What will designers and engineers look like in 2030?
Training and Development

What will designers and engineers look like in 2030?

This is a contributed piece by Pete Baxter, Vice President of Digital Manufacturing at Autodesk

 

Industry 4.0 is starting to take shape as  3D printing, machine learning and other advanced technologies are influencing the way we make things. Many believe that we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution; and machines are playing an increasing role on manufacturing shop floors, with the International Bar Association recently suggesting that the government might have to introduce human quotas to protect workers’ jobs. But the machines aren’t ready to take over just yet.

Of course, while current and future technological advancement will naturally lead to some jobs will be carried out by machines, more often than not, these jobs will be those deemed too dangerous or repetitive for humans. Robots should be seen as assistants or helpers who are there to collaborate with us and not as hyper-intelligent usurpers. The machines in factories today are an, in fact, an extension of mankind’s own creativity and will enable us to continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in both engineering and design.

Introducing new technologies into the manufacturing process will require advanced skills and new kinds of jobs. Many of these jobs are yet to be created, meaning we will start to see whole new departments and job categories forming to support this technological disruption.

As a recent World Economic Forum report noted: "In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate. By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist."[1]

No one really knows exactly what these new jobs will look like but here’s what I think the designers and engineers of tomorrow might look like in 2030…

 

Generative Designer

We’re experiencing a new age of design tools, enabling us to create concepts that until recently were near-on impossible. New tools such as generative design software have altered the way that designers work. This software automates design options based on specific criterias such as weight and strength to perfect and speed up the design process.

By introducing automation like this, a designer can free up their time to focus on the creative design challenges at hand. Instead of coming up with a 3D model from scratch, a designer can use the software program to create a solution set that they will incorporate into the finished design.  

 

Sensor System Integrators

The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the world, connecting everyday objects and rapidly revolutionising many industries. This year, more companies will start to feel the effects of this revolution with Gartner predicting that by the end of 2017 there will be 8.4 billion connected devices in use worldwide - up 31 percent from last year alone. But getting these devices to speak to each other is the missing part of the puzzle.

For example, there are appliances today that can notify you when you’re low on favorite items like energy drinks and devices like Fitbits and Apple Watches can monitor your health. Imagine if your Fitbit could tell your fridge that you need to stock up on more energy drinks as your exercise routine has gone up a notch!

The manufacturing world needs to see the same level of connectivity between devices and this will supercharge the demand for sensor system integrators. This could involve setting up sensor networks in commercial buildings, integrating connected products in homes, or even integrating sensor data during product development.

This new role will involve a cultural shift in manufacturing, or a ‘systems thinking’ way of looking at the production process. In doing so, sensors will start to be present on everyday objects, collecting different kinds of data that will help companies create more efficient products and help consumers to get the most out of their purchases.

 

3D Print Specialist

3D printers are now far from a novelty. Advanced printers have the capability to work with new materials, composites and metals to create lighter, faster and more complex shapes. We are already starting to see the cost of this process come down and expect to see what manufacturers refer to as ‘additive manufacturing’ or industrial 3D printing quickly become more mainstream.

To keep pace with this wave of disruption, engineers will have to learn new skills. We’re already facing a shortage of machinists that can operate ‘subtractive’ manufacturing machines, like computer-controlled lathes and mills. Soon we will see the need rise even further for skilled specialists who are specifically trained to work with industrial-level 3D printers.

 

Robot Instructor

The robots of the past were often stuck on car assembly lines performing pre-programmed repetitive tasks. In the future, we’ll see robots taking on more advanced operations, whichwill require humans and machines to work side by side. Humans will act as the robot’s instructor, engaging the machine’s AI to help it intelligently complete more complex tasks. 

To put this in perspective, a chef’s creative intuition to combine different flavours and Michelin Star menus won’t be taken over by machines any time soon. What we will see is robots taking on the more laborious chores such as prepping vegetables. For a robot, this task is more complex than it seems – each piece of fruit or vegetable is uniquely shaped, for instance. With advances in machine learning, robots will be better equipped to handle nuances like this and chefs can continue to focus on the more creative parts of the business.

 

Synthetic Biologist

It sounds like something straight from the pages of science fiction but the ability to write or synthesise DNA is becoming less expensive and easier to do. This technology could have groundbreaking effects on health and the effort to combat disease. In parallel, we will also see more everyday applications take shape.

Imagine eating a brussel sprout that tastes like chocolate or wallpaper that changes colour and design as the season changes. As the technology advances and the software tools radically simplify the process of molecular-level design, a whole new professional field based on building things at the most microscopic scale will be opened up for forward-thinking designers and engineers.  

 

AR/VR Experience Curator

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are hot trends at the moment, and many designers already have firsthand experience with these technologies through decades of advances in gaming and entertainment. But these innovations are also set to shake up the world of engineering and design. Building design, automotive engineering, training for dangerous jobs like oil rig maintenance, and educational experiences are just a few areas where AR and VR will prove to be tremendously valuable.

While 3D content creation is a standard skill requirement for an entertainment professional, it is likely to be an entirely new field for many architects, manufacturers and educators. Moving forward,  we will see many skilled professionals move toward becoming AR and VR experience curators across a variety of industries since people who know how to bring these kinds of experiences to life will be in great demand.

 

Next steps

To prepare for the exciting opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, students, individual designers, manufacturers and governments will need to invest in the tools and educational skills necessary to make this world of new jobs and possibilities a reality. The machines aren’t taking over, but they are helping us reach a world where we’ll be able to push more boundaries than ever before and hopefully improve the overall quality of human life.



[1] The Future of Jobs,” World Economic Forum report, January 2016

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