chemical plant rendering

Preparing for the 2030 Engineer

December 26, 2019
As the current decade draws to a close, many people are thinking about what the next one will bring – especially in terms of the industries we serve. Many of us at AspenTech spend a lot of time thinking about what the future holds for engineering in asset intensive industries. We think about how those industries will change and how we can adapt and evolve to meet our customers’ needs today as well as 5 to 10 years from now. 

When I was brainstorming for this blog post, I realized I have a unique perspective on what that future will look like. In 2029, if life goes according to plan, my daughter will earn her bachelor’s degree. Since a young age she has thought and acted like an engineer. She’s analytical, logical, organized and has a passion for math and science. She earned a perfect math score on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and did exceptionally well on the verbal component as well. Within the last quarter, she’s been accepted into the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth; a nonprofit dedicated to identifying and developing the talents of academically advanced pre-college students around the world. 

As my daughter enters the workforce in 2030 likely as an engineer, she will face a completely different environment and a new set of challenges from today’s engineers. She and her classmates are AspenTech’s future customers. These are the people who we think about when we imagine what 2030 looks like.    

Digital Transformation Will Be Complete

Remember all the preparation for Y2K? That’s how the engineers entering the workforce in 2030 will think of digital transformation. How many of us prepared for Y2K for months, waiting for the millennium bug to hit our systems? Oil and gas plant workers literally held their breath as the clock approached midnight, dependent on routine computer maintenance for safety checks, such as pipe pressure or radiation levels. An incorrect date would throw off these calculations and possibly put workers and nearby residents at risk. 

The millennium bug was a serious concern, as digital transformation is for today’s businesses. For tomorrow’s engineers, however, digital transformation will be their version of Y2K. They have been immersed in technology their whole lives and they expect to harness its capabilities when they enter the workforce. 

Further, the 2030 engineers won’t be doing manual calculations, not because they can’t, but because they know it’s faster to let a computer do that work. The Smart Enterprise will be a reality – AI will be deeply embedded throughout refineries, chemical plants, cars and even our household appliances. 

The digital natives who have grown up with the expectation that technology exists to make their lives easier will push the boundaries for those tools to do more. These workers will be completely at home with predictive capabilities enabling autonomous systems... which is not to say they’ll take the technology for granted and let it run the plant on its own unquestioned. They’ll be looking for ways their tools can deliver deeper insight faster, allowing them to continuously optimize designs and operations to deliver greater value to the business. I’m eager to see how we evolve AspenTech’s modeling capabilities to meet their expectations – what’s even more accurate than hybrid models? What goes deeper than examining feedstocks at the molecular level?   

Expert Collaboration Across Disciplines and Geographic Divides

Last week, my daughter and several of her classmates used Facetime to work on a science project. They’re accustomed to using technology to connect and collaborate; tools like Facetime, Dropbox and Google Drive are the norm for these students. They can all work on a paper or project at the same time, using the same information, which delivers greater alignment and accuracy... in the same vein as AspenTech’s performance engineering tools, which arm experts in each discipline with the intelligence they need to do their jobs, incorporating real-time updates as colleagues in other departments make changes.

One student works on the science project while a classmate is at soccer practice; a UK estimator for a global EPC reviews costs for a refinery project while the process and mechanical engineers in Japan have left the office for the day. The notion of concurrent conceptual engineering makes perfect sense to the engineers of 2030 – they’re already learning that way and recognize the value of shared work. 

As we close out this decade and look to what the future holds, we need to look at students like my daughter and her classmates to guide us. They won’t accept anything less than the Smart Enterprise, and they will expect the industries that AspenTech serves will leave the earth safer and greener for the next generation of engineers. Companies that embrace digital transformation today will be more technologically mature, more agile and better equipped to harness the innovative power of 2030’s engineers. As I look at AspenTech, I am confident that we are the right partner for today and for tomorrow.  
Read the white paper "Optimize Asset Design and Operations with Performance Engineering” to learn more about today’s technology.  

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