A historical review of how engineers contributed to the solution of societal (public) and individual (private) problems is presented, with emphasis on the last thirty years when computers began to alter drastically the practice of engineering.
The concept of a 3-prong representation of the engineering decision making process, i.e., database, analysis, and judgment, is introduced. The importance of generating a suitable body of experimental and actual performance data and of coupling the database with a state-of-the-art analysis and extrapolation methodology for “public engineering” is illustrated in three case studies involving (a) the nuclear reactor safety study of 1975, (b) the Alaska pipeline weld defect assessment study of 1976, and (c) the Welding Research Council-Pressure Vessel Research Committee (PVRC) Round Robin Flaw Detection Program (1966-86) for thick-section steel welds.
For most of the public engineering projects involving long-term prediction of performance from short-term test data, the time-honored approach of supplementing experimental or service data with engineering judgment is frequently open to a public challenge. To remedy the situation, a new approach of using both the personal computers (PC) and the mainframes to (a) accelerate the peer review of existing data, (b) design a strategy for acquiring new data, and (c) facilitate a regional or global exchange of field data with standardized format, is outlined.
Application of the above approach to strengthen the judgment component of public engineering projects such as the management of high-level nuclear wastes is discussed through an example on the fatigue life prediction of stainless steel 304 piping and components.