Technology is radically altering civil engineering as we know it. The greatest changes are in areas like public works and construction, since they are under such pressure to do more with less. Anything that allows them to use resources more efficiently or avoid mistakes is quickly adopted. Here are six ways technology is transforming civil engineering as we know it. We’ll also explain why these technologies are having such an impact.

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Geographic Information Systems

Geographic information systems, or GIS, allows engineers to capture and analyze special data. This can be presented in complex geographical maps or specific layers. For example, you can compare the location of buried gas, water and sewer pipes relative to the proposed location of a new building or simply review the layout of sewer pipes in the area. You can see problems like utility connections that will not connect based on the current blueprints.

GIS can include a wide variety of data from population density at various times of day, to traffic flow, to the underground water table. You can compare the impact of flooding on current and future city layouts, and you can see the changes in the function of the city through the day. This is useful in determining the best locations for new roads and bridges.

GIS data comes from a variety of sources. It includes satellites, spreadsheets and IoT. They can take any source of data, make an interactive map out of it, and integrate it with other maps. This allows organizations to get advanced 3D maps of existing geological features, whether allowing them to track soil erosion or plant growth over an area without having to set foot there.

GIS, especially in conjunction with remote sensing, is crucial to watershed analysis. It can track earth changes that threaten lakes or pollution as it spreads. GIS is used in environmental impact studies that truly take every detail into account.

GIS is heavily utilized during and after disasters. What areas are flooding? What would be the best place to build a levee? Where is the water rising so quickly that the surrounding areas need to be evacuated? GIS is used to provide a quick structural analysis after an earthquake. It can help engineers compare pre-disaster and post-disaster images to determine what buildings are the most damaged and which ones are still habitable.

Plan to Operate Systems

Plan to Operate, or P2O, refers to tools that allow you to access all of the data and systems involved in the planning, design, building, commission and operating domains. It breaks down the silos that traditionally kept those in one domain separate from the others.

The Plan to Operate model makes it easier to engage in predictive maintenance, run things with condition-based service management, and have continuous commissioning. You can tap into mobile users’ data and reporting to determine where broken equipment is and dispatch someone to repair it while ordering the necessary replacement parts. Service levels are higher, and you achieve this with a lower overall price tag.

All of this integrates with GPS and sensors so you can track where your maintenance team is located, where major pieces of equipment are located, and the total inventory at any moment. This reduces the odds of theft as well as items lost. You can integrate customer data from Wi-Fi phones to determine where people are and what assets they utilize so that you can optimize your resource allocation.

Increased Automation in Construction

Automation is affecting construction in a variety of ways. A growing share of components are being manufactured in factories and then delivered to the build site. This lowers overall construction costs while allowing them to leverage economies of scale. This is especially common in high-density urban environments where building on site is difficult. 3D printing is being used on a tentative basis to make precast concrete panels. Recently, a 3D printed metal footbridge was constructed in Amsterdam. This will soon lead to 3D printing as just another part of the construction process.

Construction machinery is increasingly using 3D machine guidance and GPS to determine their path. We are also seeing drones used to get a true birds’ eye view of the site and inspect the status of work without having to travel to the site. UAVs or drones can improve worker safety, too. For example, you can check a communication tower for damage after a lightning strike without having to send one up there to look at it.

Online Education

We have had online programs for quite some time, but they were only seen as suitable for a narrow set of disciplines at first. Advances in technology have made it possible for engineering students to enjoy the same quality education in these math and science intensive courses as they would receive in the classroom. Online programs allow people to gain a quality education in whatever field they choose, and they can do so on their time, often at a much lower cost. The Michigan Technological University civil engineering degree online, for example, is 100 percent online and nationally recognized. It is probably a better choice than earning an MBA or master’s in engineering at the state school closest to you.

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things refers to the increasing intelligence of devices that report data back to central controllers. This may be your smart thermostat tracking how much energy you use and adjusting the thermal profile of your home to get your electric bill as low as possible. It includes power, water and gas meters reporting flow to the utility so that they have real time information. Then they can make decisions based on real-time demand and identify problems as quickly as possible. For example, one project is helping plumbers record leaks in real time while determining their location so that they can be fixed. This helps utilities minimize water waste, and that in turn eliminates the need to come up with new water supplies.

Several key technologies are radically transforming civil engineering as we know it because they dramatically lower costs, speed up work, or reduce the error rate. They can improve public safety and speed up response times to disasters as well.