Engineers must innovate more and be more willing to embrace new technology if they are to remain relevant and well regarded by the public, the chief engineer behind High Speed 2 (HS2) said last week.
HS2 scheme promoter HS2 Ltd’s technical director Andrew McNaughton said that while civil engineering was a very skilled profession, engineers must show the public that they can find better ways of designing and building infrastructure.
“Where is the value if a civil engineer turns up, throws a load of dust around and causes mayhem?” he challenged the audience at Arup’s Future of Rail in 2050 event last week.
Instead, he explained, engineers improve their standing by doing “invisible engineering” - for example, efficiently installing a new bridge overnight so the public experiences little disruption and can immediately use it and benefit from it.
McNaughton was responding to a question from NCE about whether advances in technology would reduce the need for as many civil engineers to design and build transport infrastructure.
He responded that civil engineers could rise to the challenge if they “join the 21st century” and refrain from doing things the way they have been done for many years.
“I’ve challenged HS2 engineers and said: ‘I want a 3D printed embankment,’” he said.
“If software engineers, and others, can do things differently, then let us do it differently.”
McNaughton’s comments echoed those of a leading international engineering professor who spoke to graduate engineers in the UK earlier this month.
University of Southern California industrial and systems engineering professor Behrokh Koshnevis is leading developments in fabrication to 3D print buildings - a technique he calls Contour Crafting.
Speaking at Cambridge University, Koshnevis said engineers should be less concerned with what was not currently possible and more concerned with innovating. “I don’t think engineering should be for nerds,” he said.
“Engineering is art.”
Other speakers at the Arup-organised event in London last week said that future design would have to change to reflect peoples’ expectations from transport systems.
Arup IT and communications systems director Volker Buscher said the rise of technology, including smart phone and mobile tablet apps, was having a great effect on how people work.
“Multiple technologies are causing havoc on how we run our businesses,” he said.
McNaughton and Arup interchange design director Leszek Dobrovolsky said expectations around how railway stations were built in the future would be vastly different.
“I don’t think the word station is relevant anymore,” said McNaughton. “A station is a place of interchange.”
“Stations and interchanges will become processes and systems, rather than about being places,” said Dobrovolsky.