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Editorial: an Australian perspective on multidisciplinary engineering.

I take this opportunity as Editor of this Australian Journal of Multi-disciplinary Engineering (AJMDE) to introduce the papers in this issue, which have all been published online already, and to comment on several aspects of multidisciplinary research and practice in engineering.

The first paper (Joiner 2018)examinesthe increasingly important issue of complexity as found in the interconnecting command, control, communications, computers and intelligence networks among military and international security organisations and governments.

The paper examines the means of assuring such networks achieve the three desirable attributes of being integrated, interoperable and information-secured, known as I3. The paper contrasts what has been achieved in the USA and Australia and draws conclusions that are more generally relevant for other countries and other forms of networks.

The second paper (Al-Rawi 2018) examines the 32 kilo-bit per second (32 kb/s) Adaptive Differential Pulse Code Modulation (ADPCM) which suffers distortion in the voiceband sampling frequencies of greater than 4.8 kb/s. Various methods to overcome this limitation are considered, and two specific detectors are presented that handle the severe distortion introduced by 32 kb/s ADPCM. These two designs are compared with a previously developed detector, and test and simulation results show improved performance.

The third paper (Pearman 2018) examines the relative costs of transporting feedstock by truck for the biomass to be used to generate energy. The paper compares the emissions overhead from the trucks with the energy generated from the biomass feedstock. While primarily about transport costs and the potential use of biomass for energy, the paper is also relevant to how truck transport influences the economics of other commodities.

Taken together, these papers cover a widely disparate spectrum, but that is not surprising for multi-disciplinary engineering. In some ways, it is inevitable as the scope of engineering is global and affects every aspect of our planet and our lives thereon.

My own observations also cover a wide range of topics and lack any common thread excepting the pervasive role of engineering in bringing together elements from a multitude of sources to achieve holistic outcomes following a disciplined process of integration.

The first topic I wish to address is the role of nuclear science, technology and engineering in providing emission-free energy in a future experiencing the effects of global warming. I must first preface my remarks with a reservation that I feel that too much emphasis has been placed on carbon-based emissions as the most important so-called greenhouse gas when in fact there are many other gases with similar effects, including water vapour. Second, the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is greatly influenced by the consumptions by plant life, and so the increase in C[O.sub.2] is partially caused by deforestation and other agrarian processes.

Having said all that, the most prominent solution is the use of renewable energy, especially solar and wind energy, although wave action, hydro and geothermal may also make important contributions. The problem with solar and wind is their intermittency, requiring some form of energy storage to provide dispatchable, baseload power, and this makes the combined power source more expensive.

The alternative of nuclear power generation is widely used around the world as an emission-free and round-the-clock energy source for which the economics are competitive. Nuclear power stations also produce heat energy that can be used for other cost-effective industrial processes.

However, in Australia, major opposition to nuclear power derives from the experiences of three notable nuclear power station accidents - Three Mile Island in USA in 1979; Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 and Fukushima in Japan in 2011. There has been a great deal written about each of these incidents and their causes and after-effects. However, the actual harm done has been less than some other natural events.

Another source of antipathy to nuclear power is the long life of some of the waste products from the process. All nuclear power plants have a terminal life span, and even after removal of the spent fuel, there remains a quantity of waste products with intermediate and low levels of radiation requiring specialised storage for an extended period--typically 300 years or less. The creation of such waste repositories is an active subject of study in an Australian Government search for a low-level waste repository and an intermediate-level waste store in South Australia. This followed an earlier South Australian Royal Commission considering the full nuclear fuel cycle.

In Australia, we have only a single operating nuclear reactor that is used for production of nuclear medicine products and for various forms of research, but not for nuclear power generation. In recent years, there has been active consideration world wide for the acquisition of so-called small modular (nuclear power) reactors, generally known as SMRs. These smaller units are mostly self-contained with reactor and steam generation located within a single containment vessel that is itself transportable from place of fabrication to operating site (and can later be removed in a similar manner). SMRs are designed to be inherently safe in the event of loss of control or auxiliary power of all kinds, can be clustered in groups for sequential maintenance to avoid disruption to the power grid and are designed to shut down and undergo necessary cooling without any external intervention.

Australia would be well disposed to acquire SMRs as a contribution to phasing out coal- and gas-fired generators that currently provide the bulk of national electrical power. However, there is one other legal impediment that must be removed. Sometime after the Chernobyl accident, political power in the federal parliament legislated a provision in a law on Environment Protection to expressly prohibit the fabrication or enrichment of nuclear fuel, even though Australia has some 29% of world reserves of Uranium, and also prohibited the construction of nuclear power stations. The removal of this constraint is under consideration as part of a wideranging review of national energy options.

Australia is a party to the nuclear weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and there is no indication that this would change in any foreseeable future, notwithstanding current geopolitical developments in Iran and North Korea, and perhaps other countries also. However, in the near term, there is another factor in Australia's geostrategic balance. The lack of any nuclear power industry also inhibits the acquisition and sustainment of nuclear-propelled submarines and other ships such as ice breakers, and this is a source of deep concern due to the very large area of Australia's maritime responsibility, requiring extended range and endurance of maritime forces. So the push for nuclear power may even be driven by geostrategic needs rather than straight energy supply reliability and cost factors.

In general, the undersea domain is poorly understood and underappreciated. Impervious to all radio-frequency energy except at very low frequencies, this provides a cloak of invisibility from surface, airborne and space-borne observation. Only acoustic transmissions are sufficiently far-reaching and reliable in the underwater environment to provide for communications and surveillance observation at useful ranges.

This phenomenon provides a secure environment for submarines and a challenging medium for those attempting to locate and neutralise those same submarines. This effort is known as anti-submarine warfare or ASW and consumes enormous resources with inconsistent results. This is the reason that submarines are the platform of choice for carriage of longrange deterrent ballistic missiles.

Signal processing and detection thresholds have been improved dramatically, but the inherent variability of the underwater acoustic domain continues to make the detection of submarine contacts a challenging and unpredictable goal. The battle continues unchecked between those hiding within the watery depths and those seeking to detect, classify and prosecute them.

There is no doubt that the entire undersea confrontation between submarines and ASW forces embodies multidisciplinary engineering in all its facets, from the vehicles themselves to the multi-faceted means to sense, communicate and cause effects to occur.

Engineers Australia is unusual in covering all disciplines of engineering and does so in a number of Colleges that follow the more traditional engineering disciplines. One additional College that is multidisciplinary is the newly formed College of Leadership and Management (CLM) drawn from the original Centre for Engineering Leadership and Management (CELM) that was formed several years previously. The concept of management is generally understood, especially in engineering practice, but the concept of leadership does not enjoy the same level of consensus. Further debate and discussion are warranted and will hopefully include some thoughtful papers to be published here in AJMDE. The scope of CLM is inherently multidisciplinary.

Leadership generally includes the articulation of a vision and presents a step-by-step way ahead to achieve the vision that appeals to those followers who accept the authority and guidance of an acknowledged leader. Thus, for the engineering professional to lead is to offer a competent and considered way ahead to achieve a worthy goal that is supported by the followers. In some ways, this is a natural role for engineers who are educated and inspired to solve difficult challenges based on their academic background, professional experience and learning from their mentors and role models.

A very emotive new area of multidisciplinary engineering is within information and communication technology.

A societal challenge in which engineers can provide leadership in resolution is that of pervasive data accumulation, including private and confidential information on people and institutions. While there is ample evidence of the power of so-called big data to reveal new insights from analysis, there is also the prospect of erosion of personal privacy.

This erosion is not necessarily linked to evolving technology, but there is little doubt that new technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain raise serious concerns over their potential for malevolent use. More broadly, the effects of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) not only threaten individual's privacy but may also threaten their employment also.

There is animated debate over the influence of AI/ML on the future of work, with the consensus emerging that the effects will be significant but may create as many new-technology jobs as old-technology jobs disappear. In addition, the new technological environment will provide a fertile basis for entrepreneurial and innovative development of whole new services and industries, as we are already seeing with social media.

The current concerns for the future of globalisation and how society should deal with global problems, especially global warming and climate change, and the large-scale refugee movements from international conflict and other migration flows from economic inequalities, have come into increasing relief for all society. Engineers can and do contribute to mitigate some of the effects of these international processes, but they cannot deal with all of the underlying causes simultaneously. International trends and influences are global in scale and need all sectors of society to be involved in their resolution. Some of the influences have their origins in historical and ethnic differences that can be comprehended but not removed.

To address the challenges of globalisation effectively will require all the skills and experience of multidisciplinary engineering, working with leaders in every other field to advance the global society.

The education of engineers to work effectively and competently, to manage the combination of human, material and intellectual resources to achieve the outcomes promised to their customers and clients, is fundamental. How the right people may be attracted into the engineering profession is a challenge that is made more difficult if the earlier education syllabi do not contain the much-discussed science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) content. More recently, the necessity to balance STEM with liberal arts content is also accepted as a focus on STEAM content.

STEAM is essentially multidisciplinary in scope and behoves engineering to contribute in a like manner.

In conclusion, I must say that I am optimistic that the engineering profession will continue to advance in both capability and in gaining the respect and support of the global community at large. However, this will only occur provided the engineering profession becomes outward looking to identify the complex challenges facing society and then to work proactively to present solutions to those challenges for community consideration and ultimate adoption.


Al-Rawi, M. 2018. "Detection Techniques for Mitigating Distortion of ADPCM Link." Australian Journal of Multidisciplinar)/ Engineering, no. 14. doi:10.1080/14488388.2018.1453973.

Joiner, K. F., and G. T. Malcolm. 2018. "A Tale of Two Allied Defence Departments: New Assurance Initiatives for Managing Increasing System Complexity, Interconnectedness, and Vulnerability." Australian Journal of Multidisciplinar) Engineering, no. 14. doi:10.1080/14488388.2018.1426407.

Pearman, G. I. 2018. "Overheads of Truck Transport in Australia: Implications for Biomass as Feedstock for Bio-Energy." Australian Journal of Multidisciplinar) Engineering.,no.14. doi:10.1080/14488388.2018.1471783.

Christopher J. Skinner

Captain, Royal Australian Navy (Retired)

Received 13 August 2018; Accepted 3 September 2018
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Author:Skinner, Christopher J.
Publication:Australian Journal of Multi-disciplinary Engineering
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2018
Next Article:A tale of two allied defence departments: new assurance initiatives for managing increasing system complexity, interconnectedness and vulnerability.

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