Industry 4.0 is blurring the boundaries between our physical, digital and biological worlds. A leading expert explains how systems engineering will be crucial to the way we approach work in the coming decades.
Systems engineering is a transdisciplinary and integrative approach that helps to identify a problem based on stakeholders’ needs, and develop a solution that is continually assessed until the problem is solved.
Engineers Australia’s inaugural Integrated Project Engineering Congress (IPEC) is looking at the field by bringing together leaders in risk, systems engineering, cost engineering, project controls and asset management on 27–28 May.
create sat down with Chartered engineer Kerry Lunney CPEng EngExec, Engineering Director and Chief Engineer at Thales Australia and President of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), for a preview of her presentation on complex systems solutions.
“Modern systems engineering got its origins from defence and aerospace in the 1940s and 1950s, but it’s been around since the Greeks and the Romans,” Lunney said.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting and evolving all areas of all industry — and our everyday lives. Not only that, but technology change is happening much, much faster than we’ve ever known.”
Lunney’s presentation will look at the “exciting and scary” problems engineers may face over the next 20 years, as well as some of the ideas and techniques needed to help tackle them.
“Technology has changed the way that we’re interconnected,” she said. “There’s very few things done in isolation anymore, likewise there are more and more systems and solutions being connected.
“Think of autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and data mining — all are technologies that increase connectedness and interdependencies.”
It all comes down to data
Managing technology and data will be a key theme. Take, for example, the estimated 127 new devices connect to the internet every second (and this is considered a conservative estimate). The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the Internet of Things (IoT) could have an annual economic impact of US$3.9 trillion to US$11.1 trillion by 2025.
“In my mind, the digital engineering transformation is an evolution not a revolution,” Lunney said.
“Technology is changing everything, and therefore our means of handling technology must change as well. But this doesn’t mean we throw out the old ways of engineering. Rather, we need to be thinking about how we can adapt or adopt, or park it, and add some new technique, application or methodology under a particular scenario.”
Another key issue that Lunney believes engineers have to grapple with is not only the range of data, but the quality of this data.
“There’s so much information and misinformation, and politics, not to mention opinions and media that all get in the way,” she said.
“We also need to think about how we handle information that is trusted, and filter the misinformation. There’s information and there’s misinformation, and we need to know which is which, acting on that which is the source of truth.”
Lunney hopes that the engineering profession and the wider community will come to embrace systems thinking to navigate the changes in our world.
“Ultimately, I want people to learn to think twice before they jump into a solution, and look at all of their options and alternatives through a systems thinking approach,” she said.
“Before we make a decision, we need to try and keep our options going as long as we can. Of course, it’s easier said than done when we’re up against time limits, resource limits and budget constraints, to name a few.
“But if we keep these alternatives open as long as possible, we’re going to get a stronger and better system solution as the final product.”