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The steam engine , an important driving force behind the industrial revolution , underscores the importance of technology in history. This model is in the main building of the ETSII of the Polytechnic University of Madrid .

As engineering (including engineering , technical sciences or technical sciences ) are those Sciences , made up, with the technology deal. Central issues relate to research and development , construction , production and testing. You do not deal with all aspects of technology, but with the technology that is already available and with future technology that is considered feasible. By contrast, past technology is the subject of the history of technology , philosophical and sociological aspects take into account the philosophy of technology and the sociology of technology . Technology that is not feasible according to the current level of knowledge is not examined in engineering.

To distinguish it from general technology , which deals with the general principles of technology, the individual technical disciplines are sometimes also called special technologies . Most engineering sciences became sciences in their own right during the industrial revolution. The three classic disciplines are mechanical engineering , civil engineering and electrical engineering . There are also a large number of smaller engineering disciplines that are related to one another in many ways.

For a long time, engineering was considered an applied science , especially an applied natural science. However, the division into applied and basic sciences has been abandoned. The engineering sciences are considered to be highly interdisciplinary and integrate knowledge from the natural sciences as well as knowledge from economics, the humanities and social sciences. The latter concern, for example, the management of construction sites or the economical production of series parts. In addition, the economic and social framework conditions determine the research work in engineering to a greater extent. When environmental protection became more and more important for society in the second half of the 20th century, engineers began to research how technology could be made more resource-efficient. The engineering sciences are particularly concerned with knowledge that is suitable for guiding actions, for example by engineers. They are therefore also assigned to the action sciences , together with medicine , economics and the social sciences .


The German Academy of Engineering Sciences (Acatech) gives the following definition:

Technical sciences create cognitive prerequisites for innovation in technology and the application of technical knowledge and lay the foundation for reflection on its implications and consequences.

Whereby technology is defined as objects and processes that are artificial, purposeful and material as well as immaterial elements.


The engineering sciences form a group of numerous individual sciences . As with other scientific groups, there are many cross-references to other sciences. This applies to the numerous connections within the engineering sciences as well as transitions to other scientific groups.

The three classic disciplines, which are by far the most important in terms of the number of graduates, are civil engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.

  • The Civil Engineering deals with the various buildings. These include houses, bridges, streets, tunnels, ports or canals. On the one hand, this involves the planning of these structures (construction, calculation) and the implementation and organization of the construction work.
  • The engineering deals with various machines. These include turbines, gasoline and diesel engines, pumps, cranes, conveyor belts, machine tools and even entire vehicles. He deals with the design and development of the machines as well as with their manufacture.
  • The electrical engineering is concerned with technique based on electric or magnetic functional principles. This includes technology that uses electricity to process information, such as electronics (diodes, transistors, ...), communications technology (radios, cell phones) or computers. Electrical engineering also includes electrical energy technology (energy transmission, electric motors, generators, power plants, high-voltage networks, ...)

There are numerous connections between these three disciplines alone. In mechanical engineering, for example, electric motors are often used as drives and the independent engineering discipline of materials technology plays a role in all three disciplines, but with different focuses. Concrete and wood play a larger role in civil engineering, steel more in mechanical engineering and copper and aluminum in electrical engineering. The engineering mechanics is used in many disciplines to calculate forces or vibrations in order to determine the dimensions of the planned machine components or structures for buildings. Technical thermodynamics and technical fluid mechanics have a similar overarching significance . In some cases, there are also special developments such as structural engineering or machine dynamics . There is therefore great overlap in the courses of study and in the complete works on individual disciplines.

Other important engineering sciences are - in addition to materials technology - closely related materials science , mining science (for mining), related metallurgy , foundry , forging technology (also known as metallurgy) and agricultural science . There are transitions to the natural sciences in materials science ( solid state physics ), chemical engineering and process engineering (both include parts of mechanical engineering and chemistry or technical chemistry ) and biotechnology and bioprocess engineering with references to biology . Mechatronics (mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science) is an overarching technical discipline . The architecture and computer science are the civil engineering or electrical engineering close (especially the technical computer science ), but only partially counted engineering. The industrial engineering , the economy computer science and patent engineering are the economic or law close.

There are also numerous areas that are jointly explored by several engineering sciences. The measurement technique for example, plays a role in many areas though with different emphases. In civil engineering, lengths from one meter to several hundred meters or kilometers are measured, in mechanical engineering, on the other hand, they are between one millimeter and a few meters, but the measuring devices must be significantly more precise. The automation technology with its three areas of measurement technology, control technology and control technology of electrical engineering is particularly close, but also plays a role in mechanical engineering. Modern vehicle technology contains numerous electrical and electronic components, so that not only mechanical engineering is concerned with them, but also electrical engineering.


The history of engineering goes back a long way to the dawn of mankind. In the Stone Age there were first tools such as hand axes , later also stone drills, saws and scrapers, which thus represent early forerunners of production technology. In the Neolithic Revolution , people settled down and moved from the hunter-gatherer period to agriculture and livestock. The first houses were built and civil engineering was founded. Towards the end of the Stone Age, copper was also discovered, which could initially be worked and processed by forging and soon also by casting . The alloying of tin gave rise to the bronze that gave its name to the subsequent Bronze Age .

In the early advanced cultures of Mesopotamia , the first engineers at palace or temple schools were trained in reading, writing and the calculation of various structures and devices. Many large cities, palaces and temples as well as monumental tombs such as the pyramids were built .

The ancient Greeks made great strides in mechanics , which was and is of great importance to engineering. Archimedes described the simple machines : the incline, the screw, the lever, the pulley and others. Ktesibios is considered to be the founder of hydraulics and his student Philon of Byzantium wrote books on catapults that have already been improved through experiments. Heron developed a device that could move using steam power. The Romans made progress especially in building roads and bridges.

In the Middle Ages, many were monasteries , castles and cathedrals built. Military technology also improved - in addition to the castles, above all in the field of catapults and tribocks . The wind and water mills , known since late antiquity, spread throughout Europe and became an important source of energy. They often drove flour mills, but also hammer mills and other machines. The mill builders were experts in the field of mechanics and were important in the development of mechanical engineering.

During the Renaissance , Leonardo da Vinci designed a large number of machines, some of which were far ahead of their time. From the middle of the 16th century, the so-called machine books were created , in which engineers addressed princes in Latin, but often also to their colleagues in living languages. Educated engineers also turned to the rediscovered ancient writings on mechanics and used their findings. In the 17th and 18th centuries, scholars and scientists turned more to practical problems. Many areas of physics, especially mechanics, have now been mathematically developed. Galileo Galilei , for example, dealt with the laws of the case and found a mathematical formulation. It happened more and more often that scientific findings could be converted into technical innovations.

In the course of the 18th century numerous engineering schools were founded in France, which dealt with road and bridge construction, mining, military fortification and artillery, among other things. In 1794 the École polytechnique was founded, in which the common mathematical and scientific fundamentals of the various disciplines were taught. After graduation, graduates attended one of the aforementioned special schools. For the needs of industry, the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures was founded, which trained for higher positions in companies, and several Ecole des Arts et Métiers , which trained for middle positions (master level).

The industrial revolution occurred in England in the middle of the 18th century . Thomas Newcomen built the first working steam engine in 1712, which was decisively improved by James Watt in the second half of the century and which expanded rapidly from around 1800. The new puddling process made it possible to produce steel in large quantities, which was used for the construction of steam engines, textile machines, locomotives and rails as well as machine tools .

In order to catch up with the great lead in industrialization over England, numerous so-called polytechnic schools were founded in Germany in the 19th century, which were based on the French Ecole Polytechnique. Over the course of the century, they were upgraded to technical universities and at the turn of the 20th century finally got the right to award doctorates and were thus on an equal footing with older universities. Many were later also converted into universities or technical universities.

Theory of Science of Engineering

For a long time, the sciences were divided into theoretical basic sciences and practical, applied sciences . In this sense, the engineering sciences were assigned to the applied sciences, which apply the theoretical foundations, in particular the natural sciences. For this reason, the engineering sciences were not examined more closely by the philosophy of science , since the opinion was held that they have no special features compared to the natural sciences. However, the division into basic and applied sciences was abandoned, on the one hand because the boundaries between the two became more and more blurred, on the other hand the division in empirical studies could not be maintained because new technology often emerged without new theoretical knowledge and in some cases also created new possibilities for research in the basic sciences. Since the 1990s, the philosophy of science has turned to the peculiarities of engineering.

In general, sciences can be differentiated according to their objects to be examined, according to their goals and according to their methods:

  • The object of a science is understood to mean the objects that are researched by this science. The natural sciences, for example, research nature, the historical sciences, history, and the engineering sciences, technology - and not engineers , which is why the term technical sciences is often preferred. On the one hand, it is about the analysis and description of the existing technology, on the other hand, above all, the possibilities and limits of future technology and how its desirable properties can be improved, such as the efficiency of an engine.
  • The aim in the natural sciences is to recognize natural laws, in the humanities to understand relationships. In engineering, on the other hand, it's about designing technology. To do this, they generate knowledge in the form of legal , structural and rule knowledge and take into account the later application of this knowledge. It is about knowledge that is suitable for guiding actions, for example by engineers. They are therefore also assigned to the action sciences , together with medicine , economics or the social sciences .
  • The methods of a science are understood to mean the ways in which they arrive at new knowledge. In the natural sciences, for example, logical inference is used , in particular deduction or experiments . Many different methods are used in engineering, often borrowed from other sciences. They often use scientific methods with regard to construction and calculation. Instead of experiments, however, tests are used to check the rules found. If tests are too complex or expensive, simulations are used.

Another criterion for differentiating between scientific groups is the type and structure of their knowledge . In the natural sciences, for example, knowledge is of a descriptive nature : mathematical formulas are used to describe the laws of nature or the nature and properties of chemical elements or animal species . Often cause-and-effect relationships are established, for example, that the fall of an apple follows from gravity, without a judgment being made as to whether this effect is desired or not. Engineering knowledge, on the other hand, is usually of a prescriptive nature : Statements are made about the means by which a certain goal can be achieved. For a high efficiency of a motor, its internal friction should be as small as possible, which can be achieved through lubrication. The goals in the statements are always linked to an evaluation of which state is desired or not. In friction welding, for example, the heat for melting is generated by friction - so it is desirable there. Engineering knowledge should above all be effective, so the desired goal should actually be achieved. In the natural sciences, on the other hand, the main thing is that the knowledge should be true - this also includes consistency . Whether engineering knowledge is true plays a rather subordinate role as long as it is effective. For the construction and calculation of a car, for example, simple Newtonian mechanics is used instead of the more complicated Einsteinian relativity theory or quantum mechanics .


Engineering research is carried out in three different types of institutions:

  1. Universities ,
  2. non-university, public institutions and
  3. Research departments in industry.

All three areas partly work together.

Universities include technical universities , universities , technical colleges and universities of applied sciences (University of Applied Sciences). These deal with both research and teaching to varying degrees. Non-university, public institutes are exclusively dedicated to research and not to teaching. However, they are often located in close proximity to universities. The institutes of the Fraunhofer Society are particularly active in the field of engineering . While university and non-university research institutes tend to focus on basic research , industrial research is more about creating innovations and developing them further to market maturity.

Associations and associations

There are numerous clubs and associations in the engineering sciences. Some of them represent the professional interests of engineers, others are more concerned with professional progress in technical disciplines, and still others are organized as industry associations, whereby mixtures of these areas are common. The largest and best-known German association is the Association of German Engineers , which can be assigned to the first two areas and unites engineers from mechanical engineering and civil engineering. The electrical engineers have come together to form the Association for Electrical Engineering, Electronics and Information Technology . There are also associations that are more like industry associations such as the Association of German Machine Tool Builders , the Association of German Mechanical and Plant Engineering and the Steel Institute VDEh (formerly the Association of German Ironworkers).

There are similar associations in other industrialized countries, such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for British and American mechanical engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineers , Society of Civil Engineers and American Society of Civil Engineers for British and American engineers Civil engineers.


Engineering is taught at technical universities , technical colleges , technical colleges and vocational academies. The courses conclude with a Bachelor or Master . The graduate engineer used to be widespread. The academic degrees Bachelor and Master in appropriately accredited courses at technical colleges, universities or technical colleges are each equivalent; the successful Master degree qualifies for PhD Doktoringenieur (Dr.-Ing.).

At the beginning of the course, various general and abstract subjects are taught, which are often referred to as "basic subjects" and which are necessary for later occupation with specific subject areas, such as vehicle technology or energy technology. In the first semesters, there are mostly similar subjects on the timetable in various engineering courses, so that a change in this phase usually does not cause any problems. In addition to higher mathematics and physics and sometimes other natural sciences, these subjects often include areas that are related to them, such as technical mechanics , technical thermodynamics and electricity . These areas are very general, relatively abstract and important for many areas of application, but they are also considered difficult to learn and are one of the reasons for the high number of dropouts. On the one hand because the exams are not passed, on the other hand because they do little to meet the interests and expectations of the students.

Several studies indicate the need to strengthen the importance of digital content in engineering curricula in addition to the basic and advanced subjects that have already been taught, in view of the considerable importance that digital content has for young professionals in technical professions.

Engineering has long served men from the lower social classes as an opportunity for social advancement - for women it was more education . Therefore, the proportion of students from so-called " educationally disadvantaged classes " is particularly high. Many of the students have parents who come from the trades and workers, which is obvious since they are familiar with technical work processes at home and know the world of work. However, the proportion has been falling since the 1990s, for several reasons. On the one hand, the social selectivity of the education system has risen, so that fewer working-class children are able to enter higher education. Furthermore, financial hurdles play a much larger role in the case of working-class children when entering university. The long stagnant student loans -Fördersätze thus had a direct correlation with the decline in student numbers in engineering. The final factor was corporate human resource policies in the 1990s and the poor situation in the labor market during that period.

At the engineering schools common up until the early 1970s, there was an engineer (grad.), The graduate engineer , as a state qualification.

In 2012 there were 77,775 engineering graduates in Germany at universities in Germany, of which 41,296 graduated with a bachelor's degree and 13,606 with a master's degree.


  • acatech (Ed.): Technological Sciences - Recognizing, Shaping, Responsibility . acatech; Springer, 2013.
  • acatech (ed.): Technological knowledge - development, methods, structures . acatech; Springer, 2010.
  • Gerhard Banse , Armin Grunwald , Wolfgang König , Günter Ropohl (eds.): Recognize and shape. A theory of engineering science . Edition sigma, Berlin 2006.
  • Gerhard Banse, Günter Ropohl (eds.): Knowledge concepts for engineering practice. Technical sciences between recognizing and creating . VDI-Verlag, Düsseldorf 2004.
  • Gisela Buchheim, Rolf Sonnemann (ed.): History of the technical sciences . Edition Leipzig, Leipzig 1990.
  • Anja Gottburgsen, Klaus Wannemacher , Jonas Wernz, Janka Willige: Engineer training for digital transformation . VDI Association of German Engineers, Düsseldorf, 2019. URL: .
  • Klaus Kornwachs : Structures of technical knowledge - analytical studies on a scientific theory of technology . Edition Sigma, Berlin 2012.
  • Johannes Müller: Working methods of technical sciences. Systematics - Heuristics - Creativity . Springer, Berlin a. a. 1990.
  • Hans Poser : Homo Creator - Technology as a Philosophical Challenge . Springer, 2016.
  • Günter Spur : Technology and Management - The self-image of technical sciences . Hanser, Munich 1998.
  • Helge Wendt, Gerhard Banse (Hrsg.): Knowledge methods in the technical sciences. A methodological analysis and philosophical discussion of the knowledge processes in the engineering sciences . Edition Sigma, Berlin 1986.
  • Karl-Eugen Kurrer : The History of the Theory of Structures. Searching for Equilibrium , Ernst & Sohn , Berlin 2018, pp. 144ff.

Web links

Wiktionary: Engineering  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. acatech (Ed.): Technical Sciences. Recognize - Create - Responsible (acatech IMPULS), Heidelberg u. a .: Springer Verlag 2013, p. 8, 18.
  2. acatech German Academy of Science and Engineering (ed.): Science of Technology - Recognition, Design, Responsibility (acatech IMPULS), Springer, 2013, p. 18.
  3. Cf. Plaßmann, Schulz (Ed.): Handbuch Elektrotechnik
    Grote, Feldhusen: Dubbel - Handbuch für den Maschinenbau ,
    Zilch et al. (Ed.): Handbook for civil engineers
  4. ^ Agricola Society (ed.): Technology and science
  5. Hans Poser : Homo Creator - Technology as a Philosophical Challenge . Springer, 2016, p. 299
  6. Technical sciences - recognition, design, responsibility . acatech, Springer, 2013, p. 7 f., 18,
  7. Technological knowledge - development, methods, structures . acatech, Springer, 2010, p.
  8. Wolfgang König: Values, Knowledge and Knowledge Integration in the Technical Sciences . In: Technological Knowledge - Development, Methods, Structures . acatech, Springer, 2010, pp. 63–65.
  9. Hans Poser: Homo Creator - Technology as a Philosophical Challenge , Springer, 2016, p. 303
  10. Hans Poser: Homo Creator - Technology as a Philosophical Challenge . Springer, 2016, pp. 18, 303
  11. Technical sciences - recognition, design, responsibility . acatech, Springer, 2013, pp. 8, 19, 21.
  12. Wolfgang König: Values, Knowledge and Knowledge Integration in the Technical Sciences . In: Technological Knowledge - Development, Methods, Structures . acatech, Springer, 2010, p. 70
  13. Hans Poser: Homo Creator - Technology as a Philosophical Challenge . Springer, 2016, p. 22
  14. Technical sciences - recognition, design, responsibility . acatech, Springer, 2013, p. 8, 18 f.
  15. Hans Poser: Homo Creator - Technology as a Philosophical Challenge . Springer, 2016, pp. 119 f., 125
  16. Rammert: Pragmatics of technical knowledge - or: How to do things with words . In: Technological Knowledge - Development, Methods, Structures . acatech, Springer, 2010, p. 37.
  17. Manfred Nagel, Hans-Joachim Bargstädt, Michael Hoffmann, Norbert Müller (eds.): Future of engineering - future Germany . Springer, 2009, p. 107.
  18. Anja Gottburgsen, Klaus Wannemacher , Jonas Wernz, Janka Willige: Engineer training for digital transformation . VDI Association of German Engineers, Düsseldorf, 2019, p. 4. URL: . - Eckhard Heidling, Pamela Meil, Judith Neumer, Stephanie Porschen-Hueck, Klaus Schmierl, Peter Sopp, Alexandra Wagner: Engineers for Industry 4.0 . IMPULS Foundation (VDMA), Frankfurt a. M., 2019.
  19. Manfred Nagel, Hans-Joachim Bargstädt, Michael Hoffmann, Norbert Müller (eds.): Future of engineering - future Germany . Springer, 2009, 193-196.
  20. Self-employment in Germany - Facts and Figures ( Memento from December 23, 2013 in the Internet Archive ). Retrieved on January 21, 2013.