14th November 2018

YoE: Shaping the Future

As engineers around the country draw on their past experience to inspire the next generation throughout the Year of Engineering, they simultaneously look to the future to imagine how technological developments and environmental change will influence the industry.

Steve Brock, Clear Structures’ director, reflects on his own experiences and makes a few predictions:

“Since the start of my career, the most significant change in engineering I’ve witnessed is the increasing use of computer software to design structures. It’s become the main method for delivering structural solutions.

“I’ve also noticed an increase in designs being prepared by specialists. Rather than employing an all-rounder engineer, more and more projects are bringing in multiple, specialist contractors to focus on specific design challenges on a build.

“There has also been an increase in considerations for health and safety in the design process.”

Regarding ongoing technological advances, Steve comments, “A more holistic approach to building and structural design is a likely organic outcome of the current BIM revolution. As software becomes more integrated and intuitive, we’ll see computer programmes becoming increasingly responsible for structural design at every level.

“While there are many positives to this, there are also a few concerns. Primarily, fully-computer designed projects will make it more difficult for engineers to check the suitability of a design independently. The software being used is collaborative, so it runs the risk of too many expert voices vying to be heard, potentially creating confusion in the process.

“I also worry about the potential for a deterioration in the skillset of young engineers as we come to rely more on computers to do our number-crunching for us. This may limit younger engineers’ learning on the job, discouraging them from undertaking the imaginative, problem-solving abilities so crucial to the role.”

He goes on to consider the kinds of problems facing future engineers:

“Environmental issues such as global warming, population increase and the need to live more sustainably will certainly have a big impact on engineering practices. This will affect our methodology and processes as much as the materials used in the construction process.

“There will also be an increased level of compromise, in line with the increasing desire for buildings to provide better thermal performance. Often this is achieved at the expense of structural performance. More ingenuity will be required in order to offer the necessary balance to achieve robust, long-term structures.”

These are not impossible tasks, however, as Steve acknowledges, “Computers will continue to become more powerful, enabling us to engineer things in greater detail. This means the opportunity to explore more ambitious solutions, and to foresee any structural challenges which might arise in a project, through being able to simulate potential problems with more precision.”