"Digitalization" and - in the technical field - "Industry 4.0" are omnipresent and much discussed. To some, they may already seem trite, but there are also many debated concerns about the future world of work and the preservation of one's own job.
In almost all areas, a wide variety of processes can be automated today and the technical possibilities are constantly growing. The job description of an engineer is also affected by this, so that current developments can cause not only enthusiasm, but also worries and fears about the future.
Many of our customers and most of the employees at SWMS belong to this professional group. Therefore, this article addresses these concerns. It deals with current projects and thoughts around design and its automation as part of digitalization.
The automation of design steps and processes is embedded in the principle of knowledge-based design, also known as Knowledge Based Engineering (KBE). SWMS has a broad, well-founded spectrum of knowledge and experience in this field. Among other things, we supervise projects such as
Tasks of this kind are usually still performed manually, although often with the aid of digital technology. This naturally raises the question: "Where in automated design is there still room for the engineer? The answer can possibly be a closer look and a new reflection on the core of this profession.
The term "engineer" can be traced back to the Latin "ingenium", which can be translated as "ingenious invention", "clever idea" or "astuteness". In the field of development and construction, the central task of an engineer is to find a feasible, economical and practical technical solution to a known problem, which fulfils defined requirements and guidelines to the best possible extent.
Creativity is needed!
Developers have always had access to various technical tools that make their work easier. Starting with the drawing board and slide rule, to the first computers, CAD and simulation technology, modern KBE applications are part of the latest and most far-reaching development stage of such tools. But they are no substitute for engineers.
Let's take a closer look at the development and design process as it is. It starts with a technical problem for which a solution is needed. The number of all theoretically possible solutions for such a problem is initially confusingly large. It is limited by technical guidelines and the case-specific limits of technical feasibility. Requirements for the solution as well as development procedures and methods point the way in the selection of suitable approaches and their elaboration.
During product development, great uncertainties as well as dynamic, abstract, qualitative and sometimes elusive requirements and constraints have to be dealt with. In addition, a constantly increasing complexity and networking of technical products and systems can be observed. This requires a high level of intuition, creativity, flexibility as well as extensive technical knowledge, experience and communication skills of the engineers. And this makes them irreplaceable in their profession, even in the long term. At the same time, the further expansion of information technology tools for design is only sensible in view of these challenges.
KBE applications therefore represent important tools for taking over certain tasks, such as standard designs, geometry generation and product analysis, validation and documentation in the design process. If such standard processes, which often have to be repeated, are automated, this does not replace engineers. Rather, they are relieved where routine tasks arise and are given more room for tasks that require creativity and inventiveness.
For development companies, KBE applications offer the opportunity to shorten development times, increase product quality and the degree of standardization, and avoid errors earlier and more reliably. At the same time, the creative potential of the employed engineers can be used better and more specifically, which ultimately enables an increase in the degree of innovation.
The conceivable and real spectrum of KBE applications is constantly growing. New approaches from the field of artificial intelligence or simulation as well as further increasing computing capacities contribute to this. It will therefore continue to be observed how such innovations affect the profession of engineer.
As long as KBE is understood as an aid in construction, developed and used carefully and gives the engineers more freedom for creative processes, the advantages mentioned above are reinforced. The profession of "engineer" may even be further sharpened or reshaped, but certainly not threatened.
Another article will be published shortly on the exciting and current topic of the KBE, in which individual aspects, current approaches and new possibilities will be discussed in more detail.