Keeping up with technology
In June 2017, New Civil Engineer warned of a ‘Robot takeover’ on the frontpage of its magazine. More than two years later and the robots are yet to wipe us out.
That said, the presence of technology, innovations and innovators in the engineering sector are growing at a rapid pace.
Traditionally, the engineering sector has been behind the curve when it comes to innovating and more importantly embracing innovation.
In 2016, a KPMG survey found that two-thirds of the 200-plus construction and engineering executives and major-project owners surveyed said they don’t use advanced data analytics to monitor project-related estimation and performance.
However the winds of change which begun blowing in and are quickly evolving into one almighty gale.
In the same report published this year 83% of construction and engineering companies said that they “feel organizations will be data-driven, including routine use of data analytics and predictive modelling for project planning and monitoring”.
One of the main drivers of the uptake of innovation is sustainability. This year, in the last throes of her leadership, former prime minister Theresa May committed the UK to carbon neutrality by 2050.
And there are no, ifs or buts about it, technology is going to get us there.
In terms of what we use to build, recycled plastics, low-carbon and 3D printed materials are starting to replace traditionally used materials such as bricks and mortar.
Highways England has been leading on trialling .
Technology is also going to provide new modes of transport. Electric cars are growing in popularity, and the infrastructure behind them must keep up.
And that is where the role of the engineer is changing.
The engineers of tomorrow will have to factor in sustainability, carbon output will have to be measured meticulously, and designs will have to be tailored to meet the Millennials environmental sensibilities.
Digital transformation is also are hot topic on the rails. In the short-term Network Rail’s 15-year digital strategy launched last year is a sign that the nation’s infrastructure bodies are embracing, rather than fearing, technology and the progress it can offer.
More further down the line, technologies such as hydrogen-powered trains, greater electrification and even hyperloop systems are likely to revolutionise the way the world approaches transport systems.
As much as sustainability is driving changes in transport systems and materials used, safety is an equal driver.
The increase use in offsite construction is being driven to improve the mental well being of our workforce.
Heathrow is leading the charge on this with its offsite hubs set up to deliver vital parts of its expansion plan.
Autonomous vehicles is also going to improve safety on site, with autonomous diggers already used on the A14 by Highways England in a bid to reduce the number of workers needed in high risk areas.
Technologies such as augmented and virtual reality are also transforming the way our workforce operates.
Virtual reality is being used to train staff ahead of carrying out tricky works, such as on the Oldbury viaduct, where all staff carried out work to the live carriageway in a virtual environment before stepping on site.
Likewise an increase in augmented reality is allowing workers to accurately understand where utilities are buried beneath their site, such as on the Luton DART light rail scheme.
The benefits of an increase of technology are multi-faceted. The desire to produce safer, more reliable and sustainable structures and transport systems is always going to be the goal – achieving that goal is going to require the engineers of tomorrow to embrace emerging technologies today.