Engineers are involved in just about everything, from mining operations to urban planning to construction, oil & gas, alternative energy, and more.
Perhaps more than any individual industry, however, engineering is being disrupted by a number of different technologies.
1. 3D Printing
The technology used for 3D printing has come a long way. Just a few years ago, it was scarcely commercially viable. Now it’s being adopted into every industry to streamline processes, reduce overheads, and create better products.
Engineers are often involved in the design of various products, buildings, and infrastructure. Whether they’re prototyping a new car engine or designing the solar panels of the future, engineering is a key component of the design process.
Since most industries are adopting 3D printing at the design stage, engineers have most definitely been impacted by the change. In manufacturing, for example, they may now be asked to design three or four different prototypes of a new product. They then print each of them for testing. In the past, such testing wasn’t possible due to costs.
Drones are big news in several industries. In construction, they’re used to monitor various project sites. In the mining industry, they’re used in initial surveys of potential new sites. In oil and gas, they can monitor pipelines, and in manufacturing, they can monitor warehouse inventory and pick and pack orders.
So what about engineering? Since engineers are involved in every industry just mentioned, you can bet drones are changing what engineers do and how they do it. A great example is mining and construction, where drones can assist engineers in surveying remote sites and determining the best designs. Drones collect and transmit a vast amount of data which helps engineers make better decisions during planning.
3. Alternative Energies
The alternative energy industry is a huge employer of engineers on its own, yet the rise of renewables is creating more jobs outside of the energy industry itself. As renewables replace older energy technologies, it’s up to those in the engineering industry to ensure buildings, vehicles, and consumer products take advantage of these cleaner alternatives.
Engineers are also involved in upgrading the electrical grid itself to handle these new power sources. They might be redesigning the grid to accommodate additional power, or they may be instrumental in distributing the additional capacity. They might also assist in taking older plants and facilities offline.
4. Sustainable Materials
There is a lot of talk about sustainability in the engineering industry. Most people think about processes such as “greening” a manufacturing process or constructing a new building to be green. Manufacturing equipment and mining equipment might be engineered to be more efficient, becoming greener in the process.
It’s really sustainable materials that have the biggest impact on the engineering industry. Engineers are not only creating and discovering these new materials, they’re also being challenged to design with them. As sustainable materials take over less environmentally friendly options, it’s up to engineers to determine how to use them and what they can withstand.
5. Smart Machines
You’ve probably heard about self-driving cars. They exemplify the trend in machine automation today: Machines are getting smarter. They learn more effectively and efficiently than ever before.
Obviously, engineers have something to with designing smarter machines, but many people think only of the computer programming required to make learning happen. Engineers are also involved in a number of other stages, however, from designing a self-driving vehicle to incorporating “smart machines” into manufacturing processes.
In sum, there’s no shortage of technological disruptions in the engineering industry right now. It’s an exciting time to be an engineer.