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Mechanical Engineering. 2012;134(03):29-33. doi:10.1115/1.2012-MAR-1.
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This article discusses various engineering revolutions taking place to deal with challenges of complex systems’ design. Engineers who design complex systems have to understand how the various components of a system fit together and anticipate how the interactions between these components could lead to failure. The development of sophisticated expert system software that can provide rapid and intuitive access to vast amounts of data on materials and design features of available components also enables an individual engineer to tap into the expertise of many others. Adaptive risk management structures, such as those used in high-reliability organizations, which rely on expertise, planning, and communication, can help to reduce the uncertainty of human factor risk. Some automated control and feedback systems use embedded sensors and extremely rapid response mechanisms to prevent or limit damage from a failure far faster than a human operator could. The experts suggest that the rise of complex systems creates a challenge to traditional ways of engineering.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2012;134(03):34-37. doi:10.1115/1.2012-MAR-2.
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This article focuses on various aspects of an ecosystem that can accelerate the training, which the engineering workforce needs to realize and sustain complex systems. Several science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) improvement and pilot academic engineering programs have been proposed to address some of the needs and challenges of the high-tech workforce. Companies have launched their own educational programs to address some of the reskilling and large-scale system integration needs of complex systems. A step towards the implementation of the comprehensive strategy is the development of Intelligent Cyber-Physical Engineering Ecosystems to advance collaboration among engineering and research institutions, industry, professional societies, and other stakeholders working on complex systems. The ecosystems will consist of large numbers of distributed interacting components that are continually updated and expanded. The ecosystems are expected to grow and to reach unanticipated levels of complexity because of the relations among the continually expanding individual components. The ecosystems are expected to provide knowledge-rich, immersive environments for integrating engineering practice with learning, training, and workforce development needed for complex systems.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2012;134(03):38-41. doi:10.1115/1.2012-MAR-3.
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This article presents various excerpts from a book To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure, by Henri Petroski. The book focuses on inevitability of failure and the role it plays in the advance of technology. Technology has always been risky business, but quantifying that risk is a relatively new phenomenon in the worlds of engineering and management, which should be more integrated than they often are. Parking decks are familiar structures that do fail now and then, and the failures can often be traced to something out of the ordinary in their design or construction. Such collapses might never have occurred if the structures and everything surrounding them had been exact copies of those that had stood the test of time, but even repeated success is no guarantee against future failure. In fact, prolonged success, whether it be in a space shuttle program or in the design and construction of parking garages, tends to lead to either complacency or change, both of which can ultimately lead to failure.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2012;134(03):42-43. doi:10.1115/1.2012-MAR-4.
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This article presents results of a report that was undertaken to study system approach to offshore drilling safety. The study was conducted by the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council, and led by former Navy Secretary Donald Winter, now a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan. The report’s systems approach for hardware would include better risk assessment, improved design guidelines, more realistic testing and modeling, and an enhanced systems-level understanding of offshore drilling equipment. The committee drew its recommendations from an analysis of the Macondo Well blowout, which destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20, 2010. The panel called for more instrumentation and computer-based expert decision aids for emergency warnings, as well as autonomous systems to shut down wells in emergencies. The committee recommended that operating companies be held responsible and accountable for well safety and integrity. The report recommended expanded safety R&D to improve design, testing, modeling, risk assessment, safety culture, and systems integration. It also supported educating and training personnel to implement system safety.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster
Mechanical Engineering. 2012;134(03):44-47. doi:10.1115/1.2012-MAR-5.
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This article explores the application of finite element analysis (FEA) in studying the evolution of animals, including dinosaurs. Scientists have applied the method to determine how dinosaurs originally looked and functioned, and how they and other animals changed and evolved through the years. FEA is a useful tool to reconstruct the mechanical behavior of the muscle and skeletal system in zoological and paleontological studies because it is non-invasive and reconstructs stress at multiple sites and depths throughout the skeleton. It can be used to study extinct animals by way of their fossilized remains and can deal with complex geometries and load conditions. FEA is now routinely used to interpret skeletal forms for function in both medical and biological applications. The scientists believe that FEA will hopefully allow to see the effect of eating hard foods, such as the belemnites with their bullet-shaped guards. FEA allows a far more intricate, accurate, and precise picture of the bone to be used in studies.

Commentary by Dr. Valentin Fuster

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