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future of engineering

WEC 2019 Day 2: Is the future of engineering human?

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Is the future of engineering human? It’s a big question, but a panel of experts had a go at finding an answer during the opening session of day two of the World Engineers Convention, happening now in Melbourne.

Moderator Jon Williams, Partner and Co-Founder of management consulting firm Fifth Frame, actually began the discussion with a question for the audience: How optimistic are you about the future of engineering? 

As the responses poured in (on a scale of 1-5, 5 being very optimistic, 1 being ‘we’re doomed’), it became clear that while there’s some uncertainty, many feel there will still be a place for engineers in the future. 

Panelists responded that the future of engineering is absolutely human, but all were in agreement that this will only be the case if the profession can shift in some fundamental ways.

John Sukkar.

Advances in technology are enabling new ways of working and thinking, said John Sukkar, Director – Engineering and Design for Data61. But rather than fear how technology might impact the role of engineers, he said the profession should see this as an opportunity.

“As we go through digital transformation, it’s not an elimination of jobs but rather a shift in skill sets,” he said.

Take manufacturing as an example: 50 years ago, it was a very labour-intensive industry, but today many processes are automated. As we move into Industry 4.0, the same shift is likely to happen for more professional services roles, like engineering, law and medicine.

Rather than be a threat to engineers or taking jobs, Felicity Furey, Co-founder of Power of Engineering and Director of Industry Partnerships at Swinburne University, said tech will amplify our abilities and allow engineers to achieve more with less.

However, she emphasised that as technology makes inroads into industry, the skills required to be a ‘good’ engineer will change. 

“We will need engineers with empathy, ethics, good communication skills, collaboration, creativity and a healthy dose of scepticism — you can’t get that from tech,” she said. 

“We need the left brain and the right brain, the art and science, to come together.”

Meredith Westafer, Senior Industrial Engineer at Tesla, agreed, and added that regardless of what the future brings, the core purpose of engineering will remain the same: solving problems for people. 

“What will change is how we do that,” she added.

As tech frees engineers from the more repetitive or mundane tasks, Westafer said they will be able to concentrate on interesting and creative work — “work with a purpose”. She added that this makes it imperative for organisations to start thinking about the message they broadcast to the world about what it’s like to work there.

“Being able to attract the best talent is doing something people want to do – it’s the message you send about why your organisation exists,” she said. 

She spoke of an experience that, based on the murmurs of agreement from the audience, is a familiar one for engineers: in school, engineers are encouraged to “think big”, but once they enter the workforce, they often become hobbled by processes and the ‘this is how it’s always been done here’ mentality. 

“Let creative engineers create if you want to retain them,” she implored. 

Automating ethically

As technology takes over more of these tasks, though, engineers face an ethical dilemma: if there is a gradual reduction in people’s involvement in more manual or repetitive tasks, do engineers have a responsibility to keep people in jobs — even if they don’t need to be there?

Meredith Westafer.

To answer this question, Westafer drew on her own experiences working to design Tesla’s Gigafactory, which does incorporate autonomous technology. 

“As someone who has installed a fair amount of automation, it’s important to understand things from the side of the people displaced by the technology,” she said. 

Crucial to this is thinking about the types of jobs replaced; many of them are mundane or dangerous jobs, jobs “we don’t want humans to be doing”.

“We have an ethical imperative to keep people safe,” she said. 

“If [technology] is replacing a good job, organisations are ethically bound to retrain people. I don’t think it’s immediately obvious that organisations should be taking care of that, but if you put the onus on the person whose job is being replaced, that’s just not right.

“We need to automate ethically.” 

What are the right skills?

Upskilling the current workforce is one thing. But what about for the next generation of engineers? If the future is uncertain, how can we prepare people today to deal with the challenges of tomorrow?

In her role at Swinburne, Furey said they took this question to industry and asked engineering companies what skills they need in their organisations. The answers surprised her.

“We thought for sure it would be technical skills, but actually they came back with skills like communication, collaboration, being able to influence people, even knowing how to write a good email,” she said. 

She believes that in order to teach these skills, students need to be working on real-world projects and solving real problems as part of their degree. 

Sukkar said cultivating the skills future engineers will need also means “encouraging and rewarding people for taking risks and thinking big”.

Furey agreed, and said ‘why’ will become the most valuable question an engineer can ask. Organisations need to encourage this behaviour, she added.

“Create psychological safety in your organisations to encourage people to take risks. Give people the freedom to fail,” she said. 

Felicity Furey.

As the role of engineers changes, all the panelists agreed that they are looking forward to seeing more engineers in leadership positions. According to Furey, 21 per cent of S&P CEOs come from engineering backgrounds, which is more than lawyers or accountants.

She said the skills required to be a great leader are changing, and engineers have an amazing opportunity to step up to the challenge.

“The top skill required to be a leader today is to empower people … it’s no longer about command and control, it’s about support and empower,” she said. 

It also swings back around to the ‘why’, Westafer said, and great engineering leaders need to actively encourage that in their organisations. For example, she said Tesla CEO Elon Musk pushes first-principles thinking for all their work.

“It’s not about building an electric car the way everyone else has built an electric car. We need to be asking ‘what is the real question we are trying to answer? What is the problem we are trying to solve?’ and then work from there,” she said. 

To find this mentality for future Tesla engineers, one question Westafer always asks during interviews is: If I have a manufacturing line that is 1000 m long, how big is the factory?

“If someone responds with ‘you haven’t given me enough information’, they aren’t hired,” she said.

“I’m looking for people who ask as many questions as they want. What are we optimising for? How many parts are there? What are we building? That’s the kind of thinking we are looking for.” 

At the end of the sessions, Williams polled the audience with the same question as at the start: How optimistic are you about the future of engineering? 

Perhaps luckily for all, and as a testament to the quality of the insights shared by the panelists, engineers came out of the discussion more optimistic that people have a place in the future of engineering than when they arrived. 

Integrating major projects for a sustainable Victoria

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The urban environment impacts on the life of residents and contributes to liveability.

Sustainable infrastructure is not only the environmental impact of major projects; it is also the usability and the cost to build and maintain the infrastructure for the life of the asset.

A sustainable world requires better business in order to ensure the lifecycle costs and the end-users are considered at the outset of the project. As the tagline says, “better business, better world”.

Better business involves a number of aspects: transparent ethics, clear business objectives, clear responsibilities and more informed decision-making. Clear business objectives make it possible to have a targeted approach across all stakeholders. They allow for more decisive action based on clear corporate targets. Business objectives can be used to drive the culture of the team.

As Victoria has more Big Build projects being integrated into the existing infrastructure, it is critical that the objectives of each of the stakeholders are clear and aligned. When building these complex projects, it’s crucial we work together as an industry to get the best outcome for Victorian residents.

Collaborative objectives allow for better integration and cohesive working between the different stakeholders. There is often a competing set of values between the design and construct (D&C) scope and the operate and maintain (O&M) scope.

The D&C stakeholders are incentivised to minimise capital expenditure in order to hit competitive budgets, which can lead to a high operational expenditure and high maintenance frequency.

Conversely, the O&M stakeholders’ interest is to optimise the use of the asset and minimise operational expenditure in order to give Victorians the best value for money service, which can add to construction cost. Instinctively D&C and O&M stakeholders have competing objectives.

In order to get the optimal life cycle cost of an asset, the balance of capital against operational expenditure needs to be set by the client in the contractual objectives. Sustainable lifecycle management starts at design and is driven by the contractual objectives from the client.

Every component on a product has a lifecycle; infantile failures become steady state performance, which lead to aged failures. This evolution is commonly referred to as the bathtub curve. Integration of new infrastructure into existing systems can cause disruption in the initial stages as the infantile failures of the new scope reduce the overall system performance.

Endurance testing can be used to drive down the number of failures; however, accountability of the D&C stakeholder is required otherwise the O&M stakeholder holds full accountability for the integration. Collaborative business objectives allow the two parties to work together for an overall improved outcome.

Collaborative objectives are needed to ensure Through Life Engineering is considered at the design stage; as with Safety in Design, it is more cost effective to include controls prior to construction. The performance of infrastructure assets is typically managed “On the Average” where the average life of a component set is used with a risk factor added to address potential variance.

A sustainable business will use asset condition data of individual components to manage the system lifecycle “On the Asset”. This minimises the operational risk to the business and reduces waste of resources. If the objective for this sustainable approach is not captured early, the inclusion of condition monitoring systems will not be incorporated into the design.

Monitoring systems are evolving and data collection systems are becoming more affordable. The tools used to analyse the data, visualise the data and generate useful information are also becoming more accessible. Return on investment of these systems, depending on the duration of the contract, is becoming more reasonable. However, businesses will only invest if there is a legal, contractual or financial incentive. Some projects can be funded through opportunity costs; some projects need the contractual nudge. A clear requirement in the contract will allow for both the D&C and O&M teams to agree on what level of data management is involved.

With accurate data on the performance of each component, the ideal time to maintain or repair parts of the system can be identified. Mature asset management based on condition data will establish the degradation rate of the component and indicate any risk or opportunity for the business. By working together with the O&M team, the D&C team can identify systemic improvements from accurate performance analysis. This allows for the design to develop over time so that we can evolve as an industry to have better performing assets and provide a better environment for Victorians.

With better integration comes better performance and a better Victoria. Complex systems need clear objectives and clear roles in order to integrate new infrastructure with minimal impact. Collaboration through the lifecycle will allow for a more sustainable approach to managing assets to provide sustainable infrastructure for sustainable cities.

world engineering day

World Engineering Day announced at WEC 2019

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President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) Dr Marlene Kanga announced that, starting next year, 4 March will be celebrated annually as World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development.

Kanga made the announcement as part of her welcoming address at the World Engineers Convention, which opened in Melbourne on 20 November.

A vote Tuesday at the UNESCO General Conference confirmed the declaration of the date, which followed the adoption of a resolution supporting the proposal by the UNESCO Executive Board this past April.

The 4th of March has a particular significance for the WFEO, which was founded on that date in 1968. The peak global body represents 30 million engineers and 100 organisations.

“World Engineering Day is an opportunity to celebrate engineering and encourage young people to consider engineering as a career for a better world,” Kanga tweeted after the announcement.

“Let’s start planning our celebrations on 4th March.”

Engineering the future

If the world is going to successfully adapt to a carbon-constrained future and produce enough resources for all its inhabitants, engineers will be crucial.

Each of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets for 2030, will require engineering to be successfully met.

Raising awareness of this — as well as overall importance of the profession — is part of the reason for adopting 4 March as World Engineering Day.

As WFEO President, Kanga has personally led the initiative.

“It was a remarkable process, with many twists and turns,” Kanga said.

“We had to learn along the way, receiving support and advice from the UNESCO Secretariat as well as various ambassadors from the UNESCO delegations to UNESCO. This is important because the proposal is put to UNESCO by member nations. It was supported by 80 engineering institutions from around the world with total membership of approximately 23 million engineers.”

Kanga wrote the explanatory note for the April session of the UNESCO Executive Board and the proposed decision.

“This eventually went through with little modification,” she said, adding that it seemed “touch and go” at the April meeting, though Namibia, China, Nigeria, France and UK supported the decision before “many countries from every continent followed”.

A worldwide celebration

World Engineering Day will celebrate the essential role of the engineering profession to a modern economy, its role in advancing the 17 SDGs, and its role in both modern and ancient history.

The day will also encourage engineering as a career in which science and mathematics can be applied to solve problems.

Proposed outcomes also include demonstrating high-achieving female engineers throughout the ages, addressing the gender imbalance, engaging with industry and government, and building awareness of the need for extra engineering capacity in developing countries.

“In all countries there is great deal to be done — to deal with the impacts of climate change, environmental issues, our growing cities and the challenges of new technologies including artificial intelligence,” Kanga said.

“There are many opportunities and the day can be used to engage with young people and say, ‘If you want to make change for a better world — become an engineer’.”

Kanga is currently in her second and final year as WFEO President.

“I am very proud that this will be one of the significant legacies of my term,” she said.

“Although there are 11 days in the calendar that celebrate various aspects of science, and a World Science Day on 11 November, there was no day that celebrated engineering.”

At the UNESCO Executive Board meeting, WFEO Executive Director Jacques de Méreuil, speaking on Kanga’s behalf, told the UNESCO Executive Board that World Engineering Day would be an opportunity to engage with society and young people, especially girls.

”You cannot have a modern nation without engineering,” he said.

“Engineers are critical to advance the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and we commend this decision that will enable focus on how engineering can create a better world.”

Kanga said it was important to put the profession forward.

“Look around you. Everything you see is nature. The rest is the result of the work of an engineer,” she said.

“World Engineering Day will be an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable achievements of engineers and engineering.”

Is the future of engineering human?

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Predictions about how technology will change engineering can get pretty dire — to the point where some are unsure if people will still have a place in the profession in the future.

But if you ask Jon Williams, Partner at Fifth Frame and panellist at the upcoming World Engineers Convention, that’s a stretch.

“Clearly, the future of everything is human, or else there is no future,” said Williams, who will be moderating the session ‘Is the future of engineering human?’ on day two of WEC.

What’s up for debate, though, is how the role of engineers will change in years to come. Will engineering become a profession where automation and artificial intelligence perform the majority of tasks with a few human overseers? Or will it be a thriving, design-led profession doing better things, with technology as an enabler?

A mix of skills

According to Felicity Furey, Co-founder at Power of Engineering and Director of Industry Partnerships at Swinburne University, the importance of keeping engineers in the equation will only increase as the world becomes a more complex place.

“Our designs are affecting more people every day, and the scale at which we influence the world is pretty big,” she said. 

“Now we’re dealing with very complicated projects and lots of systems. As engineers, we need to consider how everything works in the system, and how our projects and design absolutely influence that bigger picture, and not just the individual projects that we’re working on.”

Creativity and adaptability will define engineering into the future, she said, combined with the logical problem-solving that is every engineer’s bread and butter. 

“It’s no longer acceptable for engineers to go and build things … without community consultation, and that makes our projects better, because you get people on board early and it’s collaborative,” Furey said. 

John Sukkar, Director — Engineering and Design, CSIRO Data61, agreed, saying that while the need for technical skills won’t change, being able to understand and apply human-centred design will be in demand.

“All things being equal, an engineer who understands the customer problem and the ecosystem where their project is going to live — I think they’re the ones that will really excel,” said Sukkar, who will be appearing on the panel with Furey and Williams.

Changing expectations

Part of this requires preparing the next generation of engineers to work and thrive in this changed environment. Through her work with Power of Engineering, Furey sees firsthand how young people today perceive engineering — and it’s not always accurate. 

“Men in overalls fixing cars” is a common response, she said. While some engineering roles do mean wearing hard hats and working on construction sites, the possibilities of what engineers can do and accomplish is almost endless.

“That’s the point of our work: to shift those perceptions,” Furey said. 

So to is changing perceptions about what skills are required to become a successful engineer. Her biggest focus is communicating that mathematics and science are important, but so are complex reasoning, problem solving, collaboration and communication.

“I think it’s important that students can think for themselves and think through problems … critical thinking skills can be more important than knowledge, so students aren’t just asking ‘How can I memorise this maths? Is this going to be on the test?’,” she said.

The great enabler

“The pace of change and our inability to predict the future in even a short time frame” are massive influences on the future of work, said Williams. He added that change will continue — and likely accelerate — so “we need to go with it”.  

Technology can help bridge some of this gap, but future engineers need to think of it as an enabler instead of a replacement, said Furey.

“It’s really important to remember that technology is just a pathway, and it’s an enabler — it’s not the solution. Rather than think ‘AI will do this or that’, we need to think through what’s the problem I’m trying to solve and how could this help me solve that problem,” she said.

Technology is already so pervasive, Sukkar said, that every engineering role will come to require some skills working with data and digital systems. However, he feels technology should be used to augment human capability, rather than replace it.

“I think we’ll see a future where people are supported by machines to be able to be more productive and more functional,” he said.

He emphasised that while being familiar with digital technologies like data analytics, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence is good, these systems will make the human side of engineering more important.

“As we start having human-machine interfaces, as we start having autonomous and intelligent machines navigating their own way around society, human-centred design is going to be critically important to guide engineers on how to build ethical things,” Sukkar said.

Purpose is also becoming increasingly important within the engineering profession. Furey said she is surprised at how important issues like sustainability are to students she meets through her workshops.

Starting with ‘why’ is something Sukkar strongly believes in as well.

“As engineers, as an engineering community, whether we’re very early in the research stage and innovating in technology or whether we’re late-stage, actually building the integrated solutions or solving an applied problem, you have to start with why you are doing this,” Sukkar said. 

“If you can always start with ‘why’, I think that’s going to be critically important for engineers who want to see the fruits of their work have an impact.”

Jon Williams, Felicity Furey and John Sukkar will be appearing on a panel discussing the future of the engineering profession at the upcoming World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne. There’s still time to register! Learn more here.

world engineers convention liveable cities

Community, sustainability, accessibility: Engineering experts share what defines a liveable city

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What defines a liveable city — now and into the future? Is it the infrastructure, the people, the economy, the communities? We asked engineering experts to share their thoughts about what makes liveable cities work.

 For a record seven years, Melbourne reigned as not just Australia’s most liveable city, but the most liveable city in the world. 

Although it was bumped to second place last year (thanks, Vienna), it still serves as an example of how a city can reflect the character and culture of the people living there.

“We have always had a strong focus on incorporating public art and amenity into our major infrastructure projects,” said Victorian Chief Engineer Dr Collette Burke. 

“Through doing this, we have retained our unique character and have created a real sense of belonging throughout the city — by putting liveability front and centre of planning practices.” 

Burke will be speaking at the upcoming World Engineers Convention (WEC) during a special public forum on the future of Melbourne and liveable cities. She added that liveability can’t be pinned to one factor over another. 

“A liveable city has a beautiful natural environment, well-planned infrastructure projects, top-class education, health and transport services, and a diverse and unique culture where everyone can live, work and play,” she said. 

In terms of the criteria used to measure liveability, Chris Champion, Secretary-General for the International Federation of Municipal Engineering and Director International with the Institute of Public Works Engineers Australasia, agreed, saying that many of us innately know what works and doesn’t.

A recent experience moving house reinforced in his mind what matters to people when making those choices. Are there public transport options? Access to healthcare and hospitals, schools, green spaces and parks? Is the air quality good? Is housing affordable? Is there a sense of community?

The point is there’s no one-size-fits-all model, he said.

“A liveable city means different things to different people, or in different stages of life,” said Champion, who will also be speaking about sustainable community infrastructure at the World Engineers Convention public forum. 

Parts of a whole

The Public Forum at the World Engineers Convention will bring together top minds in engineering and city planning to discuss what needs to happen now to make Melbourne — and other Australian cities — liveable in 10 years’ time. 

The Global Liveability Index is a snapshot of how cities around the world rate in categories such as infrastructure, education and healthcare. But keeping cities liveable will become more and more important over the coming decade as countries experience a booming rate of urbanisation. 

The subject of sustainability is particularly important when considering cities of the future. Burke said her priorities for Victoria’s future include baking sustainable practices into engineering. 

“We need to make sure our communities create a sense of belonging, and that they are both accessible and sustainable for generations to come,” Burke said. 

But to achieve this will require collaboration between government, industry and communities. Both Burke and Champion said viewing everything engineers do as parts of a whole will be crucial, and collaboration between sectors will become a must.

“Engineers are responsible for our transport, food, water supply, buildings, housing, communications systems and much more. It will be important that we have integrated planning approaches for precincts that has the community at the heart of development decisions,” Burke said.

“Moving forward, engineers will need to become more multi-disciplinary and aware of the key elements and touch points of the cities they live in. This will be important to ensure they’re involved in the decision-making process and incorporated into technical thinking behind projects.”

Champion agreed, saying that engineers need to capitalise on the benefits of collaborating with other professions as their roles in city building change over time. 

“Infrastructure is the foundation of our sustainable, liveable communities and needs to be made a priority. Engineers can deliver on infrastructure if it’s properly planned and funded,” he said.

Exponential change

External factors like climate change will also continue to throw new challenges at engineers as more cities look to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events, rising sea levels and increasing temperatures. 

“More than ever, we need to consider how the services that we provide from infrastructure can be designed, built, operated and delivered to mitigate impacts and adapt to changes in the environment and our climate,” Champion said. 

“We can’t leave an infrastructure liability for future generations.”

Another factor is the exponential pace of change in technology.

“Like changes in our climate, we need to plan and adapt for changes in our use of technology and how changing technology will provide services for our future communities,” Champion said.

He gave the example of how technology is facilitating more remote working options, which has implications for transport infrastructure, communications technology and delivery of services.

“Extended out, these trends will have significant impacts on our urban planning and how and where we deliver infrastructure,” Champion said.   

Keeping cities liveable will be an ongoing challenge, and what works for Melbourne might not work for Sydney. No matter the location, engineers need to be thinking now about how they can build liveability into cities and work with whatever the future has in store.

“Engineers are driving change and our skills are essential in planning and accommodating for change,” Champion said.

“Engineers have a significant role to play in creating more sustainable cities into the future. Our niche is being able to develop creative solutions for the challenges of tomorrow.”

Dr Collette Burke and Chris Champion will be part of a forum at the World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne discussing the future of Melbourne and how to keep our cities liveable. They will be joined by The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp, and Stephen Yarwood, an urban futurist and former Lord Mayor of Adelaide. To attend the public forum, register here

How 3D printing, generative design and automation will revolutionise the built environment

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Advances in technology like 3D printing and generative design are helping reinvent building and construction for the 21st century.

Mention an industry that has been disrupted by technology, and manufacturing immediately springs to mind. For some, it’s a symbol of how innovations like robotics and machine learning are optimising processes and improving productivity.

But if you ask some in the construction industry, it’s a warning sign of things to come. According to Andy Cunningham, Regional Director at software solutions provider Autodesk, construction can be very tech averse. Thoughts of digitisation and automation play into two common fears about the rise of technology: one is the complexity involved; the second is job loss.

“People in construction and building tend to gravitate towards manufacturing as an example of what can happen,” said Cunningham.

The reality, he said, is that technology has the potential to solve some really big challenges in the industry.

“There’s a skills shortage in engineering, so the question becomes how can we implement technology to optimise our human capital, and in the process free up people to do more interesting work,” Cunningham said.

Pioneering technology

The overarching theme of the World Engineers Convention is sustainability, and making the built environment more sustainable can have a huge impact at the global level. At WEC, Matt Gough from Mace (a global construction and consultancy company and Autodesk customer) will feature as a keynote speaker, sharing more about the future of making and sustainability. He will focus specifically on how to address the housing crisis by creating capacity and scale, and reducing the impact on the environment at speed.

By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach 10 billion people. In Australia, the current population of 25 million will grow to 41 million in that same timeframe, while the number of people dwelling in the country’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, will balloon to nearly 8 million each. That’s almost double the present day.

The challenge, said Cunningham, is not just to build more infrastructure to meet these future needs, but for the building industry to do more with less. Technology and the benefits it brings – data, reduced cost, increased productivity – will be crucial to achieving this.

“There are huge sustainability improvements to be had in construction: 30 per cent of construction material ends up as waste, and buildings consume 20 per cent of our water and 40 per cent of our energy. We can’t keep doing what we’re currently doing,” Cunningham said.

Developments like building information modelling (BIM), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and 3D printing are game changing for building and construction, and each brings something different to the table.

Generative design can explore thousands of new forms and help engineers tap into their creative side.(Image: Autodesk)

BIM, which Autodesk is known for pioneering, is particularly useful when it comes to optimising designs to be more energy efficient.

“The ability to learn what works, what doesn’t, and to optimise operations based on what the data is telling you to make buildings more sustainable is a huge benefit,” Cunningham said.

Learnings on a building-by-building basis can then be extrapolated to the wider network, he added.

“What changes can then happen on the macro scale for a whole city? We can supersize these learnings from individual buildings to see what needs to change and work towards creating more smart cities,” Cunningham said.

Beyond sustainability, Cunningham said technology is enabling imagination and creativity in the engineering profession as well.

One promising development in this space is generative design, where the user sets constraints and a program produces numerous options based on the parameters.

Cunningham also sees huge potential for integrating 3D printing and other manufacturing methods into construction processes to bring them into the 21st century.

“People still think of 3D printing on a small scale, but it’s now moving into new forms, incorporating new materials like metals and aggregates,” Cunningham said.

“Modular construction is also having a huge impact, and it’s bringing down costs and construction waste, and increasing productivity.”

An Autodesk 3D printer at work. (Image: Autodesk)

He points to some recent examples of how these technologies are helping companies become more innovative, all while helping reduce their footprint.

One is Factory OS, a company based in the US that is using a modular factory method in home construction. According to the company, this method is 20 per cent cheaper and 40 per cent faster than traditional methods.

Another example is Van Wijnen, a construction firm based in the Netherlands. They use BIM software to identify clashes in designs to reduce sequencing changes on site. The firm is also combining BIM with generative design to create a unique spin on urban planning by setting predetermined goals like solar energy potential, backyard size and costs – and letting the software generate countless layout options.

A Van Wijnen design.

Building a community

If past experience is anything to go by, it’s hard to predict how this technology will evolve in the next five years, never mind the next 100. But if he had to guess, Cunningham said he expects to see these technologies create new improvements across the building and construction industry.

“Advancements in material handling will be really exciting, especially the use of 3D printing. We’ll see forms we’ve never seen before and better marriage of form and function,” he said.

However, there’s one thing Cunningham is sure off: it has to be a better, more sustainable world.

“The construction space is the big piece of the sustainability puzzle … We can’t afford to engineer in isolation. It’s imperative to consider how the surrounding community will be affected – we don’t just build a building, we build a community,” Cunningham said.

“There are big benefits when these concepts get translated into the real world.”

The future of engineering innovation and technology will be explored in detail at the upcoming World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne. To learn more and to register, click here.

Climate change makes sustainable water management more important than ever

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Whether it’s under a lake, a river or the streets of a city, Salini Impregilo is ready for whatever job needs doing to help clients improve people’s lives.

This is especially the case when it has to do with water, a sector where its leadership was confirmed for a fifth year in the latest global rankings published by Engineering News-Record (ENR), the US trade publication.

As the world’s climate changes, this most precious of resources is becoming even more precious. So much so, that the management and treatment of water has also assumed greater importance. This is not lost on Australia, which has had its fair share of droughts, floods – and everything in between.

With decades of experience, Salini Impregilo helps cities manage heavy rainfall, treat wastewater and make seawater drinkable. It also harnesses the flow of rivers to generate electricity and light up the homes of countless communities. Briefly put: it makes available everything that water has to offer.

For decades, Salin Impregilo’s dams have helped communities thrive in the most sustainable way possible, producing electricity without the harmful emissions that come from other forms of energy production. In Australia, it will be building Snowy 2.0, the expansion of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme that will provide the storage and on-demand generation needed to balance the growth of wind and solar power and the retirement of Australia’s ageing thermal power stations. The electricity produced will also support the push towards sustainable mobility, whether it be in the form of light rail transit or electric vehicles.

In the United States, it helped Las Vegas secure its water supply in case of drought by excavating a 4 km-long tunnel under nearby Lake Mead. This record-setting project saw it bring the tunnel to a pipe at the bottom of the lake. The water drawn by the pipe is pumped to a treatment plant on shore and then sent to the city. This has made the pipe – known as the Third Intake – the main supplier of water because two other pipes near the lakeshore risk going dry whenever the water level goes down in times of drought.

And when potable water is hard to come by, Salini Impregilo extracts it from the sea by means of desalination. In Dubai, the Jebel Ali M is an icon for the sector because it was the largest such plant in the United Arab Emirates at the time of its completion. With a capacity of 140 million gallons of water per day, its eight desalination units provide nearly all of the city’s potable water.

Of droughts and flooding rains

Sometimes the problem is too much water, such as when heavy rainfall overwhelms a city’s sewer system. In Washington, D.C., Salini Impregilo is excavating its second tunnel for a project to expand the system to reduce the amount of untreated stormwater and sewage that flows into nearby rivers during a storm.  Known as the Northeast Boundary Tunnel, it is the biggest component of the Clean Rivers project. By helping reduce combined sewer overflows by 98 per cent and the chance of flooding in the areas it serves from about 50 per cent to 7 per cent in any given year, it will help improve the quality of the water in the nearby Anacostia River.

In some cases, the river is polluted for reasons other than combined sewer overflows. Victim of decades of industry abuse, the Matanza Riachuelo River Basin near Buenos Aires, Argentina, is among the most contaminated in the world, putting at risk the health of millions of people. Part of a massive project supported by the World Bank, Salini Impregilo is building a pre-treatment wastewater plant, pumping stations and an evacuation tunnel to help clean it up. At a capacity of 27 cubic metres per second, the plant will be one of the biggest of its kind in the world. The water it treats will be flushed through the 12-kilometre tunnel into the River Plate where the basin empties.

Respect for the environment is a tenet that Salini Impregilo has and will always uphold in everything it does, especially when it has to do with water. It is the kind of respect that it has found in Australia, where efforts are made to grow in the most sustainable way possible. And as these efforts accompany the ambitious investments being made in infrastructure, Salini Impregilo will be there to help.

The World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne is about engineers coming together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

To learn how you can help build a better world, register here

Why the world’s engineers need to come together to build a better future

By | Leadership and influence | 6 Comments

The clock is ticking to achieve the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The World Engineers Convention will explore the crucial role the profession plays in hitting the UN’s 2030 target.

“Every single one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires engineering to implement, and this is the message we have been putting out since the goals were implemented two years ago,” said Marlene Kanga, President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO).

As co-host of the upcoming World Engineers Convention (WEC) with Engineers Australia, WFEO will tap into its network of 100 member nations, comprising almost 30 million engineers, to make this a truly global event, Kanga said.

Each of the convention’s six themes aligns to the UN Sustainable Development goals – from technology and innovation to fostering diversity and inclusion, increasing liveability and preparing the next generation of engineers.

Across the three-day event, WFEO members present alongside Australian engineers on topics that showcase how these themes are being put into practice.

Trish White, National President of Engineers Australia, said collaboration between engineers from around the world is crucial to building a more sustainable future.

“It’s an exciting time to be an engineer, and this coming together of some of the world’s most prominent engineers is the perfect time to think about how you as an individual can make an impact,” White said.

“The No. 17 UN Sustainable Development Goal is about Partnerships — what are the connections and networks that need to be pulled upon to make it possible to fulfil the other 16 goals? That’s what makes the World Engineers Conventions a wonderful opportunity to come together and see what is possible for the future of engineering.”

This is the first time the event has been held in Australia — and it’s likely to be a long time before it’s on Australian shores again. As such, both White and Kanga urged the country’s engineers to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with and learn from their peers around the world.

“There are some 500 speakers, about 25 per cent are women, and more than 60 countries are represented,” Kanga said.

“Whether it’s water, whether it’s energy, whether it’s sustainable cities, technology … It’s about engineers thinking about the impact of our work. It’s about the purpose of our work, and that makes engineering more meaningful.”

A pivotal moment

Besides coming to Australia for the first time, the World Engineers Convention also coincides with Engineers Australia’s centenary year.

The organisation was founded just after the end of World War I, which was a time of immense change similar to the one we are experiencing now, said White.

“It was formed then to help the country’s engineers take advantage of the great technological changes that were happening and help the many disciplines come together,” she said.

“We’re in a rather similar time now. The next 100 years will be a time of enormous technological change, so we need to come together to think about what is the potential future of the engineering profession.”

Having the World Engineers Convention hosted by Australia during this important time in Engineers Australia’s history speaks to the centenary theme of ‘Anything Is Possible’, Kanga said.

“I think we can communicate about Australian engineering to the world, just as the world’s engineers will communicate to Australia,” she said.

“We are bringing the world to Melbourne.”

The World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne is about engineers coming together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

To learn how you can help build a better world, register here

diversity and inclusion in engineering

Does engineering have a diversity and inclusion problem?

By | Diversity and inclusion | One Comment

Engineering is crucial to achieving all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), but there are some that the profession seems to struggle with more than others, including the goals aligned with diversity.

“Diversity, inclusion, equity and particularly intergenerational equity fundamentally underpin the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Tanya Ha, Director of Engagement at Science in Public.

This topic is particularly relevant, as the six themes of the World Engineers Convention (WEC) align to the UN SDGs and the role engineers play in achieving them. Diversity and inclusion – and the role this plays in the future of the engineering profession – will be a topic for debate at the global event. 

“The SDGs are focal points for solutions to problems, and engineers are the ultimate problem solvers. In order to achieve these goals, engineers and the organisations that employ them need to walk the talk and embrace diversity,” said Ha, a WEC speaker.

“Engineering companies have much to gain by embracing people from diverse backgrounds and will do a better job of solving problems with a variety of minds at the table.”

Events like WEC are an opportunity for the global engineering community to discuss the importance of diversity in all forms to the future of the profession. With representatives from more than 70 countries, and almost 25 per cent women presenters, there will be a variety of viewpoints and inputs to solving this issue.

Sparking imagination

One WEC speaker who will be tackling the subject of gender diversity in engineering is Susan Freeman-Greene, CEO of Engineering New Zealand. She said moving the dial is a collective effort, and usually takes a three-pronged approach. 

“There’s a pipeline issue, there’s a recruitment issue and then there’s retention,” she said. 

Freeman-Greene said some roadblocks to improving the profession’s gender balance stem from what she calls “engineering’s perception issue” — and this is especially important to getting more girls to consider engineering in the first place.

To this end, Engineering New Zealand launched a program for school-aged children called The Wonder Project, which is aimed at exciting and inspiring kids with hands-on projects and challenges so that they not only want to do STEM subjects, but can see that a career in engineering is within reach. 

“We show engineering in its full discipline diversity — it’s not just structural and civil,” Freeman-Greene said. 

“We tell stories about the impact engineering makes on the world.” 

Capturing a child’s imagination is a great start, but retention and support are proving to be pressing issues as well, and the number of women in engineering tends to taper further down the career track. 

“At universities [in New Zealand], 23 per cent of engineers are women. But then they graduate and 30 per cent leave within five to 10 years of becoming practising engineers,” Freeman-Greene said. 

All together, about 14 per cent of the country’s engineers are women, which is slightly higher than Australia’s 12 per cent. This presents an opportunity to create a movement, Freeman-Greene said.

Engineering New Zealand began a program to encourage organisations to rethink their practices around gender diversity and commit to its Diversity Agenda initiative, which has a goal of 20 per cent women in the profession by 2020. 

The organisation created a suite of resources and education programs for organisations to evaluate their recruitment practices and workplace policies. The goal was to get leaders thinking about how even the smallest change could make a big difference. For example, flexible work policies that account for caregiving responsibilities of both men and women can have a major effect.

“It’s about generating those conversations, and I think it also gives people courage,” Freeman-Greene said. 

“We’ve had people say, ‘I wouldn’t have raised this before, but I will now’. It’s a really hard thing because it’s not people intentionally excluding, but it is just understanding the bias that we all carry.”

She added that as part of the Diversity Agenda, organisations are committing to inclusive graduate programs, workplace policies, leadership opportunities, mentoring… the list goes on.

“Changing people and changing how they want to think about the world and how they see the world is not easy — it doesn’t happen overnight,” Freeman-Greene said. 

“But this is for the future of the profession, because if collectively we don’t shift the dial on diversity, we will not get the best talent and we will not remain as relevant.”

The culture shift

Conversations about diversity in engineering usually centre on gender diversity. But according to Krishna Bodanapu, Managing Director and CEO at international engineering firm Cyient and speaker at the World Engineers Convention, cultural diversity is just as important a consideration. 

“If we start with what we can change, that is our organisation,” he said.

“If we can change that sort of mental model of the organisation to say, ‘When we hire people, it should be representative of the local market,’ it’s a small change overall, but a big one for the organisation.”

For a large multinational company like Cyient, he said it can be difficult to get disparate teams from around the world collaborating across languages, time zones and cultural differences. However, he said, having strong foundational values can transcend these differences.

“Many of the things we work on have a significant impact if they fail, not just from a cost perspective, but, more importantly from a disaster perspective — that people’s lives depend on our work,” he said.   

“This whole globalised view of engineering works when you trust each other … You’re only as strong as your weakest link, in that sense.” 

Technology is making the world smaller, and connecting people in ways that now allow engineers in India to collaborate concurrently on projects with engineers in Germany and liaise with teams in Australia.  

Designing systems that allow for seamless communication — no matter where teams are based — is one thing. However, making sure that products take into consideration local context is another challenge all together. However, Bodanapu thinks it’s something that can be solved by making sure teams are diverse to capture those nuances. 

He cites one example where the same design for the interior of a piece of construction equipment was used in two very different markets: India and the US. Rather than get input on expectations for each market, the company applied the US design to the Indian market as well. It failed to take off. 

Workers in India found no need for the jumbo-sized cup holders and expensive air conditioning systems featured in interior designed for the US market, Bodanapu said. But what they did want was ports to connect phone chargers. 

“While it’s a small thing, not understanding that actually took away a significant amount of their market share because they came with the latest and greatest product to the Indian market, which didn’t sit well,” Bodanapu said. 

Situations like this illustrate why it’s important to get input from the end users, wherever and whoever they might be. 

“Unless engineers represent the world they serve and the communities they serve, then engineers will design a world that doesn’t reflect those communities and that perpetuates these global challenges,” Freeman-Greene said. 

It’s also smart from a business strategy perspective.

“In the next 20 to 30 years, your largest markets are not necessarily going to be the US and Europe; they’re going to be India, China and a lot of East Asia,” Bodanapu said.

“Unless the engineering workforce is also mimicking or taking into consideration that shift, the profession will become the roadblock, rather than the accelerator or the enabler.” 

Ha agreed, saying that more engineering organisations are seeing inclusion and diversity projects as more than just “a box to tick”. 

Research supports the benefits of organisational diversity as well: The [email protected] Index, produced by Diversity Council Australia, found that people who work in inclusive teams are 10 times more likely to be highly effective workers and nine times more likely to innovate compared to those on non-inclusive teams. 

“Organisations that are proactive on the diversity and inclusion front often say they do so because ‘It’s the right thing to do’,” Ha said.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing examples where organisations are documenting the strong business case for diversity. In time, I hope it’s widely recognised as both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.”

A holistic view

As more individuals, organisations and countries look to create a more inclusive engineering profession, Freeman-Greene said it’s important to view it through the lens of how it affects the future of the profession.

“This isn’t just a women’s issue. This is an engineering issue that belongs to all of us,” she said. 

Although the dual issues of diversity and inclusion persist, it’s not all bad news — progress has been made, at least from an awareness perspective. 

“I think even five years ago, diversity initiatives would have been looked at as just another fad. But now, I think there is a conscious effort from a lot of people who want to make a difference, who want to make an impact,” Bodanapu said. 

“It’s not a nice thing to do; it’s a smart thing to do.”

What are the challenges facing the engineering profession when it comes to diversity and inclusion? How can the profession address these challenges now and into the future? Diversity and inclusion is one of the six themes at the upcoming World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne.

To learn more and to register, click here

engineering diversity and inclusion

What happens when diversity and inclusion become part of an organisation’s mission

By | Diversity and inclusion | No Comments

With its commitment towards building a diverse and inclusive workplace, professional services firm Cyient understands the importance of what a truly inclusive environment means for an organisation’s growth and associate engagement.

Research by McKinsey & Company suggests that gender-diverse companies are 15 per cent more likely to outperform their peers, and ethnically diverse companies are 35 per cent more likely to do the same.

Cyient recognises that an inclusive workplace unites diverse perspectives to build an organisational culture that enables, encourages and celebrates diversity as a business imperative. Cyient has established a vision and mission that will establish a diverse and inclusive environment:

Cyient’s Diversity and Inclusion Vision: Create a collaborative workplace that supports diverse thinking, and attracts and inspires talented people to reach their potential.
Cyient’s Diversity and Inclusion Mission: To build an environment that seeks to bridge the gap in gender diversity, provide a workplace free of discrimination, enhance the professional growth of our associates and empower them to create real change.    

Cyient diversity and inclusionAs a diversity- and inclusion-focused organisation that brings together people from different backgrounds and experiences, Cyient can offer more solutions through new skills, ideas and processes. Cyient’s global diversity and inclusion program is spearheaded by inclusion ambassadors who drive focus on key areas such as gender, disability, veterans affairs, cultural awareness, and health and wellness.

Cyient also has a mentorship program for women leaders and plans to provide transparent reporting of the gender pay gap globally. Cyient ensures the diversity and inclusion ethos is also visible in their projects as they continue to focus on including more women in the engineering space.

For example, a project for one of Cyient’s communication clients kicked off with only 25 per cent women engineers. However, as the project progressed, the diversity quotient expanded to include more than 40 per cent women across the leadership and delivery teams.

Creating a diverse and inclusive work culture reinforces Cyient’s value system of fairness, integrity, respect, sincerity and transparency (known as VALUES FIRST), as well as the company’s brand promise of Designing Tomorrow Together. Cyient will continue to value, foster and leverage diversity and inclusion to ensure diverse viewpoints that inspire greater creativity, positivity and productivity.

Fostering diversity and inclusion is one of the six themes of the World Engineers Convention, 20-22 November in Melbourne. To learn more and to register, click here.