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The Impact of Mechanical Engineering on Emerging Technologies

The Impact of Mechanical Engineering on Emerging Technologies

menn working on giant machine

The latest advancements in generative artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have given rise to speculations about how they will transform the future. Although there’s no doubt that AI is reshaping much of our world, there are equally transformative developments occurring in the field of mechanical engineering, many in conjunction with emerging and new technologies. The mechanical engineering industry has long been at the forefront of technological progress and it continues to have a far-reaching impact.1

This article will outline the impact of mechanical engineering on today’s emerging technologies, including the development of new products, advanced materials and manufacturing processes, and the integration of technology.

Designing With Advanced Materials

Advanced materials such as high-strength alloys, composite materials and smart materials have pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in manufacturing. They have unique characteristics—improved strength, conductivity, flexibility or temperature resistance, for example—that give engineers the ability to develop new products that are more durable, efficient or lightweight than older products. Mechanical engineers have used advanced materials to create innovative machinery such as lighter, stronger aircraft and more crash-resistant cars.2

Robotics, Automation and AI

Many of the advancements in automation and AI can only come to fruition through mechanical engineering. As a mechanical engineer, you are fundamental to the design and construction of robotics systems—involved in developing the structural framework; mobility solutions, such as wheels and joints; and actuation mechanisms, such as motors and hydraulics. The complex challenge often lies in creating robots that are both durable and flexible, capable of performing various tasks while operating in disparate environments.3

In your mechanical engineering career, you may incorporate sensor technology into robotics and automated systems. Sensors allow robots to interact with their environment and humans, which is essential to their effectiveness and operational efficiency in performing tasks such as moving warehouse inventory or cleaning up toxic waste. Together, mechanical engineering, robotics, automation and AI can redelegate labor-intensive, repetitive tasks that are too hazardous for humans.3

Renewable Energy and Sustainability

The mechanical engineering world is creating remarkable new developments in renewable energy and sustainability, as engineers design and improve elements such as hydroelectric dams, solar panels and wind turbines. These innovative solutions can help reduce environmental pollution by minimizing waste and harmful byproducts. The expansion of renewable energy infrastructure optimizes the reliability and efficiency of these systems, allowing them to be implemented in resource-poor areas where they’re often needed the most.4

Another area in which mechanical engineering is advancing sustainability is in green transportation models. Fuel-efficient vehicles and those that use alternative energy sources such as electric and hybrid engines can make a significant impact by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation industry.4

Biomechanics and Medical Devices

Biomedical engineering combines mechanical engineering principles and a deep understanding of biological processes. Mechanical engineers apply fundamental engineering principles, such as fluid dynamics, material science and thermodynamics to their work for the healthcare industry, creating prostheses, implants and other medical devices.5

The mechanical engineering industry is instrumental in developing and optimizing new drug-delivery systems for precise administration and advanced imaging technology such as MRIs and CT scans. Future developments in biomechanics and medical devices may include customized solutions, such as targeted medication delivery, real-time diagnostics and biocompatible materials.5

Aerospace and Space Exploration

Mechanical engineering plays a fundamental and multifaceted role in aerospace and space exploration, including the design, development, testing and improvement of aircraft, spacecraft and related systems. When designing spacecraft, mechanical engineers consider factors such as the vacuum of space, extreme temperature variations and the need to minimize weight while maximizing strength and functionality.6

They draw on their technical expertise to design propulsion systems for space travel, including rockets and propulsion methods for interplanetary travel and habitable systems that control temperature, pressure and air composition, all of which are essential for crewed space missions.6

Smart Devices and the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT)—a network of interrelated devices, typically embedded with technology such as sensors and software, that connect and exchange data with other IoT devices and the cloud7—is ushering in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co., the Fourth Industrial Revolution involves the digitization of the manufacturing process, largely driven by the connectivity and data analytics made possible by smart devices.8

Smart devices rely on firmware, a type of software that helps the hardware function, which is often devised by software engineers. However, firmware is implanted in structural frameworks, such as home security cameras and smart dishwashers, that are designed using mechanical engineering principles. Smart devices may need to withstand harsh conditions, including high temperatures and humidity and continuously operate without much outside intervention or support. Mechanical engineers design these rugged systems that provide the framework for connected devices that collect and transmit data.9

Ethical Considerations

Mechanical engineering is a well-established field and ethical considerations within it, particularly related to public safety, have long been a concern. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has adopted a code of ethics that requires engineers to:10

  • Prioritize the health, welfare and safety of the public
  • Only perform services in their area of expertise
  • Engage in professional development for themselves and the engineers under their supervision
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Respect the intellectual property rights of others
  • Consider the environmental impact and sustainability of their work

Mechanical engineers must also be concerned with the complex ethical considerations of products they contribute to in emerging fields, such as biomedical engineering and artificial intelligence. Some ethical issues, such as data protection, are regulated by existing laws, while others, such as deception in artificial intelligence, haven’t been addressed by current laws. Laws will likely be passed in the near future to deal with some of these concerns, but in the meantime, frameworks such as the UNESCO Ethics of Artificial Intelligence can provide guidance.11

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