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Engineering Industry Trends for 2020

  • by: Conor McKeon
  • On: 15, Jan 2020
5 min read

2019 saw huge developments across the Engineering Industry, with advances in Artificial Intelligence, cyber security breaches and changes in customer attitudes linked to the climate crisis among the issues influencing advances.

Here are some of the trends that will affect the industry in the coming year.

6. Generative design

Generative design involves the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) software and the computing power of the cloud to create design solutions faster than they would have been generated by the human mind.

As far back as four years ago, Airbus used generative design to create a partition between the galley and the cabin of its aircraft, which weighed around half of the existing components weight.

If rolled out to all A320 planes, it is estimated that this replacement could save up to half a million tonnes of CO2 per year.

Since this initial development, Airbus has refined the process to incorporate 3-D printing a plastic mould for the component, which can then be cast in an alloy which is already approved for flight. The resulting component is as strong and lighter than its predecessor and can be created at half the cost.

This technology is also being utilised in the design of aircraft wings and, more fundamentally, in the design of potential new factories for painting and assembling A320 engines; the goal being ultimately to create more efficient logistical flows. This means the ability to assemble the components more quickly and a more contented workforce, thus creating a futureproof, sustainable and adaptable factory environment that can deal with the challenges of the future.

5. Digital Twins

Digital twins allows you to build a virtual replica of something in the physical world using data and algorithms instead of materials. At the moment it is most notably used in Formula 1 car racing to evaluate performance and reliability of new parts.

Data can be processed and visualised enabling the evaluation of merging problems and a rapid, reactive response – this process facilitates industrial engineers to optimise the system by changing processes, modifying layouts and altering operations, cumulatively resulting in increased productivity as well as reductions in cost.

In one notable industry example, Ford has integrated the company’s predictive digital twin technology within its Powertrain Manufacturing Engineering department. It serves as the foundation of the customised platforms Ford Interactive Simulation Tool and Ford Assembly Simulation Tool. These systems have improved efficiency across numerous existing Ford plants – most notably the Dagenham plant in London. The systems have enabled senior management to have a better overview of systems and quicker reactions to issues arising on the factory floor.

Additionally, at Nissan, digital twins have been adopted across a broad range of functions including meeting production targets, reducing jams at a bumper painting facility, as well as creating a better understanding of battery leak test failures.

The ‘Digital Twins in Logistics’ report, by German logistics provider DHL was released in 2019. It outlined the use of digital twins in various aspects of supply chain which include managing container fleets, monitoring shipments and even designing entire logistics systems.


4. Cyber Security

Cyber security breaches have reached unprecedented levels across the British defence industry over the past 12 months.

The incidents included defence information being left unprotected to surveillance of internet traffic by foreign states and checks not being carried out to detect espionage malware on electronic devices.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) registered 34 reports of these kinds of breaches between 1 January and 10 October 2018.

Ciaran Martin, the head of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has commented that it is a case of when, rather than if, the UK is hit by a category one cyber-attack. Category one attacks are defined as an incident which significantly impacts either the power grid, the airline network, railways, nuclear power plants or the UK’s military weapons systems and impacts a significant percentage of the population.

One innovation to combat the threats posted by cyber security breaches is edge computing. This method involves moving processing from the cloud, closer to the end-user or end device, and has additional benefits including improving latency, network and bandwidth, as well as addressing the issues surrounding data privacy and security.


3. Sustainable Energy

The US Energy information Administration (EIA) forecasts that utility-scale renewable fuels including wind, solar and hydropower will collectively produce 19 per cent of US electricity in 2020. In the UK, the share of electricity generated by renewable energy increased to 33 per cent in 2018.

As consumers attitudes shift in the wake of the climate crisis, industries are looking to be greener in their approach to energy. A notable strategy is Sustainable Aviation, “a long-term strategy which sets out the collective approach of UK aviation to tackling the challenge of ensuring a cleaner, quieter, smarter future for [the aviation] industry’.

In September 2019, UK Ministers brought in legislation for the UK to be net zero on carbon emissions by 2050. According the Sustainable Aviation, Aviation is responsible for 2 per cent of all human induced CO2emissions and 12 per cent of CO2 emissions from all transport sources, compared to 74 per cent from road transport.


2. Esports

The 2017 Nielson Sports survey showed that over 43 per cent of Motorsport fans are interested in Esports. The first ever F1 Esports Series was launched in 2019 and demonstrates how valuable gaming can be in widening Motorsport’s fan base.

Esports also provides an opportunity for new ideas to be tested within a virtual environment.

This will most notably be felt in the Formula E division, which uses electric cars. The Formula 1 rival will have its biggest season to date in 2020, with 14 races spread across eight months.

The sport has seen huge growth in the last few years with the 2018/19 season generating a record revenue of over €200million – 50 per cent more than the 2017/18 season. The aim will be for Formula E to directly compete with Formula 1 by improvements in vehicles to make the sport more fast-paced.

One innovation that is currently being investigated by various Formula 1 Strategy groups is called ‘Close Racing’. This is concerned with improving the aerodynamics between each car to allow cars to follow each other more closely.


1. Technological developments for electric vehicles

A key industry trend for 2020 will involve innovations in electric vehicles.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted that electric cars and hybrid plug-ins could represent 35 per cent of new light-duty vehicle sales by 2040. The industry was worth 2.5 million units in 2018 and is projected to reach 24.6 million units by 2026.

The increases are due to a number of factors including government incentives, increasing fuel prices, changes in the attitudes of consumers and stricter regulations regarding vehicle emissions.

Both Tesla and Volkswagen have launched long-range electric vehicles in 2019. Sony also unveiled an electric saloon car prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020.


Read more about The Future of Automation and for more insights, take a look at our Engineering expert’s predictions for the industry.

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