The technology emerging from the engineering space is impressive. Think driverless vehicles, digital twins, scanning devices, predictive analytics, drones and the Internet of Things. But for those concerned that the role of an engineer may be under threat – you needn’t worry! As long as we keep on building bridges, buildings and pumps that form the foundations of our cities, this new technology will help engineers, not replace them.
The industry still needs engineering graduates with the same fundamental skill set that has been taught in engineering schools for centuries. What today’s engineering students must prepare for is the application of this skillset as the industry continues to push boundaries and innovate.
Big Data Manipulation
The first aspect of the engineering digital transformation that will alter the industry is the way we manipulate big data. Expect to see innovative startups come up with solutions, not only making big data manipulation easy to do and understand but expanding and implementing features that make it widely used. Currently, only a tiny part of big data is being captured let alone analysed. There is so much more to data that excel spreadsheets!
Forward-thinking engineering students are now combining their engineering studies with a computer science degree. This will vastly improve your worth as you can have two important skills that can be used in many situations. You can become the data scientist who also understands the source of the data.
As digital engineering develops, we can expect engineers to become more connected, mobile and global, meaning that we will start seeing more engineers appear on websites such as Upwork and Freelancer. This may see a shift in the skills required to become a remote, versatile engineer.
Firstly, a remote engineer must be extremely adept with the engineering basics, relevant to your chosen discipline. Secondly, the ability to problem solve quickly will allow the engineer to efficiently mend anything that may go wrong and put in the correct adjustments to ensure that disaster does not occur. This leads to the final skill a remote engineer will need to succeed; strong communication. This may redefine the engineering stereotype and help to diversify the industry. Don’t be afraid to be a digital engineering nomad and make the most of the freedom to travel.
Don’t take for granted an employee that has a minor in Materials Engineering or Science. The materials that will determine the way equipment is made and operated will fundamentally shift. This will have a significant impact for all levels of engineering from design to reliability to project management. In fact, some believe that the advancement of engineers and materials scientists could determine the future of human civilization.
Commoditization of basic engineering skills
The inevitable fact is that basic skills such as drafting, calculations and simple design will continue to shift to emerging economies aka cheaper workforces, it has happened in numerous other industries and it will happen to engineering. While this may initially be seen as a negative, it means that there will be a demand for specification of skillsets. The best thing that any engineer can do if they wish to succeed is to decide on a technical specialty and become a thought leader in your market. This will protect your edge in the market. This means that there is a huge opportunity for engineers to develop technical expertise, global project facilitation, problem-solving and error reduction skillsets.
It’s important to remember that digital transformation isn’t just about amazing advancements in the industry. As we progress, there will be new challenges and old practices that become irrelevant and/or redundant.
Risk is an element that will always be present and, therefore, the industry needs to develop an increased acceptance of risk. New technology may decrease some risks while amplifying those that were previously not considered. This means that the next generation of engineers need to mitigate risk by putting in strict controls in order to facilitate the cost and efficiency savings from all the new things on the market.
If you’d like to learn more about digital engineering, feel free to reach out to Dave Shaw, Utilities Industry Lead North America or Jason Lancelot, Digital Engineering Lead based in Brisbane, Australia.