Book Reviews

In Search of Excellence – Tom Peters

In Search of Excellence – Tom Peters 588 572 Eric Roulo

This book is a business classic and sometimes gets short shrift due to some of the ‘best-run companies’ it highlights. Like Atari. The book was published in 1982 and has so much timeless content, it deserves a read. It’s an engaging and fast read with a tremendous amount of sage advice and actionable goodies. The eight principals are written on the inside cover of the book and are worth the price of the book (even though now you can get it second hand for about $5). This book has the feel of the later Jim Collin’s books and a lot of the lessons listed below are reiterated across most, if not all, of the best selling business and management books.

Eight Basic Principles to stay on top of the heap

  1. A bias for action: a preference for doing something – anything – rather than sending a question through cycles and cycles of analyses and committee reports.
  2. Staying close to the customer – learning his preferences and catering to them.
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship – breaking the corporation into small companies and encouraging them to think independently and competitively.
  4. Productivity through people – creating in all employees the awareness that their best efforts are essential and that they will share in the rewards of the company’s success.
  5. Hands-on, value-driven – insisting that executives keep in touch with the firm’s essential business.
  6. Stick to the knitting – remaining with the business the company knows best
  7. Simple form, lean staff – few administrative layers, few people at the upper levels.
  8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties – fostering a climate where there is dedication to the central values of the company combined with tolerance for all employees who accept those values.

Mr. Peter’s has a website. It has a lot of great content, you should check it out. His other books are pretty good too.

The rest of my recommended leadership lists are here.


Elements of Engineering Excellence

Elements of Engineering Excellence 1024 700 Eric Roulo

NASA looked back on its illustrious history and condensed the traits that were responsible for its mission successes. They got it down to 9 principles and 27 lessons learned. This list represents over 1 trillion dollars of hardware development. It is foolish to ignore it.

The 9 Principles and 27 Lessons Learned from NASA 1958-2012

  1. System success depends on the creativity, judgment, and decision-making skills of the people
    1. People Are the Prime Resource for Project Success
    2. People Skills are Mandatory for Achieving Successful Products
  2. Space systems are challenging, high-performance systems
    1. Demand for High-Performance Lead to High Power Densities and High Sensitivities
  3. Everything acts as a system (whole)
    1. Systems and Technical Integration
    2. Risk Management
    3. All Design is a Paradox, a Balancing Act
  4. The system is governed by the laws of physics
    1. Physics of the Problems Reigns Supreme
    2. Engineering is a Logical Thought Process
    3. Mathematics is the The Same!
    4. Fundamentals of Launch Vehicle Design
  5. Robust Design is based on our understanding of sensitivities, uncertainties, and margins
    1. Robustness
    2. Understanding Sensitivities and Uncertainties is Mandatory
    3. Margins Must Be Adequate
  6. Project success is determined by life cycle considerations
    1. Design Space Constrained by Where you Are in the Life Cycle
    2. Concept Selection and Design Process
    3. Requirements Drive the Design
    4. Designing for the -ilities and Cost
  7. Testing and verification have an essential role in development
    1. Hardware and Data Have the Answers
    2. Can Test Now or Will Test Later
    3. Independent Analysis, Test, and Design are Keys to Success
    4. All Analyses and Tests are Limited
    5. Scale is a Major Issue
  8. Anticipating and surfacing problems must be encouraged
    1. Must Hear and Understand All Technical and Programmatic Opinions
    2. There are No Small Changes!
    3. Expect the Unexpected
  9. Leadership is the foundation
    1. Integrity
    2. Focus Beyond Yourself

Elements of Engineering Excellence (start here)

Additionally referenced reports


Book Review – Material Selection in Mechanical Design, Fourth Edition

Book Review – Material Selection in Mechanical Design, Fourth Edition 1024 782 Eric Roulo

Material Selection in Mechanical  Design, Fourth Edition, Michael F. Ashby. This book was introduced to me by a materials engineer I’ve been working with recently. It opened my mind on how to select materials based on different performance metrics.

After introducing the concepts of material indices and presenting many families of property selection charts, worked examples are presented to aid the reader in implementing the ideas on their projects. The full spectrum of material properties are used in the examples including thermal conductance, cost, fracture toughness, as well as strength, modulus, and the other usual suspects.

The in-depth conversational explanations of all the parameters you have to take into consideration provides a thoughtful and precise way for an engineer to approach material selection while explaining why floor joists basically have to be made out of wood or steel I-beams. By turning decisions into properties-based material performance indices, the best choice becomes clear and numerically defendable against the usual force of personality arguments.

Below is an example of a strength-density chart of engineering materials with minimum mass design guide lines. I enjoy just staring at this chart and making observations such as how magnesium is solidly in the middle of the composites bubble, and how competitive wood parallel to the grain is.

When looking at more complicated built-up structures, the performance indices highlight the types of materials you should be using. Examples are given in the images below.

The hard copy is better than the kindle version because the graphics are sharper. This is also a book you want to be able to easily browse through. I own both a hard copy and the kindle version because I like having it with me all the time (on my tablet). I bought versions of this in India at a significant discount. Think about buying textbooks when you are in countries that have much lower prices (usually Asia).

This review is for the fourth edition, which I highly recommend. The fifth edition was released this past January, I imagine it’s better. Get it. Read it.

For an extensive preview of the content you will be getting in the book, you can read a collaboration between the author and NASA in TM 2012-217411, Material Selection for Aerospace Systems. It’s awesome, free, and should convince you to purchase the 660 page full version.

The University of Cambridge has also created an online resource that visualizes material data in the way presented in the book. It’s worth taking a look at.

Interactive material charts are here:


Book Review – Practical Finite Element Analysis

Book Review – Practical Finite Element Analysis 300 250 Eric Roulo

Practical Finite Element Analysis, Finite to Infinite, 2008



I had always planned on writing a textbook on this subject because I hadn’t found one that was any good, but then I found someone had already done it in India. This book is hard to find, I found my copy while browsing the Tata Bookshop in Bangalore India after my friend Rajesh had shown me his copy. This book is so good. I hadn’t had a best FEA book on my best of book-list because I didn’t think there was one out there. This is it. It’s $10 if you pick up a copy in India, otherwise, it will cost you $85 for the international hardbound. It’s worth 5 times that much.

Reading this book is like having a casual conversation with your company’s old-timer who is full of knowledge, easily approachable, and likes to try to put things in perspective with directly actionable guidance and a good story to back it up.

How many tri3 elements are okay to have in my mesh (max of 5%). This image accompanies a discussion of what a professional mesh looks like. It’s eye opening. Do you know your mesher that well? Few if any of my ‘professional’ meshes look that good, and it inspires me to re-read my preprocessors section on meshing and be better.

The authors use Hyperworks for most of their examples, and it highlights what a very good tool Hypermesh is for meshing. The ‘rules of thumb’ are usually presented with an FEA trade study showing how the rule of thumb is actually the asymptote of a trade study. A number of detailed examples are presented, showing the reader not only how these guidelines were derived, but showing the gamebook for how to build your own rules of thumb for your application or industry. My experience is primarily aerospace, primary structure, linear stress, and dynamic analysis. In those areas, with my experience, I agreed with the recommendations.

Then, the book expanded into non-linear, fatigue, NVH (noise-vibration-harshness), crash, and CFD (computational fluid dynamics). In these chapters, it describes how meshes for each of these analyses have different requirements and demonstrates it with very good graphics. I had no idea about the limitations of crash analysis mesh quality. Crazy. The last two chapters of the book are worth the price of the entire book. They are titled “Common Mistakes and Errors” and “Preparation for Interview.” In Common Mistakes, there is an amazingly frank discussion about Engineers, Marketing, group leaders, and HR. My favorite part follows:

“9) Not CAE but Design engineer is the most important person in Design Chain: CAE Engineers are usually highly qualified, paid higher salaries and sometimes it leads to superiority complex (that they are the most important people in design cycle process). But it should always be remembered that the Design Engineer is the most important person and role of CAE engineering is to provide analysis services to him (other service providers are test, purchase, manufacturing, etc.).”

I agree. Analysis is a support role. We serve at the pleasure of the design function. A good design will succeed without all of our fancy computational models. We might be needed to justify this fact, but there are other ways: test, demonstration, similarity to previous designs, etc.

The last chapter on interviewing is very good. I’m glad I’m senior enough to not get asked a rapid-fire set of questions like the ones presented. I’m not sure if I would pass! Here’s a good one, “What is symmetric boundary condition? Can we use it for dynamic analysis?” If your organization doesn’t have good canned technical questions for CAE, this is a great starting point.

This book is a must for all analysis libraries and FEA analysts. I bought 5 copies in India to bring back and give to my clients and friends.

Practical Finite Element Analysis, Publisher: Finite to Infinite, 416 pages, $85 International