Many believe we are living within the fourth industrial revolution, as the impact of smart technologies overtakes every area of our lives, including the engineering industry.
It is marked by emerging technology breakthroughs in robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, additive manufacturing/3D printing and fully autonomous vehicles.
In some ways it's an extension of the computerisation of the third Industrial Revolution or Digital Revolution, but with deep impact for every mainstream and niche, from industrial surface preparation to freeze-drying. This revolution is expected to impact all disciplines, industries, and economies as connected machines begin to interact and, ultimately, even make decisions autonomously.
Growth of additive manufacturing
The growth of additive manufacturing, a process that builds parts layer-by-layer from sliced CAD models to form solid objects, has the potential to become a new key technology.
Electronics, engineering and medicinal electrical devices specialist Siemens has been investing in this innovative technology right from its inception, and is now driving the industrialisation and commercialisation of these processes.
It achieved a world first last year (2017) with the production of a successfully tested 3D printed gas turbine blade.
On the announcement of a £27 million investment in a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for Worcester-based Materials Solutions Ltd this year, Juergen Maier, Siemens UK CEO, said: “This significant investment underlines our belief that there is huge potential for innovation and growth within the additive manufacturing sector.
“It is also the next step towards achieving our ambition of pioneering the industrialisation of 3D printing and demonstrates how we are leading the way for the fourth industrial revolution.
“If the UK’s manufacturing sector is to grow and thrive, we must embrace digital technologies and build new industries based on them.”
More women in the industry
The push to encourage more women into the still male dominated world of engineering is nothing new, but will continue to gain momentum.
Digital Industrial Company GE has a goal to have 20,000 women in technical roles by 2020. Within the next ten years 77 per cent of jobs are expected to require tech skills (compared to 50 per cent now).
Brenda Yearsley, Siemens UK Education Manager, has said: “It is vitally important for girls and young women to aspire to highly-paid and rewarding careers in science, technology, engineering and maths – not just to remedy the persistent lack of diversity in the industry but also to ensure that women are central to shaping the world we live in for future generations.”
Year of Engineering
As we approach the end of the Year of Engineering, the UK Government campaign to bring young people face-to-face with inspiring engineering experiences throughout 2018 the one thing that is certain is the exciting times ahead.
At a national celebration event Andrew Wyllie CBE, ICE President, summed it up.
He said: “As we come together to celebrate the passion, creativity, and commitment which exists across all engineering, we also recognise the importance of inspiring and nurturing a new generation of engineers.”
Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, aded: “Engineering expertise will be critical to tackling the global challenges we face in the years to come.
“Engineers will play a central role in addressing the effects of climate change and rising sea levels, and in ensuring that our growing population will have access to food, water, clean energy and affordable healthcare.
“We hope future generations will be inspired by the opportunities engineering offers to shape their world, to discover new ways to improve lives in the future and to help meet the needs of the twenty first century and beyond.”