Sub: Engineering Topic: Mechanical Engineering
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Engineers make order-of-magnitude estimates while fully aware of theapproximations involved and recognizing that reasonable approximations are going
to be necessary to reach an answer. In fact, the term “
order of magnitude
implies that the quantities considered in the calculation are accurate to perhaps afactor of 10. A calculation of this type might estimate the force carried by a certain
bolted connection to be 1000 lb, implying that the force probably isn’t as low as 100
lb or as great as 10,000 lb, but it certainly could be 800 lb or 3000 lb. At first glance, that range might appear to be quite wide, but the estimate isnevertheless useful because it places a bound on how large the force could be. Theestimate also provides a starting point for any subsequent, and presumably moredetailed, calculations that a mechanical engineer would need to make. Calculationsof this type are educated estimates, admittedly imperfect and imprecise, but betterthan nothing.These calculations are sometimes described as being made on the back of anenvelope because they can be performed quickly and informally. Order-of-magnitude estimates are made when engineers in a design process begin assigningnumerical values to dimensions, weights, material properties, temperatures,pressures, and other parameters. You should recognize that those values will berefined as information is gathered, the analysis improves, and the design becomes better defined.