Posted: 6th September 2019
Posted in: Articles
How Digital Engineering is Shaping the Future of Engineering
There’s no denying that technology is changing the way we live, the way we work, and the way we do business. For some, that’s a troubling prospect. For the engineering industry, however, the advance of technology and rise of digital engineering is opening up a world of possibilities and shaping a better future.
The Benefits of Digital Engineering
Digital engineering is already beginning to change the way we work in the industry and brings with it a host of benefits for all parties involved, including clients, contractors and industry employees.
Enhanced stakeholder engagement is one of the key benefits of digital engineering innovation and allows for greater ease in communicating design challenges and outcomes early in the project cycle. Those outside of the technical engineering realm can begin to better understand the complexities of the project and be more involved from the outset. Digital innovation also means greater collaboration within design teams as well as an increasingly diverse workforce. (Statistics show that diverse workplaces enjoy a significantly greater cash flow and often outperform their more homogenous competitors.)
Furthermore, as the technology advances, complete projects can be fully constructed within the digital environment, well before the turning of the first sod. This means that potential issues can be identified and resolved much earlier in the project cycle which, in turn, means increased efficiency on-site resulting from greater transparency, better coordinated designs, and less re-working. With each of these factors in mind, it’s clear that embracing digital engineering is simply good business.
Digital Engineering Challenges for The Industry
Increasingly, engineering consultants and construction contractors will face competition from companies outside the traditional engineering and construction sectors. Data-driven technology companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and the like may soon look to combine their technology skills and infrastructure with more traditional civil and structural engineering principles, and permanently shake up the industry.
The introduction of advanced artificial intelligence to the engineering industry from these technology leaders has the potential to reduce the need for highly skilled and educated teams of engineers to be working on repetitive tasks, such as designing recurring elements of a project. From motorway tunnels to housing construction, this has great implications for the wider industry and its workers.
As is the case for any technological advancement, those employed within the industry will face challenges related to education (such as the need for retraining) as well as shifts in the ways they are expected to work. Without a doubt, structural and civil engineers will always require knowledge of traditional engineering principles. However, as the technological aspects of the industry begin to advance, engineers are also likely to need bolstered capabilities associated with software development, including programming skills. A blending of the roles of civil or structural engineer and that of software engineer may become necessary for employees to maintain their roles within the industry.
Of course, engineering firms and their employees won’t experience these challenges alone. Clients and contractors will soon need to be able to decipher more sophisticated outputs from engineering consultants. This necessitates a greater understanding of digital engineering within their own teams and may also require investment in re-education of their employees, as well as revised priorities when hiring and training new recruits.
Making the Most of Digital Engineering Innovation
The Information Age is characterised by the power of data, and those who are able to process, manipulate and utilise data stand to benefit most from digital innovation. This affects everyone throughout the engineering space, from students in training to become future engineers, to current employees, businesses, contractors and clients.
Despite the obvious challenges, engineering firms have the opportunity to benefit greatly from the data revolution. Working closely with technology powerhouses like Google and Microsoft could be the key to maintaining a competitive advantage in the industry. Luckily, it seems that these tech giants are interested in greater collaboration with the industry, rather than direct competition with it. This was made clear at the 2019 Conference on the Future of Engineering Software (COFES), where the COFES Institute welcomed Microsoft, Google and Dell to share insights regarding “the possibilities the cloud can bring to companies for competitive advantages when it comes to software solutions for design and manufacturing” as well as discussions around the design of industrial-strength web applications for the engineering industry.
The introduction of these types of technologies means that re-imagining workplaces is critical. This involves investing in the re-training of engineering employees in order to make better use of their wealth of knowledge and skills. It also means changing the way we educate future engineers. According to Stanford engineering professor, James Plummer, “Engineers will need communication skills, the ability to work in teams, global knowledge, and an entrepreneurial outlook as much as they will need technical depth.”
The reduced headcount required for repetitive tasks means giving employees the opportunity to work on more complex and challenging tasks. For engineering consultancy firms, this can result in enhanced efficiency and capacity. For the wider industry, these factors will result in reduced operating costs and faster project turnarounds.
Embracing the digital age has the potential to reinvigorate the industry, with a more diverse and collaborative workforce, greater productivity and profitability and ultimately, the futureproofing of a traditional industry for the Information Age.