In this episode, we talk to Ross J. Smith, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CDT, principal at WJE (Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.) about steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of structural failures.
Here Are Some of the Questions We Ask Ross:
- What are the typical steps that structural engineers follow during a design process?
- What are some of the uncontrollable factors that structural professionals sometimes must rely on?
- Have you noticed an exacerbation in procuring materials in the projects you have worked on over the past year?
- What is “The Sounds of Silence” project and the risks of taking shortcuts in this design project?
- Why is it imperative to revisit assumptions regularly?
- What advice would you give designers out there to ensure a flawless design execution?
Here Are Some of the Key Points Discussed About Reducing the Likelihood of Structural Failures:
The Typical Steps That Structural Engineers Follow During a Design Process Are:
- Gather the available information about the project.
- Establish assumptions.
- Apply the codes and the loading scenarios based on the obtained.
- Select the materials and quantities of each material.
- Review shop drawings.
- Do periodic field inspections as the structures are being erected.
Here Are Some of the Uncontrollable Factors That Structural Professionals Sometimes Encounter:
- Wrong information about the site, such as how the building is going to be positioned on the site, what the site soil capacity is, what the water table level is, and so forth.
- Material data can be incorrect.
- Specified materials can have fluctuations in cost and deliverability.
- The quality of the material.
- The construction team not following what the plans said.
- Material suppliers are being outpaced by the demand over the past year. There is a peculiar discrepancy between supply and demand across the board. This could continue to be disruptive for some time to come. We need to take note of which materials are completely unavailable and then change the design drastically to suit the available materials.
- “The Sounds of Silence” project was a church in Northern Michigan. It had a large bell tower with a carillon, which the community gathered around to listen to concerts. The concerts were later canceled because the building started deteriorating due to its age and was going to be demolished. On inspection of the tower, it was noted that the bells did not sing and were fixed in position, and that the carillon was supported by a standalone timber structure surrounded by the masonry. So, it was a structure within a structure. This helped them to conclude that it needed masonry restoration and that it did not need to be torn down. The building was saved because of better information being obtained.
- If there are structural failures on a structure that you have not worked on, it is always a good idea to investigate the material suppliers and find out their code and specifications for the materials they supplied. Sometimes there is a chance that their design is not suitable for the area or conditions that the structure is in. There are also sometimes assumptions made when the design is done that can cause something in the structure to possibly fail.
- If a business is in a fast-paced construction environment, they need the construction to be finished fast so that they can make more money. People can feel pressured to sometimes take a shortcut or do something slightly different when a delay comes up. This can cause a structural failure because the materials will need to do something that they are not designed for.
- To be a structural failure inspector, you need to have people skills and the ability to think on your feet. It can be intense, but it is a rewarding job.
- It is highly suggested that anyone looking to have a career in forensic engineering should complete a degree in forensic engineering first. Doing it will help you to have a better understanding of it as it will give you a frame of reference to follow when you design your projects.
- Engineering companies should make their project budgets higher to enable the designers to visit the sites regularly. It is terrible to have a failure on your site. It costs a lot more money to rectify failures than to add in the cost of the designer visits.
- Designers should remember that no design is a perfect design. Even if your design is perfect on paper, it does not mean that it will not be susceptible to things falling through the cracks. To have the project executed better, you need to remain engaged throughout the project. Ask questions and be diligent with your shop drawings. Find a place in the budget ahead of time so that you can go to the site and make sure that things are going the way you designed them to be. Remember not to attack people because we are all part of a team, but do challenge assumptions and any information that is handed down to you.
More Details in This Episode…
About Ross J. Smith, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CDT
Ross Smith has over 20 years of experience as a structural and building enclosure consulting engineer, with additional specialties in unique failure assessments and Building Enclosure Commissioning (BECx). He was named the 2020 Engineer of the Year by the Western Chapter of the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers. Ross operates out of the greater Grand Rapids area, where he lives with his family and serves clients throughout Michigan, Indiana, and most of the Midwest with a focus on the West Michigan/Lakeshore area. His experience includes:
- Catastrophic failure investigations
- Structural investigation, assessment, repair, rehabilitation, and design
- Façade inspections
- Building enclosure/envelope commissioning
- Building condition assessments
- Litigation technical support
Please leave your comments or questions in the section below on steps that you take to reduce the likelihood of structural failures.
To your success,
Mathew Picardal, P.E. & Alexis Clark, P.E., M.ASCE
Hosts of The Structural Engineering Podcast