Understandably—and with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recent climate change report looming—many teams are looking to create sustainable engineering projects, reduce environmental impact, and vastly improve operational efficiencies. At the same time, the civil engineering and development world faces a wave of challenges and complexities associated with cost, time investments, material shortages, and carbon emissions.

The hope is that new-age solutions or technologies can help deal with these challenges, often in the form of innovative digital engineering tools. Can or will digital engineering actually help?

How Digital Engineering Changes the Game
Digital engineering involves the use of data-driven technologies to improve projects. Digital engineering tools help achieve that by creating, collecting, integrating, and processing data.

A 3D-modeling application that allows engineers to create and design in a virtual space is a rudimentary example of digital tools at work. Some other examples include BIM, or building information modeling, robots and autonomous equipment, sensor or tracking-based technologies, and so on.

They are revolutionizing the world of civil engineering and development. That’s because the data helps produce much more powerful processes, with unique collaboration opportunities, contextually driven insights, and access to incredible technologies such as AI or machine learning.

Traditionally, civil engineers face many constraints throughout the scope of a project, from planning and design to on-site operations. Digital engineering tools empower them like never before. Spending on digital engineering alone will account for 37% of the total engineering research and development market by 2023.

Faster Time to Market
It’s no secret that digital technologies, and unlocking access to vast troves of useful data and insights, help speed up operations. Digital blueprints, for example, once created, can be shared instantly with involved parties, and they can also be modified in real-time using online collaboration tools, or merely by passing the digital files back and forth. There’s no need to sync up in-person, at least not as often, which is also important in an increasingly remote world.

But rich data analysis, from machine learning and neural network solutions, can also unlock hidden insights and provide new perspectives on various projects. Ultimately, it translates to rapid and more efficient dealings with a much faster time to market for the overall project.

Meeting Challenges Head On
Just imagine for a moment the many challenges that civil engineers, developers, architects, project managers, and developers face. Essentially, they are being attacked from all angles, not just trying to create a workable solution, but also facing various design and build challenges, meeting carbon net-zero targets, reducing resource consumption, and so on. There isn’t always a clear answer to most of these problems, either, which requires thinking outside the box and coming up with sometimes unorthodox solutions.

That’s precisely where digital engineering tools come into play. They can help track assets and performance insights, measure project or development progress, facilitate remote and digital communications, and much more.

True-to-Life Visualizations
The best civil engineers, designers, and developers have always been skilled at visualizing projects. But thanks to digital engineering tools, that has changed irrevocably. Modeling and predictive programs can help create a true-to-life depiction of structures, builds, and other components. Virtual reality and augmented reality can help take those digital depictions and overlay them in the real world through wearable devices, similar to Google Glass.

What’s more, this can seriously improve efficiency and sustainability by helping to identify and remedy potential problems, as they arise. Maybe one part of the design needs to be modified to accommodate the site terrain. Or, perhaps the visual representation reveals a design flaw or shows something that’s not going to work. These problems can be dealt with sooner in the operation, reducing waste, driving faster delivery times, and resulting in much more accurate and successful projects overall.

Risk Management Wins
Whether you’re talking about potential hazards at an active construction site, contractual disputes during or after a project, regulatory compliance, or even environmental problems, they’re all elements of risk management. Modern technologies can vastly improve this aspect of development in many ways, not just through data tracking but also real-time notifications and alerts, as well as by providing new and more interactive solutions.

For instance, building site managers have long used drones to survey the area before, during, and after projects, not just to improve worker safety but also to help mitigate various accidents. After a quick flyover, the live feed and the data collected during these surveys can be fed into digital applications to extract even more useful insights, which highlights the true beauty of the digital revolution. It’s all about extracting more and making more of the available data and virtual assets.

With risk management, in particular, this information can be used to improve current projects as well as future endeavors, like driving safer processes and practices on subsequent job sites.

Greater Autonomy
Construction equipment, especially heavy machinery, tends to be resource-intensive and could stand to be improved. Replacing equipment with not just electric solutions that reduce waste and carbon emissions, but also autonomous gear, can vastly improve efficiency and sustainability, as well. These technologies will be powered by digital tools, like machine learning and AI platforms that feed algorithmic operations.

Supervisors and site managers will be able to deliver commands, adjust operating times and processes, and interact with the equipment using digital platforms too, like a mobile device or proprietary tablet.

Moving Towards More Sustainable Engineering
Regardless of how you view climate change, improving sustainability and efficiency by moving towards more sustainable engineering nets a lot of benefits. It lowers environmental impacts to start, by helping to reduce waste and carbon emissions. It also improves project accuracy and productivity by speeding up and streamlining several processes, especially with the help of data-driven insights. That converts to lower operating costs, fewer material requirements, better scheduling and planning, and much more capable teams overall.

Simply put, digital engineering tools are making it all happen, revolutionizing how civil engineering and development programs are approached.