Digital-Mechanical Engineers & 'Nex-Gen' Engineering

One interesting aspect of the General Electric Report issued late in November 2012,
"Industrial Internet: Pushing the Boundaries of Minds and Machines, " is the concepts and issues it raises with what it calls "nex-gen engineering" and "digital mechanical engineers."

The report concludes that in order for Internet-connected machines to produce substantial efficiency and productivity gains, there are sets of job categories needed to drive growth and help us realize the benefits.

The first category is "digital-mechanical engineers," which underscores the continuing and growing need for a variety of crosscutting roles that blend traditional engineering disciplines such as mechanical engineering, with information and computing competencies. As someone involved in Automation & Control for most of my career, it seems to some degree like we've been on this path for quite a long time.

Certainly, the microprocessor has enabled all types of new intelligent factory devices and systems, and the role of the mechanical engineer who embraces digital technology has been pivotal in creating mechatronic solutions of all types.

I like the diagram in the report, above, that shows the applications of the Industrial Internet because it shows how the digital world (intelligent devices, systems, and decision making) can ultimately produce giant benefits in terms of optimization (networks, fleets, facilities, and assets) in the industrial world.

Part of me thinks that a lot of what the report is talking about has already happened. But I guess I can understand the evolving role of the new generation of digital-mechanical engineers when the report says their role is "making sense of the rivers of data that can be generated by intelligent devices... one of the key components of the Industrial Internet."

That certainly seems to be the problem in my mind, and the next job category, called Data Scientists, seems to be the missing piece of the puzzle. This group will create the analytics, platforms and algorithms, software, and cyber security solutions that use statistics, data engineering, pattern recognition and learning, advanced computing, uncertainty modeling, data management, and visualization.

Creating intelligent devices and systems is something we know how to do now. It seems to me that intelligent decision-making taken to another level -- enabled by the ability to collect, analyze, and act on data -- is the way to make major steps forward in managing our industrial plant resources.

The report does point out that the full power of the Industrial Internet will be realized when the third element, what they call "Intelligent Decisioning," is added to the mix. It makes sense to me that when enough information has been gathered from intelligent devices and systems to facilitate data-driven learning, a subset of machine and network-level operational functions can be transferred from operators to secure digital systems. And I can see where this level of automation and control could definitely create much higher levels of productivity and optimized use of resources.

If you haven't looked at the report, I think it's a worthy read. It points out how digital-mechanical engineers, the audience of Design News, are a vital part of these future developments.

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