Author: I. A. MacLeod (University of Strathclyde)
1 March 2016
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I. A. MacLeod (University of Strathclyde)
A main strategy for guarding against such risk is to use what is called the “reflective approach”. This implies that one adopts a degree of scepticism about all received and generated information; one is open to ideas; one poses and seeks answers to questions; one makes personal assessments and reassessments and seeks advice from others, especially from experts; second or more opinions are sought if appropriate; when faults are found or improvements can be made, action is taken; an appropriate amount of resource is allocated to seek to ensure reliable outcomes.
Use of reflective thinking is fundamental to good engineering practice. Computer use does not diminish the need for it.
Some engineering problems are simple, like linear analysis; others are difficult, like non-linear analysis; but there is a third group: those that are complex. Complex problems are those where there are many possible answers that have to be explored and assessed before a decision is made as to which is the best one. This article will discuss the principal concepts of design optimisation, then look at the various suitable techniques and make suggestions as to where they might be used by structural engineers. These methods include quasi-Newton, gradient, simulated annealing, Monte Carlo, genetic algorithms, particle swarms, neural networks, form-finding, and evolutionary topology optimisation. While the article will not be exhaustive (which would take several books), it will provide sufficient examples and typical formulas so that those interested can start to explore this fascinating subject.
When considering lean design and construction in the building industry, we often draw inspiration from the manufacturing industry. But despite many positive moves in recent years, the construction industry – and building design in particular – is one which often requires bespoke, client- and site-specific solutions and not commodity production. Nevertheless, by dissecting and interrogating the whole process of creating building structures, we can still draw efficiency and marginal gains at each step of the way. As design engineers, our focus is often on day-to-day problem-solving in relation to a particular project or engineering challenge. Perhaps less frequently do we consider the same application of engineering to the design process itself. This article will explore how we in AECOM are currently using technology to improve the efficiency of the design process, while at the same time empowering the structural engineer to be more creative, and take a more central role on multidisciplinary projects. Case studies range from large-scale stadium projects down to small, but complex, pavilions, and how the methods can be applied to other projects through a cultural shift that capitalises on the accessibility of digital technology.
A glance at this special issue’s contents will reveal how much computer technology underpins much of today’s practice. What is perhaps surprising is that today’s status has been reached from a zero start over the working life of engineers now retiring – and almost explosively over perhaps half a working life, from the mid-1990s. The challenges of coping with today’s technology, let alone what is going to happen in the next decade, are formidable.