“The Making of an Expert Engineer” was officially launched in Islamabad at the Serena Hotel on January 7th before a gathering of 120 engineers, engineering faculty, aspiring engineers, and friends. The Hon. Ms. Marvi Memon, Minister Chair of Benezir Bhutto Income Support Fund spoke about the potential impact of the research on the poorest 5.8 million people in Pakistan served by the fund. Lieutenant General (R) Syed Shujaat Hussein, former rector of National University of Science and Technology presided at the launch.
The event was sponsored by Close Comfort Air Conditioning
The proceedings were recorded on video (note that there is a separate sound recording below if you find the video sound hard to follow).
- Waleed Bizeno (introduction) and Ghazanfar Mehdi (Qur’an Recitation)
- Muhammad Yusof, “Mr Books” (2-3 mins)
- Professor James Trevelyan (15 mins)
- Engineer Shafique-Ur-Rehman, Pakistan Engineering Council and Pakistan Institution of Engineers (4 mins)
- Dr. Gul Faraz Ahmed, former Secretary of Petroleum Ministry (4 mins)
- Mr. Jurek Juszczyk, Deputy High Commissioner for Australia (4 mins)
- Lieutenant General (Retired) Syed Shujaat Hussein, former E in C, and former Rector of National University of Science and Technology (10 mins)
- Mr. Arif Ahmed Khan, Federal Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change (4 mins)
- Hon. Ms. Marvi Memon, MNA, Federal Minister Supervising Benazir Bhutto Income Support Fund
- Brig (Ret) Malik Muhammad Iqbal Khan, former Pakistan Military Engineering Services (4 mins)
- James Trevelyan, final thanks
Waqt TV News: <video to be added later>
Press coverage: The Nation, 8-January
Pakistan Book Launch Address
January 7, 2016
Honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen, I feel deeply honoured by your presence here today. I appreciate your support and the time taken to be here this afternoon.
This book is written first and foremost for engineers. However, many of you here today are not engineers. I would still ask you to listen carefully, and perhaps read this book, because you too have an important part to play in all of this.
The story of this book started in Pakistan, and today returns to Pakistan.
In the mid-1990s I had an international reputation for robotics research: I still feel deeply honoured to be wearing this Engelberger award from the Robotics Institute of America today, still the pre-eminent international prize for robotics research.
I had spent 15 years developing robots for shearing sheep in Australia. Having achieved that, I had a premonition that there were more important research questions than robotics posed.
This premonition was reinforced after I married Samina, my wife, daughter of Pakistan. Little did I know then that I was marrying, not just into an extended family, but to a whole country, indeed a sub-continent.
If you know Samina, you know she learned from her dear mother, Begum Sarfraz Iqbal, how to inspire the support of many influential people.
And so it was that she and the Chief of Staff of the Australian Army together pushed me to research landmine clearance, here for Afghanistan, for Cambodia and for the 70-80 other countries in the world seriously affected by explosive remnants of war: landmines, cluster bombs, unexploded ordnance of all kinds.
With her father, Malik Iqbal, we set up Hameed and Ali Research Centre, with funding from my family and the US Government. Our research helped lead the way from high tech solutions which I could see would not work, and that has subsequently proved to be correct. We helped to shaped research on mine detection dogs. Then 9/11 came and all that changed.
The Afghan deminers moved from Peshawar to Kabul.
At HARC we focused on Begum Sarfraz Iqbal’s dream: water and education in local schools.
I was in a village, Thanda Pani, just 20 km from here. There was a water pipe from Islamabad, but no water came….. ever. None that was drinkable, at least.
Like almost everywhere in Pakistan women had to carry water for hours every day: children had to carry buckets of water just to use the toilets.
One family insisted I have a cup of tea and proudly showed me a gleaming new hand pump they had installed….. 60,000 Rs.
I asked myself, how could these people, so poor, afford what was then Au$1,600? What would have persuaded them to pay so much?
Years later I found the answer: the value of time…. Even though these women earned a pittance, the time they saved by not having to carry water represented a huge sum of money! When I calculated the value of the water represented by the hand pump, to them it was about $35 per tonne. 17 times higher than the price of water in my kitchen tap in Perth, Australia, the largest and driest state in the driest continent on earth. $2 per tonne at that time.
If you doubt me, find out the cost of that 20 litre water bottle at your home or office and multiply by 50 to get the cost per tonne. Do it. I challenge you to do that.
Now think about 180 million people in Pakistan, and multiply their daily basic need of 10 litres of safe drinking water per day at that cost level. The result is 10-15% of Pakistan’s GDP, just for the bare minimum you can survive on.
Water supply is engineers’ business. Why could they not make the water supply system work?
With my father-in-law, I had experienced the frustrations faced by all engineers here in Pakistan where it is so difficult to reproduce results taken for granted in Australia, Canada, Europe and the USA. That’s why my hair went grey…..
Yet engineers here in Pakistan were, and are…, intelligent and well-educated. Why could they do so well in other countries, yet not here in Pakistan?
I thought to myself, let’s observe Pakistan engineers, here in Pakistan, and then look for differences compared with engineers in Australia.
“What do engineers really do?” an easy question, yet there were no satisfactory answers….. anywhere. A real surprise.
Nothing to compare with.
So my students and colleagues, we started to systematically observe engineers in Australia and other countries.
By now I had a strong suspicion that behind this seemingly simple question lay answers to poverty in India, Pakistan and Africa…….engineering knowledge gaps.
If safe drinking water, the most basic service provided by engineers, is so much more costly, in real terms, than in Australia, that alone can explain so much of the poverty we see, much more so in India and Africa.
Engineers lie at the core of any solution for these issues. Water and energy supply is the business of engineers.
Thirteen years of research was needed to untangle these seemingly simple questions.
Fast forward to 2015, the book completed, printed, and first launched in Australia about a year ago (I owed that to my family and Australian taxpayers who supported the research and student scholarships).
Let me explain the ideas at the heart of this book.
Engineering comes in two parts.
The first part:
engineering science, taught and researched in universities, enables engineers to make accurate predictions and forecasts, hence avoiding problems.
(Academic colleagues and students: please note that. There is a myth that reverberates through engineering schools, that the job of engineers is to solve technical problems. No! Research shows that good engineers, expert engineers, use engineering science to avoid problems. Having to solve a technical problem shows that someone failed to avoid it.)
Engineering science based on Newtonian mechanics works the same everywhere……….though Einstein might have some minor quibbles.
The other part of engineering, and research demonstrates this is many times more significant in practice in terms of time and effort, is:
organising technical collaboration and knowledge sharing between everyone in the engineering enterprise: investors, government, regulators, engineers, contractors, suppliers, skilled and unskilled labour and end-users.
Unlike the first part, this second part works very differently in different social contexts because local culture influences collaboration and knowledge sharing.
And it is neither taught, nor recognised in engineering…. until now. That’s why this book focuses on this critical part that has not been recognised, yet consumes at least 60%, and more often up to 90% of what engineers do, every day.
The second part is essential for delivering real results. Yet engineers say it is “not real engineering”. Students and academics label it as “management”. Yet I challenge you to find significant sections of this book that are taught systematically in management schools, where anything technical is astutely avoided and …… labelled as “technology” or even “engineering”.
Another startling factor: few engineers, perhaps less than 2%, can readily explain why engineering is so valuable in meaningful terms for investors and governments. Amazing, but research demonstrates this.
So is it any surprise that engineering is in trouble…… everywhere? When most of what engineers do is neither recognised nor taught, let alone learned? And engineers cannot even explain how their work creates value?
Ask frustrated business owners. Ask politicians, like the ones who have told me here in Islamabad “Engineers do nothing! We gave them billions and they left us with useless junk.”
So why is engineering here so difficult, so challenging, and so costly?
In the book I explain why the second part, technical collaboration, is so much more difficult because of the deep social divisions between all the people involved, between investors, engineers, labour and end-users. Silence and mistrust reign supreme and knowledge is withheld. Not shared.
It’s not the only factor, though. Others include:
- Few local and knowledgeable specialist engineering supplier representatives,
- Weak procedures and systematic organisation to choreograph collaboration (though engineers hate it), and
- Myths about labour costs: Pakistan labour is not cheap: it is very very expensive when you take productivity into account.
In countless ways, the challenges faced by Pakistan engineers with collaboration and knowledge sharing add costs, up-front and through lifetime or from lack of service life and early need for replacement, or low service quality.
And drinking water, the most fundamental engineered service, I argue, is the most significant indicator of those costs, and imposed on everyone who lives here without exception.
Are there success stories in all of this?
Yes, mobile phones. Mobile phone enterprises are huge engineering undertakings and they work fabulously well here in Pakistan. In the book I explain why.
And, a tiny number of expert engineers I found in Pakistan (and elsewhere). I found they earn such amazingly high salaries because they are so valuable for their employers, earning much higher salaries here in Pakistan than ordinary engineers in Australia or the USA.
They were the genesis for this book. These few experts. Because they think and act differently. Without being able to explain how, they have mastered the challenges of technical collaboration and knowledge sharing.
By learning how they did that in this book, engineers everywhere can replicate their performances.
Yes, my hope is that this knowledge can change the world, not just Pakistan.
We share this planet and we’re making a mess of it.
Yet I am confident that the knowledge in this book (along with many many others) can empower engineers to achieve what today might seem impossible.
We are at the start of the second great phase of industrialisation and economic expansion, but not so much in the USA and Europe. This exciting phase in human history will start here, in Pakistan, China, India, Indonesia, and Africa.
Expert engineers will enable this to happen without carbon emissions and pollution…. They have to: there is no other attractive future in sight.
Now let me finish with a real example to show what I mean.
I devised this air conditioner, here. It runs on just 300 Watts and provides comfort with 5 or 6 times less power than conventional air conditioners. There’s no installation, no consumables, and virtually no maintenance. It runs on a UPS through power interruptions.
It reduces the electricity cost for uninterrupted air conditioned night time comfort from about 400-500 Rupees using a generator, to less than 50 Rupees.
That makes air conditioning affordable for so many more people in Pakistan, …. one day it will be affordable for everyone who wants it.
It is now understood that air conditioning (using yesterday’s energy hungry technology), along with electric lighting, water supplies, sanitation and motorised transport, brought what is now acknowledged to be the greatest economic transformation of the USA.
A good sleep at night, beyond reach for months at a time for so many in Pakistan today, reduces social tensions, and is essential for day time productivity.
So, reducing energy consumption, reducing pollution, making smart use of materials, making so many people more comfortable and healthy…..
And, I very much hope, good business as well.
With this knowledge in this book, I know that future generations of engineers can do the same, many many many times over.
Load shedding, gas shortages, undrinkable water, widespread poverty and misery, pollution: all these can become distant memories of “the bad old days”. Engineers, step forward, learn, and get on with it!
And those of you who are not engineers….. your part is first to help engineers who are not here today, and encourage them to read this book, perhaps buy a copy for themselves! But also, your job is to help others understand how critical engineers are for our common future on this planet. I hope you can appreciate that a little more from listening to this talk today.
And yes, I have suggested solutions for load shedding and energy shortages in Pakistan. Connect to my blog with LinkedIn or Facebook where you fill find them.
Assala mualaikum Prof James
Congratulation. May Allah bless your sincere effort.
Dear Zol, many thanks for your thoughts and best wishes. I hope to catch up in Malaysia before long.