General Engineering Introduction/Scope Scale

Example Scope Problems edit

A student team wants to do a snow shovel project. Here is fictious dialogue with the instructor that involve revising problem statements because of their scope problems.

Problem Statement: design a better snow shovel
Answer: The word "better" has too broad a scope. Perhaps "Design a snow shovel that hurts the average back less" or "Design a cheaper snow shovel".

Try again.

Problem Statement: Design a snow shovel that hurts the average back less.
Justification: No patents exist that match our design.
Answer1: The scope of the justification is wrong. A better justification would be that all snow shovels on the market hurt people's backs.
Answer2: The justification implies an solution to the problem. Normally problem solutions are brainstormed after the problem is justified.

Try again:

Problem Statement: Design a snow shovel that hurts the average back less.
Justification: Back injuries are numerous and cost society a lot of money.
Answer: The scope of the justification is wrong. A better justification would be that all snow shovels on the market hurt people's backs.

Try again:

Problem Statement: design a better snow shovel
Testing: The aluminum tube purchased performs as advertised.
Answer: The scope of the testing is wrong. Testing should be first a test against competitive snow shovels by people with snow or something similar to snow.

The term "energy crisis" has poor scope. We are not running out of fuel. Oil and Ethanol are not the only forms of fuel. Here is a problem statement with better scope: "We are running out of a mobile, energy storage system." Fuel cells, batteries, bladders and fly wheels all have engineering design problems associated with them. The current energy storage system is gasoline. Gas burning engines are harmful to the environment and prices will always rise.

Another example: Buildings in a big city compete for renters. One building reportedly had "slower elevators". An elevator engineer measured the speeds and found they were the same. The difference turned out to be mirrors. Elevators with mirrors in them were perceived as faster because people like to stare at themselves and time moves quicker. What was the problem with the statement “elevators are slow?” Scope. The statement implies the solution that elevators need to be faster. What would be a better problem statement? "There is a problem with the elevators."

Scale Problems edit

Physical Products edit

There are two kinds of solutions to problems: specials and commodities.

Specials are nitch markets where there is not a lot of demand and almost all deliverables are unique. An example is the pig (pipe cleaning and testing) market. There are approximately 200 pig engineers living in Texas. If a pig uses a specialized rare earth mineral there is not a problem. The pig may be more expensive because it uses the rare mineral but using the rare material does not disrupt the world market or other parts of society.

On the other hand, Tesla makes car batteries that out of 6000 laptop batteries. Laptop batteries are rapidly evolving. Someday laptop batteries may be made out of plastic, but as of 2008, laptop batteries used rare materials. Each of us can not have 6000 laptop batteries for our cars without disrupting the prices of all devices that use batteries. This is a scale problem.

Commodity products/services are very sensitive to scaling problems. If a Tesla car became a commodity (cheap enough so we could all have one), then there is a scaling problem.

Scaling problems occur when something that one person can have ($100,000 Tesla car) becomes cheap enough for all of us to have.

Scaling problems occur when the parent says, it is ok for you to do this, but your brothers and sisters can not. What ever "it" is has scaling problems.

The larger an electric power plant, the more efficient and less polluting it is. Power plants scale well. Almost any type of fuel can be burned in an electric power plant ... at much higher temperatures and pressures than anywhere else. For example a barrel of oil burned in a electrical power plant yields between two and ten times more useful energy than when burned in a car. And there is much less pollution.

On the other hand scaling up the grid to transfer more energy with less loss is more difficult. The electric grid does not scale well.

Services edit

Problem solutions can be either a product or a service. Scaling problems apply to services as well. Here are some examples.

Professors want response clickers for students in their classrooms. Yet the school doesn't have the money to purchase clickers for every classroom. This is a scale problem.

OSHA web pages were built so that anyone could submit a work place safety complaint to OSHA during Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. There were two scope problems. If released, too many people might try to use the web pages causing the server may crash. People that hate OSHA may try to crash the server. But these scale problems were minor compared to the fact that OSHA nationwide investigates 300 complaints per year. If the web pages received 3000 complaints, every single person, every business process within OSHA would be overwhelmed.