Cool Trends in the Ongoing Digitization of Structural Engineering

Digital Engineering
By Bob Hasulak, Partner & Director of Operations, QuickFrames

We work with structural engineers all the time, and if there’s one thing we’ve been impressed by, it’s the impact they have. They not only design some of the world’s most crucial structures but also perform elite calculations to ensure they’ll withstand shocking amounts of force. If we didn’t know how much raw intelligence, training and experience goes into the job, we’d almost think it was pure wizardry. Engineering is clearly an important industry to watch and, as is the case with so many other industries, it’s becoming increasingly digitized. Here are some trends to keep an eye on. 

1. Digital Twins

“A digital representation of a physical asset, process or system,” this type of technology helps project stakeholders envision the outcome of a project before it’s ever built. This can include 3D models, digital rendering and even animation or simulation, and helps engineers understand and model its performance. You can expect to see the use of digital twins increasing in the coming years, as teams become more accustomed to navigating the complexity of the tech. 

2. Digital Engineering

This term can refer to digital twins, but it also goes much further. Digital engineering includes additional technology like “drone imagery, augmented and virtual reality, Internet of Things sensors, advanced building materials and even artificial intelligence and machine learning.” Different firms will embrace different aspects, so the outcomes can differ greatly as well. But overall benefits include better project outcomes and performance. As this technology is more widely embraced, digital engineering will naturally become table stakes in the structural engineering world.

3. Integrated Solutions

When cloud-based technologies started emerging in full force, they were largely architected as point solutions. Like many other industries, structural engineering companies adopted a specific system at a time based on what they needed. Fast-forward to today, and siloed technologies are no longer cutting it. 

McKinsey affirms this “clear shift toward the development and launch of integrated platforms,” with 20% of companies offering solution suites that address more than five use cases compared to just 13% in 2017. The research firm recently refreshed its analysis of the global construction technology industry ecosystem and found that the largest clusters of use cases include “3-D printing, modularization, and robotics; digital-twin technology; artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics; and supply-chain optimization and marketplaces.”

4. Upskilling

Naturally, all of this advancement in technology requires people who are able to use it. As a result, engineering firms will need to digitally upskill their employees, or potentially get left behind. PWC recommends helping to “amplify the shift to a digital mindset by encouraging employees to think about their jobs and career paths in new ways, and by rewarding learning and behaviors that enable digital upskilling.” 

Companies can prepare their engineers to be successful with increasingly advanced technologies by offering training programs that are accessible, fun and free. The more engaging they make them (e.g. using digital fitness apps or gamification-based principles), the more engineers are likely to retain what they’ve learned. Leaders can also use incentives to motivate team members to try new technologies and gain new skills. 

The world and all of its industries, including structural engineering, are becoming digitized. While adopting innovative tech can certainly come with a learning curve and a bit of trial and error, the benefits you stand to gain are worth it. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to see what’s next on the horizon for our friends in engineering. 

To learn more about QuickFrames, check out our engineering documents here.