As the digital age continues to advance at rapid speed, many industries are finding themselves in a state of constant change and flux. The engineering industry is just one sector that has seen an explosion in innovation, impacting not only how engineers work now, but what the potential is for their work into the future? With 25% of the world’s total economy predicted to be digital by 2020, and 82% of middle-skill jobs now requiring digital skills, it’s clear that the future of the working world will rely heavily on how we harness and adapt to technology. But how will engineering keep up with the continued advancements in the digital landscape?
Building information modelling (BIM) is not a new concept, having been around since the 1970s. However, it’s recently emerged as a major contributor to improved efficiencies within the design and construction process.
BIM is a process that brings together engineers and architects to work collaboratively on building design and construction, working from a shared database and computer model that allows them to visualise designs before projects are even remotely near breaking ground. BIM files – which show physical and functional characteristics of spaces – provide clear digital representations of the end product, allowing crucial decisions to be made in the design process much earlier and more efficiently. The central 3D model can be more cost and time-efficient when used by engineers, giving them the opportunity to identify errors and issues in the office, rather than in the field after construction has begun.
Before BIM, the separation between the different design and build functions was much more pronounced, with civil engineers creating designs and drafters converting them into documents to be interpreted by technicians, surveyors and contractors. As BIM becomes more popular within the wider construction industry, we can expect to see engineers working more closely and efficiently with other disciplines. In order to fully realise BIM’s potential, engineers will need to adopt a collaborative, innovation-focused mindset.
Presenting users with graphic enhancements to their real physical environment, augmented reality has been something of a buzzword in many industries over the past few years, including engineering. Its potential for use in design and manufacturing processes is almost limitless. Within product design, for example, augmented reality can give engineers the opportunity to design a product within the environment it will exist in upon production, giving a clearer idea of space restrictions, clashes and aesthetics. In manufacturing, augmented reality can allow process steps and assembly examples to be superimposed onto a real work environment, or overlay designs onto existing parts or machines. BIM or CAD image files can be used during this process, allowing everyone involved in design, engineering and construction to visualise the end result as it will be situated within the real environment. The technology has already been used successfully within the industry, with New Zealand city planners and engineers adopting augmented reality to help visualise buildings that were destroyed in the 2011 earthquake.
What does this mean for engineers?
While the scope of engineering is changing with the emergence of new technologies and trends, the core essence of an engineer’s role remains the same. In terms of skills, the ability to think strategically and innovatively, work as a team and solve problems are all as relevant today as they were 100 years ago. In order to remain relevant in a competitive market, however, engineers must be adaptable and willing to reinvent themselves to keep up with industry evolution. The ability to understand and work with new technologies and trends will stand any engineer in good stead to secure the most coveted roles.
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