The engineering world is continually in development with the constant search for innovations or the refining of existing inventions that can enhance our lives. Alongside that is the goal to find ways to refine engineering processes for a more efficient and effective way of working. The future of engineering is an one exciting with endless possibilities, and while it is impossible to say exactly what changes will take place, we can speculate where current trends will take the future of engineering and what innovations we may see as a result. Just as many sectors of engineering have changed beyond all recognition in the last thirty to forty years, so too will the engineers just starting out in their careers today see many changes in their profession.
The Environmental Impact of Engineering
We are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of our activities on the planet, with the threat to biodiversity and climate change just two of the areas of concern. And this is fueling a trend of more environmentally friendly engineering processes across all sectors and the production of environmentally friendly products for use elsewhere in society. This includes finding design methods that are quicker and take less energy. It is also about looking at the production of energy with an emphasis on solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy taking over from the less green options. Related to this is sustainability, with the desire to find engineering solutions for products and materials that will provide long-term benefits and durability as viable alternatives to the destructive ‘throw-away’ society.
Related to the environmental concern, but also born out of a desire to boost profits and streamline production while still delivering the high standards expected, is lean manufacturing. This is not a new trend, but with the desire to cut wastage in manufacturing, it is a trend that is gaining pace. Lean manufacturing involves the drive to eliminate all waste in manufacturing, with waste defined as anything that brings no value to the customer. This may be physical waste but also involves saving time, for example, by reducing the production time, the times employees are inactive, and time spent in transportation. It works to a ‘just-in-time’ delivery model that reduces the need for materials or finished products to be left in storage. A recent trend in lean manufacturing is to counter the waste of unused skills and potential by the effective placement and training of employees so they can make full use of their abilities.
It is likely that manufacturing businesses will be keen to employ an increasing number of experts in lean manufacturing, so if you work in manufacturing, gaining experience and qualifications in lean manufacturing could help boost your career prospects and promotion opportunities. It can be hard to find the time for further study and even harder to attend a physical place of learning, such as a university, as the time taken to commute must be added to the time required for study. Fortunately, online degrees provide a high-quality alternative that provides effective education but with the flexibility to study at a time convenient to you and without the need for travel. One place you can study a master’s in lean manufacturing online is Kettering University. Developed in collaboration with General Motors, this course teaches lean philosophy and the practices and tools to help reduce and eliminate waste and boost the efficiency of manufacturing.
One method that is being increasingly used to make manufacturing more efficient is computer simulations. By trialing a project in a computer simulation, it will be possible to see how different designs and construction methods work before tackling it for real. In the simulation, the engineers will be able to see any potential problems and adjust their design or decide in advance how the problems will be addressed. By anticipating and correcting problems in advance, engineers will be able to save time on the project and prevent the wastage of materials and effort caused by restarting a project or a step in that project. In doing this, they will save the engineering companies money and also help make the engineering project more ecologically friendly.
We are living longer, but with that longer lifespan comes an array of associated health issues. As a result, biomedical engineering is going to become an increasingly important area of engineering. Biomedical engineers will be looking to refine and develop existing medical technology, such as MRI scanners, as well as developing new diagnostic and surgical tools that can boost the performance of medical professionals, speed up the processes, and deliver better outcomes for patients.
Prosthetics is another area that will undoubtedly see further development as biomedical engineers continue to refine the design of artificial limbs that look, act, and feel more like the real thing. Further devices that support organs may exist one day, perhaps reducing some of the discomfort, inconvenience, and problems of current methods, such as kidney dialysis. Biomedical engineers may be able to design prosthetic organs themselves, negating the need for organ transplantation from human donors and the loss of life that frequently occurs while patients are waiting for a suitable donor.
Automation is another trend that has already started but is likely to increase as companies observe the benefits in efficiency and profit that automation brings. The impact on engineering will be two-fold. Engineers will be needed to develop automation machines and processes that can be used across a wide variety of sectors, from medicine to agriculture. There will also be an increase in automation in the engineering processes themselves. This may take the form of computer software or robotics, with robots likely to play an ever greater role in the military, automotive, and healthcare sectors. At its most sophisticated, it may involve the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create machines or software that can ‘learn’ and make decisions based on past experience.
The increased use of automation, even with AI, does not mean that human engineers will no longer be needed. It is simply that some of the tasks currently carried out by humans may be at least partially automated. This will have the advantage of freeing up human engineers from many of the more mundane tasks to work in other areas of the engineering process and give them more freedom to further develop their ideas, enhancing the effectiveness and vision of the process.
Engineers have played a key role in the development of all the forms of transport and transport systems that we have today. But at no point has this sector stood still, with continual refinements and advances made in the construction and operations of cars, trains, boats, and planes. This will undoubtedly continue with the demand for more efficient, comfortable, and faster vehicles. Particular trends that we are likely to see develop include driverless cars, sensors, zero carbon emissions, and an increasing use of AI in vehicles.
Aeronautical engineering too will continue to play a major role. As well as better planes to transport us around the world for leisure and business purposes, aeronautical engineers will be able to set their sights ever further as space travel is no longer the province solely of national organizations. Already we are seeing the beginning of space tourism, something that may one day become commonplace. Space exploration is also going up a notch, with NASA’s plan to return to the moon and the further ambition of seeing a crewed mission to Mars gaining pace. Astronauts may be the public face of those missions, but behind them will be vast teams of engineers whose dedication and expertise are crucial for the missions’ success.
Civic engineers will need to meet the challenge of balancing a rising population with the implications of overpopulation on the environment. Modern homes will be designed to incorporate a range of technical innovations, and building will need to take place sustainably and quickly. One technology that we are likely to see implemented further in the homes of the future is smart technology. Already commonplace with virtual assistants such as Google, Alexa and Siri, smart devices may soon be found across the home, helping to bring more efficiency and comfort to everyday life.
An innovation that is already used in building design is building information modeling (BIM), which uses 3D technology to visualize the design and how it will be constructed, with information on energy consumption and the use of space included. This allows everyone involved, from the engineers, the suppliers, the construction workers, and the clients to the eventual residents, to be able to visualize the building before the plans are approved. Engineers can expect to see this type of technology improve further with virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality playing an ever greater role, allowing engineers and construction workers to fix errors before they occur and the clients to be able to effectively market their properties even while construction is ongoing.
The need to share information has been present since the start of history, evolving from a purely oral tradition through to the written word recorded by hand until the telegraph and the telephone allowed information to be shared over distances far more rapidly. This in time was further transformed with fax messages and later emails, texts, and other instant messaging services, social media, and video conferencing platforms improving the ability to share information with someone on the other side of the world as easily as someone in the next room, regardless of whether it is a conversation, a document, or a multimedia presentation.
Data transfer and information sharing are likely to continue to dominate computer engineering as the demand for faster speeds and more sophistication in information sharing increases. Engineers will be responsible for creating the software and components that can speed up information sharing and bring new dimensions to the process, perhaps involving virtual and augmented reality.
These developments will be used in virtually all areas of life, with a myriad of uses in business, government, health, and leisure as well as simply being used for fun and social purposes. Gaming in particular is an area that will continue to dominate the software and computer engineers of the future.
The Future is Light
Photonics (looking at the uses of light) is an exciting area for electrical engineers and will likely play a significant role in the future of engineering. Already we can see its uses in devices like laser printers, laser cutters, and bar code scanners. It also has uses in such diverse areas as military defense, medical diagnostics, and fiber connectivity. With all of these areas being of significant concern for governments and society as a whole, it is easy to see the key role engineers will continue to play as they make further developments in this exciting branch of engineering.
The Future of Engineering
If you are starting out in your career or considering a career change, engineering offers competitive salaries, job security, and good long-term prospects. If you are already in engineering, now would be a good time to consider the direction you want your career to go and perhaps consider further qualifications in areas that are relevant to the future, such as lean manufacturing. From the sustainable technologies designed to protect the planet to the futuristic prospects of AI, automation, and photonics, engineering offers a diverse range of opportunities to suit a wide variety of skill sets. There has never been a more exciting time to enter engineering. The current trends show you will be entering a world on the cutting edge of innovation, and the imagination is the limit to what might be in development in the years to come.