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CHAPTER II. MECHANICAL ENGINEERING.
This work, as already explained, is to be devoted to mechanical engineering, and in view of the difference of opinion that exists as to what mechanical engineering comprehends, and the different sense in which the term is applied, it will be proper to explain what is meant by it here.

I am not aware that any one has defined what constitutes civil engineering, or mechanical engineering, as distinguished one from the other, nor is it assumed to fix any standard here [14] farther than to serve the purpose of explaining the sense in which the terms will be used; yet there seems to be a clear line of distinction, which, if it does not agree with popular use of the terms, at least seems to be furnished by the nature of the business itself. It will therefore be assumed that mechanical engineering relates to dynamic forces and works that involve machine motion, and comprehends the conditions of machine action, such as torsional, centrifugal, intermittent, and irregular strains in machinery, arising out of motion; the endurance of wearing surfaces, the constructive processes of machine-making and machine effect in the conversion of material—in short, agents for converting, transmitting, and applying power.

Civil engineering, when spoken of, will be assumed as referring to works that do not involve machine motion, nor the use of power, but deal with static forces, the strength, nature, and disposition of material under constant strains, or under measured strains, the durability and resistance of material, the construction of bridges, factories, roads, docks, canals, dams, and so on; also, levelling and surveying. This corresponds to the most common use of the term civil engineering in America, but differs greatly from its application in Europe, where civil engineering is understood as including machine construction, and where the term engineering is applied to ordinary manufacturing processes.

Civil engineering, in the meaning assumed for the term, has become almost a pure mathematical science. Constants are proved and established for nearly every computation; the strength and durability of materials, from long and repeated tests, has come to be well understood; and as in the case of machine tools, the uniformity of practice among civil engineers, and the perfection of their works, attest how far civil engineering has become a true science, and proves that the principles involved in the construction of permanent works are well understood.

To estimate how much is yet to be learned in mechanical engineering, we have only to apply the same test, and when we contrast the great variance between the designs of machines and the diversity of their operation, even when applied to similar purposes, their imperfection is at once apparent. It must, however, be considered that if the rules of construction were uniform, and the principles of machine operation as well understood as the strength and arrangement of material in permanent structures, still there would remain the difficulty of adaptation to new [15] processes, which are continually being developed.

If the steam-engine, for instance, had forty years ago been brought to such a state of improvement as to be constructed with standard proportions and arrangement for stationary purposes, all the rules, constants, and data of whatever kind that had been collected and proved, would have been but of little use in adapting steam-engines to railways and the purposes of navigation.

Mechanical engineering has by the force of circumstances been divided up into branches relating to engineering tools, railway machinery, marine engines, and so on; either branch of which constitutes a profession within itself. Most thorough study will be required to master general principles, and then a further effort to acquire proficiency in some special branch, without which there is but little chance of success at the present day.

To master the various details of machine manufacture, including draughting, founding, forging, and fitting, is of itself a work equal to most professional pursuits, to say nothing of manual skill; and when we come to add machine functions and their application, generating and transmitting power, with other things that will necessarily be included in practice, the task assumes proportions that makes it appear a hopeless one. Besides, the work of keeping progress with the mechanic arts calls for a continual accretion of knowledge; and it is no small labour to keep informed of the continual changes and improvements that are going on in all parts of the world, which may at any time modify and change both machines and processes. But few men, even under the most favourable conditions, have been able to qualify themselves as competent mechanical engineers sooner than at forty years of age.

One of the earliest cares of an apprentice should be to divest his mind of what I will call the romance of mechanical engineering, almost inseparable from such views as are often acquired in technological schools. He must remember that it is not a science he is studying, and that mathematics deal only with one branch of what is to be learned. Special knowledge, or what does not come within the scope of general principles, must be gained in a most practical way, at the expense of hard work, bruised fingers, and a disregard of much that the world calls gentility.

[16]

Looking ahead into the future, the apprentice can see a field for the mechanical engineer widening on every side. As the construction of permanent works becomes more settled and uniform, the application of power becomes more diversified, and develops problems of greater intricacy. No sooner has some great improvement, like railway and steam navigation, settled into system and regularity than new enterprises begin. To offset the undertaking of so great a work as the study of mechanical engineering, there is the very important advantage of the exclusiveness of the calling—a condition that arises out of its difficulties. If there is a great deal to learn, there is also much to be gained in learning it. It is seldom, indeed, that an efficient mechanical engineer fails to command a place of trust and honour, or to accumulate a competency by means of his calling.

If a civil engineer is wanted to survey railways, construct docks, bridges, buildings, or permanent works of any kind, there are scores of men ready for the place, and qualified to discharge the duties; but if an engineer is wanted to design and construct machinery, such a person is not easy to be found, and if found, there remains that important question of competency; for the work is not like that of constructing permanent works, where several men may and will perform the undertaking very much in the same manner, and perhaps equally well. In the construction of machinery it is different; the success will be directly as the capacity of the engineer, who will have but few precedents, and still fewer principles, to guide him, and generally has to set out by relying mainly upon his special knowledge of the operation and application of such machines as he has to construct.

(1.) How may mechanical be distinguished from civil engineering?—(2.) What test can be applied to determine the progress made in any branch of engineering?—(3.) What are some of the conditions which prevent the use of constants in machine construction?—(4.) Is mechanical engineering likely to become more exact and scientific?—(5.) Name some of the principal branches of mechanical engineering.—(6.) Which is the most extensive and important?


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