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Show us the lead with 3D-printing and offsite technology, say civil engineers

Infrastructure clients need to take a stronger lead with new technology such as 3D-printing and offsite manufacturing, according to a new survey of civil engineers.

The study by NCE – ‘Engineering the Future’ – examined attitudes in the profession towards innovation.

Civil engineers were asked about emerging technologies they were keen to learn about. Some 93% said they were interested in advances in materials, 78% wanted to know more about offsite manufacturing, and 73% pointed to 3D printing.

But they felt infrastructure providers were not helping to progress the uptake of such technologies.

Some 65% of the respondents said civil engineering clients should be taking the lead in promoting offsite manufacturing – but only 29% felt this was happening in reality.

Similarly, while a third of those surveyed felt clients should show the way with 3D printing – just 11% saw any evidence of this at project level.

Civil engineers also feel that infrastructure is lagging behind other industries on these technologies; 48% believe the aerospace and automotive industries are taking a lead with offsite manufacturing, and 46% think the same with 3D printing.

Below is a selection of comments from those surveyed.

The trick is the provision of consistent and adequate funding for research and the confidence to invest in the ideas that come out of this. We must embrace the new and not as is habit keep returning to some of the more established technologies. Our leaders and politicians have a habit of taking two steps forward and one backwards for the sake of a particular political idea.

—Steven Cryer, lecturer, Plymouth University

Civil engineering is massively complex, it is not like making widgets, they are all prototypes. Unfortunately the ‘cheap and pile it high’ approach often costs more in the long term. So the future requires careful planning and better communication. This does take time and experience but I do think this pays off many times give much more effective solutions that last.

—E A Johnson, civil engineer, Royal Haskoning

We can exclude politics, but not politicians. They have to appreciate the veracity of the proposals and approve them, for implementation. Even a very effective proposal can materialise only when the politician is convinced. So, politicians also have to be drawn into the discussion.

—M G Srinivasan, freelance civil engineering consultant

In the recent era, narrow thinking has been the cause of many failures in relation to infrastructure projects. We should be thinking more about the long term, as Victorian engineers did 150 years ago.

—Zert H, Technical Associate, Tunneling & Ground Engineering Consultancy



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