The engineering industry is always adapting and changing to current conditions. As new technology becomes available and new possibilities make themselves clear, engineering shifts with the times. As a result, we see changes in everything from how designs are conceived to how projects are managed. But what are some of the specific changes we’re seeing? And how might they affect the future of our discipline?
Here’s a fact. The revolution may not be televised, but it will be digitized. From consumer shopping behaviors to industrial manufacturing processes to healthcare delivery, times are changing, and engineering disciplines need to change with them. The rapid rise of digital technology has created a major shortage of talent. In fact, according to a recent Deloitte study, this talent shortage could cost the US economy as much as $1 trillion by 2030.
With broad technical knowledge across multiple engineering disciplines, mechanical, civil, and structural engineers are well-positioned to thrive in this environment. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the nearly 50 percent of all employees the World Economic Forum estimates will need digital upskilling by 2025.
What emerging technologies should those in the engineering profession be most familiarized with?
1. Your Very Own Digital Twin
Have you ever heard of a digital twin? It is not a new idea, but we’re just now starting to see it affecting engineering industries in a major way. For those unfamiliar with the term, a digital twin is an exact replica of something in the physical world, rendered digitally. Designed by way of sensors placed on and around the physical objects, these digital renderings give engineers unprecedented insight into performance. Digital modeling of this types gives engineers new insight into how buildings, bridges and roads are conceptualized and designed.
But what is the digital twin exacty? Consider a digital twin as nothing more than a component of something. This could be a building component, aircraft engine, or anything else that might involve engineering or design work. Engineers use digital twin modeling to find and fix emerging changes or problems with performance, or they can use it to come up with and and test solutions that can then be implemented in the real world.
2. Automation and AI
These could be mutually exclusive categories, but there is a lot of overlap. Automation, AI and robotics seem to be rapidly advancing in lockstep. The march of machine learning has produced countless benefits for the engineering industry in the process. These technologies can analyze projects, come up with solutions, monitor materials, and in some cases even carry out physical engineering projects in a way that makes humans’ jobs safer and simpler. Civil engineers benefit from advances in different types of modeling and materials sciences.
Machine learning and AI technologies are ever-evolving. Manufacturers and robotics companies tweak new AI systems and adapt them to new functions. Now, with the advent of quantum computing, machine learning and robotics to new heights as well. It could be that what we now look at as technologies that assist engineers and simplify projects will soon redefine the entire industry. Civil and structural engineers may benefit from entirely new methodologies driven by machine learning.
3. Additive Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing has revolutionized the construction and manufacturing sectors. Manufacturers using additive manufacturing provides increased agility in managing supply chain issues. This technology played a key role in reducing the strain for manufacturers during the COVID-19 pandemic and became one of mechanical engineering’s fastest-changing technologies.
In some respects, 3D printing is beginning to change the very nature of engineering. Why? Because it’s providing a new way to manufacture parts for use in projects — from components of airplanes and automobiles to the basic structure of “printed” homes and even sections of commercial buildings. Entire industries are changing thanks to the ease of designing and building new components using 3D printing.
3D printing provides a new way for engineers to test designs and produce models. As the technology is becoming more available (and frankly, better), we’re poised to see both practices become mainstream in the engineering industry. And this will impact engineering disciplines of all stripes, from mechanical to civil and structural.
Most civil engineers are familiar with at least the basics of additive manufacturing, but that won’t be enough as building and design standards change and adapt to new techniques and methodologies. Advances in sustainability, speed, materials, and use cases mean 3D printing is making a future of net-zero, distributed manufacturing a viable reality. As 3D printing adoption accelerates, be on the lookout for government regulations and standardization processes that will inevitably follow. Engineers must stay on top of these developments, regardless of their particular discipline type.
At McNeil Engineering, we always keep our finger in the wind of technological change within the engineering sector. From advances in business information modeling and laser scanning to landscape architecture, we stay at the forefront of change in civil and structural engineering.