When times are tough people come together. Engineers and technologists are on the forefront of working to mitigate the consequences of this deadly virus.

Workforce Blog: Coming Together and Making a Difference During COVID-19 Pandemic

Apr 21, 2020

by John G. Falcioni

Richard Scheblein called me last month, and we spent about 40 minutes on the phone catching up and reminiscing. Not even the geekiest of Mechanical Engineering magazine enthusiasts will likely remember “Richie,” but for those of us who worked with him, he’s hard to forget. Richie was the graphic designer of this magazine for many years before he retired 13 years ago.

During 9/11, he and then-executive editor Harry Hutchinson worked through the night in the office, completing the next month’s issue of the magazine so that it could be shipped to the printer on time. While I was stuck in Houston on that fateful day, they ate what they could find from a vending machine and stole naps on the floor; Hutchinson slept under his desk.

When times are tough people come together because, social distancing notwithstanding, we crave human support and interaction—social scientists believe this is true for even the most ardent loners amongst us. In the past weeks, old friends have reached out to me and also family from Argentina and Italy. I even spoke with an aunt who is well into her 80s and lives in a little town in central Italy. She called to ask me how I was doing.

Imagine for a moment what human connection would be like without today’s technology. We’re using video chat tools to connect with loved ones and friends and to work from home—and that’s just consumer technology.

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The ASME team has rallied together from locations around the world. Since the astute work-at-home decree was made by Executive Director Thomas Costabile on March 15, we’ve continued our work uninterrupted on behalf of the profession.

But companies are suffering, industries are transforming, and millions of people have lost their jobs, all in addition to the devastating toll on human life. We don’t quite know what the new normal will be when COVID-19 is behind us. But as helpless as the general population has been feeling, technologists are on the forefront of working to mitigate the consequences of this deadly virus.
It’s not an uncommon role for engineers to step up during times of global crises.

ASME has been monitoring the profession’s impact. You can find examples of some of the work on the Topics & Resources section of ASME.org. The work is remarkable.

The pandemic may jump-start the development of medical robot technologies. Autonomous robots, for instance, can disinfect surfaces with UV light, deliver supplies, and assist in testing people with COVID-19 and other diseases. Engineers are also working to develop mobile robots that can perform simple tasks like taking someone’s temperature.

General Motors and Ford are producing medical equipment to help fight the pandemic, and the additive manufacturing industry is playing a significant role overall. But it’s not just the big guys. Even in hard-hit northern Italy, a local 3D printer designed and produced a critically important replacement valve for a ventilator. The promise of additive manufacturing is here, and it is now. Where the supply chain for critical medical equipment falters, additive manufacturing can step in with speed, strength, growing scale, and flexibility.

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Business as usual has disappeared. There’s nothing good about what’s going on, but there are good things happening during this devastating period. Human connections are as strong as ever, even as we’re physically apart. Engineering and technology are leading paths to cures. We’ll adapt. We have no choice.
Richie spoke to me about the resilience and strength of his family. Today, we’re all part of the same family.

How are you coping and what are you doing to make a difference in another person’s life? Email me at falcionij@asme.org.
 
John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief, Mechanical Engineering magazine.
 
 

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