There seems to be a lot of pent-up frustration lately about fluid power's future and how we should be training our people. We've had a pretty serious discussion on all of this at our Fluid Power Forums (forums.hydraulicspneumatics.com/groupee). I've also received some emails on the topic and seen similar threads elsewhere on the Internet.
One of the basic questions is: Will we ever truly have "Fluid Power Engineers?" Is it enough to simply give someone a week-long class or two and proclaim them the company's fluid power expert? We can't continue this way and keep fluid power growing.
A recent quick poll conducted on our website asked the question, "What's the primary way that you learned about fluid power?" The responses were as follows:
- On the job/from co-workers: 34%
- Reading up on it myself: 27%
- Short courses/seminars: 11%
- In college: 28%
Do you find it a concern that so little of our technology is really taught at the university level? I certainly do. Some sort of industrial fluid power degree is really the only sensible solution. In this age of increased electrical control and integrated systems that encompass fluid power, mechanical systems, and electrical devices, fluid power stands a chance of getting lost in the mix. How can we continue to treat fluid power as an add-on to a mechanical engineering degree, or something that can simply be picked up on the job?
A concerned reader recently pointed me to a post on a fluid power site. There, someone had asked how they could learn more about fluid power. The majority of the response was that the person should contact their component supplier, basically passing the buck. Is that sound advice, letting someone else worry about the technical details of your system? It's the ultimate in outsourcing, and a sorry habit that far too many companies have fallen into.
So, what should be done? I'd like to see the Fluid Power Society, NFPA, and the universities from the new NSF-funded Engineering Research Center form a study group to push for a new fluid power degree at the university level — I'll certainly volunteer my time to the cause, too.
We have a starting point in the one-week classes that some universities and manufacturers provide, not to mention the fluid power certification classes and exams already offered. I think we need users, OEMs, component manufacturers, and educators all to get together and figure out a solution that best serves our industry.
Do you agree? Disagree? Is there a better solution, or is all of this impossible to achieve? Let me know what you think (please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org), so we can start a dialogue on the future direction of fluid power.