Updated: Mar 9
The engineering industry is always adapting. As new technology becomes available and new possibilities make themselves clear, we see changes in everything from how designs are conceived to how projects are managed. Here, we’re going to take a look at five specific changes we’re seeing, and how they might affect the future of engineering.
1. “Digital Twin” Design & Maintenance
The idea of digital twins has been around for a few year, 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.
The digital twin — be it of a building component, aircraft engine, or anything else that might involve an engineering win — can reflect emerging changes or problems with performance. Engineers can then work with the digital version to think up and test solutions that can then be implemented in the real world.
2. 3D Printing
In some respects, 3D printing is beginning to change the very nature of engineering. In some cases this is 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. Additionally though, 3D printing is providing 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.
3. Virtual Site Inspection
Where building projects and other construction sites are concerned we’re also seeing a trend toward virtual inspection. It’s an idea that’s come about in part due to COVID-19 and the widespread need for more remote work and less in-person contact. But the industry is quickly discovering that virtual measures can also simplify inspections while improving safety and maintaining quality.
Inspections like this do require fairly cutting-edge technology in the form of 360-video devices and in some cases drones — all of which need to be able to withstand long use while transmitting data wirelessly. Improvements in printed circuit board capability and wireless networks are helping to make it possible though. Increasingly, devices meant for remote data collection are employing metal core PCB designs that make their electronics more durable and reliable. A metal core handles heat and heavy use effectively without any drawback in connectivity or performance. At the same time, more reliable wireless networks are completing the picture such that engineering companies can now depend on both devices and connections to relay site inspection insights.
While the other trends we’re discussing here are more about design and function, it’s important to point to the growing importance of sustainability in engineering as well. As more of the world adopts a serious focus on the preservation off our environment, it doesn’t escape notice that engineering and construction industries are generally responsible for a fair amount of waste and pollution. Thus, moving forward, we expect to see a much greater emphasis on green engineering principles, such as effective resource use, waste elimination, alternative material, and renewable resources.
5. AI & Robotics Deployment
This is a fairly broad category. But to keep it simple, we’ll note that AI and robotics are rapidly advancing, and producing countless potential 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.
The main reason we’d cite this as a trend for the future though is that the technology is still getting better. AI is always being tweaked and adapted to new functions, and the advent of quantum computing could take 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.
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The content in this article is covered in the Engineering IRL podcast.