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Over Engineered or Over Designed?

JAG Engineering LLC

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I recall many years ago first hearing the term Over Engineered. It rang a sour note but I had not given it much thought. I still hear this said today about older equipment. For instance the DC Generators at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn NY have been in operation for over 100 years. http://inspectapedia.com/heat/Steam_Systems_Pratt_Milster.php I had the opportunity a few years ago to visit my alma mater. To my surprise and delight the Chief Engineer who provided the tour of the facility to my class in about 1977 was still on the job as was the equipment. But I digress.

Over Engineered is often brought up when speaking about 1950’s vintage American automobiles. “They don’t build them like that anymore”. They don’t build them like that anymore because they don’t design like they use to.

When I worked in the auto industry in the late 70’s and early 80’s engineering was in good part “seat of the pants” designing. A lot less analysis than one would expect. Two-D CAD was just getting introduced. There was extensive testing before production. What a lack of analysis left unknown, testing –often brutal testing- would reveal.

If a component broke it was made stronger by adding more material or eliminating tight radii or other stress concentration features. Whether the rest of the system was just good enough or 10 times stronger than needed was an unknown. Over time components that never failed were targets for cost reduction. This also was not as analytical as it is likely today.

Getting back to the subject of this blog, I would offer that the "weaker" a device is, the more it was engineered. Weaker, because it is designed closer to the expected loads. This of course is aside from shoddy design work.  For greater strength the addition of material will usually achieve this. For an item like the generators at Pratt added weight can also help with vibration. The penalties are the onetime cost of added material and greater shipment weight. Adding more material globally to a system such as a rocket, aircraft and to today’s automobile is forbidden. This requires much move engineering.

I hope I have provided a better understanding of the term Over Engineered and realize it is really a misleading expression. Equipment back then was Over Designed because the factors of ignorance were much greater just a few decades ago.



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