Sunday, April 28, 2013

Proposal For National Structural Code

Past experience and recent projects have now convinced me that we need a national structural code and/or a national technology code. A structural code could be the starting point with a technology code coming later. The technology code would capture all technology, everything artificial, everything done in and to the natural environment. But for now just consider the structural code.

The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) would like the Building Code of Australia (BCA) or now National Construction Code (NCC) to be the single point of reference for everything in the built environment. I don't believe this is appropriate. The BCA is fundamentally about habitable buildings, and in the main the performance criteria are for spaces not for the fabric of the building: the BCA has very little about buildings. Which as a point suggests the BCA is equally applicable to an open work space. Anycase, anything which is not a habitable building is classified as a class 10 building. If a building is class 10, then BCA requirements are found in BCA volume 2. Now BCA volume 2 is little more than a prescriptive solution for housing, and contains fewer performance criteria than BCA volume 1 2.

Personally I think BCA volume 2 should be scrapped and class 1 and 10 buildings put back in BCA volume 1. BCA volume 2 should have never been published, its a bad idea. In South Australia we had an SA Housing Code, this was described as a deemed to satisfy solution to the BCA as it was. That approach should have been retained. Whilst builders didn't like the BCA because it was performance based and didn't tell them what to do, they also didn't like that they couldn't try alternative technologies with the prior prescriptive codes.

BCA volume 2, should have been presented as a code compliant design solution, using brick veneer and timber framing. It should have set the bench mark for the presentation and publication of code compliant design solutions. Starting with adequate evidence-of-suitability for the construction methodology: the prescriptive solution in BCA volume 2, is not adequately proven suitable for purpose, and alternative technologies like rammed earth, straw bale, SIP's, plaster wall panels have to be demonstrated far more thoruoghly than the accepted traditional technologies. More importantly alternative technologies have to be demonstrated compliant with all kinds of rubbish the authorities pull out off a hat: I reiterate the BCA contains next to nothing regarding the characteristics of the building fabric. If starting from scratch brick and timber likely considered relatively stupid materials for constructing something as important as a home: bricks soak up water and timber gets eaten by termites: rubbish materials. BCA volume 2 should not have been part of the BCA, it should have been something else.

Now the SA Development Act and Regulations are not concerned with buildings, but concerned with modifications and changes to the use of land. After some exclusions for government authorities and use of crown lands, it starts referring to building works. Such building works need to be assessed against the building rules and the BCA is called up as part of the building rules. The building works contractors act is also concerned with building works. The building works contractors act is primarily concerned with housing. The industry concerned in all cases is the building and construction industry. Whilst may refer to the building of a bridge, a bridge is not considered a building, and is part of the construction sector not the building sector of the industry. How the design and construction of bridges is controlled I don't know, and the areas of jurisdiction start to blur depending on where a bridge is located or on what is considered to be a bridge. For example when is a foot bridge an industrial walkway? Does the footbridge have to be outside or does it refer to public space inside a large shopping centre? Small bridges and culverts on private property, what governs these? Sure we have a national bridge code, but it primarily relates to highways and railways? I doubt the code includes swinging canals.

So have two major codes for the built environment, the BCA and the bridge code. For the most part however building works are captured by the Development Act and go into the local city/district council for development approval. This therefore means initial review is against the Building Rules and that basically means the BCA, and if the building works do not relate to a habitable building then it means BCA volume 2 the presciptive solution for housing. A bridge is not a habitable building, it is therefore a class 10 building and governed by BCA volume 2, a prescriptive solution for housing. Common sense may prevail, however the law is not about common sense, it is about what is written and what is intended. For highway and railway bridges its obvious that the bridge code should control. Further more unlikely to be placed into council for development approval as design most likely placed out to tender by the approving authority in the first instance.

But bridges are not the only structure which are not habitable buildings. So if the BCA is the single point of entry for the built environment then the following are class 10 buildings governed by a prescriptive solution for housing:

1) Dam
2) Tall radio mast
3) Water tank
4) Silo's, Bins and Bunkers
5) Fixed Gantry Cranes
6) Industrial Chimneys
7) Oil refinery
8) Power Station
9) Large scale solar array
10) Wind turbine
11) Earth Retaining Structures and Coastal defence structures
12) Advertising Signs
13) Sports Safety nets
14) Agricultural Buildings/Shelters
15) Radar Dish
16) Large Scale Optical Telescope
17) Large open air machine and electrical systems

The above are all well beyond the scope of the BCA, and absolutely beyond the scope of BCA volume 2. Such are also way beyond the capabilities of building surveyors. Yet all likely to fall within the scope of the Development Act and require assessment against the building rules by building surveyors.

From a structural viewpoint the BCA is an expensive pile of scrap paper. The ABCB deliberately removed the annual probability of exceedance from AS1170 loading code and placed in the BCA, so that structural engineers would have to look at the BCA. But only need the page with the annual probability of exceedance, the rest of the structural provisions is a long list of Australian standards. Builders and plan drafters may never read standards, but engineers and similar use the standards catalogue as a major source of reference. No matter what is being designed, Australian standards are reviewed to find community expectations of standards of performance. The standards catalogue contains far more than the BCA, the BCA is nothing. Sure the BCA contains options for fire rated construction, but such is primarily an architectural design issue, not a structural issue. The architect primarily decides the materials and form of construction when it comes to habitable buildings, not the engineers. If owner and architect choose a particular set of conditions then the BCA may impose concrete construction: but it is within the scope of the architect and owner to change the conditions and avoid the concrete, and do so without the assistance of an engineer. If they insist on a particular path, and oppose the use of concrete then may be able to employ the services of a "fire engineer" and enable alternative materials such as steel cladding on steel framework to be used. But such is generally a BCA alternative solution, and really beyond the scope of the BCA to provide guidance.

The BCA is something of a joke, and extremely dangerous to be called up in legislation and imposed by law. The wording and language in the BCA is wrong. Alternative solutions are near impossible, as the BCA assessment methods basically discard the performance requirements and replace with deemed-to-satisfy provisions. Deemed-to-satisfy provisions can be inadequate and fail to satisfy performance requirements. Things beyond the scope of the BCA are squeezed within its scope by regulating authorities who have less than the necessary competence to perform their assessment role properly across the full range of building works which they may encounter.

As I indicated in earlier post the steel structures code AS4100 does not cover torsion, nor does it cover the design of connections: in particular it does not cover the localised bending and buckling of plates in the vicinity of the connections. This is not entirely a problem because there are industry manuals which cover the deficiencies. The problem is that the BCA is called up by legilsation, and it in turn calls up AS4100: thus AS4100 is considered law and mandatory, whilst the industry manuals are not. More over I have worked on contract as a structural drafter, and the supervising engineers were not aware of the manuals I was using to detail steel work connections. On the otherhand I know next to zip about concrete, then again I do know there are issues regarding detailing steel reinforcement: like got to be able to get concrete around it otherwise its not reinforced concrete its just a steel cage. Once again the engineers don't check these things and are unaware of the available industry manuals. Whilst I may prefer the CSI Steel designers manual, I am otherwise referring to Australian publications like the Steel Designers Handbook by Gorenc and Tinyou. Then again I don't really need the ASI to translate American and Eurocodes into an Australian approach for connection design: not the least of which is the ASI is too slow.

Part of the issue is what to include in the codes. For example AS4100 does not state how to calculate the bending moment in a beam. It has some guidelines for use of linear elastic analysis, use of moment amplification factors, non-linear analysis and plastic design. But the basic purpose of AS4100 is to define the maximum resistance which can be used to compare against the calculated bending moment. By the same token therefore would not expect it to define how to calculate the stresses in the plate elements of a connection. The problem is that it is not always clear cut, the division between applied stress and available resistance. In such situations empirical formula may give plate thickness directly, and there is no way to derive such formula from geometry: just have to go repeat the experiments to validate the formula: and no one working in an office is going to go do that.

Other issues to consider are:

1) Consistency (materials codes are clearly biased by politics and economics of industry sectors)
2) Repetition
3) Completeness

The loading code AS1170 series of standards presents an incomplete picture to practising engineers, and is expensive. Compare cost of wind loading code AS1170.2 excluding commentary to the American ASCE7-05 which covers all loading situations and full commentary. It is said that snow loading is little relevance to most Australian engineers, so keeping it separate keeps costs down. No it doesn't, it increases costs, as there are extra covers and other repetitive sheets forming it into a separate yet connected publication. Combining all of AS1170 into a single code would put all loading requirements into the hands of all structural engineers, giving them plenty of opportunity to study and learn the codes before they bump into need to use and have to rush out and get other portion of loading code.

But cannot do this because each portion is managed by a different Australian Standards committee. Which then becomes another issue: the codes are revised at different dates. Thus for example, the earthquake code was slow to be converted to limit state format. And another example is tests carried out to AS1170.2:1989 wind loading code against criteria in the BCA rather than to the current version of AS1170.2:2011.

It is also clear that AS1170.2 is for buildings, everything else is an after thought thrown into the appendices. Yet everyone blindly states, their product no matter what it is has to be designed to comply with AS1170.2 wind loading. Even if dealing with buildings there are large gaps in AS1170.2 tables, so not all buildings are within its scope. Generally however it is considered impractical to carry out wind tunnel tests for small residential structures to fill in the gaps, and a lot of judgement calls are made. But this can lead to inconsistency or a hard time with regulators who are not able to make decisions for themselves.  So something is required to fill in gaps in the loading code, such as at present the lack of information for solar panel installations mounted on roof tops (buildings and canopies).

The materials codes do not follow a consistent set of guidelines, so its not so much a question of learning mechanics but learning the style of an industry sector. The steel structures code AS4100 and cold-formed steel structures code AS4600 have different but similar approaches: why? One uses alpha-m , the other uses Cb, why the difference? One (AS4100) uses moment amplification and makes a big thing out of it and causes confusion, the other AS4600 hides it in the clauses for checking member capacity? The aluminium structures code AS1664 uses similar approach for effective section modulus to AS4600, yet it is lost in the midst of the code. The aluminium structures code calculates limiting stresses whilst all other codes calculate resistances, this is stated because mechanical use aswell as structural. This is a poor excuse, as resistances are just as useful to mechanical, and AS4600 calculates limiting stresses but converts into resistances. Mean while the timber structures code AS1720, as another approach to lateral stability again, and whilst it calculates resistances it doesn't differentiate between section capacity and member capacity as the other codes do, the result is that it calculates member capacities, and then in combined action expressions multiplies by factors to basically undo the member capacity calculations and produce section capacities. The equations would be simpler if section capacities were calculated first. Further when timber structures code changed to limit state, it retained the 30% overstress on wind loading, it should have removed this. Such over stress wasn't removed until AS1170.2 was further revised and regional wind speeds were reduced. AS1720 also uses the capacity reduction factor to take another bite off importance factor. It calculates capacities of joints rather than allowing assessment of the individual components of a connection. It presents some concepts which can be misleading and therefore hazardous if applied incorrectly. I really dislike its presentation of double shear, and in general the code seems incomplete and thrown together.

Most of these codes can be replaced by a single code, with different materials properties, instead of being aligned with the traditional practice of a given industry. Further all the codes could then be updated at once. All these committes for different codes is silly. Australia just doesn't have the population to waste on such nonsense. This is reflected in the slow update of some codes, apparently 30 years lapsing for some codes before revised.

The significant overlap between all the materials codes is one example of repetition as well as inconsistency. The timber framing code AS1684.1, the metal framing code AS 3623, and NASH specification for steel framed housing are all unnecessary. Basically all these codes present a set of rules for the design of individual structural elements of pinned and braced building structures. Incomplete rules, for there is a lack of information to assess the ceiling diaphragm and/or floor diaphragms on which the structures depend. Once again its industry politics, timber versus steel. Its a waste, especially for designers, who have to go get each of these different codes and waste their time becoming familar with, and making reference to, when could otherwise simply get on with using the loading code.

If design something to timber structures code AS170, then there is need to compare against AS1684 span tables. Then question why are AS1684 members so large, or why so small, why don't my calculations come out the same. The members in AS1684 in some situations are larger because they check serviceability requirements not otherwise mandated, or otherwise use extreme value loads for a range of suitable situations: there is some conservatism in there to allow for the breadth of use of the span tables. Other situations using AS1720 get larger members because AS1684 has thrown in fudge factors to share and distrubute loads, they have declared superior testing of timber taking place and material strengths are higher than in AS1720, over stress permitted not otherwise considered, and axial forces fundamental to the function of the structural forms in AS1684 are ignored. So members selected from AS1684 span tables not fully compliant with AS1720. But the approach taken by AS1684 is an acceptable one, and if acceptable for timber then why not other materials. The inefficient answer to that is to write similar codes for other materials hence AS3623, and its replacement NASH specification for steel framing for housing. All lacking a bigger picture.

At its simplest a structural code would merely take the BCA structural provisions, and then have the BCA refer to the structural code. However the structural code is for all structures not just habitable buildings. So the national structural code (NSC) would have to also reference:

1) BCA
2) The bridge code
3) Crane Code
4) Industry guides for Bins and Silos
5) Standards for light poles
6) Standards for lattice towers
7) Other Australian Standards and or industry manuals.

Where Australian standards not available, then reference would be to ISO, Euro, British, American codes with order of preference given and where possible the actual codes called up. The code would also identify shortfalls and the need for further research, this can be given in an informative appendix.

Most importantly the code would capture all structural forms and give basic guidelines and simplifications permitted for various categories of structures, and make explicit common practices such as allowing 10% overstress.

The code would also identify accepted reference manual, and classic texts and papers which form the basis of structural mechanics and structural design. For example designing a water storage tank using finite element method (FEM) may be considerd unacceptable if there is industry manual on storage tank design. It seems to be an increasingly common practice to simply accept FEM as giving the right answer. When I was studying FEM was considered to be far from the right answer, having an error of 20% or more, and only to be used as a design guide, with it being absolutely necessary to build and test prototypes to validate and calibrate the FEM model. But FEM is being used for massive one-off structures on assumption of model being valid: bad practice.

Engineering takes place at the frontiers of science and technology. Civil, structural and mechanical disciplines are not operating at the frontiers, the technologies they deal with are parametric variations of well established technologies. Placing something inferior into the built environment is not acceptable. Somebody somewhere has typically worked it all out before.

Tall industrial chimney stacks getting over stressed due to wind excitation not acceptable, but do we have any guidelines available? Sure I have some historical documentation from the UK, but does Australia have any current documentation? If cannot find an Australian standard is there some obscure industry association? There is no point some specialist coming out off the woodwork after a chimney collapses and makes national and international news.

We need one point of reference for structural design. Want to design a sail shade, then these are the reference papers which should be used. Designing as a cable-net and tension membrane too complex, then this is the simplified approach permitted if sail shade lies with in a given set of constraints.

The requirements for becoming a competent structural designer all outlined in the structural code, these are the topics, the papers and reference manuals should be familiar with. And it doesn't involve getting a master of business administration (MBA) and becoming a chartered executive engineer: it requires competence in structures not accounting.

It is a code because it is to be sustained and maintained on a regular basis, it is to be kept upto date, by guardians of the knowledge. The code can also list in appendices, acceptable software, such software does not have to be used, but such software is used as a point of reference. Criteria for testing and approving software can be given. Also of extreme importance is identifying national experts in various areas of practice and with respect to various structural forms. These national experts need connecting to a long chain of future successors. Who replaces Trahair for hotrolled steel, Hancock for cold-formed steel and Holmes for wind loading?

We primarily have regulations because someone figured there was a shortfall, not because that somebody knew the answer. Good regulations capture everything and have generic rules which lead to specifics. Poor codes have specifics, impose themselves on everything and pose a greater hazard than having no code at all.

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) makes a poor National Structural Code. The BCA should reference an all encompassing structural code. And both of these should be referenced by an even more all encompassing technology code: fusiion, genetics, nanomachines, space exploration. What are the constraints on research and testing? For these technologies even the testing of prototypes poses a hazard to the greater community.

It seems that there are many so called engineers who don't understand the fundamentals of their role, and they are simply code pushers, and have no grasp of the concept of design. Large numbers of so called civil engineers especially, are capable of little more than pushing numbers through codes of practice and saying yes complies? If not in the code they don't check it, or even think about it.

A comprehensive structural code will highlight that their continuing professional development (CPD) has been rubbish, that they don't know very much and not operating at the level of engineer, and barely operating at the level of engineering associate. The code will define a basic methodolgy to the approach of design and evaluation of design proposals.

It should also be noted that the existing regulations generate far too much scrap paper. So guidelines are also required for the presentation of calculations, suitability of certificates, and methods for providing rapid and efficient assessments and approvals of common structural forms. We should not be hampered by the past tradition of working calculations out with pencil and paper automatically producing documentation. People seem to go out of their way to find mathematical type set like packages to achieve such presentations and largely there is little value, and all they do is produce more scrap paper. Calculations are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. So whilst a calculation needs doing it doesn't necessarily need presenting some where.

Also those checking calculations are not performing their proper role, their task is independent assessment of the proposal. The proposal is shown on drawings not calculations: and independent means with out influence and guidance of the design calculations. So the approving authority doesn't need any calculations, and assessment is faster and easier than finding a design-solution. Assessing existing construction however takes longer and is more complex than design: this is because most illegal construction also deviates from the validated mathematical models, and testing cannot be carried out. Basically assessing stuff people have built without approval is frustrating. That aside, if have a design proposal which has been designed, not just dumped on paper, then assessing compliance with a code should be relatively easy if have the appropriate tools. The problem as indicated in previous blogs, is people putting effort into developing tools appropriate to their job. The lack of appropriate tools results in inconsistencies between similar projects and unnecessary amounts of time expended on the project.

So I see what I can do about setting up a Blog to start an open source structural code.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Technical Lawyers: Not Engineers

Those persons with 4 year B.Eng qualifications seem to spend a lot of time complaining about train drivers, plumbers and a variety of other occupational groups or businesses calling themselves engineers. My argument is that these people with the B.Eng are themselves not engineers, and making reference to some qualifying prefix such as graduate, professional or registered is irrelevant.

I reiterate my previous stance: engineers operate at the frontiers of science and technology. I therefore consider it disrespectful  and insulting to my cultural heritage to refer to anyone operating within a regulatory system as an engineer.

Apparently at the end of last year South Australia had an open consultation about the registration of Structural Engineers with respect to the Development Act & Regulations. It wasn't very open, nor very public, and very few people were aware of such: some of the submitted comments criticised this aspect of the proposal. I became aware via eNews, an email newsletter published by Engineers Australia, after commentary had closed. They (IEAust, via the mechanical branch for some reason) had apparently contributed to commentary on the proposal, but were disappointed that it didn't extend to all engineering disciplines.

This is where I have issue. It is not about engineering, and no engineering is involved. Language has not kept pace with developments. Building Surveyors, either working for city council or as private certifiers are always telling people to go get engineers report, get engineers calculations, or certificate of an independent technical expert. That "independence" is one of the major criticisms of the proposal. If I understood the commentary (I haven't found the actual proposal yet), it seems reference to independent technical expert will be removed from the Act/Regulations and self-certification by registered engineers will be permitted. Now that I oppose: both Queensland with its RPEQ's and Victoria with its RBP(engineer) seem to have a proliferation of consultants charging extortionate fees for filling in silly forms and rubber stamping, and self-certification seems out off control. I am aware of this because agents for manufactured structural products hit obstacles in South Australia, when the self-certified products are rejected due to lack of independence, then when independently reviewed the products are found less than compliant with the national codes. If have access to the original calculations these are found wanting and deficient.

One of the main arguments put forward for registration of professional engineers is the asymmetry of knowledge between the supplier and the buyer. However I am beginning to think this is a nonsense argument. In fact after the past 12 months I am gaining considerable dislike for regulations and regulators. From the start of my career I have always found the regulations to be deficient and inadequate and blind compliance to pose a serious hazardous. However I mostly encounter people who have scant regard for regulations and do what they want. These people have either built something without development approval, or have submitted a proposal for development approval without proper design. Consequently they are only seeking engineering services because the city council has told them to get engineering calculations.

I also have been informed by some council building surveyors that often they ask for engineering, as it is often the best chance they have of getting some decent drawings. It doesn't always work though, and the engineers just do the numbers, providing the Calc's-for-Council (CfC) that have been requested. The city/district councils are part of the problem here. It is difficult for engineers to get their client to go and get some decent architectural drawings, when they insist that the scribble they have produced is good enough for council and council just wants some calculations. That also poses a hindrance towards the engineers producing drawings and getting paid for. So documentation for development approval is relatively dismal, even though there are some specific schedules for drawings in the SA Development Regulations. I contend that none of this constitutes engineering.

Engineering for the most part is concerned with controlling inputs so as to have a high level of confidence about the expected output.

Therefore for the building surveyor, to declare remove the illegal construction or submit a Development Application, with an engineers report, is nonsense. If the structure is built already then there can be no engineering, as already failed to control the inputs, and therefore have no certainty about the existing construction. Persons with engineering qualifications can go to site, kick dirt, kick walls with calibrated steel cap boots, and may be use ESP, but fundamentally what they see is irrelevant. Engineering as it as become is not about properties that can be seen: it is about physical properties which have to be measured under controlled conditions and systems installed following controlled processes, and then operated in controlled manner. The building industry may be regulated, but it certainly is not controlled  It is not engineers who are required to improve administration and implementation of regulations.

There was an article a few years back published in Engineering World, a publication of Engineers Australia, the article was a reprint of an article from an American Journal. The article was about the American licensing system for engineers. This system apparently has an industry exemption clause, and due to the BP oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there have been calls to remove the industry exemption. What was interesting is that those opposed to removing the exemption were in the aerospace industry. Now the aerospace industry I would place as operating close to the frontiers of science and technology. Those working in such industry more likely to get double degrees in science and engineering, pursue masters and doctorates rather than get a P.E license. But even with the industry exemption, many did pursue P.E licenses, as a matter of personal development and as a benefit to career progression. But once again I contend that these people with the P.E license are not carrying out engineering. The FE/PE examinations are not about engineering, they are about the established science and application to established technologies. This established body of knowledge is more along the lines of technical law, than science, and the practitioners are more technical lawyers than engineers.

If the design and construction of bridges and buildings, cars and locomotives, aircraft and ships were at the frontiers of technology, then the community wouldn't have any issues or problems. Operating at the frontiers of science and technology I would have expectations that a bridge or building would collapse, because have no means of predicting the performance of such structure before construction. But bridges and buildings are not at the frontiers of science and technology, and neither are deep sea oil rigs. Consequently when bridges and buildings collapse unexpectedly there is a public out cry of something gone wrong: the established science and technology have not been properly applied. The peoples law has been breached, the technical law has not been applied.

Then again when buildings collapse during hurricanes and earthquakes, there is another issue at play: and that is the public having reasonable expectations of performance. Buildings cannot be made flood proof, hurricane proof, nor earthquake proof. So called engineers running around using fear to get the community to restrict practice of engineering to a limited few, whilst declaring they can provide resistant buildings, is not acceptable behaviour and is irresponsible. It is false, they cannot provide earthquake resistant buildings, it is neither practical, economical or possible. The magnitude of the forces that will be experienced are uncertain, and therefore the adopted design forces always have the probability of being exceeded. If it was possible to predict the absolute maximum force exerted by hurricanes, flood waters and hurricanes posed on this planet, it would just be uneconomical and impractical to resist the forces, and doing so would typically deny many from access to buildings and other amenities in the first place.

Whilst the Insurance council of Australia would prefer buildings to be stronger and less prone to failure: doing so would increase initial cost of buildings and so deny many people from having a building in the first place. More than anything however the issue is one of design philosophy.

Current structural design thinking is too simplistic: make the resistance of the structure greater than the forces exerted. Whilst calculating these forces and resistances may be complex, it doesn't require much thought, and today a brain dead unimaginative block of silicon can do the calculations (eg. a computer). Good design requires imagination, and qualitative appreciation of science, not just ability with arithmetic, which has really been the traditional basis of selecting engineers.

In the past engineering calculations required people who understood the mathematical expressions and could substitute numbers into them. Crunching the numbers however, and substituting one mathematical expression into another does not however constitute an understanding of the science and the real world phenomena embodied in and modelled by the mathematical expressions. To put it simply many of the so called engineers of the past were little more than human calculators or human computers: they were not designers, they did not have ingenuity, they did not have vision, and they were not leaders.

Clearly therefore with the introduction of electronic calculators, followed by the personal computer, many of these human calculators will find themselves displaced from employment: for they have little to contribute to their employing organisations, and little to contribute to industry and society in general. Their real trade was never engineering but human calculator: biological number cruncher. They were and are one of many cogs required to get the number crunching job done in reasonable time frame.

Now time frames and effort seem to be something both the public and building surveyors fail to understand. The engineering effort for a given structural form is the same irrespective of the size. A small garden shed requires as much engineering effort as a large industrial shed if they both have the same structural form. The cost of the engineering effort for a small structure (eg. garden shed) is likely to exceed the cost of the building, as a consequence it is important that such structures are designed and documented once and then built many times.

Owners and builders often draw up small structures and dump into council for development, expecting quick approval because many such similar structures already in the built environment. They are told to go get engineering. This is nonsense, and otherwise an irritation to the people concerned who don't see why they need to pay for engineering. To a certain extent they are right. There is no engineering involved: their is no frontier of science and technology to push forward. There is no scientific or technological hurdle to jump, just a regulatory obstruction.

The obstruction does not impose a need for engineering, it imposes a requirement for evidence-of-suitability. As far as the development Act/regulations are concerned suitability is defined solely in terms of compliance with the Building Rules, and the Building Rules are defined to be the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

Now something which is 100% compliant with the BCA, and which has only been assessed against the BCA criteria can be extremely defective and unsuitable for purpose: but the regulations and regulators do not care about that. The regulators consider themselves in the clear from responsibility for failures, if they enforce compliance with irrelevant and inadequate regulations. These regulators need a wake up call. When there is a failure, compliance with regulations may be looked at first: but then the regulations are brought into question and so are individuals. If the science of the day clearly shows that a regulation is inadequate, and that any person trained in such science should reasonably be expected to be aware of such inadequacy, then that individual may still be held accountable for the failure.

For example AS4100 steel structures code does not give consideration to direct torsional stresses or actions: for that matter it only gives token consideration to direct shear and that's a more fundamental issue than torsion. As a consequence of such deficiency in the code, a steel structure may well be 100% compliant with AS4100 but defective and unsuitable for purpose because it is over stressed in Torsion. This is especially a danger with modern 3D structural analysis software which code checks to AS4100, and otherwise ignores the torsion in the members: the torsion resulting because of the default fully rigid connections between all members. Similarly the ASI connection manuals are not called up by AS4100 nor by the BCA. Consequently a steel structure may be defective due to inadequate assessment of the connections, resulting in localised deformation of the connected members.

Now some people, engineers included have the view if something was important then it would be in the code, if not in the code then not important, then can be ignored. This can result in conflict between designer, client and regulator. Often owners, especially pushy developers, take drawings to the council and ask what is required to get approval. Strictly under the independence requirements of the development act/regulations the council should keep its mouth shut: but often they give design advice. However the developer and the council are not fully informed individuals with respect to the project: their views are therefore often flawed. The developer returns to the engineer, and says I only need to do this to get approval, your design is over conservative. The engineers response often being: if you prefer the councils design, then go get the council to design it and take full responsibility for it. Whilst I'm designing it and taking responsibility, this is what it shall be. Regulations do not equate to quality design, nor design suitable for purpose.

At best regulations only cover the most critical 20% of the critical characteristics or features which need to be considered to achieve a quality design. Ignoring the remaining 80% can still result in a defective design. Also as a legal imposition the regulations are poorly worded and poorly structured, and place people at risk.

That AS4100 is inadequate would not be a major issue if the Development Act/Regulations via the BCA did not give it legal standing. The problem is that the BCA calls AS4100 up as a deemed-to-satisfy provision. Still not a major problem, something which complies with a deemed-to-satisfy provision may still be considered defective because it fails to meet the BCA performance criteria. The problem arises however because the BCA states that if meet the deemed-to-satisfy provisions, then the design is deemed to satisfy the BCA performance requirements, and therefore is BCA compliant. The problem is that a structure merely compliant with AS4100 does not necessarily meet the BCA performance criteria, and may be otherwise be defective.

If the BCA was worded differently then a steel structure can be rejected for failing to meet the BCA performance requirements whilst it otherwise meets AS4100. The designer can then be required to follow various industry manuals, and the basic technical science (engineering science if you like, I prefer you didn't). Unfortunately its not appropriately.

At one point the ABCB was lauding the BCA as one of the few performance based codes in the world, and world leader. The BCA is not performance based. The BCA is very close to being a heap of irrelevant rubbish. For a building code the BCA has very little content to do with buildings  The ABCB would like the BCA, or the now national construction code (NCC) to be the single point of reference for the built environment. Such would be extremely hazardous. The BCA is only concerned with habitable buildings, anything not considered habitable is a class 10 building. If a building is class 10, then reference is made to BCA volume 2, this volume is little more than a prescriptive design-solution for houses, and typically has fewer generic performance criteria than BCA volume 1.

Clearly BCA volume 2 is inadequate for the design of highway and railway bridges, as it is equally inadequate for the design of sports safety nets, solar panels,, wind turbines, power stations, oil refineries, tall radio antenna, radar dishes, large scale optical telescopes, water tanks and tall water cooling towers, industrial chimney's and a multitude of other small to very large structures to be found in the built environment.

The federal government is pushing solar energy, there is a national standard for solar panel installations, which as far as I can tell largely covers the efficiency of the installation and safety of the electrical systems. There is a blind statement by the Clean Energy Council, that a solar panel installation shall comply with AS1170.2 This is not possible, as AS1170.2 does not contain adequate information to derive a pressure coefficient for the solar panels. On SEAint listserver I may have suggested that failing access to other information about flat plates then the pressure coefficients for mono-slope canopies are the nearest data available. However, if check the tables in AS1170.2, will find these tables are only valid for a h/d ratio less than or equal to one: that is a system which spans further than its height. An individual panel mounted so that people have access under so that can maintain with out shutting system down, will have a h/d ratio greater than 1: it is higher than it spans. The tables in AS1170.2 are not adequate, and therefore it is unknown whether the use of the table will provide a conservative estimate of pressure on the roof structure or unconservative estimate.

Now none of this would really matter, but some tin pot dictator figured their concepts of suitability of purpose should be written into law. For the most part suitability is dictated by insurance companies, who are unwillingly to pay out for replacement. So if a structure does not comply with the BCA, then chances are the insurance companies will not pay out for insurance if failure occurs. But here's the problem. The BCA is not adequate to determine the suitability of solar panel installation: not panels in isolation, not panels attached to the roof of an enclosed building, and not solar panels attached to a canopy roof such as verandah or carport. The latter in particular are becoming common, because verandahs and other canopies are often larger than the house, or otherwise cast a shadow on the house roof. Gable veradahs in particular form a valley between the verandah and house roof, so the house roof is in shade, with the outer face of the verandah roof facing the sun.

Now Queensland building authority has recognised the limitations of the AS1170.2 and with the James Cook University tropical cyclone research centre, they have conducted testing for solar panels mounted to roofs of enclosed buildings. This research mostly repeats research done elsewhere, though it seems more concerned with the pressure on the building roof than the pressures on the solar panels: so its use for assessing connection of solar panels is questionable. None the less it is a start, however still need research done for solar panels mounted on free roofs or canopies. Now such research should not be done by a single state: it is a national issue: AS1170.2 is national, the BCA is national, and it is the federal government pushing solar panels. More importantly the IEAust is national, it is supposed to be a learned society, so why hasn't the structural college identified the inadequacy of both AS1170.2 and the BCA? What kind of learned society is the IEAust? Recently it has stated that it will re-establish its learned society function, and start publishing technical notes, and its first technical note, now what would be expect that to be? Can't guess. Well its to be on mergers and acquisitions: good physics there. The IEAust is not an institution of engineers, of applied scientists, of technical scientists, its more an institute of managers and accountants.
Even worst last year the manager responsible for chartered status explictly stated we were all mistaken if we thought CP.Eng and NPER were concerned with technical competence: it is not. CP.Eng and NPER are concerned only with professionalism and ethics. Nice considerations may be if operating at the frontiers of science and technology: however it would be even nicer to know they were technically competent before they got there.

The regulators and the community are concerned with technical competence. Like the recent brick wall collapse in Victoria: they are all out looking for a scape goat: who to hold responsible. All parties involved are responsible. And most especially, and currently most vocal building union, which operates offices directly across the road from the accident. Competent trades people do not merely do, they question what they are being requested to do. They didn't merely place a hoarding in front of the wall they attached it to the wall: now what exactly was the point and purpose of that hoarding, and why was it higher than the wall? Relatively simple questions, and part of the answer is to protect the public from construction works. Now what code of practice controls adequacy of structures during construction and/or demolition works? Further more who is in charge and control of such works?

Declaring that a registered or licensed engineer has to be responsible in charge doesn't work. It hasn't worked in the USA, in the past few years there have been several collapses of construction cranes, and tunnel roof collapses. Similarly it hasn't worked in Queensland with bridges collapsing during construction, and now clearly RBP(engineer) not working in Victoria.

The issue is not about a one off assessment for registration or a license, nor is it about some silly continuing professional development (CPD) requirements. The issue concerns specific job functions, and an established body of knowledge required to full fill that job function. That body of knowledge is largely technical science and technical law. With respect to buildings those in the know about the technical law are Building Surveyors. In the past these building surveyors worked for government authorities and either had education in architecture or engineering, and chose to specialise in the regulations, in technical law. Now Building Surveyors have their own qualification framework, and as a consequence they have little experience in design, and not particularly significant knowledge of the science behind the regulations. The building surveyors potentially pose a hazard, and building survey technicians a greater hazard. This is why the regulations make reference to certificates from independent technical experts for certain areas of practice, such as the structure.

Assessment and regulations hinder design rather than promote. For example energy efficiency assessment is carried out by approved software operated by registered people. Only registered people can buy the software and in general there is no design version of the software. These energy efficiency assessors are not architects, nor HVAC engineers, nor are the designers of any description. In the main they are relatively unskilled operators of a black box software package. Such approach of getting drafters to draw up plans and then getting a certificate from an energy efficiency assessor is unproductive and does not result in quality design. No design really takes place.

Back to the asymmetry of knowledge issue. More traditionally, an architect would talk to the client, and talk to the engineer. The architect therefore acted as a go between, for the engineer and client. The architect seeks out what the client wants, and the engineers assist the architect to achieve. If look at ships and other water vessels it is naval architect, which determines the over all design concept and seeks the assistance of engineers to achieve. When it comes to computer software, it is an architect who designs the system and engineers who assist. When it comes to other products, industrial product designers design the over all product and are assisted by engineers. Industrial product designers sprung from the architects of buildings.For other fields the engineer may be the chief designer, but in such situations they are typically designing for themselves or an informed client. I say there is no asymmetry, and no need for licensing. There is always the possibility for some other person to liaise between the uniformed and the highly technical. The license doesn't help at all: doesn't help with doctors and doesn't help with builders.

It ultimately comes back to the individual being competent to handle their own affairs, and take responsibility. Regulations and laws in general are an attempt to remove individual responsibility. People work around regulations. For example there is alternative medicine: is it any less valid than main stream medicine? That is up to the individual to decide. We have a formal education system, we teach the scientific method, it is within everyone's capability to question and seek appropriate answers. They may not be able to carry out experimental research, but they can question that which is carried out. Medical scientists for example and dismally poor scientists and statisticians: one minute something causes cancer the next its good for you. Data has to be interpreted and such interpretation has subjective and political bias. Science is not free from politics: people have research grants and jobs they want to keep. People need to question, not blindly accept.

Laws, and regulations are generally imposed people who wish to exercise power over others. Further more the whilst the police are often referred to as a law enforcement agency, they do no such thing. The police do not enforce the law as such, but rather ensure the imposition of the penalties for breach of the law. Occupational health and safety advocates for example have little interest in solving the technical problems involved, they are simply power brokers who want to make penalties greater, based on stupid notions that doing so will act as a greater deterrent to unsafe practices. Unsafe practices can only stop, if safe practices are available to replace them. Alternatively we can simply shut down agriculture and mining, so as to stop all unsafe practices: somehow I don't believe the population will be happy about a lack of food and lack of electricity. If we are going to regulate, if we are going to resolve problems via the legal system, then the system needs to be well designed. Our existing regulations and codes of practice are poorly designed.

People in general go about doing what ever they want, ultimately they bump into regulations. The regulations are their to impose a minimum standard, not a good standard, not a high standard, but a barely adequate minimum standard. Though in some situations the standards are far too high to be practical in all situations to which they are applied. The point and purpose of moving to performance based codes and limit state design, is so that can design systems to be better suited to their specific purpose. The problem however is a lack of an over riding code of practice. For example the BCA should refer to a single structural code, and that code then refers to the appropriate Australian standards. Better still, would be an over riding technology code for the whole technological environment, which makes reference to the BCA as a subordinate code. Building surveyors know little about technology, and they are responsible for the BCA, to make the BCA the single point of reference for the built environment would be silly.

Business is dumping technology into the environment without proper thought and consideration, without proper research. The building industry since it largely deals with custom one-off constructions is one of the greatest perpetrators of such laxity. The most fundamental law covering such activity is the fair trading laws, requiring goods be fit for purpose. On top of this there may be some environmental laws. But in the main its a free for all.

Registration of structural engineers in South Australia based on CPEng NPER serves no purpose. It merely adds an extra operating cost for practising engineers, and further more CPEng NPER is no indication of competence. So practitioners will have to pay the IEAust fees for CPEng NPER and SA government for local registration. Further the requirement is not to ensure good design, it is to ensure thorough checking against the codes of practice.

Land surveyors measure and describe that which exists. Quantity surveyors monitor and measure quantities used in construction against specifications. Building surveyors check compliance of designs with existing regulations, and check construction for compliance with the approved documents and check variations for compliance with regulations.

Major problems with the building industry are:

1) Lack of control of materials, and systems supplied. (eg. bolts, steel sections, turn buckles which are supplied do not match specifications.)
2) Technically unskilled retailers are becoming suppliers to a technically uniformed industry. (eg. the builder knows no more about the required properties of steel than the retailer selling.)
3) Project Documents are just for the council to look at, so that approval can be granted.
4) Building Surveyors seem more concerned with disabled access ramps, than any other features of a building.
5) The BCA itself has very little about building systems, and the required characteristics of the components. The BCA is primarily about spaces. This makes alternative technologies such as SIP's, mud brick, rammed earth, straw bale, near impossible to get approval for.
6) People rush ahead seeking development approval, before proper design has been carried out, and before the proposal has been proven suitable for purpose or at least demonstrated code compliant. The onus is on the advocate or proponent of a building to submit evidence-of-suitability, it is not for the city council to prove it suitable.
7) People consider the city councils and regulations to be obstructive and hindering. (The real problem is owners, builders and plan drafters don't read the codes of practice)
8) There is a lack of a science and learning culture. If the IEAust acted as a learned society, then would be aware of all the limitations and deficiencies of the codes of practice, and there would be plenty of research to fund, and masters research degrees to pursue. But IEAust members are arrogant, and think the B.Eng contains all they need to know, and that the 4 years compared to everyone else's 3 year bachelor degree makes them superior. That 4th year however is rubbish and not altogether a full year, and often half taken up by industry experience or a major project. Others with 3 year qualifications are already working on real world projects. These so called engineers place themselves on a pedestal they do not deserve and wonder why everyone else keeps knocking the pedestal from under their feet.

I should point out that when I started university, the first year of the B.Eng we were told explicitly:

1) We were highly likely to be the first and only engineer working for our employer.
2) If we wanted real design experience we would have to go over seas.

So for those being hampered by the IEAust getting immigration visas to come to Australia, the local experience you don't have is zero experience. Local Experience equals zero experience. You are over qualified, with in a few years you are likely to be promoted above the person who appointed you. Should also know that the IEAust has been appointed by the government to review applications, but if you already live in Australia, then the IEAust is irrelevant, join it if wish or ignore: its a voluntary organisation, and many think it charges fees for service of little value: and membership certainly has no relevance towards defining competence. I certainly wouldn't place the IEAust in a position of responsibility to assess technical competence: I would consider such appointment negligent.

Forget about engineers and engineering. The building industry does not need registered structural engineers. We have an established body of knowledge, call this body of knowledge technical science. The people who employ this technical science, call them technicians, associate technologists, and technologists. Associate technologists is my proposed new name for engineering associates. I propose this new name because, Engineers Australia since it shut down the institute of engineering associates as largely failed to accredit appropriate study programs, and otherwise corrupted the concept of engineering associates, by renaming them engineering officers, and otherwise equating them to WFEO engineering technicians. In South Australia we had an industrial award for working conditions for technical officers: it distinguished between technicians and engineering associates. The current shortage of engineers has highlighted the importance of engineering associates. Many jobs currently occupied by graduates with a B.Eng were previously occupied by engineering associates, and the people with the jobs are never going to gain the experience to become chartered engineers. But they have the B.Eng so can call themselves engineers, and will not pursue IEAust qualifications, since such are irrelevant to their job.

The problem is that all graduates should be pursuing status as a chartered engineering officer as a first career stepping stone, not pursuing something based on equivalent academic award. So just because I have a B.Tech doesn't make me a technologist. I'm just a graduate with a degree and 16 plus years experience (MIIE, gradTIEAust), I don't see any value expending time upgrading my IEAust membership status. There can be no pride or value in getting the grade. Even MIIE has little value to me, I applied to join and was granted full membership. The Australian institutes and institutions are more like social networking clubs than real learned societies, and they often confuse functions with unions and employer organisations. That in itself is a major problem towards developing a competent work force. Even CPD is a joke, its more concerned with paying fees for certificates than actually learning anything relevant. There is something politically motivated about registration and it is not the welfare of the public.

Both building surveyors and building survey technicians have inadequate knowledge of the technical science behind the codes of practice. For example I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of houses are beyond the scope of the timber framing code, yet they are still approved as compliant. The timber framing code AS1684 is only valid for simple rectangular buildings: buildings with wall plans that step in and out and have roofs with multiple hips, ridges and valleys are beyond the scope of the code. The code cannot adequately access the adequacy of the ceiling diaphragm holding the walls up, nor access the stability of the roof structure. It might be possible to get the size of rafter from the code, but that doesn't mean the structure complies with the code: the assembly can still be inadequate and unsuitable for purpose. Throwing engineers into the mix doesn't improve the situation. Timber framed houses are expected to result in quick approval: if engineer questions compliance they will be considered as inexperienced and to not know what they are doing. Everyone will simply find someone who will grant approval, and accept the risk.

Once again the issue is not that the code is inadequate, the issue is that the code becomes embodied into the peoples law, and severed from the physical laws. Minimum balustrade height for example, is nonsense. There have been various cases where people have been injured and so called experts have declared if the balustrade height complied with the code then persons would not have been injured. In all cases I am aware off, this is total nonsense, and the experts called upon are anything but expert. The appropriate height to ensure that a specific individual will not topple over the balustrade cannot be placed in the code. The code can only contain values which most people are unlikely to topple over, but cannot guarantee a specific individual will not. Even if the top rail was  50 mm lower than specified in the code: then for the individual injured whilst messing around on the stairs and being irresponsible: the height of the rail may just be as needed, in fact making it 200 mm lower than specified in the code may be more suitable. For that matter a lot of humans may fall under the code specified top rail. Code compliance is fine, if the code suits the situation it is applied to. Making the codes law a prosecuting people for non-compliance is ludicrous.

However, whilst South Australia does have a problem of blind application of code requirements, the more immediate issue to resolve is the lack of respect for complying with regulations in the first place.

Now houses are said to be too expensive. Part of the problem is property speculators buying up available land and building houses to rent. Rental properties are also too expensive, because compared to the past where landlords actually owned land and property, modern landlords don't they expect the tenant to pay off the mortgage and provide a profit stream as well. Thus for the tenant rental offers no real benefit over buying a house: if they can get a mortgage. If they cannot get a mortgage chances are they also will experience problems getting rental property: because as I said the owners have a mortgage to pay off and profits to earn and so they want long term residents: and proof they can afford to be so.

So here's the thing. The Building Code of Australia (BCA) is revised each and every year, whilst this is largely clarification of intent, there are some changes to requirements. Therefore a house built last year may not comply with BCA:2013 when it is issued in May. Houses built in the 1970's and earlier certainly have low probability of complying with the BCA.

There is thus benefit in getting an Archicentre consultant (architect) out to do a property inspection. Now this inspection likely only to cover the basic quality of the property. If there are cracks these will be assessed as being structural or aesthetic. If structural then the need for a structural specialist (engineer) will be required. Mostly the assessment will determine the need for work to repair plumbing, electrical systems, and carpentry and brick work, along with garden maintenance and landscaping. An architect can probably also offer advice on renovations, extensions and additions. However such assessment won't entirely cover the issue of BCA compliance.

Existing dwellings do not need to be brought into compliance with current BCA requirements. Whilst it may not be required to bring a building into compliance with the current version of the BCA, it doesn't mean that as a buyer you cannot desire or want a building to be compliant with the current BCA. If you buy a new building it will be required to comply with the current BCA, it will be more energy efficient than older buildings and therefore have lower on going operating costs.

Getting a building surveyor to inspect and assess for compliance with the current codes can therefore be beneficial. Getting a quantity surveyor to cost the required improvements even better. With this information as a potential buyer, you can compare the cost of the property against the cost of making it code compliant. Is it worth while renovating the house to make it code compliant, or will the house need to be bulldozed and replaced because there is too much to do to it? The house can be valued as worthless, with the land only being of value. An informed buyer has a certain amount of control over what they get. Real estate agents are required to check development approvals. If there is illegal construction, development approval is required before the sale can progress. But there is no requirement to compare the house against the current BCA, nor requirement to get an independent inspection carried out. Real estate agents don't just work for sellers they also work for buyers. Showing a house is rubbish hampers a sale and so sales person doesn't get their commission.

Now if we get building surveyors and architects assessing the existing housing stock for the benefit of buyers, and show that permitted resources to be wasted on rubbish houses, and that hammer house prices down, results in demolition and construction of newer more energy efficient, and structurally superior houses. Then we don't need to pressure the government to release or re-zone land for housing, demolishing and renovating existing will energise the building industry and keep it going.

If the new houses are appropriately designed by suitably qualified individuals, then will not need heating or air conditioning, and solar panels likely supply all other energy requirements.

This does not require engineers, it needs better educated building designers, and better educated building surveyors. Once upon a time architects designed and constructed large monumental buildings, and carpenters and masons constructed smaller simpler buildings. There is no need for engineers in building design, the architects should be capable of designing the structure and the electrical and mechanical building services without need of engineers. To invent the concept of architectural engineers for structures, and building engineers for electrical and mechanical services is inefficient. One person should be able to design the whole building, and assess all its systems. If employ an HVAC engineer then end up with mechanical air conditioning system, if architect does their job properly no such mechanical system should be required. If an architect does their job properly then also have no need for building works contractor (BWC) or building works supervisor (BWS). The problem is that the vast majority of architects are no better than plan drafters. The other problem is the regulations which imposes need for BWC and BWS. Problem is many architects just want to be artists not building designers nor building providers (builders). Problem is neither architects nor civil engineers set up construction or building companies, and neither has demonstrated superiority over existing building companies. Problem is the building industry is far too fragmented.

Problem is nobody really pays any attention to the needs and desires of the community, to the wants of the market. They are self centred protecting occupational turf.

As I have said before it is not competition we need to protect it is diversity. Competition does not produce diversity, it does not generate alternatives, it does not provide options, it does not produce efficiency. We have brick veneer houses on timber frame, filled with air conditioning systems, due to a lack of imagination. More building companies does not equal diversity, nor does it equal ingenuity, it just represents many people wanting to get on the same band wagon. It simply provides an option to which supplier is to supply the same old rubbish in the same old way. No variation in product, no variation in the process of producing. A lack of vision, a lack of innovation.

Registration of structural engineers, equals a lack of imagination, and lack of vision. If these dull code crunchers are to be called engineers: then what do we call the people who place human habitat beyond the orbit of Pluto, to step out into deep space, and enable humanity to exist beyond the life of earth?

These needed code crunchers fall into the same category as land surveyors, quantity surveyors and building surveyors. So call them structural surveyors, do not call them engineers. Call them certifier(structural), call them approved person (structural), call them certifying authority (CA: structural). Certifier structural), certifier(HVAC), certifier(Electrical) seems far more suitable for the task at hand. Call them building surveyor (BS:structural), and the current role call that BS:architectural. The issue is that building surveyors are no longer taken from ranks of architects and civil engineers, and consequently their education is not adequate for the task at hand. Further noting that a BS(structural) would only be permitted to certify buildings, whilst a Surveyor(structural) can certify any structure. In neither case however is any of them involved in engineering, they are only concerned with the established body of knowledge which is technical science and technical law: there are no frontiers being pushed forward.

{I got lost somewhere in all that. I'll try and write some shorter more focused articles on the issues raised. I try covering too many issues at once, run off original track and have a hard time getting back.}

Sun 2013-Apr-14  00:26