The way products are designed and engineered is changing thanks to new technologies. These technologies, from digital twins to 3D printing, not only support humans in their design and engineering work, but they can also efficiently uncover new ways of solving problems that humans hadn’t thought of before. The human professionals in design and engineering roles in organizations will see changes to their job duties, will be challenged to acquire new skills and flexibility, and learn new ways of collaborating with machines. They also need to learn how to work with new design, engineering, and product development tools enabled by these new technologies. Things are changing rapidly. Organizations and professionals in engineering and design roles can’t ignore the changes if they want to remain competitive. Here are the five biggest technology trends that are disrupting engineering and design.
Imagine the power of being able to design and build something virtually to see how everything comes together before you expend real-world resources and then figure out a flaw in the design. You no longer have to imagine. While the concept for digital twins has existed for quite some time, the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) makes digital twins affordable. Digital twins create an exact virtual replica of something in the physical world using data and algorithms instead of materials. The transformative potential of digital twins is so incredible, the technology was listed on Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017 and 2018. Digital twin technology has been deployed in Formula 1 car racing to evaluate the performance and reliability of new parts. Ultimately, a digital twin provides design and engineering teams real-time information about how whatever they are creating will perform under a variety of circumstances.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence continues to be one of the fastest-growing emerging technologies, so you likely aren’t surprised that it is also disrupting design and engineering now that Industry 4.0 is here. Engineers will need to learn how to collaborate with artificial intelligence to produce better products and to be open to evolving to work with the latest tools available to them. Engineers must embrace flexibility and adapt to changes that artificial intelligence will bring to the way they work from robotics, natural language processing, automation, and more.
Generative design uses artificial intelligence (AI) software and the computing power of the cloud to create design solutions that would never have been conceived by the human mind—or at least as quickly. Engineers have a new partner in designing solutions and can collaborate with generative design algorithms to co-create. To start the process, an engineer or designer gives the algorithm design parameters, and then the software explores all possible combinations and generates hundreds or even thousands of design options. Then, the engineer or designer takes those options and explores the feasibility of the design solutions. Generative design has been used to design everyday objects such as chairs and power tools as well as help solve larger engineering feats such as when Airbus used generative design to redesign an interior partition for its A320 aircraft. In that example, the collaboration between man and machine came up with a solution that shaved off 45 percent of the part’s weight.
Most organizations will benefit from enhanced performance, improved products, higher productivity, and more with the adoption of new technology. Robots that are deployed today can do much more than provide physical strength to tasks or move items around a warehouse—they can complement human work in a variety of ways, even with cognitive tasks. Engineering time and risk have been reduced thanks to software that can simulate robotic applications and maintenance. Robots can now “think out-of-the-box” rather than just be programmed to do repetitive tasks.
Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing for three-dimensional printing, is transforming the way business is done as well as how things are designed and made. From 3D printed parts on commercial airplanes to those implanted in humans through innovative healthcare applications, 3D printing is incorporated in many areas of our lives. Now that 3D printing is a critical part of how businesses and manufacturers design and make products, it’s changing the future of engineering and the engineering degree. This technology allows for prototypes to be made quickly and economically.