As one of those engineers in the 60s ["Civil engineering technology revolution," November 2007] I have several comments. I had two women from Poland under my direction as a young engineer with Harza Engineering. We had drafting tables, but the stools were without backs. Slide rules were used, but we also had several engineers who used abacuses. There were, however, several things that were done in my day that seem to be missing in today’s design efforts.
One of these was a construction development staff that "built" the drawings to come up with an engineer’s estimate of cost that was real rather than a [wild guess]. We also were required prior to preparing a set of drawings to submit a design memo with the constants and design elements spelled out, and a series of 11×17 DWG formats with scales to be used and plan, elevation, and details shown for each sheet to be prepared. This was reviewed and approved by our bosses. Today, a work plan is made but drawings seem to follow the work plan author’s sense of construction of the project, which often is misleading as the authors often do not have field experience.
Another problem with CAD, which we did not have with the full drawing, was the ability to coordinate the plan view with the elevation view. These often don’t match as both views cannot be seen at the same time unless a print is made for review purposes. This error many times is not caught until the plans are being constucted in the field, a very expensive place to make the corrections.
Yes, technology is better today, but I have to say that the "old days," when engineers had to spend some time in the field constructing projects as part of their climb in the profession, could sure be used today.
Let me congratulate you on an excellent article on BIM and civil engineering [December 2007]. It very concisely explains BIM and the benefits of using it. I teach the Senior Design Capstone course here at Purdue, and we will be introducing BIM concepts into this course. Our Construction Engineering and Management program also will have a course this spring dedicated to BIM. May I distribute [the article] to the faculty in civil engineering and the students in this course?
Vincent P. Drnevich, Ph.D., P.E.
professor of civil engineering
I applaud you for your enthusiasm over high-tech and its application for the civil engineering profession ["Should you be high-tech?" December 2007], although I would like to express several warnings and maybe shed some light onto why your survey produced such low marks in this arena. I have worked in civil engineering now for over 32 years across every conceivable area practiced, including land surveying and mining. My focus for the past 18 years has been with the use of technology for our profession. I was there in 1982 when a new technology, CAD, was introduced—the promises that were touted and expectations that were perceived. I lived through the years of total disarray associated with implementation of that technology. The word on the street at that time wasn’t very good, and there are specific reasons as to why that technology had such a hard time getting going and, still today, has not lived up to its expectations of increased productivity and increased profitability.
The issues our profession faced at that time and will today with any new technology is simple. We bought a magic pill. There I have said it; 25 years ago we bought into the magic black box concept without even stopping for a minute to think about what we were buying. What really is this new tool, this technology, and how do we use it? No, we didn’t say wait a minute, how do we manage this thing, what is it really doing, and who should be using it? We stormed ahead and applied all our old processes, procedures and ways of managing, plugging them into this new technology.
That was ugly for a long time and, for most firms, still presents a drain on schedules and budgets. As you have alluded too, this is a very exciting time, although it is our responsibility to learn from our history and those very big mistakes we made before we jump in with both feet.
It is imperative that we first understand the technology, know its limitations, and develop new procedures and processes that take into account that understanding. We need to understand there is a price to be paid for the implementation of technology in order to reap the perceived benefits. We need to understand that there is work to be done, that it’s not magic, automatic. When we have such sophisticated technology, we need to have educated, design professionals at the helm.
Let me use a simple analogy. If any scientist has just been given this incredibly sophisticated new piece of equipment that promised to solve a multitude of issues for them, what would he do first? He would research it to understand how it functioned, if the results were valid; devise protocols and documentation on how to use it; and most of all, test its function and discover any limitations, right? Then would he give it to his summer student to operate?
You are right. This is a very exciting time. It affords us the opportunity to fix what we did 25 years ago.
Asa D. Reese