An example of why signing off on one's drawings is essential to responsible engineering.
Putnam is an engineer employed by a computer manufacturer. He is responsible for the design of some computer equipment and signs off on the drawings. Although his design has been properly prepared, the manufacturing process is faulty, drives up cost, and suffers a mechanical breakdown. The manufacturing division suggests modifications to bring down costs, but Putnam analyzes the recommendations and finds that they would reduce the reliability of the product that would likely cost the company more through warranty claims. Putnam's supervisor asks him to sign off on the changes anyway. Although there is nothing to suggest that there is a safety problem, Putnam raises reliability concerns to his supervisor.
What are Putnam's professional responsibilities in this case? What are the supervisor's responsibilities? What should Putnam do?
--adapted from NSPE Cases No. 88-5
NSPE Code of Ethics An earlier version may have been used in this case.
Return to Professional Ethics in Engineering Practice: Discussion Cases Based on NSPE BER Cases
This ethical decision-making framework developed by Dr. Michael Davis of the Illinois Institute of Technology is useful in guiding discussions around case studies and other ethics courses and workshop activities.
This bibliography includes examples of different ways instructors have used case studies to introduce ethical topics to their students and resources for finding cases and incorporating them into the classroom.
In this essay, Dr. Whitbeck outlines an 'agent-centered' approach to learning ethics. The central aim is to prepare students to act wisely and responsibly when faced with moral problems. She provides a number of examples and cases with descriptions of questions and directions for promoting student participation and stimulating thought and discussion.