You woke up this morning, brushed your teeth, ate breakfast, drank a glass of water and most probably climbed in a car. While on your way to school or work, you probably drove on a paved or gravel road, stopped at a traffic signal and filled your motor vehicle with fuel before arriving at your location.

The more fortunate most probably climbed in an elevator to the fifth floor to sit in an air-conditioned office, or sang the school anthem with the words projected on a screen in front of the school hall. What does all of the above have in common? 

If you guessed engineering, you are 100% correct! Let’s first start at what an engineer is. The oxford dictionary defines an engineer as “a person whose job is to design or build machines, engines or electrical equipment, or things such as roads, railways or bridges, using scientific principles.”

 You may also be wondering at this stage what the difference between engineers and scientists are. Perhaps Albert Einstein put it best when he said, Scientists investigate that which already is; engineers create that which has never been.” The above is a mouthful, so let’s rather look at how we link engineering to the above story?

 We first start with a Chemical engineer responsible for the design of toothpaste, serving of breakfast and composing the fuel for the motor vehicle. Mechanical engineers, assisted by Electronic engineers are responsible for the design of motor vehicles, elevators and air conditioners. The availability of fresh water, paved and gravel roads is the responsibility of Civil engineers.  

Structural engineers design the structural components of the buildings occupied. The electrification of the traffic signal and elevator is the baby of Electrical engineers. Without engineering, the above story would definitely have taken different routes, which would have included more walking, more frequent stops and definitely more smelly breaths.

With Namibia being a developing country, the demand for the employment of engineers is high. Jobs are offered at different institutions within the public and private sector, like for example Private Consulting Practices, Municipalities, Government Departments, Contracting Firms and Educational and Research Institutions just to name a few. Within Namibia, there are four common disciplines of engineering, namely Civil, Electrical, Electronic and Mechanical. Other fields of engineering not so common in Namibia but also practiced are Industrial and Chemical engineering. So, by looking at these engineering fields, what are the day-to-day responsibilities of each?

Civil Engineering is a broad spectrum of engineering which can be sub-divided into 3 branches, namely Transportation, Water and Structural. 

Transportation Engineers are responsible for the design of the roads we drive on every day, which involves the geometrical and structural design of rural and urban roads. The curves, slopes, crests and troughs in a road alignment are all calculated by a Transportation engineer, which greatly depends on the function of a road. The road pavement is the layers of the specially selected materials below the roads surface. These layers has to meet the requirements of the road, which in turn depends on the traffic volume, the number of heavy vehicles and required design life of the road.

Part of the responsibilities of a transportation engineer is to look at the accommodation of the storm water. Roads are constructed in the run-off catchments of storm water courses and therefore needs to be accommodated by the construction of storm water structures. The sizing of these structures is done by engineers, and depends on the volume of storm water to accommodate. Bridges are generally required where roads cross large rivers, and culverts are used to cross other water courses.

Water Engineering. Since water is a source of life for all living organisms, the supply and delivery of water within rural and urban areas are of utmost importance. Water engineers, in association with electrical, mechanical and chemical engineers, are responsible for the supply and delivery of this life commodity.

There are different water sources, such as underground water sources, dams and purifications plants, which are utilized to supply water to the population. Pipelines, canals, reservoirs, wells, pump stations and water towers are all man-made devices which are used to collect, store and deliver water. The water engineer is responsible for calculating the sizes of these man-made structures for efficient water delivery.

Structural Engineering is a well-known branch to Civil engineering. To say the truth, they hold the life’s of many people in their hands. Structural engineers are responsible for the design of the structural components of buildings, bridges and other man-made structures. 

By using and applying the forces of nature, such as soil conditions, wind, rain and snow together with the principles of science, structural engineers calculate the size of footings, beams, columns, slabs, amount of reinforced steel within concrete structures and sizing of steel structures. This is to ensure that a structure is safe. An Architect will design a nice-looking building, while a structural engineer will make the building a reality.

Electrical and Electronic Engineers work with electrical energy and information systems. Electrical Engineers are mainly responsible for the generation of electricity from natural resources (eg. Coal, nuclear and hydro-energy) to electrical energy. This electrical energy is distributed through an extensive infrastructure to reach homes and industry for the purpose of heating and lighting. The design, monitoring and supervising of these electrical infrastructures is the responsibility of the electrical engineer.

Electronic Engineers are mainly responsible for the processing and control of information in all forms. Typical products of these engineers include radio and television systems, computers, electronic games, radar systems and electronic and control systems for aircrafts just to name a few. The availability of electrical energy is a key factor for the designing of these systems.

Mechanical Engineers design, construct, maintain and install various mechanical equipment in various fields of application. Mining is one of these fields of application where drilling machines, ventilation fans, underground railways, conveyor belts and pumping plants necessitates the input of mechanical engineers. Other fields of applications are power generation, transport, agriculture and biomedical engineering, where the mechanical engineer work in close partnership with other engineering disciplines to develop equipment such as steam turbines, aircrafts, ships, motor vehicles, heart-lung machines and tractors. 

Chemical engineers are responsible for making small-scale chemical test tube reactions into large-scale market driven products. Examples of these products are food, petroleum, mining and minerals, fertilizers, paper, glass and pharmaceutical products.

Mining engineers evaluates, plans, and oversees the construction of a mine. However, it’s not really that simple. A mining engineer will be involved in a project through all phases of mining operations – from exploration and discovery of the mineral resource, through feasibility studies, mine design, development of plans and production, scheduling, operations, processing and even marketing. They are still involved at the mine closure stages including final land restoration and rehabilitation

Last but not least is Industrial Engineering. Industrial engineers are mainly responsible for the design of effective processes for maximum financial gain from minimum effort. A typical process is the production line for manufacturing of motor vehicles, which may include automated processes like a manufacturing robot. Systems within banks are also for instance designed by Industrial Engineers. Lyon Sprague De Camp said of engineers, The story of civilization is, in a sense, the story of engineering – that long and arduous struggle to make the forces of nature work for man’s good.” 




Article by: Gert Maritz (Pr Eng) M Eng (Civil) B Eng (Stellenbosch)  Lithon Project Consultants (Pty Ltd Project Managers and Multi Disciplinary Consulting Engineers

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