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Cracking the Eurocodes

Comment

One of the biggest and most expensive professional revolutions of the last half century is about to hit civil engineering - Eurocodes.

That's right. Dull as it may seem today, Eurocodes really will be the single thing most likely to keep you and your colleagues awake with worry over the next 12 to 48 months.

And if you are sensible, lucky, and plan your business implementation strategy early, it should only cost your business a single year's profit.

For make no mistake, within less than five years, every engineer working in the UK and across Europe will be using the new Eurocodes as the basis of his or her everyday working life.

So unless you are about to retire or work only for clients specifying US design codes, Eurocodes will hit your radar.

The reality, of course, is that for many the change from tried and tested British Standards has been hanging around for years.

It has, after all, been three decades since the idea for a single pan-European structural design standard was first mooted.

But after so many years of discussion, consultation and argument, progress is such that more than half the 58 parts to the 10 new structural Euro odes have now been published. The rest will be available for you to buy, read and digest by the end of the year.

You will not be able to do anything with these documents for a while, mind you. For that you will have to wait until the country-specifi annexes are published to give local context to each of the new Structural Eurocodes series.

Nevertheless, as delegates at NCE's Structural Eurocodes conference last week heard, it will not be long before these follow. In fact in some parts of Europe - Germany, France and Sweden for example - Eurocodes will be the accepted norm by 2007.

The UK is lagging behind somewhat so that Eurocodes will not be in place before around 2009. But when you analyse the scale of what has to be done to get ready, now is certainly the time for the UK profession to think seriously about how it is going to adopt these radical new documents.

Hence my drawing this subject to your attention this week.

On a personal level each professional engineer will have to spend substantial (nonfee earning) time understanding not just the new Eurocode engineering language but, crucially, understanding just what is allowed and required by the new standards.

On a company level you will need to invest in staff training, new documentation, new software and ensure that all of those really useful in-house spread sheets and design tools are either updated or binned.

On the positive side, most agree that Eurocodes are not necessarily more difficult, they are just different - except, that is, Eurocode 7 on Geotechnical design which is universally accepted as both very different and very difficult. Once astered, they should enable real engineering creativity to shine by avoiding prescriptive formulae.

And, of course, once you have got to grips with the new system the door should be open to European business opportunities - which was what the whole project was originally about.

But to reap the benefits you will have to have the same expert knowledge that one, five, 10, 15 or 20 - or however many - years experience of British Standards has given you. . . I'd start now.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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