that is what brought Gong to Darmstadt. His was one of eight technical universities brought together by a German automotive supplier to announce a new cooperative program—what they all believe is the first formal attempt to study the effects of globalization on the practice of engineering.

Bearing the name "Global Engineering Excellence," the program hopes to identify the skills that engineers will need in a world that may have no intellectual borders, a world in which diverse, and possibly dispersed, groups of technical and non-technical people will collaborate on ever-more-complex projects. For many, it is the world of today.

The program is sponsored by Continental AG of Hannover. The universities represent cultures on four continents. Besides Tsinghua, the group comprises the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Universidade de Sao Paulo in Brazil, Jing Tong University in Shanghai, and the University of Tokyo.

The Continental executive heading the program isn't from a technical or manufacturing background, but from human resources. He is Thomas Sattelberger, a member of the executive board and director of labor relations.

The universities plan to interview representatives of industry, but aren't ready to do so yet. According to Jack Lohman, the professor and vice provost who represented Georgia Tech at the meeting, many of the players met for the first time during the kickoff event in Germany.

They have discussed some of the market research mechanisms that the institutions already have in place, including their contacts with alumni, Lohman said. Georgia Tech conducts regular surveys of its graduates and, every third year, of employers and recruiters.

As ASME celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, Mechanical Engineering has been running articles each month highlighting key influences in the Society's development. This , the last in our series , looks at responses by ASME and others to the contemporary issue of globalization.

Earth to space: The RLlO engine propelled the Centaur, sending probes to distant planets and helping build today's global satellite communications network.

Grahic Jump LocationEarth to space: The RLlO engine propelled the Centaur, sending probes to distant planets and helping build today's global satellite communications network.

Standard Procedure

In a worldwide economy, everyone is a potential partner and potential competitor. Factory workers in the United States or Germany compete for jobs with counterparts in Korea and Indonesia. Even the not-for-profits compete. After watching the European Union make headway with its standards in China, ASME led a drive to form the Consortium on Standards and Conformity Assessment, which opened an office in Beijing last year.

The group, which was formed to promote American codes, standards, and technical services in China, also includes ASTM International, the American Petroleum Institute, and CSA America as partners.

American technical knowledge and services were available to the Chinese before the Consortium set up its office. But so were other, competing codes generated by the European Union.

According to the Consortium's project plan, China has adopted standards promulgated by the International Standards Organization, International Telecommunication Union, and International Electrotechnical Commission. According to the document, China says it has transformed more then 6,000 ISO standards and almost 18,000 IEC international standards into Chinese national standards. At that rate, there was a strong chance that ASME and other American standards-issuing organizations would be left out of the world's fastest-growing manufacturing economy.

ASME is looking at China's pressure equipment industry. There are more than 3,000 pressure equipment manufacturers in China, and so far about 150 of them are accredited by ASME under the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. Those that are accredited are selling to customers who require it. According to ASME, its Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code is recognized in more than 100 countries as meeting regulatory needs.

The energy sector is another area of opportunity. China is second only to the United States among the world's consumers of energy. ASME has signed memorandums of understanding with the Institute of Nuclear Energy Technology at Tsinghua University and with the China National Nuclear Corp. Both agreements include provisions for promoting ASME's nuclear codes and standards as the Chinese national standards.

The Consortium on Standards and Conformity Assessment was formed under the auspices of the U.S.. Department of Commerce, which is putting up about $400,000 in support over the three years from October 2004 through September 2007 . That's almost a third of the project's budget.

The Commerce Department is part of the picture for cultural reasons, as well. According to the project plan, the regulators and standards developers in China, where ASME has 70 members, are usually identical and so, "the Chinese remain apprehensive of U.S.. private standards development organizations." Support by the U.S. government was needed for credibility.

It's an example of cross-cultural communication.

Georgia Tech, too, is trying to prepare graduates to cross cultures. According to Jack Lohman, a third of the school's graduating bachelors of science have had some kind of experience abroad. What's more, this September Georgia Tech introduced the International Plan, which the school calls "a challenging academic program that develops international competence." It is an option for students in a number of majors, including engineering and architecture.

One requirement is six months of work or study outside the United States. The activity could be study at a university, an internship with a company, or participation in a research project. The program includes courses on global economics, international relations, and foreign culture, and requires at least a B-level proficiency in a second language.

Georgia Tech's International Plan, Continental's Global Engineering Excellence program, and the Consortium on Standards and Conformity Assessment are emblematic of the contemporary world.

If you call the service line for a company based in Cedar Rapids or Houston, you speak to a representative who, for all you can tell, may be in Delhi. As in Delhi, N.Y., or Delhi, India.

It doesn't matter any more where we are because we're all connected. Oceans are leapt by jet travel, satellite communications, cellphones, voice-mail, e-mail, the Internet—in other words, by technology—the stuff that engineers have devised. Consider a couple of ASME's Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmarks—the Boeing 367-80 and the Pratt & Whitney RL10 rocket engine.

The Dash 80, prototype of the Boeing 707, could cruise economically at Mach 0.80 and had a range of 3,000 nautical miles, or the equivalent of 50 degrees of latitude. It could cross almost one-seventh of the globe in about six or seven hours between fuelings.

That was in 1954, and the globe has become much smaller since then. We can watch life and death in real time and high definition from half the world away. The global positioning system can pinpoint your location anywhere on the face of the Earth with an accuracy tighter than two meters.

The RL10 and its successors are partly responsible for that. The RL10 was the power plant for the upper-stage Centaur space launch vehicle and the first rocket engine fueled by liquid hydrogen. Introduced in 1958, it was in service for 40 years, and helped send probes to Jupiter, Mars, and Venus. It also launched commercial and military communications satellites that stayed closer to home.

Everybody's going into the future, so no one can tell what will happen next. When ASME began 125 years ago as a club of professional men in New York, no one could foresee that a generation later the organization would issue codes for the safe use of steam boilers. Over the years, ASME and the engineering profession were shaped by many influences-by wars, Depression, and the coming of cars, electricity, rockets, and computers. Each has had a hand for good and bad in shaping the world.

Globalization is only the latest development in a long tradition.

It doesn't matter where we are since we're all connected. Oceans are leapt by stuff that engineers have devised.

Jet setter: Boeing's 367-80 was the prototype of the 707. Fifty years ago, it was the first successful commercial aircraft with the range and speed to cover large stretches of the globe in just a few hours.

Grahic Jump LocationJet setter: Boeing's 367-80 was the prototype of the 707. Fifty years ago, it was the first successful commercial aircraft with the range and speed to cover large stretches of the globe in just a few hours.

Copyright © 2005 by ASME
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