The countdown to the Eurocodes changeover has begun. So we ask - how prepared are you?
Are you are a structural engineer and unaware of what Eurocodes are by now? If so, it is unlikely that you will have
been working at the hard end of design. The clock is ticking and there is now only a year left until compulsory implementation of Eurocodes on public projects. If designers fail to get up to speed soon, they could well end up left on the shelf when it comes to winning work.
Eurocodes are causing the biggest shake-up in engineering since the UK went metric. They are a set of new building codes that will replace British Standards by March 2010. These codes are supported by national annexes which give country specific values and published documents (PDs) that contain guidance included in BritishStandards but not in Eurocodes. The full set of Eurocodes is now published, as are the majority of annexes.
“For engineers working on public projects, it seems there will be little choice but to use the Eurocode on projects procured after March 2010 under the requirements of the [European Union] Public Procurement Directive,” says Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) director of bridge and structural engineering Steve Denton. “There has been a huge effort to finalise the UK National Annexes and provide other supporting information such as PDs and companion BSI British Standards Published Documents.
What has been the mainstay and pride of the British engineering community could also have been our undoing when it came to adopting Eurocodes. British Standards have been developed, continually updated and are of a high standard, so there has been little incentive to switch to a new set of rules. However, countries without such good codes have embraced Eurocodes wholeheartedly as a marked improvement on what went before.
“Countries like Italy and Spain seem to be more receptive,” says Atkins head of bridge design and technolog Chris Hendy. “These countries changed their standards to Eurocodes about 10 years ago and adopted them. Countries with less money for their own codes have been more receptive to adopting them. Malaysia, which along with most of South East Asia was entirely dependent on British Standards, has adopted them. They can see British Standards being withdrawn and heard of the potential cost savings.”
Despite the slow take-up in the UK relative to some other countries, there has been a tremendous amount of work going on behind the scenes. Technical committees, trade associations and professional institutions have been toiling away to ensure the support is there for UK engineers as and when they adopt Eurocodes.
“The take up in industry is still quite small, but we’re better off than many think,” says Imperial College London’s head of civil and environmental engineering David Nethercot.
“In a country like Portugal, there’s a small technical community with a modest set of standards. To them, Eurocodes are more comprehensive, so attractive. However, lots of supporting material in Portuguese is not soreadily available. In countries like ours and Germany, there’s much more investment into the changeover. It takes time for infrastructure to be prepared. This year we’re starting to see stuff appear - it is the crucial year.”
Discussions about Eurocodes have been ongoing since the 1970s and it is unsurprising that some engineers have been sceptical about whether Eurocodes would ever be implemented. But, with a year to go until the switchover, the signs are there that engineers are starting to sit up and take notice.
“We have a programme of internal courses that we’ve been giving over the last couple of years and its popularity has increased over the last couple of months,” says Arup advanced technology and research group associate director Tony Jones.
“People working on more standard projects may find it harder to justify the work to do the same design in Eurocodes as it’s easier to carry on with British Standards. However, people are more likely to start using them
from this year.”
Eurocode training well in advance of the actual day to day use of Eurocodes is not as effective as training followed by daily use, so the number of people on training courses is of course likely to rise this year.
“PB’s Eurocode training for clients, other consultants and through public courses has seen a significant increase in interest this year,” says Denton. “It is important to make the investment in training close to the time that engineers will be using the Eurocodes on live projects, and that point is now rapidly approaching for many organisations. Certainly we are seeing a heightened level of interest across industry. Their implementation
is now being recognised more widely as having real business implications.”
As the recession bites, consultants are finding their margins squeezed. But in spite of the tough times, investing in
Eurocodes could give designers a competitive edge over rivals.
“People see Eurocodes as essential and will target their training,” says Hendy. “There is also a driver to use them
during the recession due to the economic benefit. The first job might be less efficient, but the construction project at the end is cheaper. A pilot study by the Highways Agency showed that a bridge can be 10% cheaper
[using Eurocodes]. The design fee is typically 3% of construction costs, so if the design costs go up by 20%, it’s small compared to the saving.”
Smaller consultants may be daunted by the prospect of putting their engineers through expensive training, but
managing the process properly can ease the changeover process. This could mean appointing a Eurocode expert to whom other staff can go with queries and making use of material availablefrom the Concrete Centre and
the Steel Construction Institute.
“I think it’s easier for a smaller practice [to adopt Eurocodes],”says Expedition Engineering associate Tim Harris. “With a larger consultancy, the thought of putting all those engineers through retraining could be
quite daunting. I’d say to a smaller consultancy, it would be worthwhile to employ someone who knows Eurocodes and can teach them. We have a couple of big European projects and guys have been working to Eurocodes on those and we have a couple of guys from Europe who have been educated in Eurocodes.”
It is important to remember that British Standards and the Eurocodes have the same underlying engineering theory behind them. If anything Eurocodes are more firmly rooted in engineering theory as opposed to empirical rules of thumb from the British Standards.
“There are fewer formulae in Eurocodes, but more principles,” says Hendy. “The Eurocodes give engineers more scope to use engineering knowledge. The formulae in Eurocodes are derivable from first principles, whereas the British Standards formulae are empirical and come from testing.”
Design Eurocodes, EN1990 - EN1999, sit within a muchbroader family of European standards.
These include product standards and also executions standards. Execution Standards set out specification requirements during construction. EN1090 Part 2, a key Execution Standard for steel structures, was published
in December and the Standard for concrete structures, EN13670, is expected to be published later this year. Work is ongoing to update national and clientspecific specifications, such as the Specification for Highway Works, to align with these new Standards.