Principles of sustainability to create viable systems

When I first started working for Presien back in August 2019, my position was a part-time one as I was studying and working at the same time. The company produces products that combine electrical components from different sources, installed with machine-learning software that they developed. These products are mostly sold to our clients in the constructions industry, to monitor on-site workers and increase safety measures.

As a starting intern, my job consisted of mainly Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA & QC) of these products before they go out to customers, as well as diagnosing and fixing units that were returned from site. At first, I was doing this job like how I had always done it with my past engineering projects: taking things apart to figure out what the issues and problems were.

My desk at work, in the middle of trying to fix a faulty unit

However, since the system is relatively complicated, doing this meant that I ended up breaking a lot of components, doing extra work and wasting tons of time. My work supervisor then advised that I should look at it from a more critical point of view: try to diagnose problems slowly and thoughtfully, without changing the current state of the broken units; and try to find the root cause of issues that might appear on multiple units, not just fixing that one particular unit.

This was a new way of looking at engineering problems to me, as previously I had only worked on university projects, and in that case, getting things to work was the priority. I was surprised that my supervisor did not care as much that I was able to get a unit back in working order, but more about finding ways to improve the system as a whole.

This engineering methodology hits a lot of key points in Strategies for practising sustainable engineering (Dowling et al. 2016): it applies precaution in assuming that problems have root-causes that can be analysed so that a more cost-effective, and resources-conserving solution can be derived. Not only that, by limiting emissions from potential electronic waste, even by a little, but it also made our design and engineering pipeline more environmentally friendly.

As I continued working with the company, I applied this way of thinking, and it helped me and my team to develop both hardware and software engineering solutions that are sustainable. I will continue to use it for future projects, both personal and professional.

References
Dowling, D., Carew, A.L., & Hadgraft, R. (2009). Engineering Your Future: An Australasian Guide.

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