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Letters: Let schools of engineering grow organically to become what we need

Let schools of engineering grow organically to become what we need

Richard Rogers is right (NCE 17 February). The fields of learning in pursuit of professional training fit uncomfortably with the need to inform student choice.

Far too many graduates fail to follow their studies into associated work. Technology moves faster than teaching. Information is expanding in content and subject area. It can be accessed almost instantaneously. It is not its content but its skill to evaluate, discriminate and apply that is needed.

Teaching and learning processes are not adapting. If choice of course and career is now to be dependent on individual cost benefit assessment, then both universities and industry have to reassess their selling propositions.

Problem areas rather than professional labels are likely to be more easily understood by aspirant students. Common starting points with subsequent informed options avoid premature commitment and offer flexibility.

But the applications of science proliferate so rapidly, often in unpredictable directions, that the value of a syllabus based on particular body of knowledge, as opposed to the skills of gathering and using it in problem solving, may decay too rapidly to be what is needed.

I am, therefore, all for schools of the Built Environment, the Natural Environment., Mechanisms, Manufacture and Marketing and so on. Let the engineering components find their own place.

  • W B Jepson, Westwood House, 241 Hagley Road, Pedmore, Stourbridge, West Midlands, DY8 2JP

Civils 1950s politics

I must comment on Nicolas Brown’s letter last week which referred to unpaid overtime and “the slackers list”.

This is tantamount to workplace bullying, and any employers carrying out the outdated practice should be named and shamed.

Any basic management course will tell that this ethos will not be beneficial in the long term and if the workload is too much for the current employees, then take on additional staff.

If the Institution wants to be considered to be at the cutting edge they need to get rid of the 1950s ideas and join the 21st century.

  • David Goodier (M), contracts manager, Keble Heath Construction,

Flood solution doesn’t add up

Robin Clay proposes an interesting solution to the financing of flood alleviation schemes (Letters last week).

I am not sure that the purchaser of a brand new property that then flooded would be amused by such an approach from the Environment Agency or the local council as these are the very organisations which should have prevented the development in the first place.

In areas where there is a continuous risk of flooding, both fluvial and marine, and internal drainage boards are active, all property and land occupiers pay a specific drainage rate which is used to finance the necessary protection works.

These ratepayers expect the defences to be properly maintained, and from time to time improved to meet any worsening conditions. Perhaps this system should be extended across the whole country, especially as the legislation is already in place.

  • Barrie Shearer, Boston, Lincs,

BIM in Britain is doing fine

Building Information Modelling is far healthier in UK infrastructure than you make out (NCE 24 February).

For over a decade Atkins has built accurate interactive 3D and 4D models for road, rail and bridge projects.

But for the current M25 DBFO we recognised that the challenge of squeezing more equipment into reduced verge space demanded a step-change in our response.

So we are modelling all disciplines’ design, above and below ground, and using Navisworks to help
resolve clashes.

There’s a strong uptake in the Skanska/Balfour Beatty joint venture, which makes extensive use of the same model during construction. The more data-rich we can make the model, the wider its range of application reaches.

Our plans are well advanced to extend BIM throughout the whole life of our clients’ projects to help them achieve more for less.

  • Hugh Woods (M), senior group engineer, Atkins Highways & Transportation,


Be more clear with BIM

I must take issue with one statement in Mark Hansford’s recent article on Building Information Modelling (NCE 24 February) which loosely states that BIM is just a 3D CAD model.

This is far too simplistic in its definition and inaccurate.

BIM, or using its other more suitable acronym VDC (Virtual Design and Construction), is more than just a 3D model and should be presented around three key concepts.

They are nD modelling, information management and collaborative processes and where each concept overlaps in an integrated manner to deliver the VDC environment.

The first concept is built around a multi-dimensional/multi-disciplinary approach that uses a mix of CAD modelling applications, planning applications, cost datasets/databases and other forms of data.

This supports and assists the iterative development of design, planning, construction approaches, cost measurement/management and becomes the repository of data that can be used during handover and the follow-on phases in a projects lifecycle.

Core to the success of the nD approach, and ultimately the VDC environment, is the second concept of information management which should use industry recognised standards to ensure that the information is accurate, durable, accessible, measurable and structured for future use.

Lastly, the third concept of collaborative processes represents the use of the modelling environment in a truly collaborative manner that supports accessibility, communication, understanding of intent and transparency.

By understanding the benefits, issues and possible limitations around the three key concepts, some of the barriers to adoption of VDC approaches may well be overcome, especially in the UK.

  • Scott Kerr, 4D construction modeller, Parsons Brinckerhoff,

Courageous clients needed

I believe your analysis piece “Innovation versus risk: A Big Conundrum” (NCE last week), missed a vital ingredient.

There is a big gulf between the (current) industry rhetoric and what happens in practice. Latham, Egan and on to the current Infrastructure UK report talk about innovation leading better value.

The article correctly identified that encouraging innovation should be client led − more so now than ever. Latham et al also promote a collaborative working approach − which was the article’s missing ingredient.

Our experience is that innovation can only happen within a strongly client-led collaborative approach - where risks and benefits are openly discussed and managed with collaborative-focus maturity.

Only within a trust-based collaborative working environment can people truly share and explore ideas for doing things differently.

The conundrum lies in the fact that whilst it is the Client side calling for innovation, they frequently have low understanding of what a collaborative approach really means − so opportunities are missed and we see suboptimal results from the overly myopic competitive principles and practices they strive, or are required, to adhere to.

Given the economic efficiency climate, surely the solution is courageous clients, with bold leadership, prepared and allowed to totally reappraise how they go about their business.

  • Jerry Bailey (M), JCP Consultancy,

Less rhetoric and more comment please

In response to Antony Oliver’s editorial (NCE 3 March) it does indeed seem to me to be exceptionally harsh to be so damning of the risk assessment of structures in Christchurch, and the structural performance of some of the citiy’s buildings, particularly given that the fault in question was thought inactive.

He suggests that had the workers at CTV known their building was likely to collapse they may not have taken the job there.

I would suggest that had CTV workers considered that an inactive fault could slip, generating a 0.1% Annual Exceedance Probability event in close proximity to their place of work during working hours, a place of work which had survived a more severe quake some months previously, and that as a result their building could potentially collapse; the majority would have taken the job.

To suggest that mankind can and should design for such rare and catastrophic events, and that in so doing we can better nature acting on this scale, is surely hubris.

Personally, I would welcome significantly less rhetoric from the editor of NCE, and substantially more measured and constructive comment.

  • Nic Smith (M),

Letters to the editor

NCE welcomes letters from readers.

We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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