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Engineering and Design for the Other 90%

on ‎06-21-2013 05:15 PM

This guest blog post is by John Fox,  VP of Marketing for Mainstream Engineering, Siemens PLM Software

An Interview Bernard Amadei, Founder, Engineers Without Borders – USA

Solid Edge University 2013 is next week, and it’s shaping up to be the biggest Solid Edge user event ever.  (It’s not too late to register).  People come to Solid Edge University to acquire new skills and get more productive.  It’s also an event where engineers and designers can get inspired by new ideas, innovative technologies, and smart people.  That’s why the theme for this year’s event is “Inspired Design.”



Bernard Amadei is the first of two inspiring keynote speakers who will help us kickoff the first full day of the event, next Tuesday.  Among many other distinctions, Dr. Amadei is the Founding President of Engineers Without Borders - USA and the Co-Founder of the Engineers Without Borders - International network. He has an enlightening story to tell.
Here’s my interview with Bernard:

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about your keynote presentation?


The title of my presentation is “Engineering and Design for the Other 90%.”

In the next two decades, almost two billion additional people are expected to populate the Earth, 95% of them in developing or underdeveloped countries. This growth will create unprecedented demands for energy, food, land, water, transportation, materials, waste disposal, earth moving, health care, environmental cleanup, telecommunication, and infrastructure.

Improving the quality of life of the other 90% will create one of the most vibrant growth markets we have ever seen and unique opportunities for technical innovation and technology transfer. There are indeed many opportunities for the private and public sectors in the developed and developing world to do well by doing good. What does technical innovation for the other 90% look like? Will it be so disruptive that we need to rethink how to approach design and implementation? I will address those questions and more in my presentation.

What inspired you to take a new direction in your career and create Engineers Without Borders in the US?
In spring 2000, I had the opportunity to visit several Mayan villages in Belize. One of them by the name of San Pablo caught my attention. Little did I know, at the time, the people in that village would change my life and professional career forever.  During my visit, I was introduced to some young girls who, I was told, spent a lot of time doing basic house chores including fetching water from the river located 30 m below the village. As a result, they could not go to school. Since the villagers heard that I was a civil engineer, I was asked if I could do something about bringing water to the village using an alternative method. The problem was simple from a technical point of view (i.e. use a water pump and storage facility) but not from a social aspect. The community was poor and could not afford the fuel to drive a pump. The government of Belize had not provided electricity to the village at that time. San Pablo was my first introduction to engineering in sustainable human development, or development engineering (DevEng), in short.

The trip to San Pablo changed my life and led to the creation of Engineers Without Borders in the USA (EWB-USA) and the development of a program on Engineering for Developing Communities (EDC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder).

How did you inspire others to get involved?
 It turns out that I was not the only one interested in helping the people of San Pablo; many of the engineering students at CU-Boulder wanted to be of help to the community as well. My office became a gathering point for the project which quickly took shape. We decided, with the technical assistance of a local engineer, Dennis Walsh, to build a ram pump that would convert the potential head from a water fall located upstream of San Pablo into enough pressure head to reach the village. The students raised the funding necessary to go to Belize in May 2001 in order to install the pump and build a small water distribution system. Upon our return from Belize, the students were even more excited about doing real voluntary projects as part of their education. They conveyed to me their frustration at doing the same virtual engineering work in the classroom; they wanted more of what they called at the time “meaningful engineering.” Interestingly enough, I was also trying to integrate more experiential learning in my teaching. The students and I had similar interests.

The trip to Belize made me realized that I would better serve humanity by working on projects that improved people’s lives rather than writing a steady state of academic publications that few people read. I quickly realized that projects like the one in San Pablo could be integrated into the engineering classroom and be a powerful way of training our students to address real problems and coming up with solutions that build on the fundamentals they learn in the classroom. I realized that there was a need to train engineering students to address not only the needs of the rich segments of the world.

What does the future hold?  How can engineers and designers help address the challenges you describe? 
I have discovered that there is a lot of interest among young people today to make a difference in the world. Engineers and designers have a unique opportunity to use their technical skills to create solutions that can address the needs of a larger number of people than just the richest segments of the population on our planet. Addressing the needs of the other 90% of our planet requires that design and engineering solutions take under consideration both hard (technical) and soft issues. It is about developing solutions for a large number of new customers (3-4 billion) that are available, accessible, affordable, equitable, reliable, and scalable in a context different from that in the Western world. This calls for disruptive and frugal design and innovations. The market opportunities for that design are huge and yet untapped.

Thanks, Bernard.  I’m looking forward to seeing you next week!

You can follow Bernard on Twitter: @Bamadei as well as Engineers Without Borders - USA: @EWBUSA

Also, thanks to Scott Wertel, a long-time Solid Edge customer and blogger, who introduced me to Engineers Without Borders.

Next up, my interview with our second keynote speaker at Solid Edge University 2013, Adam Steltzner, Lead Landing Engineer of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Project. Check back Monday!