Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the category “Construction”

Four Basic Steps to Determine if your Shingle Roof Has Been Damaged by a Hail Storm

Hello everyone, I hope your weekend went well.  I went to see the new Bond movie with my brother Friday and last night I went to a west coast swing dancing class and social event.  Other than that, I’ve been doing my usual stuff like working out and my job inspecting buildings.  Today, I’ve decided to write a blog post explaining four basic steps to determine whether a composition shingle roof has been damaged by a hail storm and quantify the extent of damages.  I’ve avoided this topic for two reasons: one is that there is a lot of information out there about this already, and the second is that it takes some prior experience to make an accurate assessment.  However, it is one major component of my job and I feel like I can provide some practical information that will help you should you need it.

1) Look for spatter marks on surrounding surfaces (http://goo.gl/COQH3i)

Spatter marks serve as a indicator of the size and direction of the recent hail.  The size of the spatter can be compared to the impact marks elsewhere to determine the extent of recent damage.  The directionality can be determined as well by figuring out which directional faces have or do not have spatter.  In addition, spatter will fade over time – this can differentiate between different ages of spatter marks within a recent time period in most cases.

2) Look for impact marks at susceptible surfaces (http://goo.gl/m15Wmc)

Impact marks can also be observed on some metal and wood surfaces.  Air-conditioning units are a good indicator due to the fact that they have 4 sides and metal/coil fins that are either soft or oxidized.  Spatter can be observed as mentioned before, as well as indentations.  Furthermore, the indentations can be examined to check for soiling, oxidation, or other forms of staining to determine the relative age of the older indentations.

3) Look at the general condition of the roof (http://goo.gl/7p5Yul)

The general condition of the roof will also affect the extent of hail damage.  Examples of other things that damage shingles aside from hail are general weathering, mechanical scrapes, blistered asphalt, and raised nails.  A roof with a worse general condition will be more susceptible to damage and could reduce the compensation should you involve the insurance company, similar in practice to automobile insurance compensation.

4) Look for hail impact marks and examine their condition/quantity (http://goo.gl/2nguV8)

The last step is to look for hail impact marks on the shingles.  Sometimes a relative age can be determined by checking for weathering of the reinforcement or asphalt within the exposed asphalt/shingle reinforcement.  To quantify the extent of damage, you can count the number of recent and/or old hail impact marks, as well as other general conditions if desired, withing a 10′ x 10′ square.  This is referred to as a test square by engineers and inspectors in the roofing business and is helpful information when estimating the cost of various types of repairs.

These 4 steps are the basic process I use to determine the extent of damage to a shingle roof.  Does anyone else have experience in roof inspections?  If so, what would you add to this list as a basic procedure?  For homeowners, have you had to deal with an issue like this before and how was the experience?  If you enjoyed my post, hit the like button, follow my blog for updates and share this post with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Image source

http://goo.gl/1MbnTT

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Incorporating Engineering into Government to Improve National Programs

Hello everyone, I hope y’all have been doing well.  Today I would like discuss ways to improve our country by involving engineers and engineering concepts in the management of our national systems.  I have narrowed it down what I believe to be the 5 basic ideas.  As a reference, I have used data and assertions made by Evan Twarog in an article describing the role technocracy in China.

1) Become more technocratic in regards to politics

Data shows that the government is mostly run by engineers in China and in the government in the US is mostly run by lawyers.  In addition, Chinese people believe that knowledgeable elite should run the government which led to a technocracy being a part of the political system.  Based on the way government seems to operate in the US, I could see a shift towards the concept technocracy being beneficial for the U.S. as well.  Especially considering some of the issues that confront us, such the deterioration of the infrastructure, climate change, drought in various areas through out the country, and the production of energy in regards oil, wind, solar, etc.  A technocracy provides the critical knowledge and skill sets to properly deal with these issues.

2) Any problem can be solved with an engineering mindset

Engineers have a unique skill set that allows them to solve problems through a standard process.  On a personal level, I apply this mindset to difficult decisions in my life.  I bet you a lot of engineers say the same thing.  I don’t know about them but it works well for me.  And when considering the successes and failures of both China and the U.S., a correlation between the application of technology and the engineering mindset can be observed.  A good example of that in the U.S. is the space program and national arms race in general.  It is this correlation that leads to believe that the engineering problem solving mindset would be a good framework to apply to struggling government processes and programs.

3) An education in a technological field is more respected by society

For years, the culture in China has valued being technologically informed.  This means that changes in the direction of the country are more easily understood and communicated to the masses.  This is not to say there aren’t people capable of doing that here in the U.S., but there still seems to be a large portion of the political system that caters to the lowest common denominator instead of embracing the intelligence of the U.S. population.

4) Some projects need support from the government to succeed

A lot of the great engineering accomplishments require a large amount resources to back them up.  There are very few people and companies that can fully implement these systems.  This means that if there is some technology or engineering program that would improve our country and it is sufficiently large enough that it would be difficult for private organizations, government should not be afraid to step in and help.  If applied with an engineering problem solving mindset and backed by an informed public, these projects should benefit the country overall.

5) Export your technology for economic profit

This is where the practicality of investing money in solving these problems is realized.  In a perfect world, providing infrastructure and services to improve the lives of people is enough.  But government cannot be expected keeping doing so if it cannot be maintained as far as resources are concerned.  This means that sharing the technology nets the government money which can be used to further improve in other areas.  Business concepts like public-private partnerships were designed to improve profits and gains for the country through the development of these infrastructure and service ideas.  If we can keep this end goal in mind, it can ensure that all government systems improve the country socially and economically.

What is your opinion on these 5 concepts?  Is there anything you would add or take away and why?  If you enjoyed reading the blog post, be sure to like the post and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Source

“The Three Gorges Dam, Why China is Run by Engineers”, Twarog, Evan, Atomic Insights, April 13, 2015, http://goo.gl/sZf3Zn

3-D Printed Buildings Elements Created from Building Construction Waste

b4

     Hello everyone, I hope y’all have been doing well.  Today I would like to talk about an improved application of 3D in building construction.  For a while now, 3-D printing has been applied to building construction on a smaller scale.  However, the large portion of the structure has still been constructed using conventional methods.  Experts in various fields of building design and construction have been researching applications that expand the usage of 3-D printing in building construction.  This is an area of building construction expertise in which China has recently lead the global market according to Brittney Stevenson.

In April 2014, WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. revealed that 10 homes were constructed entirely out of a 3-D printed, recycled concrete material – an advancement that surprised the engineering and construction community.  In January 2015, it was revealed that WinSun had made further advancements in the applications of this 3-D printed material.  A 6-story apartment building and home has been constructed and the apartment building itself has an approximately 1,100 square meter floor plan.

The 3-D printed elements were created by inputing a CAD file into a 20′ tall, 33′ ft wide, and 132′ foot long machine printed using a concrete mixture.  The concrete mixture includes concrete, fiberglass, sand and a hardening agent.  The usage of this material allows for improved reusage of general construction waste while also being flexible, self-insulating and resistant to earthquakes.  Reinforcement was used where further strength was required and some of the larger pieces were built off site and transported there.  Details of the of building construction process are listed in the article.  According to WinSun, they are able to save 60% of the materials required for home construction, construct the building in 30% less time than traditional construction and reduce the required labor by 80%.

These are impressive results if true.  I still wonder about the expense of owning and maintaining the machine might be a hindrance at first. And I would hope the cost of collecting the construction waste and creating the concrete mixture is included in those statistics.  I think this is a good innovation, especially for low rise buildings since the loads and stresses are lower (although I believe a 6 story building is pushing the limits of standard low rise construction).  I would be interested to see how the material ages in regards to long term durability as well.  Overall, there are several applications that this would be useful for in the building construction industry.

What your thoughts on 3-D printed building elements? What about the concrete mixture used?  Have you heard of any other building materials being used in relation to 3-D printing?  If you enjoyed the article, please like it and share it with your friends.  Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Source

Brittney Stevenson, “Shanghai-Based WinSun 3D Prints 6-Story Apartment Building and an Incredible Home”, 3D Printer & 3D Printing News, January 18, 2015, http://goo.gl/TwVSKC

What does it truly mean to be an expert?

Hello everyone! I hope y’all had a good week.  Today I just wanted to share a quote I read online that describes what it means to be an expert in a field of study.  The quote is from Pablo Picasso: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Pablo Picasso is well known for his abstract art that was definitely considering breaking the rules at the time.  Yet he was a legitimately good artist, which means he was technically a professional painter.  It initially seems like a a quote anecdotally reference to his views as an artist. However, if you dig a bit deeper into what is really beings said, it can be applied to a lot of different fields of study.  Think about a business man.  He might have some issues in selling a product.  There is probably a standard process that is followed to resolve the standard issues, but in this case it might not apply.  Therefore, by knowing the rules, he knows when is the right time to break them to achieve the results he desires.  It can be applied to engineering or science type stuff as well.  Every new break through in science and engineering occurred because some who would be considered a pro and studied in their field made a connection that hadn’t been made before.  They succeeded because they went against the norm (“broke the rules”) at the right time and discovered a way to improve a product, project or application.  So with this greater concept in mind, it becomes clear that an expert in any field of study knows not only when to follow the standard rules in a given situation, but also when those rules don’t apply and another solution needs to be found.

With that being said, I am going to leave you guys with this thought and hopefully you can implement it well in your career or life general – never get so caught up in the rules that you forget to break them when it comes time to do so.  As I have told many people before about my job, I have a lot of boring days where people wonder why I need my degree and other technical skill sets to do my job.  However, that knowledge informs me when a serious situation could come up that needs to be addressed, and I used that knowledge to prevent any further issues.  How do you guys interpret the quote?  Is there a particular story and event that describes your opinion?  If you enjoyed reading, like the post and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Image Source

“Problem-solving is the Problem”, Florian Totu, blog.opteemum.net, August 10, 2012, http://goo.gl/YNzbI4

Application of 3-D Printing and Modular Design to Construction

Hello everyone, I hope you guys had a good weekend.  Today I would like to discuss a couple innovations which apply 3-D printing and modular design innovations to construction practice.  These are applications that were more common in manufacturing and prototyping initially but can be applied to construction as well according to the article by Business Review Weekly.

The first innovation is the application of 3-D printing to the creation of moulds for precast concrete.  Traditionally, other materials such as wood, foam or rubber have been use, and constructing these moulds could take months to construct.  The Laing O’Rourke Company has developed a method that 3-D prints a large scale wax substrate mould at a rate of 150 kg/hr using a robots.  They have applied this to common projects such as stormwater pipes and have achieved cost savings of 50% to 90%.  Additionally, this solves the waste problem because the wax mould is lifted off or melted away in a water bath after the concrete is cured.  The wax can then be filtered and recycled.

The second innovation is the use of modular components in hospital construction.  Hospitals are one of the most expensive areas of infrastructure because they are individually designed.  Hickory Group has developed a modular panel for use in reception and administrative areas.  These areas use what is referred to as “accommodation components” which constitutes up to 40% of the construction cost of a hospital.  By using the modular panel, construction time can be cut by 40%.  Furthermore, the panels are easily replaceable.  If a panel is damaged, the hospital  can simply order a replacement and have their maintenance worker install the new panel.

Both of these are very good innovations in my opinion.  They are taking methods that have been proven effective in several previously tested applications and expanded their usage.  Furthermore, a reduction in time of construction and cost of maintenance/construction has been achieved.  I would be interested in seeing a more detailed account of the numbers and statistics.   However, based on the information provided, these are great examples of low risk/high reward solutions that can greatly improve construction practices.

What is your opinion on these innovations?  Do you think they’ll be effective?  If you enjoyed reading, like the post and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Sources

Michael Bleby, “BRW Most Innovative Companies 2014: Why Construction Companies Are Thinking Like Manufacturers”, Business Review Weekly, October 9, 2014, http://goo.gl/O0oD6E

Image Source

Anne-Mette Manelius, “Concrete After Dark – Is There An Afterlife for Concrete?”, Concretely, October 17, 2014, http://goo.gl/IYI6q2

Development of Transparent Concrete

litracon 1 Concrete Innovation Part 3: Design transparent inflatable Concrete Cement

Hello everyone! I hope the last couple of weeks has gone well.  I was preoccupied with a small vacation, school stuff, and having to get a new vehicle since my car was totaled.  However, I hope to get back on schedule after this.  Today, I would like to talk about a new development in concrete technology: concrete designed to be transparent.

According to the article by Giatec Scientific, the concrete mixture is modified such that 4 to 15 percent of the mix is fiber optics materials.  Ideas for transparent concrete since 1935; however, serious development had not been pursued until 2001 by Áron Losonczi for use in his architectural designs.  In 2004, production was started for other commercial usage as a type of concrete called “Litracon.”  Since then, other competitors have developed similar designs.  These products have been used with back-lighting or natural light.

I think the concept is very interesting.  It’s something I would probably enjoy working with or using in a design.  The aesthetics would be amazing to see and I like the idea that it could be used in circumstances where you need more stiffness than a big window could provide.  The situation would be similar to structures that use the glass masonry units.  There are however some issues I can see. One is when and where can it be used safely.  The article mentioned examples where it’s used in floors and floors can see a lot of loading in certain types of situations, i.e. stadiums or concert halls.  The other issue I see is behavior of over time.  Will the bonding of the cement hold up in a mixture with that much of a potential void ratio?  Even if it holds up in regards to it’s initial bonding, will the mechanical strength related properties such as creep and general durability such as cracking be reduced?  Along with that, I would imagine the aesthetics have to hold up as well.

What are your thoughts on the idea of transparent concrete?  Is it something that is practical to use in building design?  If you enjoyed the blog post, feel free to like it and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

References

Giatec Scientific, “Concrete Innovation Part 3: Design”, http://goo.gl/Ee7VBo

3 New Applications for Bamboo in Building Structures

Hello everyone! I hope everything is going well. Today I would like to talk about some potential uses for bamboo that are being incorporated into building structures.  Bamboo is most commonly used as a structural element in middle and lower income housing in China or Latin America.  It’s usage has started to expand to the eco-tourism structures as well, but is still mostly used for it’s aesthetic appeal in main stream structures.
 
Bamboo has previously not been considered useful in structural building design in comparison to other materials.  However, there are some properties that could be useful.  Bamboo is flexible, shock resistant, and more readily available in certain areas of world.  Below is a list of three applications involving bamboo that could be useful for building design in my opinion.
 
1. Wood Framing Material
The flexibility and shock resistant nature of bamboo could make it a very useful wood framing material.  There are certainly stronger and stiffer wood framing materials available on the whole.  However, depending on the accessibility and the requirements of the structure, bamboo could meet the load capacity demands.  Furthermore, methods such as the ones listed below could be applied as well.
 
2. Linking to Create a Wall
The bamboo can be linked together to create a wall.  It can be curved or straight and be equally easy to construct/build in both methods.  The solidity of the wall can be changed as well.  The article source mentions a process where the bamboo is cut in half, hooked to the next section, and then linked together.  There are plenty of creative options for creating a wall that follows this basic principal that would replace a traditional wood sheathing wall.
 
3. Concrete Reinforcement
The bamboo can be filled with concrete to increase the overall stiffness and crushing strength of the bamboo system.  The way that best describes the benefits is modern masonry – the only difference is the location of the different elements.  For masonry, the exterior part provides the stiffness and crushing resistance while the interior reinforcement provides the flexibility and tension strength.  It would be the opposite in the case of bamboo.  Using this method, the load bearing capacity of a bamboo wall, floor, or framing system could be greatly increased.
 
What is your opinion on the use of bamboo in building structures?  What is your opinion on the applications mentioned above?  Are there any other applications you can see being beneficial?  If you enjoyed the post, like it and share it with your friends.  Thank you for your time and have a good week!
 
Source
 
Ahlblad, Hannah, “Merging Bamboo and Concrete for the Emerging World”, ArchDaily, August 13, 2014, http://goo.gl/ROolCU 

5 Critical Assessment Questions for Design Safety

Hello, I hope everyone is doing well.  Work has slowed down for me a bit, but I did go on a site visit recently where our firm inspected a floor structure collapse.  The collapse reminded me of the responsibility engineers have in regards to occupant/pedestrian safety and I would like to discuss some of my thoughts about that.  In this post, I will share the 5 questions that addressed to ensure a safe design.

  

1) Would you would feel safe?
The floor collapse first reminded me of a quote (written by Michael Armstrong) that I read a long time ago.  “The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch.”  When you design something, the safety of the occupants and other pedestrians is critical; if you don’t believe that you did everything possible to safely design the structure, then it shouldn’t be considered safe for other people to use either.
 
2) Are you qualified to make the decision?
In designing a structure, it is critical to have the necessary qualifications.  This ensures that you have practiced enough engineering and gotten enough experience in the design process.  Knowledge is important; however, just knowing how to do something does not mean you can adequately design the structure and all the parties involved can stand behind your decision from a legal perspective.  The best engineers have extensive practice and repeatedly executed the design process so that they know how to analyze the design instinctively. 
 
3) Do you have enough knowledge to make the decision?

This is similar to the previous point, but this gap in knowledge can also happen to an experienced engineer.  A design can start out being in one area of focus, but shift to another very quickly.  Or the scope of the design could not be very focused at all, and as time goes on the focus gets far more detailed which requires special education.  When this happens, it is critical that you as engineer obtain this knowledge and/or get some consultation from some one who as this knowledge.  If you don’t, it leaves doubts as to whether the design will perform as desired.
 
4) Are there unique circumstances that might make this situation different?
A design could also fail due to unique circumstances that were overlooked.  For example, you may be designing a structure that has been done a million times before but is constructed differently.  Or the structure and/or area around it could be different.  Whatever it is, these unique circumstances could change what is required for a safe design.  If these unique circumstances are overlooked, a critical check in the design process could be missed.
 
5) What is at stake if you are wrong?
Different buildings are used for different purposes.  Depending on the purpose, the cost of failure could change drastically; either in terms of pedestrian safety or the usage of the building.  To ensure that the design is safe and the community is not drastically impacted by it’s failure, the consequences of being wrong needs to be considered.
 
In my opinion, these are the 5 critical questions that need to be addressed for design safety.  What questions do you think are important for design safety?  Are there any critical questions I missed?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!
 
Image Source

Benefits of Reusing Composite Shingles in Asphalt Roadway Construction

Hello everyone! I hope y’all have been doing well.  Today, I want to talk about an interesting innovation I read about the construction of O’Hare Airport. (http://goo.gl/WjI8Ek)  They collected used composite asphalt shingles and used them as part of the asphalt binder in the runway and various road type structures for the facility.  In this post, I will outline the process and the benefits.

 
The process:
Old Shingles Are Collected:
First, shingles are collected for reuse in the system.  At first, there weren’t any incentives added to motivate people to recycle used shingles.  However, some incentives have been created through different programs in various locations – all them outlined in the article.  One of them is a ban on sending large amounts of shingles to the landfill.  Another concept is an increased charge for disposing of shingles as compared to providing them for reuse.  The only exception is shingles that incorporate asbestos in their production and various limitations are discussed for reducing that risk.  Overall, the incentives seemed effective in my opinion.
 
Shingles are mixed into a pure asphalt binder:
The next step is that shingles are ground up and melted.  Once melted, this product can be added to the pure asphalt binder to increase the volume of this asphalt binder product.  At O’Hare airport, the shingles made up a 3% percent portion.  This didn’t make a huge dent in the budget but depending on the project it could reduce costs more.  Statistics and comparisons are provided in the article.
 
Asphalt is Laid Like Normal:
The asphalt binder and resulting asphalt is used like before.  As long as any differences in material properties are accounted for, the design and construction remains the same.  This results in an easy implementation on the construction and design side of the process.
 
The Benefits:
Reduced Use of Oil:
Oil is a precious commodity; anytime it’s usage is reduced, I consider it a good thing.  Along with that, it is easier to get a hold of used shingles than oil.  For both of these reasons, I consider the reduced oil usage a considerable benefit.
 
Reduced Cost:
The cost of using reused shingles is lower than using a pure asphalt binder.  Unless the scale is large, it is a minimal cost difference.  However, considering the scale of infrastructure cost these days and the amount of repairs needed, the scale is large enough that it would make a difference.
 
Reduced Waste:
These shingles, if not used in this capacity, would most likely be going to a landfill.  The lack of landfill space and shear quantity of human waste going to landfills is a current issue and reducing the amount from the housing would be a large contribution towards reducing that waste.
 
What is your opinion on the usage of this mixed asphalt binder?  Does it provide enough benefits to outweigh the cost and effort of changing the process?  Are there any noteworthy drawbacks or additional benefits not mentioned?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!
 
Sources:
Jon Hilkevitch, “Getting Around: Old Shingles Get New Life on O’Hare Runway”, Chicago Tribune News, June 30, 2014, http://goo.gl/WjI8Ek
 
Image Source:
“Why Homeowners Should Choose Asphalt Roofing Shingles Recycling”, Asphalt Roofing Shingles Recycling, October 18, 2012, http://goo.gl/u9l7cD

Design Issues for an Affordable DIY Tornado Shelter

Hello everyone. I hope y’all are doing well.  I’ve been taking some time to plan my move to the new job and be as ready as possible for the new job.  Today, I would like discuss the design of affordable DIY tornado shelters.  For reference, I will use a rough description of a study performed by Research Engineer Bob Falk of Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, WI. (http://goo.gl/qRM87t)

Tornadoes have always been a risk for people living in the midwest; and as a result, the design of wind and debri resistant structures has always been part of the house construction conversation.  There have been more technical and more resource intensive design/construction ideas discussed before.  However, the reason I chose to do a blog post using this source is because the goal is a design that can resist 250 mph winds and debri using only affordable wood and construction methods.  Additionally, the construction process is to be something that uses only basic construction skills.  I really like this concept not because this is the perfect solution, but because this is good starting point for people to be reasonably safe.  The design is constructed using interlocking timber with plywood overlay and the wood structure is connected to a concrete foundation using bolts.  The door is still designed using steel; however, Falk is researching a way to use a wood door.  The structure is currently undergoing testing using 2 x 4’s shot at 250 mph.

I believe that this would be a good design/construction process once the following issues have been addressed:

A repeatable design plan:

Whatever this design may entail, there needs to be an empirical, repeatable process that can be easily designed and built.  A good plan should include the following at minimum: door frame requirements, bolt spacing requirements along the wall, nail spacing requirements along the plywood and interlocking timber sections, timber grading requirements, concrete foundation requirements, and roof connection requirements.

Design Study of the Door and Frame:

As far as wind is concerned, one critical issue is the door and the frame around the door.  And especially after reading this article, it came to my attention because nothing is mentioned about the study of the frame.  The design uses a steel door, so the door shouldn’t be the issue in that case.  However, if the frame can’t resist the winds in the the hinge and bolt system and the wall/frame connection around the door the door system, it will fail to resist the loads.  Some basic wind tunnel testing should be a good starting point.

Bolt Connection to the Foundation:

The walls shouldn’t be the critical part of the wall if this is constructed as it says.  Yes, would splinters and could be dangerous; however, if the testing is occurring as described and enough strength is provided based on these studies the walls shouldn’t splinter.  However, there will be some very high shear and moment loads on the bolts.  If not adequately tested and designed, the wall could break of along the foundation.  I would argue that this even more critical as well since it would affect a whole section of wall, so I believe details need to be examined here.

Roof Connection and Design:

With the increased wind, the uplift forces on this structure will be very high.  Furthermore, I believe this has to be designed as an independent structure as well as a structure that is part of a larger building.  With this in mind, uplift forces applied to the whole structure of the second floor or roof needs to be considered as well.  Connections at the top of the wall need to be able to resist that full load or design needs to allow for relief of those forces if the house breaks around the shelter.  Either way, study and wind tunnel tests are required for a safe design.

What is your opinion on the shelter mentioned in the article?  Do you agree my assessment of the design?  Is there anything I missed?  Please share this post if you enjoyed it and have a good week!

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