Author: Professor Dr. Syed Arif Kamal Previous Article Printable Version PDF
We have learnt about the importance of carefully planned observations and experiments to advance sciences. In fact, this attitude is helpful in any branch where the relationships could be expressed in mathematical forms, may it be in science, engineering, economics, business or finance. When one is faced with an industrial problem, one must focus on “solutions” rather than problems.
When NASA began the launch of astronauts into space, they experienced that pens wouldn't work at zero gravity (ink won't flow down to the writing surface). They developed a pen that worked at zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on practically any surface including crystal and in a temperature range from below freezing to over 3000C. It took them 10 years and the development cost was US dollars 12 million.
The Russians used a pencil.
Take another example. Japanese management was faced with empty soapboxes, which got supplied to the market. Upon receiving complaint from a customer, the authorities isolated the problem to assembly line, which transported all the packaged boxes of soap to the delivery department. For some reason, one soapbox went through the assembly line empty. The engineers, who were given the task to solve the problem, worked hard to design an X-ray machine attached to high-resolution monitors, manned by a couple of technicians, to survey all the soapboxes that passed through the line. They worked “hard” and they worked “fast”, but they spent a huge sum to do so.
Look at what a rank-and-file employee in a small company did! He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line. He switched the fan on, and as each soapbox passed the fan, it simply blew the empty boxes out of the line.
Working “fast” and working “hard” may not be enough to achieve success, work “smart!”
Let us see what are the steps taken to tackle to problem to reach "its solution" with the least possible wastage of human and monetary resources.
A) Statement of the Problem: As a necessary first step in any project one must define the objectives of the project as specifically as possible. A problem well formulated and well posed is half done.
B) Literature Survey: One
must know if the problem has been tackled before and if so to what extent. The
media to search about a topic may be electronic or conventional. Electronic
media include Internet, CD-ROM, electronic reports and journals. Conventional
media includes encyclopedias, books, reports and journals.
Think about the possible solutions, and weigh the “pros” and the “cons” of each one in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
C) Feasibility Study: One must determine whether one is able to complete the project with the given resources (personnel, money, facilities) in the required time to be practical. Many big projects (well-known are Skylab and Superconducting Linear Collider) were abandoned because their feasibility was not properly studied. This resulted in the waste of money, time and effort.
Out of the many solutions available, shortlist the one, which can accomplish the task with the least-possible effort and the least-possible budget.
D) Development of a Prototype Model: A very simple model linking the various relationships may be developed in the beginning.
E) Development of a Phenomenological Model: A phenomenological model consists of finding relationships (equation, graph) among variables of interest without knowing the basis of such relationships. Students of Modern Physics would appreciate that the Wein's law of blackbody radiation is a phenomenological model.
F) Development of a Fundamental Model: A fundamental model consists of discovering relationships (equation, graph) among variables of interest at the same time knowing their bases. Students of Modern Physics know that the Rayleigh-Jean's law of blackbody radiation is a fundamental model (they would also realize that the failure of a phenomenological model, Wein's law, did not attract much attention from the physicists; failure of a fundamental model, Rayleigh- Jean's law, prompted physicists to change physics and introduce the paradigm of quantum phenomena). At times, it is sufficient to go only to the stage of the phenomenological model of a certain project, whereas other projects may require development of a sophisticated fundamental model.
G) Simulation: A model developed is only an approximation of the real-world problem. This is because, at times, one never knows completely the mathematical forms of the laws used. Formulation of a problem, usually, results in a differential equation. Very often, the differential equation, being nonlinear, cannot be solved exactly. Hence one must find out how well the model represents the actual system. To do so one resorts to simulation. A simulation may also be called a computer experiment. At times it is too costly or dangerous (e. g., in rocketry, in thermonuclear reactions) to run the experiment. A simulation, therefore, is performed before and during the fabrication of the system. Every part of the system is represented by a mathematical equation, which is converted into a computer program. The program is run and the results are computed. If the results do not agree with the desired goal the model is modified. Thus, we see that simulation results provide feedback to improve the model. Once the desired results are obtained parts may be fabricated. This is called hardware-in-the-loop simulation. Once all the parts are designed in such a way they are assembled to make the complete system, say, a rocket.
H) Trials: Even after all this homework one is never sure how one's fabricated system shall perform in the real world, e. g., what would be the trajectory of a rocket in an ever-changing atmosphere. Therefore, trials have to be conducted to determine the performance of the system in nature. If the performance is not what was expected, one must go back to fine tune the model. Feedback from field trials, therefore, refines the model.
We must need to change the thinking of our science students. Thinking is of two types: thinking by reason (wisdom develops on the basis of previous knowledge) and scientific thinking. Thinking by reason is applicable in understanding everyday life. Scientific thinking, on the other hand, is used in development of sciences and technology.
The reader may, also, like to view the write up: Proposal Writing.
Appeared in RAWISH, magazine of the Government Degree College, Malir Cantonment, Karachi,2008, pp 47-49
Updated: February 1, 2023 (0000h UTC) Previous Article Printable Version PDF
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