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Engineering Trends That Will Be the Foundation of the 2020s

Technology has been advancing rapidly for decades, without once slowing down. We’re more than likely to see that trend continue. The advancement of technology results in novel integrations with almost everything we do, from leisure to business, in every industry and in nearly every country. To make our advancements worth achieving, they must be viable, lucrative and well-planned.

These advancements have to start somewhere, and putting new technology into action begins with engineering. We're already seeing a few trends that will continue into the 2020s and beyond, and will set the foundation and become the standard for the next decade.

Global Capabilities

The world is continually getting smaller. Our technology allows us to instantly speak with someone on the other side of the globe at any time. Since technology has been bringing us together, businesses and big ideas have been joining up as well. As such, engineers are essential all over the world. Specific specialties are in high demand, and the job market is always changing. Therefore, having global capabilities is a recipe for success.

According to the United States and Japan — two of the leading countries for engineering — global engineers possess cultural and personal skills to work anywhere in the world. They also have a lot of technical competence and can contribute to various objectives set before them.

Going forward, international skills are going to be a must-have in engineering and other industries. They are more than a means to get ahead —  they're a way of life.

Adapting With AI

Artificial intelligence has been progressing slowly for decades, but the pace of innovation is quickening. To ensure AI keeps evolving, we've been modifying it to fit almost every part of life, including the engineering sector. Though organizations often use AI for efficiency by saving time, money and resources on different kinds of labor, engineering uses it to check the math, visualize concept ideas and provide a safer work environment for on-site construction.

In the engineering sector, AI mostly plays a role in workplace safety. Some companies can feed visual information from cameras to AI and have the machine tell them if the environment is unsafe. The technology can understand visual information with field and automatic observations cross-referenced with other hazardous examples. It can then alert managers in real-time about potential job hazards on the worksite.

The more businesses use AI, the better the predictions become. Something as simple as taking a closer look at work site safety can be a massive help in this sector.

Materials Science

Materials science is a complicated field. Its task is to decide which items to use for a product and finding newer, better ones never used before. Machine learning — a precursor to and essential ingredient in AI — helps with the research and selection of certain kinds of materials used for a specific purpose.

As an example, artificial intelligence can lend its computational power to discovering novel and difficult-to-find combinations of elements and compounds. One application sees AI deployed to identify new formulations for glass-metal hybrids. Researchers believe artificial intelligence can yield viable results 200 times faster than trial and error in a laboratory.

Concrete is one of the most vital and widely used materials in construction and engineering today. Concrete is fire-resistant, extremely durable and even helps reduce energy costs over a building’s lifetime, thanks to its insulative properties. That's not to say the concrete of the future won’t look and behave differently than it does today, however.

Newly developed types of concrete can self-heal, courtesy of quickly multiplying bacteria. When a crack forms, yeast in the concrete mixture feeds the bacteria and spurs them to replicate and fill the gap. Market research predicts a nearly $1.4 trillion market for self-healing concrete by 2025. The implications for cost savings in maintenance are extremely promising.

AR and VR

Augmented reality and virtual reality, also known as AR and VR, have entirely rearranged the engineering, construction and architecture industries.

While these technologies seemed at first to have primarily arts and entertainment applications, people are now using them to explore buildings before they even exist in the real world. AR, specifically, has been a game-changer when it comes to the finer details, from exploring furnishing options in an empty building to getting an idea of what the outdoor landscape will look like.

VR is about completely immersing a person in a virtual world, like exploring buildings in the pre-production stage or presenting blueprints in a 3D interactive environment. AR brings parts of the virtual world into our reality, allowing engineers to see things that don’t exist yet. Naturally, these technologies have become huge in the engineering industry, allowing people to see and study what they're creating, rather than having to imagine them.

In the future, the use of AR and VR in engineering may become necessary, from making pitches to company executives to improving worksite safety and efficiency.

Prefabrication and Modular Construction

Prefabrication and modular construction have notable differences, but they both come down to the same concept — building things in a place where they won't sit permanently.

In modular construction, parts of a building get made elsewhere. A prefabrication crew steps in after the parts are at the worksite and puts them together like jigsaw pieces. Sometimes, businesses use only one or both of these methods.

Modular construction is becoming more effective than ever before. Not only does this type of construction save money for the company, but it also helps the environment without any integrity lost in the building itself. New technology allows engineers to build these modular pieces with much better efficiency than ever before and, with the lower cost and high reward, this is likely where the future of construction is heading.

Where Engineering Goes Next

While we're aware of the foundations laid for the coming decade, what we’ll do with them is mostly conjecture. We have plenty of ideas to try out and different ways to put them into action, but we won't really know what the future holds until it happens. At the end of the 2020s, we'll be preparing for the next decade. By then, there will be innovations we can’t conceive of today.

A decade ago, not all of us thought VR technology would have come as far as it has. Today, it’s a crucial instrument in construction and engineering that many can’t imagine life without. Our trends will undoubtedly change as new ideas and needs arise, but we have to focus on what we have for now. Thankfully, current trends are promising a lot of open doors down the road.

Megan R. Nichols is a freelance technical writer and blogger. She writes regularly for sites like American Machinist, DZone, and Electronic Design. Megan also enjoys writing easy to understand science and technology articles on her blog, Schooled By Science, to encourage others to take an interest in STEM. When she isn't writing, Megan enjoys watching movies and hiking with friends.

31 Jan 2020, 16:37


February 5, 2020 15:51

This is really interesting. I am assuming IoT has a big role to play here? As an educator I believe it is important for me to stay updated in tech, to stay updated with my students.

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