Industrial Revolution 4.0 and the future of engineering
The role of the engineer is presently redefined by the rapid and very much disruptive emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, asserts Professor Anthony Guo, Head of School of Engineering at Monash University Malaysia.
Professor Guo is doing everything he can to ensure that engineering graduates are equipped with the necessary skills, they would need to face the constantly shifting landscape.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also referred to as the Industrial 4.0 or 4IR, was sparked by the steady development of the Internet. This has been leapfrogged further by cloud technology, which is connecting the world and driving a shared economy.
“Previously, the Internet could only be connected through personal computers. People would have to sit at their desktops,” Professor Guo explained. “Today, you can access it from anywhere, as long as you’ve got a mobile device such as your smartphones or tablets. This technology is also getting more powerful every day, rapidly changing the way we do things - either in daily life, or at the workplace”
What does this mean for graduates looking to carve out specialised career paths in the engineering sector? Opportunities abound! Engineering graduates can get involved in the nine pillars within Industry 4.0.
- Big data
- Augmented reality
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- System integration
- Additive manufacturing (3D printing)
- Autonomous system
- Cloud computing
“The train has extended to many sophisticated industries such as healthcare and even aerospace,” Professor Guo said. “With a new generation of 3D printing, for example, people are now able to manufacture a turbine blade or a complex structure like a single turbine engine. With big data, optimisation, and decentralised facilities, manufacturing can be open, on demand, low-cost, short-cycle, high yield, among others. Technology will definitely make a great impact on the manufacturing industry.”
Thanks to intelligent systems and robotics, much of the work that is essentially 3D (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) can be taken over from humans, leaving them to pursue other creative activities to expand the industry.
So what does it mean, then, to be an engineer today, and tomorrow?
“Fundamentally, the role of the engineer remains the same, which is to provide technological solutions to issues and problems faced in society. On top of mastering essential knowledge and skills in their chosen disciplines, they should be creative and critical thinkers. They must also be able to evolve and change to fit with the needs and demands of industry trends,” Professor Guo asserted.
In the future, it would no longer just be about solving problems for components; instead, the focus will be on intersectionality, by way of overviewing and connecting systems. “Engineering will be about connecting machines and assembly lines together through cloud technology. Our students will thus need to master the [essential] knowledge, ensuring that their skills remain current,” he added.
Monash Malaysia’s School of Engineering currently offers five different disciplines: civil, chemical, electrical computer system, mechanical, and mechatronics, in addition to software engineering. While Monash Engineering prepare graduates with work-ready skills and professional practices, it is working to update and revamp the curriculum. This will enable students to be equipped with the necessary skills for key enabling technologies related to Industry 4.0
Being literate in computing and coding, in particular, improves future career prospects drastically. Professor Guo says, “We feel that mastering the key enabling technologies is becoming an essential skill today for future engineers, who will be able to apply them and create solutions for complex problems in their disciplines. It is becoming as important as mathematics, design and communication skills.”
Beyond technical knowledge
Having knowledge of important theories and practical cues by heart is not enough for a graduate to excel at the workplace. It is also important for students to get involved in activities, to develop and sharpen their soft skills.
At the School of Engineering, students can volunteer in student-led groups such as Engineers without Borders. The active student chapter has been contributing their knowledge to improve systems for communities living in rural areas, among others. Working collaboratively with external organisations, students are able to think outside-the-box, and develop solutions to solve real-time development problems. The Engineering and IT Leadership program is another initiative where interested students are trained with 12 months experiential learning, not only on intrapersonal and interpersonal, but also on team-building and leadership skills, culminating with a project.
Ultimately, it’s about cultivating their ability to work not only in international environments but also in a multiracial, multicultural settings society. “They need to manage projects, people and relations, as well as navigate crises and be sensitive to the needs of other people. How do you deal with people from different cultures who have different needs and habits? These are some questions which need to be addressed in an inclusive and engaging way” the professor added.
The School is also highly committed to providing outstanding student experience outside of their curriculum. “Our students are encouraged and given the support to participate in various external design competitions. Some competitions they have excelled at include the annual Shell Eco-marathon and the IChemE competition,” he shared.
In layman’s term, the School of Engineering hopes to produce graduates who are, not only useful to society and of good character, but also with aspiration.” What does the term entails? “It means that our students must have aspirations to contribute to society, and not be afraid to take up leadership roles to drive the change for a better world,” Professor Guo contended.
For more details about programs available at the School of Engineering, Monash University Malaysia, please visit www.monash.edu.my/engineering.