Today’s Engineers Need to Be Fluent in Engineering Data
Data analysis looms as a crucial skill for the engineering careers of the future.
“We’re living through a data revolution,” says Naira Campbell-Kyureghyan, professor at Merrimack College.
“Engineering projects generate data constantly,” she says. “Manufacturing generates more data than any sector in the world. The sheer volume of data is enormous, so it’s essential for engineers to figure out which parts of it can be useful.”
Merrimack’s engineering master’s degree programs are designed to help students navigate that galaxy of data, says Campbell-Kyureghyan.
“The two biggest parts of an engineer’s job are to improve technology that will create a better life, and to improve processes that will create a more profitable company,” she continues. “Engineers have to sift through many different sources of data to understand which information will be helpful for achieving these goals.”
“We have too much information now,” agrees Anthony DiCarlo, a graduate engineering professor who specializes in computational modeling. “Engineers need to know how to interrogate the data, apply the right filters and recognize which patterns are significant. Data science wasn’t part of a traditional engineering degree, so this is not being done very well in the industry. Having this type of expertise can give you an important head start on your engineering career.”
Engineering Data Analytics: An Emerging Field
Much of an engineer’s number-crunching falls outside the boundaries of traditional engineering careers, says Campbell-Kyureghyan. In addition to using data related to product development, manufacture and performance, today’s engineers often must analyze fuel and labor expenses, global consumer trends, natural resource yield curves, research costs, investment strategies and other forms of data.
“Let’s say you’re getting raw materials from North America, manufacturing in Asia and selling your product in Europe,” Campbell-Kyureghyan says. “Data from any or all of those sources might hold the key to making good decisions, depending on the engineering problem you’re trying to solve. An engineering master’s degree should teach you to put your finger on the right information at the right time.”
According to the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE), engineering data analytics involves “the process of leveraging data into actionable insights.” It encompasses a broad spectrum of subject matter that includes:
“The digital revolution offers unprecedented opportunities for improving efficiency and real-time process management,” writes Dataconomy.com, an online journal of Big Data. “By bringing engineers closer in their understanding of analytics, they can solve more questions independently and enhance their effectiveness. This will in turn provide their organizations with new insights based on their specific expertise in engineering, and deliver value at all levels of the organization.”
What Skills Does Engineering Data Analytics Require?
In response to industry demand, Merrimack is integrating data skills into all three of its engineering master’s degrees.
“We have a great data science program at Merrimack,” says engineering professor Sadegh Asgari, “and that’s a big value-add for our engineering graduate degrees. We also have the engineering management specialization, which equips you to approach problems quantitatively and practice data-driven decision-making.”
While it isn’t necessary to master every skill in data analytics, Asgari believes you can raise your engineering career trajectory by gaining functional knowledge in areas such as:
“The Merrimack faculty taught me that numbers matter,” says Nirmal Mallavarapu, a robotics engineer who earned his engineering master’s degree at Merrimack College in 2017. “I use that part of my graduate degree at work every day. We collect a lot of different data sets about our robots to analyze performance, identify problems and make our products better.”
“Engineering data gives you the ability to optimize materials, reduce costs, increase production and improve performance,” Asgari says. “We’re going to see more and more of this in the future. That’s why we are making sure the information is built into our engineering graduate programs.”
“Engineers need to know how to interrogate the data, apply the right filters and recognize which patterns are significant…Having this type of expertise can give you an important head start on your engineering career.”
— Anthony DiCarlo, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering