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What is Engineering? (Definition and Types)


Engineering is the application of science and maths to solve problems. While scientists and inventors come up with innovations, it is engineers who apply these discoveries to the real world.

Engineering is part of STEM education, which aims to engage students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics yet, as a discipline, it has been practiced for thousands of years.

You can see examples of engineering in the Pyramids of Giza, at Stonehenge, the Parthenon and elsewhere. Yet, today’s engineers operate in many different areas as well as building structures.

Engineers work on everything from cell membranes to construction and prosthetics to improving engine and transport efficiencies and developing renewable energy resources.

While engineering dates right back to the invention of the wheel (and beyond), the term itself comes from the word engineer, which goes back to the 14th century, when an ‘engine’er’ meant someone who constructed military engines like catapults and other ‘siege engines.’ This military meaning can still be seen in use today with the Corps of Royal Engineers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The word ‘engine’ itself comes from the Latin word ‘ingenium’ (c. 1250), which means ‘innate quality, especially mental power, hence a clever invention.’

Engineering developed beyond military applications and began to be applied to civilian structures like bridges and buildings, leading to the creation of the term civil engineering, to differentiate it from the original military engineering field.

Additive Manufacturing Engineer

What Does an Engineer Do?

Engineers are involved in the design, evaluation, development, testing, modification, inspection and maintaining of a wide range of products, structures and systems. This involves everything from the recommending of materials and processes, overseeing manufacturing and construction processes, and conducting failure analysis and investigation, to providing consultancy services and teaching engineering to students and trainees.


There are many different types of engineering, often divided into areas in which the engineer operates. For example, engineers working within the oil and gas industry could be petroleum engineers, while those working in farming-related applications could be called agricultural engineers.

While there are some traditional areas of engineering, such as mechanical and civil engineering, other engineering fields require an overlapping of different specialities. So, for example, a civil engineer may also need an understanding of structural engineering or an aerospace engineer may need to understand aspects of electrical or computer engineering too.

These types of engineering are commonly known as interdisciplinary engineering and include manufacturing engineering, acoustic engineering, corrosion engineering, aerospace, automotive, computer, textiles, geological, materials and nuclear engineering, among others. These areas of engineering are all among the branches of engineering that are represented by the 36 licensed member institutions of the UK Engineering Council. 

Here are some of the traditional and more common interdisciplinary engineering fields:

1. Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineers are involved in the design, manufacture, inspection and maintenance of machinery, equipment and components such as vehicles, engines, aerospace products, weapon systems, robotics, turbines, construction and farm machinery, as well as a wide range of tools and devices. This type of engineering is also associated with the management of control systems and instruments for measuring the performance and status of machinery.

2. Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineers work on the design, testing, manufacture, construction, control, monitoring and inspection of electrical and electronic devices, components, machines and systems. These range in size from the smallest microchips to large transmission and power generation systems. This includes everything from broadcast engineering to electromagnetic devices, computer systems, telecommunications and more.

3. Civil Engineering

Civil engineers are involved in the design, construction, maintenance and inspection of large civil infrastructure projects, including roads, railways, bridges, tunnels and dams.

Working on both public and private projects, civil engineers traditionally work in sub-disciplines such as environmental engineering, structural engineering or surveying.

As mentioned above, civil engineering was originally created to differentiate it from military engineering.

4. Aerospace Engineering

As a specialised branch of mechanical and electrical engineering, aerospace engineering focuses on the design, manufacture and testing of aircraft and spacecraft, including all parts and components. Covering everything from vehicle aerodynamics and efficiencies to electrical control and navigation systems, much of the expertise is also used for other vehicles, such as cars.

5. Nuclear Engineering

Nuclear engineers work on the design, manufacture, construction, operation, and testing of the equipment, systems and processes for the production and control of nuclear power. From nuclear power plant reactors to particle accelerators, nuclear engineers also work on factors such as monitoring and the storage of nuclear waste in order to protect people from potentially harmful situations.

6. Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineers are concerned with the design of systems, equipment and devices for use in healthcare and medicine. By working with medical specialists such as doctors, therapists and researchers, biomedical engineers are able to meet the requirements of healthcare professionals.

7. Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers use physics, chemistry, biology and engineering principles for the design of equipment, systems and processes for refining raw materials for mixing, compounding and processing chemicals for a variety of products. Carrying out processes on a commercial scale, chemical engineers are involved in processes ranging from petroleum refining to fermentation and the production of biomolecules.

8. Computer Engineering

Computer engineers design computer hardware, systems, networks and software. Computer engineering combines other disciplines, such as electrical engineering and computer science, as well as software engineering and design.

9. Industrial Engineering

Industrial engineers design and optimise facilities, equipment and systems for manufacturing, materials processing and other industrial applications.

10. Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineers are concerned with the prevention, removal and elimination of sources of pollution that affect the environment. Measuring pollution levels, determining sources of pollution and cleaning up polluted areas, these engineers need to work in compliance with government regulations.

11. Marine Engineering

Marine engineering is related to any engineering tasks on or near the oceans. This includes design and development for shipping, submarines, oil rigs, on-board, harbours, plants and more. This specialised area of engineering combines other types of engineering, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and programming.


Why Engineering is Important

Engineering has been a part of human history, in one form or another, for thousands of years. Of course, as our knowledge and understanding of science and mathematics grew, so our engineering expertise and competence also improved.

Today’s engineers use the most advanced technologies, alongside established scientific principles, to apply cutting-edge solutions and innovation to real world challenges.

It is hard to over-emphasise the importance of engineering on human history, from designing transportation systems to powering our homes, engineering is all around us, right down to the device you are using to read this.

As our scientific knowledge continues to advance, so engineering will find ways to take this new information and apply it to the world around us.


Engineering is all around us and is an integral part of our everyday lives. It is something that many people take for granted, but it is engineering that allows you to make a coffee in the morning, heats or cools your home, allows you to travel, communicate on your mobile device, and so much more besides.

As James A. Michener wrote in his 1983 novel, Space, "Scientists dream about doing great things. Engineers do them."

TWI’s engineering expertise covers a range of industrial applications, from automotive to power generation and aerospace to marine, as we work to offer support and solutions to our Industrial Members.

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