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ICE Bridges 2014: Part Two

ICE Bridges 2014: Part Two

Welcome back to ICE Bridges 2014: Catching Fire. If you didn’t read the first part, this is the second in a trilogy chronicling the speaker highlights from the bridge event of the year [citation needed]. Through a full day of fourteen talks from key industry figures and a panel discussion, ICE Bridges 2014 not only revealed the future of design/construction technology, but the mounting responsibility engineers have to the ever growing collection of ageing bridge assets across the country.

As today is also National Women in Engineering Day, an aside about the gender distribution seems apt. Taken as an overall view, there was one female speaker, and only about 10% of the delegates were women. Whilst this isn’t fantastic, it was somewhat encouraging to note that the balance was significantly improved if you considered only the attendees under the age of 30. Assuming the industry gets better at retention, and with the wonderful work of campaigns such as Your Life, it’s not impossible to imagine that ICE Bridges 2034 will have a much more equal gender landscape.

Tomás García (HS2 Ltd)

BIM is not the solution, but it is a tool that, if used properly, will help us be better coordinated.

Frankly I’m amazed it took until the fifth speaker before our industry’s TLA silver-bullet got a mention. HS2 is all about the bridges and the BIM; and with 135 over-bridges, 185 under-bridges and 30km of viaducts required along the preliminary route, it’s hard to imagine how it wouldn’t be. The HS2 Ltd. motto, it seems, is to challenge every convention within the industry to find greater efficiency; asking why we can’t design the track alignment/furniture and the structures at the same time and even re-authoring the Eurocodes. With this relentless exploration they have been playing with a 50km long sample model to emulate and identify problems (and opportunities), hopefully, before they arise.

What is most interesting is their desire to reduce the hundreds of structures down to a small number of parametric families. These digital design models would be holistically designed, so that they could be literally ‘dropped’ into place, and then manipulated within certain bounds to fit the local environment. The process is not entirely new, with off-the-shelf bridges being a staple in America and Network Rail including a library of bridge designs in their standard details. Whether or not current technology is up to this next iteration, however, is something I’m cautiously optimistic about.

Andy Cooke (WSP)

BIM is not just about pretty pictures, it’s about hard engineering too.

Despite sounding like an advert for Tekla, Andy’s talk about the successes WSP have achieved through embracing 3D modelling was nevertheless impressive. Expressing frustration with how the UK’s reluctance to move from the ‘2D paper drawings’ mindset is holding us back, when compared to the progress our Scandinavian colleagues have made embracing 3D delivery technologies; he walked us though successes WSP have had with Tekla. He is also the first engineer I’ve met who has some experience with IFC and the extent to which it does and does not work.

Although I had always though ‘but why would you want to do that’ when hearing someone announce that you could draw 3D concrete geometries with all the reinforcement fully modelled within it; Andy’s demonstration showed how the (modest) increase in draughting time has paid dividends with clash detection that resulted in zero site queries, and automatic schedule generation in digital exchange formats that could then be passed directly to the fabricators. He also talked about the advantages of being able to handle complex geometry and how 3D models were more universally accessible for both client and contractor comments.

Paul Monaghan (LoBEG)

How many people does it take to change a bulb on the Millennium Bridge? Eight.

For all of you who aren’t in the know, LoBEG is the London Bridge Engineering Group, which collects together all the bridge owners (i.e. the 33 boroughs and TfL) to advise and manage how they assess and maintain their structures (which, worryingly, they are still finding). Their work includes collating bridge condition information in their bespoke Bridge Station software, and providing asset management tool-kits to councils (some of which share, or don’t even have, dedicated bridge engineers). His key point to engineers was that we have to understand maintenance procedures and make our structures more maintainable; despite being forever hailed for its design, it takes eight people to change a light bulb on the Millennium Bridge…

Panel: Designing For Maintenance

Deferred maintenance is nothing else but neglect.

Mike Chrimes (ICE), Barry Colford (FETA), Martin Knight (Knight Architects), Tim Kersley (Network Rail), Tomás García (HS2 Ltd)

Looking back at my notes, it’s clear the panel discussion was a confused affair. But perhaps that reflects the state of the profession when it comes to designing for maintenance (and indeed, as the topic quickly swung to: Maintaining our ageing assets). The traditional problems were wheeled out: inspectors are incredibly important, but there’s not enough experienced engineers doing it, and there’s not enough money to retain and attract more. On the topic of designing for maintenance, this lack of experience was also blamed for why we’re so bad at it, there is no one ‘right’ material for durability, and that FRP will be useful when we work out how to design it without pretending it’s steel.

Discussing maintenance did, however, reveal a few more intriguing points. Firstly our habit of targeting only damaged assets means that the ‘mode‘ group is steadily declining, and in the non-too-distant future there will be a significant spike in the number of structures that are in desperate need of maintenance. Whilst technology might help, cost and access (lit. signal) barriers have prevented its adoption. One suggestion was to copy the Japanese model of ring-fencing governmental money for maintenance, removing the constant temptation to defer action. Perhaps most interesting was learning that access requirements form the most substantial portion of assessment and maintenance work costs; so perhaps this is what we, as designers, should focus on.

Martin Knight (Knight Architects)

More than any other kind of structure; bridges create a sense of place.

This isn’t the first time I have heard Martin talk about his work on the Te Matau a Phoe bridge. Following on from my initial impressions at the Future of Design 2013 event, Martin’s talk discussed the idea of integral architecture- that (especially on publicly funded infrastructure projects) the contribution he made had to be one that could not be removed. Most important, I believe, was his closing message; that engineers (and architects) must understand that our structures will easily out live us, and so we must design for the people who come after.

Still interested? Take a look at the final part of the ICE Bridge 2013 highlights.

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  1. […] Check-out Part 2 of the ICE Bridges 2014 highlights. […]

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