Most of us likely engage in mechanical engineering design on a daily basis, but what’s the future for this crucial field?
Since the invention of CAD software, mechanical design has been revolutionized to its core. However, there are quite a lot of things about the process that are rather rudimentary. We still have to manually input constraints for parts that may seem obvious. We can still make one minor mistake that can corrupt our whole model. Software is becoming smarter and smarter, but for the most part, the mechanical engineer is still where the innovation and the skill lies. What happens though, when programs become generative, when the mechanical engineer’s office dissolves and design moves into the future? Let’s take a deeper look. (Don’t worry, you’re still going to have a job)
CAD programs, the foundation of mechanical design, we’re largely pushed forward by innovative code and programming. That has done wonders for the programs’ abilities, but it also means that CAD has evolved into a largely keyboard oriented skill. Given that this is commonplace, you may not find anything odd about this fact. What keyboard based mechanical design does, however, is limit the designer to technical ability and knowledge of the specific software. There will always be a place for this, but computers will soon be able to allow freeform mechanical design within the confines of reality. This means that while, as engineers, we may be smart enough to input design constraints, we simply won’t have to. It opens up the age for pure engineering.
The echoing of this future reality has already been occurring. The age of touch screen computers has brought more natural mechanical design interface. Moving forward, it will likely be virtual reality and quantum computing that brings mechanical design into its ultimate realization for the engineer. When you think about mechanical design as more of a skilled work form given the tools coming in the future, mechanical engineers may soon have more options of where and how we work. We won’t be restricted to cubicles, rather we can be “technical artists” designing in virtual spaces or even on the job site – imagine that.
Ultimately, the goal of advancing mechanical design is to replace the restricting confines of computer interface and let then engineer create in a pure form.
Diverging from mechanical design interface, the industries that are most in need of mechanical design in the coming future are those like automotive and manufacturing. However, there’s is a new budding industry that will require the skills of the best mechanical designers – AI design. Artificially intelligent programs and machines will soon be doing a large part of the design of the future. First, they have to learn and be complemented by actual mechanical design engineers. Don’t worry about losing your job to robots just yet. The specific tasks of a design engineer will only transform with AI, not be eliminated. What AI and ultimately, generative design, will do to mechanical design is revolutionize just what is possible in our industry. The future is bright for the mechanical designer.
Ideas mentioned in this post are based on speculative discussions of the future of mechanical design from AU 2016. You can watch courses for free online here.