Civil engineering is an ever-changing industry. With the advent of smart technology, 3D printing, and automation, civil engineers are no longer stuck at a desk designing bridges or buildings with paper and pencil, they’re at the cutting edge of what’s possible.
How technology has changed civil engineering
Surveying land with drones
Aerial drones are a great way to survey land quickly, efficiently, and safely. Drones provide a great level of accuracy, without the need to send people into difficult or unsafe terrain.
Drones are increasingly being used in construction for the same reason, able to fly around and survey a build site without the risk that comes with sending in a team of surveyors.
Once upon a time, civil engineers had to design everything using graph paper and rulers. Now, design software helps design things faster, and in more detail.
This software works on a macro-level, giving a high-level overview of the entire structure, but it can also work on a micro-level, allowing engineers to work with absolute precision, down to individual components. With 3-D rendering, designs can be fully visualised, and VR systems allow stakeholders to see them before construction has even begun.
Internet of Things, Building Information Modeling, Cloud Technology, and Remote Sensing
Once the build is underway, civil engineers don’t even necessarily need to visit the site thanks to technology. Live video feeds allow for 24/7 security, and digital sensors can monitor heat levels, pressure, weight, and other factors that need to be checked.
Dashboards help building owners, investors, developers, contractors, and engineers stay informed about every detail related to the project - from site analysis data like soil types or geological conditions, right down to individual components that go into constructing the actual structure itself.
This technology is perfect for problem-solving during design, helping to improve planning and increase efficiency.
All this data is stored in the cloud, where it can be saved, checked, and analysed if needed.
Once the build is complete, all manner of elements around the build can be monitored, controlled, and optimised. The amount of water flowing through pipes, the amount of traffic on the road, the lights being used, these can be all be checked thanks to the internet of things.
Once you have a backlog of data, you can start to analyse it to better understand the patterns at play around your project. Weather, traffic, footfall, all of these factors can be analysed and predicted thanks to big data and machine learning.
Big data is important for construction because it can help to uncover hidden trends and patterns in behaviour that might not be seen with small sample sizes. Bigger samples allow engineers to make more informed decisions about the way resources are used, which can improve cost and efficiency, but big data can even help save lives.
Predictive analytics can help stop or mitigate disasters before they occur. If any irregularities are picked up by the system, it will flag them, allowing time to either shut things down, evacuate, or call emergency services.
Technology isn’t just about digital developments, new materials are being developed that would have been impossible to design without advancements in technology.
Photovoltaic materials allow buildings to generate their own power. Meta-materials like graphene can be designed for a specific purpose, being stronger than steel, requiring less raw material for a build.
As sustainability is becoming a major area of concern within civil engineering, it’s likely we’ll see more buildings and civil projects using green materials in construction.
Civil engineering has always looked to the future, pioneering new engineering techniques to help us live better lives. As we continue to explore and develop new technology, the industry will likewise continue to adapt, and improve.
Read about why you should consider an engineering apprenticeship, or learn about the best engineering jobs for the future