You Just Never Know

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From the Spectacular to the Mundane

Richard Massey

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years in the AEC industry, it’s this: You just never know who you’ll talk to.

One day it’s earth, the next it’s fire, and then it’s water. Engineers do it all, and when your job is to talk to them and to curate their stories for publication, you end up with an A-to-Z view of the show. And what an amazing sight to behold. From the massive infrastructure pieces underway in China and India, to the innovation of worldwide software companies like Autodesk and Bentley Systems, the evidence is overwhelming – engineering has gone global and now has the ability to go under, over, around, or through obstacles to deliver landmark projects anywhere.

Do we want to save the planet from climate change? How about bringing safe drinking water to millions? Or anticipating the effects of urbanization and digging new tunnels for the expansion of public transit? There are countless inquiries, and somewhere out there, teams of engineers are working overtime to deliver the answers. Based on an ever-evolving foundation of technology, engineers are doing their best to serve mankind across the gamut of wants and needs. And while the battle has certainly not been lost, it will never quite be won, either. Just look at the numbers. The global population is about 7.7 billion right now, but is expected to grow to as much as 11 billion-plus by century’s end. That means a lot more of everything, from roads and bridges to wastewater treatment plants, from office buildings and airports to housing and hospitals. Engineers have their work cut out for them, and they’ll be racing against the clock the entire time.

In the United States, construction starts are expected to slip by as much as 4 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. How long will this slowdown last, and what effect will it have on the engineering industry? On the business end of things, it could mark the beginning of a new wave of M&A activity and an easing of the labor market. Firm owners looking to retire might decide that the time is right to sell, while acquiring firms might finally find the deals they’ve been looking for, and the talent they need. Whichever way the slowdown unfolds, you can be sure that adjustments will be made and that opportunities will be found – at least that’s what I was told during a recent interview by a business minded CEO who founded his own firm.

In this month’s issue, you’ll read about a team of researchers that ascended Mt. Etna to gain a better understanding of the volcano and to predict its eruptions. To achieve their goals, researchers used a complex system of measurements, which included a global network of GNSS tracking stations, and existing aerial imagery. They succeeded in measuring the mountain, and did so at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet amid dust, gas, and loose rocks. Leave it to the engineers to go where others might not tread, all in the name of obtaining that extra bit of data.   

Also in December, you’ll see a piece about credentialing for AEC firms. Maybe not quite as neat as going to Sicily to measure Mt. Etna, but keep in mind that if an individual, or a firm for that matter, does engineering work without the proper licenses, they could be fined, have their name made public by a state enforcement board, and lose credibility among their peers and clients. As firms look for new geographies and markets, credentialing looms as an important issue, one that cannot be ignored or treated as an afterthought.

Indeed, from the spectacular to the mundane, engineering has it all. As I ponder what’s going on around the AEC world, all I can say is this: You just never know who you’ll talk to, and it’s fun sitting on the front row.


Richard Massey is managing editor of Zweig Group publications. He can be reached at rmassey@zweiggroup.com.

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