What is Engineering? + New Engg.RONJIE.COM Look

If this isn't your first time here (http://ronjie-engg.blogspot.com/), you would have noticed the new look of this website that is all about engineering, from the RONJIE.COM perspective.  What is Engineering?

I like this definition by Eric H. Brown posted in this article called "Taking Lessons From What Went Wrong."  According to the article, Brown is “a British engineer who developed aircraft during World War II and afterward taught at Imperial College London, candidly described the predicament. In a 1967 book, he called structural engineering 'the art of molding materials we do not really understand into shapes we cannot really analyze, so as to withstand forces we cannot really assess, in such a way that the public does not really suspect.'”

Unfortunately for many engineers, clients and other younger or insufficiently experienced engineers do not understand that this is what civil and structural engineering is.  There is a lot of uncertainty and what we really do is to try to quantify risks and provide the necessary actions to address these risks (i.e. in terms of the design, etc.).  But we don't really know what is going to happen.  At best, designers should follow the minimum standards or improve on them, and constructors should follow the designer's plans or improve on them.  And lastly, engineers are humans.  Yes, some have made mistakes.  Not just in the Philippines, mind you.  Guess where else.  Similarly developing countries?  Yes.  But I'll give you two more examples: Japan and the US.  The failures of the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge in the US, and many buildings and highways in Japan after the 1995 Kobe Earthquake are classic examples.  But the thing is, after designers have followed design codes and constructors have followed construction plans, such codes and construction quality measures are cyclically updated because of "mistakes" of past versions.

It is also unfortunate that many engineers and non-engineers alike think that older buildings are more robust than newer ones, and therefore older design codes and construction practices are better than newer ones.  In this sense, many of our non-engineer or inexperienced engineer clients appear to be concerned about structural safety.  Of course not; their bottomline is still their bottomline: structural economy.

I tell you, this "old is better than new" is like saying using preservatives is better than using the refrigerator.  Yes, in some sense, some older codes would tend to result in stronger but more fortress-like structures.  But nowadays when cash and land seems more scarce, no one wants to build fortresses.  Design philosophies today are very different from yesteryear's.  And for good reason.

Anyway, it is a fact of life that some will convincingly and confidently pretend they know engineering (or other things) very well, both engineers and non-engineers alike, sometimes even using their age (and therefore their perceived maturity) as reason, but no.  Please.  Leave it to the experts.

This goes as well to you engineers who have not any intensive training and exposure in specialist matters.  I have met many "experienced" civil engineers who have practiced structural engineering for many, many years, and yet they don't know the basics of finite element analysis (and therefore cannot make proper interpretations of finite element analysis software such as ETABS, and so on), structural dynamics, earthquake engineering, wind engineering, and so on.  These "experienced" engineers are also reluctant to learn about these specialist things.  Once I gave a lecture on wind engineering and not one engineer older than 30 years old attended.  These "specialist" matters after all are generally not taught in undergraduate civil engineering.  Still, not because you are of age and have 10 or 20 years of experience in structural engineering, that automatically means you know a lot in these specialist fields.  It depends actually on what level of expertise your own previous mentors had.  Leadership in the engineering field though remains as a separate, future article here.

Lastly, it is unfortunate that it is pride and again money that is the reason why these "experienced" engineers do not get specialist engineers.  "Why should I pay him something that (I think) I can do?"  Worse, there is always a mentality of "I'm better than the other Pinoy" that persists, so they would get foreign consultants although not yet really scouring through the pool of local consultants.

God bless all Filipinos when the next big earthquake comes.


john dela cruz said...

Hi, I am a "young" engineer practicing structural engineering. I would like to ask why, As i have observed, engineers in our country use the AISC code to design LC members (cold formed light gage steel). Our NSCP code for steel is purely based on AISC but most structural engineers here use this to design Cold formed shapes (mostly LC for purlins or girt). design of LC is suppose to be done under AISI code. Although the AISI and AISC have almost the same factor of safety for bending using ASD, the AISI code has more reduction factors for sectional properties, unlike the AISC code. I don't know if they are not aware of this or its just simply inconvenient to find a copy of the AISI code so they just use the AISC code (which the code we use for steel in our NSCP 2001). Please correct me if I am wrong regarding this.

ALso i have also noticed that some designers does not check the other requiremenet for SMRF(concrete) which is required as a special provision for seismic requirement. most of what i have seen is that they only check it for the basic stress requirement. If we do not satisfy the special provision requirement the structure will not achieve its required ductility, thus resulting to non compliance of the NSCP code.

Lastly, I don't know if the gov't people who issues building permit reviews the structural calculation of the engineer prior to issuance of building permit. because i have seen some calc. which is errorneous and yet a building permit is still issued for the project. indeed strucutral engineering practice has a long way to go for improvement in our country

Ronjie Aquino said...

Hi, I will reply to your comment via a new blog post. Stay tuned.