The Engineer’s Glossary

By February 24, 2022 No Comments

Engineering is a wide-reaching, diverse industry at the forefront of innovation. This makes it an incredibly exciting world to be a part of; but also a constantly evolving one for which even the most experienced engineers may struggle to keep pace. 

New fields of study and inventions that affect engineers are flying off the conveyor belt as engineering expands to include innovative new sectors such as autonomous driving and additive manufacturing. The industry can’t even help itself – it produces a dizzying amount of words and acronyms; from phrases, such as ‘limit state design’ and ‘heat transfer,’ to acronyms, like CAD and MIM. 

It can be difficult to remember them all and frankly, we think this could be its own category on Jeopardy. 

Also, if you’ve been an engineer in a specific field for thirty years, you might not be as up-to-date on the newer terms in a different part of the field. If you’re a student that hasn’t yet landed your first job, you might not have the expansive glossary as someone more senior. 

So, in honor of Engineers Week, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of terms to serve as a guide for engineers – new and experienced, coupled with a dash of humor because the left brain just gets way too much stage time in this group.   



The rate at which an object’s velocity changes over time. Acceleration includes both speed and direction. A ball is accelerated if it speeds and slows down along a straight line, or if it’s moving in a circle without changing speed because of its constantly changing direction. (This term doesn’t really hold up in arguments about time travel, but it provides a good base.)  


The measurement of closeness to a true or standard value. (One should have values whenever possible. It means you’re a nice person.)

Additive Manufacturing

A computer-led manufacturing process, also known as 3D printing, in which a machine layers materials, such as plastic, liquid and metal powder, to build three-dimensional objects. (This sounds very familiar and you should inquire within at 3DEO.)


A device, also known as a mixer that puts objects into motion through shaking or stirring. (Or, annoying relatives that are known for starting arguments at family gatherings.)

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

The demonstration of cognition by computers and machines. Through the deployment of computer programming, neural networks and algorithms, computers achieve an intelligence that allows them to perform tasks that previously required human discernment. (#RobotsAreCool)


A mechanical property of an object that measures the degree to which a material will fracture without significant deformation when subjected to stress. (This is powerful knowledge and can also be used as a Scrabble word.)

CAD (Computer-aided Design)

The digital creation of two-dimensional drawings and three-dimensional models using a computer system. The method is used to easily create, modify, analyze, share and optimize a design, which enables faster iteration and innovation. (This will save you so much TIME, which can then be repurposed for time travel. Not a vetted fact.)

CAM (Computer-aided Manufacturing)

A manufacturing method in which software and computer-controlled machines execute high-precision tasks to build products. CAM has enabled the automation of processes that require a high degree of accuracy, giving manufacturers better quality control. (This is QC at its finest, though it does put Lucy and Ethel out of business in that one episode where they had to taste the candy to vouch for its quality.)

CNC (Computer Numerical Control)

A computer-controlled manufacturing process in which programming dictates tasks to a wide range of factory tools and machinery, from drills and grinders to lathes. CNC can be used for three-dimensional cutting projects, such as the formation of metal tools from a block of material. (‘Block of material’ is subjective and should not be decided upon without supervision of a qualified engineer. In other words, don’t try this at home.)

Code Compliance

The adherence to standardized area codes, from design standards to specifications and ordinances. (Also known as: “These are the design rules!”)

Commissioning & Start-Up

The final stage of preparation before transitioning into production. This stage encompasses all activities that conjoin these two phases, including performance testing and checkout of systems. It can mark the phase between when plant construction is completed and commercial operations begin. (Like that moment when appetizers become dinner, but you’re still using the same plate.)

Cycle Time

The duration of time required to complete a cycle of an operation from start to finish. This encompasses the entire amount of time it takes to produce one item or product from ideation to shipment, including active work times and wait stages in between. (This phrase is also printed on many modern dishwashers to remind you that it actually takes longer to wash dishes in the dishwasher than by hand.)

Design for Manufacturability (DFM)

A method of design optimization to facilitate straightforward and easy manufacturing with the goal of improving efficiencies so that costs are reduced but quality is not. (Because Efficiency, Profitability, and Quality will often argue if they don’t have a common goal. Thus, DFM.) 

Electrical Engineering

The study, design, and practical application of devices and systems that use electricity and electronics. This branch of engineering includes everything from circuitry and power generation to communications systems. (Dr. Frankenstein was an Electrical Engineer. He really should have used an AI model, however. It just didn’t go as planned.)


A container that creates a controlled environment in and around a 3D printer so as to insulate the print area and protect the printer from its external environment. Enclosures can also help regulate temperatures inside the printing area to achieve a certain manufacturing effect. By protecting the machine and printing process, they promote improved print quality. (Because your 3D printing should not be subject to climate change.)


The application of scientific, mathematical, technological, economic, social, and practical knowledge to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials, and processes. (To comment on this is too myopic.)

Engineering Ethics

Guiding ethical principles in the field of engineering that govern how engineers interact with society, the environment, their clients, and the world. (This phrase includes a white coat, a clipboard, and a set of ballpoint pens.)

Factor of Safety (FoS)

The ability of a system’s structural capacity to exceed a specific load. This can be applied as a ratio comparing absolute strength of a system or piece of material to actual or maximum permissible stress. It can also be a constant value as determined by code. (This is stress giving stress permission to exist.)

Feasibility Studies

An analysis used to evaluate projects, including the identification of best methods and techniques, infrastructure needs, potential pitfalls, and environmental considerations. In essence, feasibility studies can help determine whether a project or product should be advanced to the next stage of development. (Because an expertly engineered project should not resemble a Jenga game.)


A manufacturing process used to shape metal through compressive forces such as hammering, pressing or rolling. (Like a pie crust, only with metal.)

Heat Transfer

A discipline of thermal engineering involving the generation, use, and exchange of thermal energy between material systems. (First, there was thermal engineering. Then, thermal underwear. This is probably true.)

Industrial Engineering

An engineering sub-field dedicated to the optimization of complex processes and systems, particularly in the manufacturing industry. This includes the management of industrial resources such as labor, materials, and equipment to create efficient processes. (Industrial Resources are rowdy and will resort to chaos if not managed. This is also probably true.)


Tools that measure physical quantities or dimensions, ranging from thermometers to devices with complex multi-sensor components. (You can thank Instrumentation for your speeding tickets. You came in hot. You came in fast. You’re getting a ticket.)

Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Methodology to assess and quantify the environmental impact of a product, process, or service over its life cycle. (In other words, how long will this product live past the last living human?)

Limit State Design

A methodology to define when a structure is no longer able to meet relevant design criteria, such as structural integrity, because it exceeds maximum load capacity and safety requirements. (Like when you lose at Jenga.)

Machine Learning

The development of computer systems using algorithms, patterns and statistical models so that they begin to learn and improve automatically without human intervention. (Again, #RobotsAreCool)

Materials Engineering

The design and discovery of new and existing materials through the study of properties, such as atom consistency and behavior, using math, physics and chemistry. (Atom behavior is extremely volatile. Consult a qualified Materials Engineer.)


A branch of engineering at the crossroads of mechanical, electronic, and computing that helps to improve efficiencies in manufacturing through technology and automation. (This is a symphony for engineers. Without the music, but still…) 

Metal Injection Molding (MIM)

A manufacturing process in which powdered metal is mixed with binder material and then shaped and hardened into a metal product using a mold. (And when something truly innovative is created, there’s always going to be that one person who blurts the obvious, “Wow! You really broke the mold with that one!” Sigh.) 


The manufacture and manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale to produce innovative materials and devices. (Every Marvel movie ever made.)


A characteristic of measurement that indicates the closeness of two or more measurements to each other, regardless of whether or not they are accurate. This defines the repeatability of a result under unchanged conditions. (To be precise, that is.)

Product Lifecycle 

The entire lifecycle and management of a manufactured product from its inception, engineering, design and development through its eventual demise and disposal. (Unfortunately, there is no Celebration of Life event to celebrate this cycle from its first breath to its last. It’s just here, then it’s not and that’s it. Don’t get upset. There’s no crying in engineering glossaries.)

Quality Assurance

The use of analysis and audit to ensure a company is meeting industry standards in manufacturing processes to help an entity prevent errors, defects, and problems. (Who doesn’t love a good QA? QA drives optimism that this product is ready for prime time and they also carry cool clipboards.)

Quality Control

An active process of monitoring and detection that helps to identify defects before a manufactured good is sent out to end users, thereby verifying that deliverables have met quality standards. (You see, QA and QC are cousins, but QC has more work to do. Thus the use of the word ‘active.’ Meanwhile QA is on the couch, streaming shows about 3D Metal printing.)


A reliability measurement that describes how well a system or part can repeatedly produce the same outcome in unchanged conditions. (How many times do we have to say it? Repetition is the mother of retention!)


The design, construction, operation, and use of programmable machines known as robots that can often mimic human actions and completely or semi-autonomously perform physical tasks. (Yes, you guessed it: #RobotsAreCool)


A solid substance or material that has the ability to conduct electrical current between that of highly conductive materials, such as copper, and an insulator, such as glass. Silicon, a type of semiconductor, is used on most electronic circuits, notably in the chips of technological devices. (Did you know there are over 200 varieties of chips? Not those kinds of chips. Potato chips. 200! See, now you will remember this by seeing potato chip bags hanging out next to a semiconductor in your mind’s eye.)

Shear Strength

The strength of a material or component to resist opposing forces that threaten its internal structure. This potential for structural failure occurs when unaligned forces clash in a single object, with one force pushing an object in one direction and another pushing it oppositely. (Clash of the Structures, Rated R for violence.)


A heat treatment process that involves the compacting and forming of powder in a controlled environment just below the melting point to form a solid mass of material, such as ceramic or metal. (Not to be mistaken for sauntering, which sounds similar to sintering, but with more attitude.)

Solid Modeling

The three-dimensional modeling of solids as aided by computer programming and mathematics to form a precise design through the application of geometric and topological measurements. (Also, a solid model knows how to play to the camera and usually looks great wearing any fashion style.)

Stainless Steel

A metal alloy of iron and carbon that contains a specific amount of a composition called ‘chromium’ that prevents rusting and other forms of common corrosion, while also providing heat-resistant properties. (Common corrosion is so…well, common. Bravo, Stainless Steel!)


The branch of mechanics and physics that measures the forces acting on bodies at rest. The analysis of forces and torque on objects in static equilibrium with their surrounding environment. (Usually, a ‘force acting on a body of rest’ is called a nightmare or an upset stomach.) 

Surface Finish

The nature of a surface’s texture and topography as defined by vertical deviations of a measured surface. This deviation from the surface’s ideal state can be described through lay, roughness and waviness. (Also known as grooves – or if you were born in the 60’s, groovy.)

Technical Drawing

A precise and detailed drawing that visually communicates how an object functions or should be constructed. (Blueprints for cool stuff. If you saw a tech drawing of your heart and how it functions, you’d never leave the house again. Fragility and resilience exposed and magnified is wildly intimidating. Do leave the house, though. It’s OK.)

Tensile Strength

The maximum stress that a material can withstand before stretching or breaking while being subject to perpendicularly applied pulling forces. (Or when you’re about to break up with someone and then you decide to do a pros and cons list.)


A branch of physics that studies the relationship between heat, temperature and mechanical energy or work, including the conversion of one into the other, to understand the operation of a physical system. (Pretty sure this is the source doc for that scene in Terminator where all the morphing and conversion takes place and the Terminator just keeps changing form.)


The permissible range of variation that an object’s physical dimension can deviate from its intended or true measurement. (Doesn’t everything deserve a bit of wiggle room?)

V&V (Verification and Validation)

Independent steps and procedures applied to a product, service or system to determine whether it meets requirements and fulfills its intended purpose. (Validation: You are a very good and useful product.)


The gradual and progressive damaging, loss of material, or deformation of a solid surface as a result of a force exerted by another solid or surface. (What did one solid surface say to the other solid surface? “What should I wear? Do these dents make me look old?” Hang in there…we’re almost through this.)


The point at which a material begins to demonstrate plastic behavior and irreversibly deform under stress or strain, exceeding the elastic capacity that allowed it to deform but still return to its original shape. (Neither plastic behavior or bullying will be tolerated under any circumstances. You may now return to your original shape.)