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New Developments In Engineering For Nonengineers

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session


Tagged Division

Technological Literacy Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.905.1 - 14.905.13



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Paper Authors

author page

John Krupczak Hope College

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

New Developments in Engineering for Non-Engineers: Functional Analysis as a Framework for Understanding Technology


The National Academy of Engineering recently published: “Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering.” The NAE states that capable and confident participants in our technologically dependent society must know something about engineering. However the means by which engineers can explain engineering to non-engineers are not well established. In this work the method of functional analysis or functional decomposition is suggested as a framework for explaining technical products and systems. Functional analysis is often used in engineering product design and systems engineering. The major engineering disciplines each employ a form of functional thinking in the development of particular classes or domains of technological products. Functional analysis, or functional thinking is therefore identified as a characteristic of engineering. Functional analysis offers advantages cited as desirable in explaining engineering to a non-engineering audience. A major advantage is that functional analysis does not require extensive prerequisite background knowledge and is readily accessible to the general student. Other advantages include the ability to incorporate a systems perspective, inclusion of underlying science principles used in technology, a natural connection to the engineering design process, and ability to describe a wide-variety of different types of technological devices and systems.


The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) recently published: “Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering1”. In this work, the NAE states that capable and confident participants in our technologically-dependent society must know something about engineering. A 2002 report by the NAE entitled, Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More about Technology, describes the importance of being literate about technology in the 21st century2. In their 2006 report, Tech Tally3, the NAE defined technological literacy as “an understanding of technology at a level that enables effective functioning in a modern technological society.”

Technology in this context is associated with the outcomes and products of the various engineering disciplines. Both NAE reports emphasize that technology, in a broad sense, is any modification of the natural world made to fulfill human needs and wants. This includes not only its tangible products, but also the knowledge and processes necessary to create and operate those products. The infrastructure used for the design, manufacture, operation, and repair of technological artifacts is also considered part of technology.

It is important for non-engineers to have an understanding of engineering and the technology that is developed by engineers. By implication then, engineers are responsible for making an effort to inform and educate the non-engineering public on technological topics. However, the specific steps engineers should take, and the means that engineers should use to communicate technical

Krupczak, J. (2009, June), New Developments In Engineering For Nonengineers Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4539

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