Monday, November 26, 2012


{An idea I essayed in 2001: current time probably a lot more attuned to implementing such ideas.}


Large consultants cannot hope to compete with small specialist consultants that operate, in such areas as providing footing construction reports (FCR), and site classification. The primary reason is that these consultants have clients with large workloads. That is taking FCR's as an example, the consultants have builders of pre-designed (market/spec). homes for clients. Whilst the buildings themselves do not need designing, the footings need to be designed specifically for the chosen site. Such footing design is relatively simple and highly repetitive. Thus once you have designed one footing, designing another is simply a matter of reviewing and selecting a previous design. Most of the design is thus reduced to a matter of obtaining soil bore-logs, and classifying the site. Once the site is classified the footing and slab sizes can be obtained from tables derived from prior designs. There is no need for mysterious "black boxes" like CORD and SLOG, the problem solver is just a simple look up table.
Thus it is possible to improve the convenience and speed of service delivery by providing the service on-line over the Internet. By so doing the market place expands to the world, constraints of local standards is largely nonsense, most national standards are based on international standards, or standards of countries where research is conducted, namely America, Britain, Germany and Europe. The main restraint to an international market is language and local by-laws. Local by-laws are also a constraint to both developing state and national markets. Such variances however can be addressed as the need arises, and the potential for expanded markets develops. A web site that caters for multiple design standards will allow local designers to compare variations in the results and better question why the codes are different.


The web site should be set up and presented in such a manner that it encourages and promotes the use of engineering services, for both simple and especially complex projects. Simple projects are completed by clients themselves over the Internet, complex projects require person to person discussions with engineers.

The value of the website is that it assists to promote the idea that engineers do not sell time, but that they sell responsibility for risk : insurance. The other value is that it provides engineers the opportunity to demonstrate that they can provide more economical solutions, than those that come from comparative designs. However no one is going to pay an engineer $1000 to save a $1000 worth of concrete. In short computer programs force engineers to demonstrate their value to the community above and beyond that of crunching numbers.

The website needs to take an individual through the various steps required for producing a report suitable for building approval. Thus the following steps may be shown:

  1. Order soil bore-logs
  2. Enter bore-logs data
  3. Classify Site
  4. Footing Construction Report

To get to this point a client will have to log on and provide details about themselves and the project, they will then be allocated a project/client reference number. Irrespective of whether the client continues with the service at this point, the consultant will have obtained information about the client and the impending project. Thus information will be available for public relations and market research purposes. Thus the client can be contacted personally if the consultant considers it to be of benefit to both parties.

If the client makes use of the services then they can pay for the services using either BPAY or a credit card.
Not all services provided however will have a fee.

If the client has bore-log data then they can select to enter the bore log data into a web based database. It is the client/project number that keeps this data private to the client, a password may also be employed. Once such data is entered they can then select to classify the site. The site classification will then recommend whether an engineer needs to be contacted in person, or whether the FCR's can be obtained on-line. If not available on-line then the client can e-mail for further assistance, details of the project coming from the on-line database.

If they do not have bore-logs then these can be ordered from the web-site, this results in an e-mail going to the consultants who then forward the request to their preferred suppliers. The supplier once they have obtained the bore-logs, enters the bore-log data on-line into the database. Once this is done the client is advised of the bore-logs being available to complete, site classification and FCR requirements. The client gains access to their specific project using their project/client number and passwords.


Clients are not just restricted to project owners, they can extend to builders, architects, students and other consultants. Graduates who are familiar with the web-site become preferred choice as future employees. Builders can get their solutions quickly, and get on with building. Architects can dream as much as they like, at a price, and compare variations, and seek engineering input to provide more economical solutions.

Other consulting engineers can exploit the web site, to demonstrate that they can produce more economical solutions. But more importantly they can use the software to produce their own designs efficiently and economically. Thus the provider of such a web site earns income from just about every footing that is designed.

All the time that a client is on-line, they are being made aware of other scientific and engineering services that are available and which can benefit them. Thus they do not have to wait until government regulations require them to seek engineering services for building approval. They become aware that engineers can provide benefit at other times as well.

All calculations and reports completed on-line should have some disclaimer to the effect:

That the calculations have been completed, without a structural engineer having viewed any design drawings, and that it is therefore the clients responsibility to have the design checked by a suitably qualified registered engineer, prior to seeking building approval. Or alternatively to get the designed checked and privately certified at the same time.

Since the certification needs to be by an independent party, the web-site can provide links and recommendations of certifiers.


If consulting engineers can make such sites available, then so can experienced designers with other qualifications along with computer scientists. But more importantly so can government regulators. Why would a person seeking building approval log onto a consulting engineers web site, when they can log onto a local authorities web site and obtain design and building approval for one low fee ?

One reason is that the consulting engineers can be in the market place first, and with private certification there is little need to go to council. Secondly the consultants are more likely to produce more economical designs. Thirdly optimisation of government services would eventually eliminate local council web sites and provide one national web site for building approval ensuring uniformity of application of building codes across the nation, council employees are not going to start that "ball rolling".

But most importantly is, if the software is written with proper data validation and error checking procedures, and is user friendly, and specific to given product types then the software itself can be certified by regulators. Once the software is certified, the task of regulators is to ensure that the certified design calculations and the intended construction are compatible. This is where consultants remain employed. They are employed to check compatibility of design calculations and other design documentation, and provide for the variations, plus they can provide construction/manufacturing and general project management services above and beyond number crunching. [The author has experience of fabricators who submit standard design calculations and sketches of sheds to council, without any project specific documentation. Then build a shed that bares no relationship to the submission. They then have to pay for calculations to prove that what has been built is structurally adequate, which is a far more difficult task than design.]

Engineering advise provided on-line, over the Internet is also easier to charge a fee for, and get paid for, than that provided over the telephone or in person. That information provided for a fee however as to compete against that which is provided free of charge. Thus information provided for a fee needs to be superior and of greater value than that provided for free.

The successful producer of an article sells it for more than it cost him to make, and that's profit. But the customer buys it only because it is worth more to him than he pays for it, and that's his profit. No one can long make a profit producing anything unless the customer makes a profit using it. [Samuel B. Pettengill]