As educators, EIT lecturers are responsible to develop new engineers while mediating engineering skills that are adaptive to the world for established engineers.
While it’s a tough task, it is also one that comes with great insight. To close the year, we asked some EIT lecturers what engineering trends they noticed during the year, and what trends they expect to be prominent in 2022.
Key engineering trends: Sustainability and multiple discipline exposure for engineers
This year has been challenging in all areas of engineering including electrical engineering - mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, electrical engineers in academia and industry have managed to continue contributing to clean energy transition along with technological growth. Renewable energy projects are booming in both developing and developed countries in the power sector as well as in the use of electrical vehicles.
Solar and wind power are still the most popular renewable sources given their green nature and continuously decreasing prices.
In 2021, although the world continued to battle with the pandemic, the various renewable integration schemes in solving global warming have not stopped developing.
Rooftop solar continued to grow; solar and wind farms are common in grid-connected and islanded operations; energy storage systems are getting more and bigger.
The associated terminologies such as microgrid, virtual power plants, hybrid systems, green hydrogen, smart grids etc, have been brought from the research level to industry implementations at unprecedented speeds.
More grid-scale battery storage systems will be seen in 2022 to support renewable energy.
The COP26 played a critical role in raising awareness of climate change and in reminding us of the urgency of initializing renewable power.
The outcomes of the conference may not be 100% satisfactory, but COP26 reinforced the integration of renewable energy path with no looking back.
Renewable energy utilization, as the ultimate solution for climate change, is not the task for electrical engineers only anymore.
Rather, it requires engineers to have multiple discipline exposure and work with engineers in other fields like mechanical engineers, control engineers and telecommunication engineers. Last but not the least, all areas, including the electrical engineering field, must always put sustainability as the top priority in all future projects.
Key engineering trends: Digitalization, improved autonomous systems in 2021
The biggest trend in Industry in 2021 has been digitalization.
With state-of-the-art technologies, the more industrial operation has transferred to the digital space in 2021 than ever before.
Several key enablers have played a vital role in such a significant transformation.
Firstly, artificial intelligence (AI) has grown stronger and is being integrated into industrial plant operations in a smooth manner.
AI techniques are the leading way towards the vision of a fully automated factory with flexible manufacturing practices.
The second would be the improved autonomous systems, i.e, robots.
While the sensors with machine learning and data sharing capability are playing a key role in predictive maintenance, they are strongly aided by the ever-evolving robots and autonomous handling systems that have a higher capacity as well as the ability to adapt faster to real-time changes.
The two new trends that have the most potential for 2022 is Virtual reality and Blockchain. While Virtual reality will drive manufacturing customization to new heights, blockchain will be valuable in ensuring the industrial device transaction simple, private and secured from cyber security issues.
Finally, the biggest point to take from 2021 has been how the automation industry has reacted to Covid-19.
Due to the restriction caused by the pandemic, an interesting new demand has captured the industry, which is the acceptability of online learning for automation engineers.
More vendors are willing to provide online lectures on industrial automation and thus are developing advanced online lab tools (Virtual Reality, Cloud, remote control) to bridge the gap.
The same is being followed in educational institutes as they are developing more tools to provide top-notch education facilities for students. Luckily, EIT (and Industrial automation courses at EIT) has been ahead of the curve in this regard.
Key engineering trends: Green sustainability in civil engineering and digital engineering
Over the last years, coronavirus has disrupted industries, companies, and communities across the globe.
The pandemic scenario revealed the significance of infrastructure and technologies in the daily lives demands of individuals and communities.
Despite these challenges, the Civil Engineering industry continues responsible for significant impacts on economic and social development growth.
According to the literature, the global construction market is to grow $8 trillion by 2030: driven by China, the United States and India and reach 13.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.
However, buildings and infrastructure projects are linked to the significant consumption of natural materials and energy. For example, consuming approximately 30–50% of available raw materials, in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Therefore, in order to be aligned with the 17 (seventeen) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), Civil Engineers need to be prepared and qualified to implement solutions making our towns and states more resilient greener, and sustainable.
Industry and academia are investing in cutting-edge technologies enhancing the use of Artificial Intelligence, e.g. machine learning, computational intelligence, robotic construction, deep learning, among other automation techniques.
Additionally, there is a promising trend to integrate AI with blockchain, virtual reality, internet of things (IoT), and building information modelling (BIM) solutions, these innovations are the core of Digital Engineering in the coming years, increasing the need for R&D investments, in all sectors: industry, education and governments.
Key engineering trends: Connected world and digital learning
When COVID-19 hit, governments worldwide were in a panic. Our own South African government decided to crack down hard, buying time until the mortality and infection rate could be determined.
I was on the verge of completing the experimental work for my doctorate.
In the confusion, with extreme lockdown looming and curfew moved up to 21:00, I was in the laboratory until the literal last possible minute, rushing to get my results done.
Then the world went insane, but 18 months later I have just submitted my thesis for examination.
I’ve published three articles and written said thesis without once seeing my study leaders in person.
It was during this time that I grasped the full potential of the connected world we live in.
If I had built my test facility with automation in mind, the frantic last-minute testing would not have been a problem.
The realization that we are indeed living in a brave new world is slowly dawning on universities around the world. The ponderous nature of many academic institutions worldwide in adjusting to changes means that now is the time to strike. EIT is, I feel, perfectly positioned to pounce.
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