The Changing Face Of Engineering
If there is a sequel to Oliver Twist, the chimney sweepers would be using remote-controlled vacuum cleaners and tapping away on iPads.
The fourth industrial revolution is a refreshing change from the mass migration of manual labor and harsh working conditions in factories. Consumers co-create user-centric products, automation and mobility ensure an employee-friendly workplace, and disruptive technologies drive innovation beyond products and processes.
The industry landscape is influenced by two dominant shifts: the Internet of Things recognizes every object as a source of information; and the Industry 4.0 framework changes every aspect of manufacturing - research and development, product engineering and distribution. Cyber physical engineering and production systems create futuristic cars in the U.S.A., revive the British pottery industry, enable mass production of prefabricated houses in Japan, and redefine watch making in Switzerland.
Simulation, artificial intelligence and advanced modeling help original equipment manufacturers, suppliers, architects, design engineers, product designers, and software developers develop unique products and services. The convergence of diverse skills, materials and technologies ensure design of cleaner, lighter and safer products that conserve resources, minimize wastage and reduce costs. Embedded sensors trigger instant response to multiple stimuli - order replenishment in a coffee vending machine, collision avoidance in vehicles, and pilferage protection on the shop floor.
Additive manufacturing revolutionizes product design and manufacturing. It enables on-demand and on-location production of food, cars and buildings. General Motors uses 3D printing technology for more than 20,000 components. The Apis Cor 3D printer delivers multi-storey homes, layer by layer, at any site. "Ecologists may also feel quite enthusiastic about this machine, as it doesn't leave any construction waste and consumes only eight kilowatts of energy - as much as five working teapots," according to the Apis Cor team.
ThyssenKrupp's Multi elevator system replaces cables used since 1835 with magnets to transport people vertically as well as horizontally. It reduces shaft size by half and doubles passenger capacity. Magnetic levitation increases usable floor space, maximizes speed and saves time. In New York City alone, office workers spend 16.6 years waiting for an elevator, and 5.9 years inside elevators, every year.
High-tech innovation facilitates outside-in and inside-out transformation. Yet another innovative elevator system is poised to make space tourism a reality. The Japanese construction company, Obayashi is using carbon nanotechnology to build a space elevator for beaming people and payload 96,000 kilometers into space by 2050.
While some engineers explore the atmosphere, others dig into the earth's crust. ECO Cycle, an anti-seismic underground bicycle park, constructed by Japanese engineering firm Giken Ltd. addresses Tokyo's real estate limitations. The automated system uses a tagging mechanism for safe storage and quick loading / unloading of 204 bicycles.
The Swiss watch industry sets the benchmark in mechanical craftsmanship. The T-Touch collection from Tissot combines classical watch movement with wearable technology. T-Touch II offers a weather forecast feature while T-Touch Expert Solar operates on a solar charge for 12 months. The upgradeable Tag Heuer Connected matches the lifespan of luxury smart watches with high-precision mechanical movement.
Collaborative engineering and smart manufacturing open new vistas for industrialization. Near-instant prototyping, easy redesign of complex products, and short lead times are changing industry dynamics. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a classic example. The company sources components from 250+ suppliers across 20+ countries. Startups and engineering majors help the company experiment with new materials and composites, structural components, and instrumentation systems to enhance aerodynamic design and deliver a superior flying experience.
Product engineering is undertaking an interesting journey. Design inspiration is meeting functional objectives via novel technologies and digital business models. However, decentralized manufacturing systems should converge with newer software techniques for a sustainable product lifecycle. Manufacturing can get more intuitive when there is synchronicity at a human, technology and atomic level.