Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Concrete without Cement: Creative Usage of Other Materials in Concrete

Hello, I hope everyone is doing well. There isn’t anything new going on with me – just the usual stuff.  I am finally making progress on the graduation paperwork which is good.  It would be nice to officially finish my school stuff.  Today I want to talk to you about an article I read about a structure made with concrete mix that doesn’t use cement.

This is the link to the article:

The building being discussed is the Global Change Institute (GCI) building for the University of Queensland.  In trying to achieve better sustainability, Hassel in collaboration Bligh Tanner, Arup, and Medland Metropolis has used a what they call a geopolymer precast concrete which replaces cement with fly ash.  The brand name for this mixture is called Earth Friendly Concrete (EFC) and was applied in 33 precast floor beams of the GCI building.  The mixture is comprised of sand, aggregate, and a binder containing blast furnace slag and fly ash.  The removal of cement greatly reduces the carbon dioxide emissions in the creation of the concrete as a whole.  In order to further increase their sustainability, hydroponic pipes were added to the floor beams as well to improve low energy and passive cooling modes.  Bligh Tanner’s director believes this will improve the carbon emissions created by the cement production, estimated to currently be 8% of the carbon emission in construction projects.  Before this, EFC has only been used in low level applications such as ground bearing pavements and masonry blocks.  The concrete also has faster curing times which decreases production and construction costs as well.  The different chemistry also has the following benefits: low shrinkage, low heat of reaction (reduces thermal cracks), 30% higher flexural tensile strength, and higher durability.

This sounds like a good innovation in concrete design in regards to carbon emission reduction.  Blast furnace slag and fly ash have been used a long time in the creation of concrete to improve cost and production efficiency since the most difficult material to create for concrete is cement.  Along with that, there is the benefit of making use of waste from steel production plants and coal fire power plants.  However, I worry about the lack of history with the usage of this material.  Over the lifetime of the structure, we don’t know how well the binder will hold up.  Also, there might be other issues with chemical reactions over time due to elements in nature.  It has taken lots of studies and years of observations with regular concrete to discover and address the chemical issues such as salt.  Upon further research, I have also read that concrete mixtures with fly ash has been shown to have higher occurrences of sulfate degradation.  In light of these unknowns, caution should be used in my opinion.

What is your opinion on this new concrete mixture? Have you heard or read about anything else like the innovations mentioned above?  I am also rusty on my chemistry in regards to concrete, is there anything else that needs to be considered in analyzing the possible chemical degradation issues? Thank you for your time and have a good week!


Engineer or Designer or something else: How can we best clarify these job titles?

Hello everyone, I hope y’all are doing well. Sorry about the delay in getting this blog post out.  I was on a road trip this previous weekend to visit Texas A&M and go to an Aggie for the first time since I graduated.  It was fun but I’ve been slow to get back to work.  Today, I want to discuss concerns that a recent article I read brought in regards to the over usage of the terms related to engineer and designer.

Here is a link to the article:

The article opens with an interesting question: Is the job title of “engineer” over used?  For example, the article opens with a quote from a race car engineer who complains that people will then ask him if that means he is a race car mechanic.  I get the same type of thing when I say that I am a civil engineer – people will then ask if I build houses.  The article also mentions that example.  This brings up an interesting line of thought.  How should we clarify the difference?  Because this confusion, while seemingly semantic, should be fixable.  The article recommends creating a new title for our position of engineering.  However, I don’t think that’s needed – we have terms to indicate different levels of expertise.  The article also highlights the confusion with relation to designer as well by providing the example of a hair stylist, hair designer, and hair engineer being the same position.  While quite humorous, I think designer actually fits in regards to that.  To me, a designer has knowledge and skills that allows him to make an overall decision on a process.  However, a designer does not go through and run the technical studies himself – especially on hair styling.

It is my opinion that the issue is not that the term engineer and designer is used – it is that it needs to be used more accurately.  And the distinction needs to be made carefully – for example, a designer may have and use the technical skills of an engineering skill set, but if he’s not actively applying it in the position it would be misleading.  However, if the position involves using the technical skills on a regular basis, even if there is a lot of management or oversight involved, putting engineer in the title would be accurate.  That and I also think that job position marketers need to not be afraid of putting builder or construction worker in a job title.  I know plenty of people who have those blue collar jobs and are probably smarter in that field of practice than I could ever hope to be.

What are your opinions on the job titles of designer and engineer?  How do you think we could best fix the issues in regards to the confusion with the job titles?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Personal Book Recommendations for Engineers

Hello everyone.  I hope y’all have been doing well.  Nothing new has happened with me – I’m still just looking for work and trying to keep up with my engineering skills.  I will start substitute teaching again, but it’s only going to be a day job.  Today, I want to take a break from writing about engineering topics to share some books that I would recommend reading.  They will focus on career and also some personal finance; along with that, they will vary from history/documentary type narratives to lighter, anecdotal narratives.

Books for Engineering/Business

These are books that apply to engineering or teach lessons that can applied in the practice of engineering.

“Don’t Throw This Away! The Civil Engineering Life” by Brian Brenner, PE

This is a book that most civil engineers would enjoy.  It’s pretty much all stories of the authors experience as a civil engineer.  There is a fun aspect to the book which makes it a very enjoyable read.  It also does a good job of have a relevant moral to each story.  Some morals are just a humorous observation of the engineering practice and some pertain to practical lessons he has learned.  It manages to strike a good balance between educational, informative, anecdotal, and fun.

“The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World” by Daniel Yergin

This book is the opposite of the previous in tone, writing style and length.  This will be slow read and at times very dry.  However, if I were to recommend a book that could answer almost any current question on energy sources and production this would be it.  It pretty much is a history and analysis with a bit of trend prediction for all areas of the energy sector; be warned – it can feel monotonous at times.  However, my recommendation is that you break it up into pieces – that’s how I did it.  By the end, you should have a basic picture of how the energy sector works, why that is, and the likely future of the market.  As a civil engineer, I am glad I have read this book and have that knowledge because I feel like it affects our industry a lot.

“Standout” and “Go Put Your Strengths to Work” by Marcus Buckingham

These two books are recommended for different reasons.  I grouped them together because they are written by the same author and essentially complete the same goal – find your ideal job and position within a company.  And I recommend you read both because they address different aspects of finding the right position.  The first one called “Standout” is much shorter than the second and focuses on the role within your specific position you would be best at.  For example, my standout traits are stimulator, advisor, and innovator; this means that what ever I feel called to do I like being the resident expert that stimulates thoughts and ideas and my preference is to always breaking new ground or trying something new.  And then there is “Go Put Your Strengths to Work” which focuses on skills.  So my skills are that I am good at analytically thinking through a problem and coming up with a practical solution – not surprising, engineer lol.  These two combined should help you find the skills you are good at doing along with the role you like to fill in applying those skills.  There are others he has written too but I haven’t read them.  Based on these two, it probably wouldn’t be a complete waste of time but I can tell you for a fact that I found these two very beneficial.

“Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design” by Henry Petroski

This is a book that outlines several basic examples of how design is improved through the correction of failures.  It starts kind of slow but once you get past the first couple of chapters it picks up.  It doesn’t try and advertise itself as a book that makes some epic or life changing assertions.  However, it does a good job of showing some examples of how you can improve a design after analyzing a failure and the similar lessons that you can apply in regards to preventing failure before it happens.

“Crush It: Why Now is the Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion” and “The Thank You Ecoonomy” by Gary Vaynerchuck

I recommend both of these books because they will teach you how to use social media to build your personal, company, and apply hometown style customer service principals.  From the initial perspective of the civil engineering practice it may seem like these concepts may not be applicable. However, if you look at engineering entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, it seems like there ways these concepts can be applied.  And not only that, his energetic personality comes through when he tells his stories and describes the takeaway message which makes it a fun read.

Books for Finance:

These aren’t engineering or business books; however, these are some recommendations for money management which is knowledge everyone should have in my opinion.

“Million Dollar Portfolio” by the Motley Fool

I recommend this book because it teaches you how to pick stocks and maintain a solid portfolio.  This does have one glaring hole in that it doesn’t talk about mutual funds, but the techniques it explains for picking stocks and managing a stock portfolio can be applied to mutual funds.  I don’t recommend using this as your only source if you’re investing on your own; however, it will educate you on the basic principles an investment advisor would discuss with you.

Any decent book on personal and estate finance

I don’t have specific book to recommend on this.  I read a book that my friend had on this but can’t remember the name.  It covered the basics of a stock portfolio, money saving rule of thumbs, and the different types of wills/trusts.  The reason I recommend this is that having this knowledge when it comes time to plan for your future finances and estates will help a lot.  That way, when it comes time to start discussing personal finance and plan for your future with your advisor, you can understand what he is trying to achieve and the financial mechanisms involved.

Those are some of my recommendations.  Have you read any of these books and what are your thoughts? Also, are there any books that you think should be added to this list?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

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