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How AI Will Reshape The Future Of Civil Engineering

14th May 2024


Will Temperley, founder of civil engineering firm Fortis Foundations lays out how artificial intelligence will reshape the future of civil engineering forever...

The rapid development of construction technology has forced a change in how we approach building new infrastructure and designing buildings that will last generations. It is no secret that artificial intelligence will play a role in civil engineering.

Design revolution: AI-driven creativity

Traditionally, engineering design has been a labour-intensive process involving iterative prototyping, which requires small changes and extensive testing.

Artificial intelligence is changing this paradigm by introducing a level of creativity and efficiency that was previously difficult to attain. Generative design is a key function of this transformation.

Generative design, put simply, leverages algorithms and machine learning to explore a vast range of design possibilities based on what data the individual inputs.

Engineers input design parameters, and the AI system generates numerous potential solutions, considering factors such as material properties, manufacturing constraints, and performance requirements.

This iterative process leads to optimised designs that human designers might not have come up with on their own.

For example, for the rail industry generative design could meet the challenges the industry is currently dealing with such as lack of capacity and tired networks.

As the HS2 project was scrapped last year, upgraded networks in the next few years don’t look promising.

However, with AI technology at the engineers’ disposal, it will hopefully create a turning point, meeting capacity demands, increasing in reliability and enabling a smooth-running network built with sophisticated design methods.

This is particularly important if we want to build smart cities which will enable a better quality of life and a more efficient environment.

Currently, towns and cities across the country struggle to function due to delays and infrastructure failures, so it is crucial that AI technology is adopted so we can overcome these challenges and improve our daily lives.

Intelligent project management

The industry routinely suffers with delays and poor planning that is often out of the civil engineers’ control.

However, these grievances can be a thing of the past with the integration of AI in our daily work.

AI can be an effective tool in managing projects by predicting delays, identifying critical paths, and creating project schedules. Further, it can identify safety hazards and react to any given scenario, providing a precise risk assessment promptly.

Site inspection can also be streamlined as they can be conducted remotely using virtual reality with such software as Kuula however this is still in its infancy and not yet ready for construction sites.

Chatbots can also simplify tasks with regular communication that doesn’t need to be done via a smartphone which can sometimes be impractical on a working site.

Automation makes things quicker and more efficient, and the industry can’t afford to waste any more time, so embracing this new technology will be integral for a thriving business this year.

Optimisation across the engineering lifecycle

We are no longer in the industrial era we are all too familiar with, instead we are in the informational era.

Artificial intelligence is not confined to the design and manufacturing stages but permeates the entire engineering lifecycle, offering optimisation opportunities at every step.

Simulation and modelling, critical components of engineering analysis, have been enhanced by AI to provide more accurate predictions and insights.

Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations benefit from AI algorithms that accelerate the analysis of complex systems.

This enables engineers to evaluate multiple design iterations rapidly, leading to more informed decision-making.

The optimisation of structures, thermal systems, and fluid dynamics becomes a collaborative effort between engineers and AI systems, amplifying human capabilities with quick-thinking computer systems.

It also helps reduce costs as data can be analysed and summarised to manage the business and make product development more efficient. For example, the sector is simultaneously gearing up for sustainable infrastructure, so technology will prove to be vital as we transition to sustainable practices.

Furthermore, AI can assist in the creation of EVs and other products as we look to diversify our skills and what we produce.

Human-AI collaboration: Augmented intelligence in engineering

There is no escaping from it, artificial intelligence is augmenting the role of engineers, making them more effective and innovative. The collaboration between humans and AI combines the strengths of both to tackle complex engineering challenges, which is vital for the industry’s survival.

In the context of design, engineers can collaborate with AI systems to explore a broader design space and evaluate potential solutions. The creativity and intuition of engineers complement the analytical power of AI, fostering a cooperative relationship that results in ground-breaking designs.

Similarly, in manufacturing, the collaboration between human operators and AI-controlled machinery enhances precision and adaptability. Engineers oversee and guide the AI systems, ensuring that they align with the broader goals of production while leveraging the efficiency and speed of automation.

As AI takes on routine and repetitive tasks, engineers are free to focus on higher-level problem-solving, innovation, and strategic decision-making. This shift in roles empowers engineers to engage in other aspects of their work that demand their attention, driving continuous improvement and pushing the boundaries of what is achievable in engineering.

Finally, as AI begins to offload day-to-day tasks, it will shape the recruitment process and the skills required to work in a more modern construction company. For instance, AI will need to be added as a course for civil engineering apprenticeships so that the next generation of talent know how to use it and also how it can streamline their workload so they can focus on practical projects.

The power of AI cannot be underestimated, and with careful integration and an understanding of how its technology can be used, the sector can get stronger and remove the anxieties that have been felt.

Combining human talent and skill with intelligent technology will give our infrastructure a better chance of evolving and lasting to serve the needs of every generation. AI is not a replacement, but a helping hand and if we want a sustainable and innovative future, we must embrace it.

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