Ethical princiles in lightweight steel

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Mason Valdisera (

Every engineer must follow a specific set of guidelines in order ensure that the problem presented is accomplished within the ethical principles. The solution to a particular dilemma has no significance unless it causes no harm to others or the environment. All engineers have to obey the ethics presented by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). The society states that all engineers must “be dedicated to the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare” [1]. This means that the problem must be solved with the public in mind because engineering is a service for the public so it would be contradictory to provide a solution that is detrimental to society. In addition to the general engineering ethics, mechanical engineers also have unique ethical codes to adhere to, created by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The ASME values that engineers “shall perform services only in the areas of their competence” [2]. Mechanical engineers should not attempt to fix issues that do not involve their qualifications. This relates back to the overall NSPE ethical principle because when an engineer works on a solution outside the area of expertise, it could be dangerous because the engineer has not had experience to know which options will be successful and which will not. The ASME also details that mechanical engineers “shall consider environmental impact in the performance of their professional duties” [2]. Many issues that are solved by mechanical engineers have significant impact on the environment. The positive or negative effect on the environment are always considered by engineers because a central focus of engineering is sustainability and there is no greater challenge of conservation than of preserving the environment.

The struggling business of Rivers Incorporated specializes in designing the bodies of vehicles for automobile companies. I am a mechanical engineer for Rivers Incorporated and I am assigned to the task of developing the chassis for a new luxury car company called Gates motors. The main basis of a frame for a luxury sedan includes steel based metal along with other less expensive metals such as iron being infused with the steel. Because Gates is just beginning as a company they do not have they have not had the opportunity to profit. Therefore, they emphasize that they will choose the engineering design that will cost them the least amount of money. Because Rivers Incorporated has been struggling lately, though no fault of the engineers, my supervisor explains that he wishes to do anything possible to ensure Gates motors chooses our design. To achieve this the costs of the design must be significantly reduced in order to have an appealing offer for Gates Motor Company. In my discipline the range of the cost depends on the amount of steel used. Due to the new innovation of lightweight steel, I am able to reduce the amount of steel required for the chassis and thus reduce the cost. The process of creating lightweight steel involves fusing the steel to create a less dense metal that still exhibits the physical properties of steel. The steel is melted down along with the other metals, and they are mixed together to produce one solid metal. The steel can only be reduced to a certain level however because if the chassis is less than 84% steel it is considered unsafe. The car would not meet safety regulations due to the fact that during collisions the body of the car could not adequately protect the driver. However less reputable engineering companies are willing to sacrifice the safety of the driver for a more appealing, less expensive design. In order to compete with the cost of these designs my boss has directed me to engineer the body of this car with less than the required 84% steel. Doing so would reduce the expense that Gates Motor Company would have and they would be more likely to choose my proposal. I know that in doing this I would not only be breaking the engineering code of ethics, but I would be putting innocent lives in danger. I risk losing my job if my proposal is not accepted by Gates motors, and therefore I am left with an ethical dilemma. The two options that I am given is to either tell my boss that I cannot create this proposal because it goes against my moral and ethical beliefs, along with the set of engineering ethics, or I could proceed with the proposal and neglect the fact that I could be putting innocent lives in danger. I consider many factors when deciding what the correct choice to make is.
While I contemplate if I should listen to my boss and reduce the steel below the recommended level or stand up for my own beliefs I reference numerous sources. The first sources that I consult are the scientific articles. I want to get further informed about the physical principles of the lightweight steel. I understand the real dangers of using less than 84% steel. If less steel is used it, “lowers the density of the metal compound resulting in a weaker metal that would easily fold under a significant force” [3]. This scientifically proves that I would be risking the safety of the general public if I reduced the amount of steel in the chassis. The total mass of the body would decrease and due to Newton’s Second Law of Motion this would mean that a smaller force would cause the vehicle greater acceleration. The scientific articles give logical explanations as to why it would not be beneficial to reduce the amount of steel. Referring back to the code of ethics, I would not be protecting the public, therefore breaking not only the ethical code for mechanical engineers, but for the entire society of engineers. It is a fact that, “the work of the engineer would be pointless if it contradicted the main objective of advancing society” [4]. This statement is critical in my decision making because I must progress society with my innovations, and that cannot be achieved if I am harming innocent people. Not only do I look to reputable articles to make my final decision I also recollect lessons I have learned from my past experiences. My parents raised me with high moral values and my mom would repeatedly recite the “golden rule” to me. She would explains that, “Do not do anything that you would not want done to yourself” [5]. I believe that this phrase applies to my situation because I would not want to be fearful that the technology that I possess could potentially harm me. I know that I would be disgusted to realize that the reason that significant damage was done to me was because someone reduced the safety precautions for the sole reason of limiting costs. The lesson taught to me by my mother allows me to understand the moral corruption of presenting a proposal that I know has an increased risk of danger. I would be breaking the values that I was raised on and would disappoint my parents if they knew that I caused someone harm. Also, I observe news stories on the internet and television. They always provide various stories about tragic events that occur around the area or across the nation. A story that I recently became aware of involved a baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals named Oscar Tavares. The news article explained that while Tavares was in his native home of the Dominican Republic he, “died to a vehicular collision with another vehicle” [6]. The article later goes on to explain the massive damage done to the car, and since the Dominican Republic is not as wealthy as the United States, the vehicles are not able to be as safe as the vehicles produced in the United States. Relating this to my dilemma I realize that it is not worth any job to potentially end someone’s life. I am not blaming the manufacturing of the vehicle in Tavares’ car I am stating that if I did not use the wealth and resources available in the United States for my proposal, the body of the vehicle would be similar to that of a poorer country vehicle. This death is proof that the amount of steel incorporated into the chassis of the vehicle makes a significant impact on if injuries are sustained, and how significant the injuries are.


After consulting the various resources that I have previously mentioned I came to the conclusion that I would refuse to create a proposal in which the amount of steel that was in the body of the vehicle was below 84%. I am willing to face the repercussions from my employer because I know that I made the correct moral decision. I followed both my own values and the ethical code created for all engineers. I understood, from reading the ethical principles, that I would not be a true engineer if I did not put public well-being at the forefront of my decision making. This does not mean that I will not attempt to create the lowest cost possible for the proposal that I will make because it is also the duty of an engineer to maximize efficiency. I will reduce the amount of steel used in the making, but only so much that it remains above the recommended level. Though the proposal may not be chosen by Gates motors, I know I will present them with a body design that will minimize expense and maximize safety. Anyone can present the idea to minimize the cost, but only skilled engineers can achieve this while also maintaining regulations. Even though the proposal is sure not to be chosen, I will keep my name and the company name reputable, but most importantly I will not be responsible for any failures in the chassis of Gates Motor Company’s vehicles. If they select the proposal based solely on cost, the vehicle that will be manufactured will sure to either be prohibited from sale, or recalled within a short period of time on the market because even minor accident will display the weakness of the design. The regulation of 84% steel has been set because that is the limit that can be safely reduced. I have used both ethics and morals to make my decision and it is one that I am confident is the correct choice. I have maintained integrity and dignity and did not tarnish the image of engineers.
The wide variety of sources were necessary in this decision making process because I needed to include the logical as well as the emotional factors behind each choice. Giving in, and creating the proposal with a small amount of steel presented the logic that it would lower cost and that a reduced expense is always a positive. The emotional reason to carry out the plan would be that I would retain my position and continue to be successful. The logical reasoning behind not creating a proposal below the regulation amount of steel is that it is scientifically proven that lowering the amount of steel reduces the strength of the vehicle. The major emotional factor behind this decision is that I could not carry out a plan that could have the potential to injure someone. This would go against my beliefs, and I would question my own moral standing. Using the scientific articles and recollections of times that I gained moral values, I concluded that both the logical and emotional factors were far more significant with the option to deny creating the proposal. It is difficult to make decisions on my own, and I understand that so I sought out assistance through the various sources. This relates back to the other ethical code previously mentioned that engineers must only operate in their field of expertise. I demonstrated here that, though the dilemma was not a specific engineering problem rather an ethical crisis, I can seek help when I know I cannot solve a problem on my own. Showing humility is an important trait in being a successful engineer because engineers often work cooperatively. In order to be successful the group of engineers must assist one another in the disciplines the others are not trained in. My consultation of the sources provided me with knowledge and also taught me the valuable lesson of seeking help when needed. The sources also strengthened my belief that I made the correct decision because the arguments presented in these various sources coincided with my choice. The moral principles discussed in my nontraditional sources explained that human life must be valued, and not jeopardized for any reason. The scientific articles presents me with information that allowed me to understand the dangers in reducing the steel, but also that I could reduce the cost while maintaining safety. After explaining to my boss the reasons why I felt that Rivers Incorporated should not proceed with the proposal given to me, he agreed and I retained my position. The decision I made was then confirmed because I got to keep my engineering profession while also not breaking my values. Instead of allowing myself to be told what is right and what is wrong, I thought for myself which is also a significant characteristic in becoming an engineer. Using sound arguments and ethical principles it is possible to convince others that moral values should outweigh monetary gains. When presenting a logical argument presenting these facts I was able to show the importance of following ethics and the consequences that happen when ethical codes are broken. I have learned through this event that the ethics of an engineer must be followed no matter what the situation is. The code set forth by previous engineers must be abided by in order to keep the world safe.
[1] Council on Member Affairs/Board on Professional Practice and Ethics (1976). “Code of Ethics.”

[2] NSPE Executive Committee (2007).”Code of Ethics for Engineers.”

[3] H. Hachiya. (2003). “Engineering Ethcis.” Department of Information and Image Sciences, Faculty of Engineering, Chiba University (online article).

[4] T. Hoke. (2011). “Importance of Engineering Ethics.” A Question of Ethics.¶mdict=en-US

[5] L. Valdisera (November 2004) Verbal.

[6] P. White (October 27, 2014) “Cardinals Outfielder Dies in Car Accident” USA Today. (Online Article).

 Wetmore, J. M. (2008). Engineering with uncertainty: Monitoring air bag performance. Science and Engineering Ethics, 14(2), 201–218.

S. Sudler III. (2013). Public Health and Safety-Delay in Addressing Fire Code Violations. National Society of Professional Engineers. (Online Article).

“Between a Buck and a Hired Place” (2013). Ethical Cases. (Online Article).

I acknowledge the writing instructors and the librarian for providing me with all the detail needed to fully complete this assignment. I thank Nichole Faina for her thorough demonstration of the material which allowed to have a clear, concise idea of the guidelines of the assignment.

University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering

October 28, 2014

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