In celebration of our parent company’s 10th anniversary, our entire editorial staff authored forward-thinking columns, examining how we think the world and the manufacturing industry will be different in another 10 years. Here’s my take …
What will the manufacturing world be like in 2026? How will it be different? How will the job of a design engineer change? A lot of people will guess that something we’re well aware of today—such as 3D printing or nanotechnology or the Internet of Things—will explode and take over some aspect of manufacturing, if not the entire enterprise. While such a thing is certainly possible, and maybe even likely, I surmise that something totally new will be what we’re talking about in a decade. The jumps we’ve seen in technology over the last generation or two have mostly consisted of things that were almost unimaginable only a few years prior.
My gut feeling is that Artificial Intelligence will be the major change agent for our careers, but not in the “humanoid robots are taking over” way that TV and movies like to focus on. Instead, I think that AI will have evolved online to create a whole new suite of tools that engineers will use in designing systems—tools so complex that we can hardly even envision them today.
Perhaps you’ll describe every variable you know—say loads, speeds, physical dimensions, the task that is being completed—and the system will spit out the two or three most intelligent solutions. You’ll be able to select the one that best fits your vision. Then, through a process that would appear to an engineer today as chatting with a coworker, questions will be asked about more specifications, how soon we need the system to be built, and other issues, and the final system design will be more and more refined.
The process could allow us to select a single component—say, a hydraulic cylinder or an electric linear actuator—that best fits into our existing system. Maybe we’re revamping a process, or maybe we’re simply looking for a more efficient product to fit in that space. AI will take a lot of the specifying tasks—not to mention factoring in price and delivery, if we so wish—off of our shoulders. Maybe this AI will learn over time, so the tools that you use in your job will learn your specific preferences and understand industry regulations, safety protocols, your customers’ needs, and more.
Again, all of this seems impossibly complex to today’s engineer—there are too many variables, each with a different weight, and untold billions of possibilities. But computing power, Big Data’s growth online and the relentless evolution of AI may well converge in some quite interesting ways for the design engineer of 2026. Stay tuned.
Paul J. Heney
And see what our other editors said:
Lee Teschler on how we’ll see robots building spacecraft in orbit.
Lisa Eitel on the coming age of driverless cars.