Think Again: Walt Disney Imagineering, NASA space travel

What do Walt Disney Imagineering and NASA space travel have in common? Engineering inspiration.


Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering, CFE MediaIngredients of engineering inspiration, for Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), include 140 skill sets and a mission to entertain. For NASA, engineering inspiration resulted from getting humans to and from space safely, with a mission in-between.

WDI engineering advice

At Disney, imagination and engineering combine in magical ways thanks to creative design, research and development, and more than 30 years of embracing a culture of innovation and technology. David R. Van Wyk, vice president, project management, Walt Disney Imagineering, asked an audience at the Siemens 2011 Automation Summit conference in June: “How can we be as relevant tomorrow as we are today? How can we meet and exceed guest expectations in a changing world? Could we be the typewriter of the next generation?” Substitute the word “customer” or “client” for guest, and nearly any engineer can glean advice from this.

David R. Van Wyk, vice president, project management, Walt Disney Imagineering, at Siemens 2011 Automation Summit conference in June; CFE Media photo by Mark T. HoskeTo help engineer the next level of success in guest entertainment, Van Wyk said Imagineering:

  • Incorporates skill sets of 140 disciplines, including engineers, creative staff, artists, architects, accountants, writers, theme and new media specialists, and more. A culture of interdisciplinary coordination with diverse stakeholders aims to interact and socialize to understand issues and problems.

  • Tells a sweeping story, immersing the guest, whatever age, in the experience. Connecting with guests helps in that effort.

  • Pays attention to details. A famous Walt Disney saying is that a guest may not notice a specific (sometimes tiny) detail, but he or she will notice when the detail isn’t there.

  • Cultivates a culture of ideas and helps talented, creative people use new tools to do so. At Disney that includes “blue sky development,” where an idea comes to life in a virtual world to see how elements interact, for better understanding, collaboration, planning, and development.

  • Resolves issues earlier in the engineering-design process, when it’s more economical to make changes, especially those involving equipment.

  • Aims to adapt, modify, renew, and reinvent.

  • Looks at products, processes, and people with sustainable design, driven by diversity and partners of choice.

  • Seeks to incorporate more peer review earlier in the engineering-design process.

  • Recognizes higher complexities required for a more sophisticated audience and expects to incorporate higher productivity tools in design and construction, including building information modeling (BIM), to preserve and adapt prior designs where it make sense.

  • Looks for on-time delivery, getting it right before it gets to the field, with a strong start, strong finish, and careful resource allocation.

  • Gains expertise through partnering, ensuring that stakeholders embrace objectives of predictability, collaboration, impeccable coordination, reduced decision latency, collective quality, and just-in-time delivery. That means tracking costs closely, including stakeholders in collaboration.

  • Considers quality up front and asks supply chain partners to ensure they have quality assurance programs, ensuring the first conversation on the topic isn’t after something has gone wrong.

  • Understands that lowest cost can translate into higher costs if other elements of a partnership aren’t right.

NASA's engineering inspiration: priceless

With the Space Shuttle program retired after 30 years, NASA is without funding for putting humans in low earth orbit (left to the Russians and to the private sector). Nor does NASA have funding for continuing the work on its already-begun deep space human exploration program.

While there are many direct technological benefits to putting humans in space—and practical reasons to use robotic space exploration—inspiring new engineering talent is among NASA's largest contributions.

What won't be engineered in the future because young people today, uninspired with NASA's lack of funding, will choose another career? What do you think?

Think Again - ONLINE extra


And, if you need more surreal inspiration, there's always this...

No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Salary survey: How much are you worth?; Dedicated outdoor air systems; Energy models and lighting
Fire, life safety in schools; Fire protection codes; Detection, suppression, and notification; 2015 Commissioning Giants; Emergency and standby power in hospitals
HVAC and building envelope: Efficient, effective systems; Designing fire sprinkler systems; Wireless controls in buildings; 2015 Product of the Year winners
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Implementing microgrids: Controlling campus power generation; Understanding cogeneration systems; Evaluating UPS system efficiency; Driving data center PUE, efficiency
Optimizing genset sizing; How the Internet of Things affects the data center; Increasing transformer efficiency; Standby vs. emergency power in mission critical facilities
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.