Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the tag “engineer”

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

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

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

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!

Critical Elements Required for Telling Good Stories

Hello everyone!  I hope everything is going well.  I have some good news today – I have officially accepted a job with Unified Building Sciences and Engineering.  I’ll be doing Structural Forensic Engineering work, so I might shift my blog over to stuff I learn in that field a bit more.  However, today, I like to talk about something a bit less technical and that is how to tell a story.  When I was thinking about my interview, and soft skills related to sales/interview type stuff, I realized that this would be a good topic to cover.  This is a skill that a lot of people know about and know someone who does have it.  Additionally, it is assumed that it is something naturally learned and that a person either has this skill or doesn’t have this skill.  However, I have learned how to do this somewhat better and I believe everyone can learn how to do this to some degree.  I will discuss some of the key elements I find important below.

Know Your Audience

This one of the most critical elements of successful story telling.  I have known a lot of people in my life who don’t always apply this concept and it can turn a reasonably well told story into something that completely shuts down conversation.  By knowing your audience and adjusting your story to fit them, your story is far more effective and is more likely to accomplish your desired goal.

Know the Purpose of the Story
This is very similar to know your audience but I put this in a separate category because I believe it is separate in nature.  You can have the same audience, but the purpose of what you are doing can change; furthermore, this change in purpose can change how you tell the story.  A good example I can think of is initially talking to a client to get a project, and then later having a conclusion of project type of conversation.  In the first case, you might want to be more cautious and expository about your defining characteristics and your future goals.  In the second case, they hopefully have an idea what those previously mentioned goals/characteristics are and you would want to focus more on results and the bottom line benefits for all the concerned parties.  So in this case, we would have the exact same audience, but the purpose of your story telling would be very different.

Quickly Set the Stage

This is one that I thought about combining to the one below, but I wanted to put it separate because I believe a lot of engineers have had to struggle with this.  As engineers, when we solve a problem, we are taught to write down the initial facts to be doubly sure of all the facts before we even start.  However, in story telling, people want enough facts to get to the point of story and what to take away as a result.  It is my belief that these two ways of thinking can conflict at times.  My personal method of choice is to reduce as much of this exposition as possible; then if they clearly misunderstand or have questions, I can go back and explain in more detail now that they have seen the larger picture.

Succinctly Describe What Happened, the Result and Why It’s Important
This one is critical as well because the audience can get bogged down if this is too slow.  When telling the story, it’s okay to be descriptive or even humorous depending on the situation.  But if a sentence or statement isn’t adding something of value to the story, people will lose focus.  So when telling a story, the speaker needs to moving through the three steps above in a succinct and engaging manner for the best results possible.

Relax, Have Fun and Be Yourself

This is essential to any good story in my opinion.  You can do all of the above well, but clearly don’t find it entertaining in any way the audience will know.  So any time you go to tell a story, you should relax, enjoy the situation, and find a way to naturally express yourself.  If you make a mistake, laugh at yourself and people will forgive you most of the time.  And that genuine humor and ease will be very engaging.

In conclusion, I believe that by focusing on these steps everyone can improve as story tellers to some degree.  This should yield more productive conversations with clients and better working relationships overall.

Do you agree with this list?  Are there any other elements I left out?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

An Innovative Technology for Concrete Roofing in Remote Areas

     Hello everyone! I hope y’all are doing well.  I’m almost done with grad school and looking forward to that.  Other than that, nothing much has happened.  Today, I would like to discuss a recent development in concrete roofing for remote areas.

     Scott Hamel, a faculty member of UAA (University of Alaska Anchorage), has developed a concrete roofing tile that can be used in place of cast in place concrete roofs.   While working with Habitat for Humanity in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Hamel noticed that the prefered method of roofing is a cast in place concrete slab because it can double as a second floor if needed and was more resistant to the wind and elements.  However, these roofs weren’t adequately designed in regards to seismic issues and this caused a lot of trouble in the Haiti earthquake of 2010.  Additionally, the usual method for constructing these roofs is to carry up the concrete manually to fill the form work for the roof which is highly labor intensive.  These two combined issues lead him to create an innovative new system for creating concrete roofing.  It is concept that was widely used when making clay roofing tiles up until the 1950’s when improved techniques become more common.  He created a “thin shell, latex modified concrete barrel roof unit” – curved concrete roofing tile in which latex from old paint is added to create to increase flexibility.  To build the concrete shell unit, a mold was designed and the modified concrete is poured in to the mold with mesh metal reinforcement located in the center of the cross section.  Testing is being conducted to determine the optimal shape in regards to stresses and construction applications.

     There are several benefits to using this type of roofing system.  The main one is ease of construction in my opinion.  The roof tiles can be made on site on the ground or off site and easily be taken up a ladder to be put together on the roof.  Another benefit is the cost; according the article the tile will cost $2 – $3 per a square foot versus $6 – $10 per a square foot for cast in place concrete.   The other benefit I find very useful that isn’t mentioned in the article is that it is easily repeatable.  Someone with very little experience can build a safe roof and when there is a crisis like a natural disaster a large quantity of these concrete tiles can be built very efficiently on a larger scale as well.

     Do you think this would be a good roofing system for a remote area?  What if any issues do you foresee?  Are there any other applications this could be useful for as well?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Source

Kathleen, McCoy, “Hometown U: A Smarter, Stronger Roof Design for Haiti and Beyond”, Hometown U, March 1st, 2014, http://goo.gl/xk4k23

Concrete Eating Robots: A More Efficient Method of Breaking Down Concrete?

 

     Hello everyone.  I hope everything is going well.  I had a good Easter weekend with my family and I’m feeling rested after a busy week.  Today, I would like to talk about an innovation I read about a few weeks ago which is called a “Concrete Eating Robot” as described in a blog post by Peloton Land Solutions.

     The Concrete Eating Robot is a system which uses a high pressure water jet to break down concrete rather than using a wrecking ball or something else to crush concrete.  The water/concrete slurry is then collected to reclaim the reusable materials.  The clean aggregate can be used in other concrete mixes.  The water is reused by the system so that a large of amount of water isn’t wasted in the process.  And the clean and reusable rebar beneath the concrete can be pulled apart for use in other structures.  The only waste that I could find according to the article by Peloton Land Solutions is the cement mixture that can’t be reused.

     This invention has some very good benefits in that the rebar and aggregate can be reused in a very efficient manner.  However, cement is the least sustainable product required for concrete construction.  And in this case, I didn’t see a method for recycling cement which could make this a critical issue.  Depending on the situation, this could negate some of the benefits to the point that this invention might not be worth the investment.  For example, if this is a case where a high amount of cement is required and aggregate can be easily procured locally for any new construction, the cost benefit ratio might tilt back towards a more traditional method.  If this is a low to zero cement usage concrete in an area where the required aggregate isn’t easily obtainable, this would be a better situation for something like this.

   Here is a more detailed article on the device: http://goo.gl/SWDwN2

   What is your opinion on this invention? Do you see it being used regularly in the future?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Resources:

Peloton Land Solutions, “Concrete Eating Robots?”, March 3rd, 2014, http://goo.gl/Y920hK

CoExist Blog, “This Concrete Eating Robot Can Recycle an Entire Building on the Spot”, April 16th, 2014, http://goo.gl/SWDwN2

The Balance of Public Private Partnership and Government Funding in the Infrastructure Industry

 

     Hello everyone, sorry about being away for a bit.  I had an exam and had to focus in on school work, but I feel like I did good on the exam and can get back to a normal rhythm.  Today I would like to pose an interesting question.  What is best for the infrastructure industry – public private partnerships or government funded projects?

     I read a good letter-to-the-editor piece in CE Magazine recently that was critical of politicians who only wanted to pursue the infrastructure investment bank option for increasing investment.  In the author’s opinion, it is the job of the government to do whatever it takes to provide the infrastructure systems for this country.  I don’t see it as one dimensional as the author does, but this brought an interesting point to my attention.  A lot of people involved with the infrastructure industry like the public private partnership type projects as a way to bring more investment to the infrastructure construction and maintenance process.  Since increased funding in this area is needed ASAP, I have no problem with them pushing for this option if people are willing to do this.  However, issues in the infrastructure industry that can’t be addressed through a public private partnership system are largely over looked.

    Public Private Partnerships can help relieve a lot of the issues that drag our infrastructure down right now.  For example, a private company could charge tolls for a road and use that to maintain the road as part of a business plan.  This is a great system once you solve the oversight and standards issues.  Another area that this could be beneficial for is management of projects and procuring construction manpower and equipment.  As people have discovered with the government projects, having to maintain a large bureaucracy in managing these large projects is expensive.  Off loading those expenses to companies willing to do the work would allow for increased efficiency in the infrastructure construction process.

    However, there are some parts of the infrastructure industry where government investment is required to some degree.  The main one I see is the initial investment stage of these large scale projects.  Any private company will need some help (or at least an incentive) to take on the large amount of initial investment required.  Private businesses in general prefer projects that have large profits and the lowest possible expenses.  Government can provide a lot of aid to the infrastructure industry by allowing private companies to apply their preferred model for business.  The other area I see the government being essential are the parts of infrastructure where for profit motives aren’t the bottom line.  A great example of this is public transportation.  Overall, it is a largely inefficient industry in regards to cost and maintenance.  However, it doesn’t mean that it is something that shouldn’t be promoted as a part of our infrastructure improvement plan.  I’m not saying that we should take a loss in these projects, but it is something that should be offered without an eye towards massively cutting cost or increasing profits.  Since a company will not see the same high margin of profits they might find in a large highway construction project, they are more like to not take the project or to maintain an inadequate system due to their goals of minimizing inefficiencies and increasing profits.

    To sum it up, a balance needs to found between the application of public private partnerships and government funded projects in the infrastructure industry.  Some of the ways I think we can find a good balance are listed above.  What is your opinion about the balance of the infrastructure industry?  Is there anything you think we need to do to improve it?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Visual Project Management for Construction Managers Using Google Glass?

Hello everyone – sorry about the long break.  I’ve been in the process of moving the last few weeks and I didn’t get internet until about a week ago.  Now that I am almost back to full productivity I should be doing regular posts again.  And now I can look forward to writing some of these posts on my back porch which will be nice too.  Today I want to talk about an application in development for Google Glass which would allow a construction manager to see a visual of future building elements to aid in the construction process. (Article: http://goo.gl/G6audi)

This application has a few benefits that I can foresee.  The main one is that the user can visualize what needs to be done and what it should look like.  I could also see how it would take a complicated construction drawing and help clear up any confusion as to what the specifications should look like.

However, I also see a lot of drawbacks.  The first one is location issues.  If there is any trouble in determining the user’s location, the visual provided will be inaccurate and that is worse than using less convenient methods.  Additionally, creating the model and making sure the users on site are familiar with the tech would be difficult as well.  And finally, I would think that if the application isn’t designed well, information overload and application management could be a hindrance that slows down the work to the point that it out weighs the benefits of having this visual representation.

The benefits gained by having the application aren’t worth the added issues in my opinion.  Combine this with the fact that construction managers should already be able to visualize and build the specifications from construction drawings cause this application to be more trouble than it is worth.  This is not to say that I think technology is not useful on construction sites.  I believe that being able to have a synced database for construction drawings and models would be very useful for a tablet application in a lot of situations.  However, there is only one time I see the Google Glass application being useful and that is for people inexperienced in construction/engineering such as owners to walk around an incomplete project.

What is your opinion on this application?  Are there some different applications for construction managers that would be good for Google Glass?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Reference

“Google Glass for Construction?”, ConstruTech, March 18, 2014, http://goo.gl/G6audi

Image

Orson, Parmy, “Why You’ll See Google-Glass Competitors In Construction Zones Before Starbucks”, Forbes Magazine, March 11, 2013, http://goo.gl/TYBuv

Post Navigation