The Engineering Professors’ Council is pleased to announce the appointment of the leadership team for its Ethics Ambassadors community.

The Ethics Ambassadors community was created in March 2023, to expand and develop the work and recommendations of the Engineering Ethics Advisory Group, on their completion of Phase 2 of the Engineering Ethics Toolkit.

At its first meeting during the EAN Congress in June 2023, members formally agreed to the group’s establishment and its purpose and goals, and volunteered for various leadership roles. After a voting process, the appointments of the following individuals were confirmed:

Additional leadership roles around events, Toolkit content, and support have also been confirmed and can be seen on our Ambassadors page.

During their first year, the Ethics Ambassadors aim to promote and guide the use of the Engineering Ethics Toolkit among engineering educators, to continue its development by soliciting new resources, to seek continued funding that supports the Toolkit’s management and hosting, and to build the group’s membership.

If you are interested in joining please fill out our membership application form.

 

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Author: Dr Irene Josa (University College London). The author would like to acknowledge Colin Church (IOM3) who provided valuable feedback during the development of this case.

Topic: Materials sourcing and circularity.

Engineering disciplines: Materials engineering; Manufacturing; Environmental engineering; Construction.

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Risk.

Professional situations: Conflicts of interest; Public health and safety; Legal implications; Whistleblowing; Power; Corporate social responsibility.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Gaining ethical knowledge. Knowing the sets of rules, theories, concepts, frameworks, and statements of duty, rights, or obligations that inform ethical attitudes, behaviours, and practices.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves an engineer responsible for verifying the source of recycled construction material to ensure it is not contaminated. The case is presented in three parts. Part one focuses on the environmental, professional, and social contexts and may be used in isolation to allow students to explore both micro-ethical and macro-ethical concerns. Parts two and three bring in a dilemma about public information and communication and allows students to consider their positions and potential responses. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

NGOs:

Government site:

Business:

Journal articles:

Professional organisations:

 

Dilemma – Part one:

Charlie is a junior environmental engineer who started working at Circle Mat after graduating. Circle Mat is a construction products company that takes pride in using recycled materials from waste in their products, such as mortars and concretes. In fact, Circle Mat was recently nominated by the National Sustainability Association in the prize for the most innovative and sustainable production chains.

Charlie’s role is to ensure that the quality standards of the recycled waste used in the products are met. She is sent a report every two weeks from the factories receiving the waste and she checks the properties of this waste. While she is also supposed to visit all the factories once a month, her direct supervisor, Sam, advised her to visit only those factories where data shows that there are problems with the quality. While it is Charlie’s responsibility to verify the quality and to create the factory visit plan, she trusts her line manager as to how best approach her work.

Among all the factories with which they are working, the factory in Barretton has always had the highest quality standards, and since it is very far from where Charlie is based, she has postponed for months her visit to that factory.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Charlie is responsible for checking the quality from the data she receives, but what about the quality/reliability of the data? Where does her responsibility begin and end? What ethical guidance, codes, or frameworks can help her decide?

2. Activity: Research the issue of asbestos, including current science, potential risks, and legal implications.

3. Discussion: Macroethical context – What is circularity, and how does it relate to climate goals or environmental practice?

  

Dilemma: Part two:

After several months, she finally goes to the town where the factory is located. Before getting to the factory, she stops for a coffee at the town’s café. There, she enquires of the waiter about the impacts of the factory on the town. The waiter expresses his satisfaction and explains that since Circle Mat started operations there, the town has become much more prosperous.

When Charlie reaches the factory, she notices a pile of waste that, she assumes, is the one that is being used as recycled aggregate in concrete. Having a closer look, she sees that it is waste from demolition of a building, with some insulation walls, concrete slabs and old pipes. At that moment, the head of the factory arrives and kindly shows Charlie around.

At the end of the visit, Charlie asks about the pile, and the head says that it is indeed demolition waste from an old industrial building. By the description, Charlie remembers that there are some buildings in the region that still contain asbestos, so asks whether the demolition material could potentially have asbestos. To Charlie’s surprise, the head reacts aggressively and says that the visit is over.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Use an environmental and social Life Cycle Assessment tool to assess the environmental and social impacts that the decision that Charlie makes might have.

2. Discussion: Map possible courses of action regarding the approach that Charlie could adopt when the factory head tries to shut down the visit. Discuss which is the best approach and why. Some starting questions would be: What should Charlie do? What feels wrong about this situation?

3. Discussion: if she reports her suspicions to her manager, what data or evidence can she present? Should she say anything at all at this point?

 

Dilemma – Part three:

In the end, Charlie decides not to mention anything, and after writing her report she leaves Barretton. A few days later, Circle Mat is announced to be the winner of the prize by the National Sustainability Association. Circle Mat organises a celebration event to be carried out in Barretton. During the event, Charlie discovers that Circle Mat’s CEO is a relative of the mayor of Barretton.

She is not sure if there really is asbestos in the waste, and also she does not know if other factories might be behaving in the same way. Nonetheless, other junior engineers are responsible for the other factories, so she doesn’t have access to the information.

Some days after the event, she receives a call from a journalist who says that they have discovered that the company is using waste from buildings that contain asbestos. The journalist is preparing an article to uncover the secret and wants to interview her. They ensure that, if she wants, her identity will be kept anonymous. They also mention that, if she refuses to participate, they will collect information from other sources in the company.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Technical integration related to measuring contaminants in waste products used for construction materials.

2. Discussion: What ethical issues can be identified in this scenario? Check how ethical principles of the construction sector inform the ethical issues that may be present, and the solutions that might be possible.

3. Discussion: What interpersonal and workplace dynamics might affect the approach taken to resolve this situation? 

4. Discussion: Would you and could you take the interview with the journalist? Should Charlie? Why or why not?

5. Activity: In the case of deciding to take the interview, prepare the notes you would take to the interview.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Dr Yujia Zhai (University of Hertfordshire); Associate Professor Scarlett Xiao (University of Hertfordshire). 

Topic: Data security of industrial robots.  

Disciplines: Robotics; Data; Internet of Things. 

Ethical issues: Safety; Health; Privacy; Transparency. 

Professional situations: Rigour; Informed consent; Misuse of data. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

Educational aim: Gaining ethical knowledge. Knowing the sets of rules, theories, concepts, frameworks, and statements of duty, rights, or obligations that inform ethical attitudes, behaviours, and practices. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study involves an engineer hired to develop and install an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) online machine monitoring system for a manufacturing company. The developments include designing the infrastructure of hardware and software, writing the operation manuals and setting policies. The project incorporates a variety of ethical components including law and policy, stakeholders, and risk analysis. 

This case study addresses three of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): Design and Innovation (significant technical and intellectual challenges commensurate the level of study), the Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools, and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in three parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two and Part three develop and complicate the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired. 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to:  

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Professional organisations: 

Legal regulations: 

UN agency: 

Educational resource: 

Government sites: 

 Educational institutions: 

 

Summary: 

IIoT is a new technology that can provide accurate condition monitoring and predict component wear rates to optimise machine performance, thereby improving the machining precision of the workpiece and reducing the production cost.   

Oxconn is a company that produces auto parts. The robotic manipulators and other automation machines on the production line have been developed at considerable cost and investment, and regular production line maintenance is essential to ensure its effective operation. The current maintenance scheme is based on routine check tests which are not reliable and efficient. Therefore Oxconn has decided to install an IIoT-based machine condition monitoring system. To achieve fast responses to any machine operation issues, the machine condition data collected in real time will be transferred to a cloud server for analysis, decision making, and predictive maintenance in the future. 

 

Dilemma – Part one – Data protection on customers’ machines:

You are a leading engineer who has been hired by Oxconn to take charge of the project on the IIoT-based machine monitoring system, including designing the infrastructure of hardware and software, writing the operation manuals, setting policies, and getting the system up and running. With your background in robotic engineering and automation, you are expected to act as a technical advisor to Oxconn and liaise with the Facilities, Security, Operation, and Maintenance departments to ensure a smooth deployment. This is the first time you have worked on a project that involves real time data collection. So as part of your preparation for the project, you need to do some preliminary research as to what best practices, guidance, and regulations apply. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What are the legal issues relating to machine condition monitoring? Machines’ real-time data allows for the identification of production status in a factory and is therefore considered as commercial data under GDPR and the Data Protection Act (2018). Are there rules specifically for IIoT, or are they the same no matter what technology is being used? Should IIoT regulations differ in any way? Why? 

2. Discussion: Sharing data is a legally and ethically complex field. Are there any stakeholders with which the data could be shared? For instance, is it acceptable to share the data with an artificial intelligence research group or with the public? Why, or why not? 

3. Discussion: Under GDPR, individuals must normally consent to their personal data being processed. For machine condition data, how should consent be handled in this case? 

4. Discussion: What ethical codes relate to data security and privacy in an IIoT scenario?  

5. Activity: Undertake a technical activity that relates to how IIoT-based machine monitoring systems are engineered. 

6. Discussion: Based on your understanding of how IIoT-based machine monitoring systems are engineered, consider what additional risks, and what kind of risks (such as financial or operational), Oxconn might incur if depending on an entirely cloud-based system. How might these risks be mitigated from a technical and non-technical perspective? 

 

Dilemma – Part two – Computer networks security issue brought by online monitoring systems:

The project has kicked off and a senior manager requests that a user interface (UI) be established specifically for the senior management team (SMT). Through this UI, the SMT members can have access to all the real-time data via their computers or mobiles and obtain the analysis result provided by artificial intelligence technology. You realise this has implications on the risk of accessing internal operating systems via the external information interface and networks. So as part of your preparation for the project, you need to investigate what platforms can be used and what risk analysis must be taken in implementation. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

The following activities focus on macro-ethics. They address the wider ethical contexts of projects like the industrial data acquisition system. 

1. Activity: Explore different manufacturers and their approaches to safety for both machines and operators. 

2. Activity: Technical integration – Undertake a technical activity related to automation engineering and information engineering. 

3. Activity: Research what happens with the data collected by IIoT. Who can access this data and how can the data analysis module manipulate the data?  

4. Activity: Develop a risk management register, taking considerations of the findings from Activity 3 as well as the aspect of putting in place data security protocols and relevant training for SMT. 

5. Discussion/activity: Use information in the Ethical Risk Assessment guide to help students consider how ethical issues are related to the risks they have just identified. 

6. Discussion: In addition to cost-benefit analysis, how can the ethical factors be considered in designing the data analysis module? 

7. Activity: Debate the appropriateness of installing and using the system for the SMT. 

8. Discussion: What responsibilities do engineers have in developing these technologies? 

 

Dilemma – Part three – Security breach and legal responsibility: 

At the beginning of operation, the IIoT system with AI algorithms improved the efficiency of production lines by updating the parameters in robot operation and product recipes automatically. Recently, however, the efficiency degradation was observed, and after investigation, there were suspicions that the rules/data in AI algorithms have been subtly changed. Developers, contractors, operators, technicians and managers were all brought in to find out what’s going on. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: If there has been an illegal hack of the system, what might be the motive of cyber criminals?   

2. Discussion: What are the impacts on company business? How could the impact of cyber-attacks on businesses be minimised?

3. Discussion: How could threats that come from internal employees, vendors, contractors or partners be prevented?

4. Discussion: When a security breach happens, what are the legal responsibilities for developers, contractors, operators, technicians and managers? 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

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