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]

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Telephone Irritations, order/scheduling and other stuff ...

In recent few years made some changes to our telephones services. First change was to replace old commander system with wireless phones and a base station. We continued with having the answering machine set to take messages and monitoring who calls, answering the phone if we know who is calling and otherwise able to answer the call.

I generally don't like the approach, as messages on answering machine represent a queue of work to be processed. It turns into a big waste of time as becomes a silly back and forth game of everyone leaving messages on each others answering machines. My preference has always been answering machine set to answer only, with no message received. Then answer phone if able, otherwise miss the call. Problem with that is cannot monitor who is calling.

Monitoring calls is important since large proportion of calls are people selling telephone services, wanting donations, selling shares or doing surveys. Basically wasting our time. Similarly daily we get a fax for either holidays, coffee machines or business cards. Whilst legitimate faxes relatively rare, as most people now moved over to email.

Due to the expense of the telephone services, we recently changed our plan for our landlines and internet, in the process we cancelled our fax line. The latter may not have been a good idea, since it now appears that cannot use the Internet at the same time as use telephone: I don't know but maybe we need a better line filter for the DSL. On the other hand the DSL now seems to hiccup on a regular basis anyhow.

Any case we got a new plan. Moved management of our domain name over and set up some emails for the business, but otherwise lost a website presence. The latter not a major loss since didn't like the simple default web page we were permitted by other supplier in any case.

It turns out we also got message bank, and caller ID. Not initially being aware that we had message bank we accumulated a fair few calls. Seems when we were talking on the phone, messages were being accumulated on message bank, also when our answering machine got full. Since now have caller ID we no longer need to monitor the calls, we now know who is calling immediately, well at least for those people we have in the phone book and who don't have multiple phones. The answering machine has been set to answer only, or turned off altogether: not sure which. Either way we are just using the message bank for messages, rather than have multiple queues.

Still personally I prefer emails, to phone calls. Last place I worked on contract there was a memo sent round to use the phone rather than email. I thought it was a silly idea. Generally type of message get from phone junky action people: the seagull managers. They are not really action people, just mouths: they get on a phone and dump their responsibilities onto others. Having done so they think they have done a worth while job. They fail to understand that their phone call was an unwanted interruption, distraction and disturbance.

In the past it has been quite apparent if ignore a message and get back later in the day, then the caller has fixed their own problem. For the most part it is not possible to describe a problem clearly over the phone, and typically graphics are required. Therefore the phone call will typically end in, a request for a fax, a drawing to be emailed, or a meeting. None of which needed the hassle of a phone call in the first instance.

If force people to write faxes, or emails, then the thought required to write such documents will typically result in the writer solving their own problem: saving the business the cost of getting a consultant to solve the problem.

So what are telephones to be used for. Everyone (except myself and maybe a few others) is running around with a mobile phone, but do people really need to be so in touch with others? The catch cry of the advertising is that mobile phones are efficient and increase productivity for business. Personally I don't see this, for I don't see any efficiency in the use of a telephone. But then again I hate telephones.

Traditionally either communicate in person or send a messenger. The emergence of industrial society is largely dependent on the increased use of the written word. A written message is likely to reach the receiver with less distortion than if rely on the memory of a messenger. A written message can be sent by carrier pigeon or other trained animal. all of this however was relatively slow, and then the telegraph arrived, and this transmitted a variation of the written word: it was much faster then anything previously. But telegraph required infrastructure, so messages were not direct from sender to receiver. With the emergence of the telephone messages could now be sent quickly directly between the individuals needing to converse: but only by the spoken word. The spoken word is not the best way to communicate, and humans tend to be highly visual: meaning they do have to look people in the eye when talking to them.or otherwise use gestures and draw in fresh air. In short a lot is lost when talking via the phone and most people are not properly trained to communicate effectively using only the spoken word. For that matter using the written word effectively is also a relatively undeveloped skill for most. Hence the development of the fax permitting the communication of a message comprising of words, pictures and any other mark that can be placed on a piece of paper.

With the emergence of the Internet we get email, a kind of back track to the telegraph. But then email is developed further and can now convey words, graphics, audio and video: a full multimedia experience. People now have access to advanced telecommunications in the palm of their hand from just about anywhere.

So it is that I don't believe that a telephone is the most productive way to communicate in business, not via the spoken word in any case  The spoken word may be considered more sociable to some than other ways, but certainly not more appropriate. Sociable is a matter of perspective, phone calls interrupt, and there is little sociable about interrupting someone.

Some businesses have receptionists or possibly sales people who deal with incoming phone calls, for small business such resources are not always financially viable. There are also some practical problems, as often new clients/customers want to speak to the people in the know, and discuss their needs. Receptionists are good for filtering calls, and booking appointments, but typically limited in ability to discuss the services available relevant to the needs of the enquirer. Whilst sales people tend to sell stuff, not necessarily that within capability to supply.

Something far better than a spoken phone call is required to cater for new business, and for many business activities for that matter. Buyers need to be able to investigate and compare suppliers whilst suppliers need to be able to filter out potential buyers and not accept all comers.

One problem in particular for service providers, is that those services typically cannot be stock piled with customers supplied from existing stock. With services it is the customers who tend to get stock piled as they are placed and queued in a waiting line. These queues can be managed in different ways, first in first out (FIFO), last in first out (LIFO stack), or seemingly at random on the basis of ever changing priority.

Consider following problem. Explain that cannot start anything for 4 weeks, enquirer goes away and tries again 4 weeks later: result no different. This is because an additional 4 weeks of work accumulated during the enquirers wait, the enquirer needed to be in the waiting line.

If a person goes to a shop or the bank, they can see the service queue and decide whether to join it or not. With many other services the customer cannot see the queue, and the vast majority wish to push to the front of the queue: everyone has an emergency. Meanwhile the service providers need a supply of work. Negotiation may take place over the phone, but at the end of the day many customers not interested in the agreements. They wanted the job yesterday and phone everyday, causing pressure to bring their job to the front of the queue: basically to remove the daily distraction. Phone calls are noisy and distract the whole office, and so do the phone conversations. Quieter, faster and less distracting systems are required, which get direct to the point, and answer the enquirers questions.

Phone calls seldom get direct to the answer because a lot of fishing goes on trying to find out real intent and meaning, and otherwise removing ambiguities and trying to get some clarity. Other situations simply want to just ping some system and get an immediate response, with out disturbing anyone.

A phone is more for relaxed personal conversations not for efficient business transactions. Hence online banking, online stores and online order processing systems. Let computers channel and manage the queues.

How would it be if could make an appointment to see the doctor, dentist and optician online, and otherwise make the appointment permanent? To organise getting car serviced and a multitude of other regular activities all planned and set in motion. No need to remember, no need to arrange time for the appointment, no need to organise to book the appointment. Its done once, and only once, then its set in your schedule. How much more efficient is that than business keep sending out written reminders? It is a permanent on going provision until choose otherwise and cancel.

For trades, it is not safe answering mobile phone or having it on their person whilst actually doing the job. Also customers not too pleased if paying for time worked and supplier spends most of the time on phone. For consultants its difficult to get any work done during the day due to answering phone calls or just the distraction of the noise (no volume mute). Also many with mobiles seem to spend first half of meeting talking to person at last meeting, then last half talking to person at next meeting. Thus two calls to the one party, and no real attention at any meeting: may as well stay in the office and conduct business by one phone call and skip the meeting.

Mobile phones basically encourage disorder and inefficiency. With out telecommunications would have to be considerably more orderly and efficient in conducting affairs before wasting resources attending a meeting or sending a messenger.

So don't want to be wasting time with long phone calls, nor face to face meetings, nor writing long letters, emails or faxes. Time spent on communication, should result in communication, not generate confusion demanding further interaction.

Often the use of a phone, especially a mobile phone, is preceded by a failure to put brain in gear. The task of the service providers is to predict the paths of these free rolling brains and provide appropriate direction control and brakes.

Obviously not all enquirers have free rolling brains, often its the person answering the call. The latter often being a consequence of the persons mind being else where and distracted by the call.

Other times callers don't want to get into social conversation they just want to get on with business, though they may have no real idea of the business they want to get on with.

There are different audiences to cater to. Those that only want to use a voice phone and that is the only technology they have, and those that want something more efficient and direct to their needs and otherwise have access to alternative technologies.

But whilst customers want to sort chaff from the wheat, suppliers also want and need to sort and classify customers and enquirers.

From that it would appear that at least two separate phone lines are required. One for enquirers who may or may not become customers. Another line for regular clients. Possibly a 3rd line for irregular customers to discuss issues with their job. But don't really want 2 or more lines to service, any more than want voice message banks. Rather want a single line properly filtered.

Could decide only interested in work from persons with access to the Internet  Such approach would be best suited for business to business transactions, but depending on the business may be limiting relative to private individuals. On the other hand the provision of an alternative channel via the Internet may well provide the necessary filter to the telephone calls.

If people can investigate what they need to know over the Internet and place an order, and know where they are in the queue, and keep track of their position, then maybe such system will cut down: enquiries and time spent directing people to more appropriate services. Also if the queue is reliable then may be people won't mind joining the end of the queue, even though it is months away. They can do this because they are planning, rather than turn up and find it will be weeks before can get any service, they can book the service months before they actually need it.

The one thing that makes the queue unreliable is all the work not placed in the queue and often not otherwise billed. All the conversations about up and coming projects, all the additional work to existing projects, and working on the business itself to provide the service in the first place. Properly accounted for the allocable blocks of time in the queue are much reduced. If time not consumed by these miscellaneous random activities, then scheduled work from the queue maybe completed ahead of time. If not controlled then excess time is consumed by these random activities and the queue becomes unreliable again.

Getting a reliable queue is my main concern. The queue is currently not reliable, it is not managed, it simply operates by ever changing priority. Its one reason I hate telephones. People want to know where their job is, and I have no control over, and its all in the hands of my father or stuck in his head. Others are seeking services and I don't have any reliable knowledge of when anything can be supplied or completed by. All attempts to get some order fail.

Hence my reason for considering an Internet based computer managed ordering and scheduling system. People provide their details, and answer check lists and are set on the path to providing the appropriate information to get the job done. For that is another time waster, and cause of changing priorities. Projects for which all the necessary information is available, and which are quick to do, get priority, as such jobs also tend to be quick to be paid, and thus provide the basic bread and butter income. Other jobs, are slow, and difficult to extract all the necessary information so that progress can be made on the job, and then they are slow to be paid as well. Whilst better paying, they are not really the kind of jobs we want. For such longer jobs interfere with the smaller more frequent jobs. So really need to decide between small or large jobs and then stick to such decision. Smaller jobs however don't really generate adequate income. However I believe that is largely due to a lot of messing around trying to get adequate information, if had adequate information then could complete faster and therefore could complete more such jobs in a year.

Therefore an online order/scheduling system needs to place people into different servicing queues. Something of a pre-processing, basic training and induction queue. Those in the induction queue are doing the preliminary ground work necessary to get their project off the ground. Such ground work may involve being sent elsewhere or otherwise waiting for supplies from others. For example could be sent off to a drafter or builder. Or may need to order soil bore logs and site survey. As a consequence of such things there may be several stages where a customer has to wait before moving to the next stage. For example if getting residential footing construction report, then have to wait for development approval. Once approval granted, then there are trenches to dig, reo to install, and concrete to cast: for which inspections may be required or desired. Progress through these various stages can be tracked and inspections and additional services ordered as required.

Another problem is getting the business operators to work to the schedule. However such scheduling system likely to change the nature of the business, with more and more of the actual work being done in a standardised manner through an online system. So that with time more and more effort invested in building the system to provide the service rather than providing the service manually. Those who specialise in various engineering services such as residential footing construction reports haven't really put much effort into the technologies used, and enhanced the quality of service provided: no added value, no increased quality, no faster service and no lower costs. The net effect has been no real improvement in any part of the supply chain.

The current so called shortage of engineers, would be much reduced with improved logistics. The task is to know who is working on what and who is available to do what? To balance work schedules at least regionally if not nationally.

Thus far my general view has been to get certain businesses to employ either engineers or engineering associates on staff. But failing being able to do that, then need to improve access to resources required to do the job at hand. Clearly the content of most academic study programmes contain far more than required to do any specific job, the task therefore is for graduates of such programmes to inform and educate operators about the knowledge relevant to their actual work. A free telephone help line is not currently viable, but Internet based guidelines are viable. Whilst much time and effort would be required to build, it is a once only type activity. Telephone wise keep getting same questions but from different people, so not progressing. Internet wise, the question is asked and answered, and there for others to view in the future.

People buy DIY manuals and self study guides in print, but most service providers are unlikely to publish their reference materials and place on the market, and few people likely to buy such things. But businesses may publish and give away free reference materials. Not all businesses however can afford the publication, and distribution may also pose to be a problem. With the Internet and e-books, publication and distribution much less of a problem. Of course there are some who keep knowledge to themselves and see business advantage in doing so. I prefer sharing knowledge as far as is practicable.

In short I'm aiming to get rid of the land line phone altogether, along with voice messages. Then focus attention on Internet based order/scheduling system and Internet based services. To use Internet based phone services where voice is necessary, and otherwise get a mobile phone and restrict who gets the number.

Telephone companies may have this desire to publish phone numbers and charge for silent numbers, since doing so generates business on their networks: but not necessarily beneficial to the recipients. On the other hand I don't believe we get many calls as a consequence of people looking our number up in a printed directory. Most seem to be a consequence of having presence and then referral. Therefore improving presence is the more important task for growing the right kind of enquiries.

One important factor regarding getting work is that we are generally the only local supplier, and that represents convenience of access compared to going into the city. Via the Internet the big city suppliers could provide a convenience of access, not the least of which they have the resources for significant websites in the first place. Though probably easier for other consultants to find the websites than any actual customer. But then big city consultants do tend to be business to business operators rather than suppliers to private individuals.

The problem is that phones calls and people turning up all represent interruptions and distractions to train of thought. Its not a 1 second or a few minutes of interruption, the disturbance extends beyond the actual event. A few hours may have been spent getting a clear train of thought, the method of attacking a problem, then an interruption, the order disturbed and more time is required to recollect the thoughts. Normally would isolate such interruptions. No telephones in a hospital operating theatre, no phones down a coal mine, no phones on a factory floor, and no general access phones in a big office. All these areas are typically isolated from outside calls. Such isolation is something difficult for small business to do.

Calls are required to get future work, but too many calls become an obstruction to doing any work. Some may say that is good, it provides for growth. No it doesn't. Growth can only occur in whole quanta of resources, not fractional units. Service industries are typically dependent on people with the right skills. Manufacturers can typically  mechanise and automate and simplify jobs so that can take anyone on and train them on the job. Service industries typically require long periods of prior education and training before can be inducted into a job. In either case people have to be available. If people not available, then means of supplying with out need for additional people have to be investigated and developed. Growth is therefore not automatic, nor altogether desirable. It is therefore a fine balancing act of servicing that sector of the market are able to with out otherwise loosing market due to incapacity to supply larger sector of available market.

So essentially seeking better service capability without the interruptions. At the moment I can only see a solution with computers and the Internet  Not the least of which is that the Internet provides an informative and linked presence.

For example may not be permitted to advertise or place a sign outside the office, the office may be in an out off the way location, where few drive pass. So that in the physical world a business may be near invisible and unknown, but in cyberspace a business can have presence in a manner not considered as advertising to professional bodies, and a manner that does not affect any street scape  and yet also becomes something people regularly interact with, when otherwise they wouldn't have anything to do with such business except in rare circumstances. The Internet provides for small business that which TV advertising provides for large business: a popular presence.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Samuel Smiles

Finished reading the books by Samuel Smiles: "Character" and "Self-Help", currently half way through "Thrift".

Seems very little has changed in industrial society, we get good times and otherwise avoid tackling the under lying problems within society which make the bad times the worst of times: namely that individuals squander and waste their own resources and try to live beyond their means.

It seems that which was starting to emerge during the 1800's if not before, has simply grown and, magnified, with the emergence of ever increasing forms of credit. Plus we have some push away from savings, as saving ties money up and so potentially shuts business down.

Its a problem: how to keep the economy going, and consider each individual as contributing fairly to society, but with out driving unwarranted consumption of material resources?

Automated Drawing List Update Acad LT (revised)

As indicated in earlier posts I use Acad LT, and automate using Excel/vba to generate AutoCAD script (.scr) file.

One of the most regularly used scripts is that for updating the drawing title blocks. This operates across multiple paperspace layouts and multiple files.

Whilst paperspace layouts can be beneficial they do have some disadvantages when it comes to repetitive detail across projects, consequently I have been tending to move back towards individual file for each drawing sheet, and lots of xref's, especially for workshop details. For example it is a lot easier to copy a file, and modify the detail, than messing around copying detail modifying and setting up new paperspace viewports. Other times it may be easier to copy layouts, and add some extra layers for some additional detail. Hence need to update drawing title blocks across multiple layouts and drawing files.

Last year I made a simple modifications, by writing the script file to a common default folder, and automatically launching Acad LT, compared to previously generating script in drawing folder and then dropping in Acad LT editor. At that time also added extra worksheets to allow different title blocks, to cover common variations: such as calc's sheets used for simple sketches, versus drawing sheet used for residential footings, and the typical drawing sheet for all other project types. To do that I also added look up tables which listed the attributes for each title block. Providing drop down lists to select which of drawings the title block script should be generated for. That was all working good, and saved a little bit of extra time over the previous version of the script.

But work shop detailing involves a lot of drawings and tend to get slightly lost in all the drawings. Also the batch of drawings did use two title blocks: proper drawing sheet and frame for the main part details and then a simple document control block for some steel sheet setouts. The current project however introduced the need for a larger sheet. Most part details are standard and on A4 sheets, but the larger building currently working on as parts which are too large to conveniently fit on A4, I can squeeze them onto A4, but have chosen to place on A3 instead.

So for the batch of drawings have three different title blocks which want to automatically update, and a problem working through all the files and details, to determine which exist and which are relevant.

So modified the Excel/vba script. It now permits each drawing to have a unique title block, on condition that it has attributes which belong to a common sets. The vba macro now checks if the attributes are in the title block, if so then writes the value from Excel to the Acad script (.scr), if not then skips to next attribute. Also the macro now checks if the drawing file exists before including in the script, if not then the cell is coloured red.

At one stage I also experimented with Hyperlinks to open the Acad drawing files from Excel worksheet, this didn't work to well because of need to keep paths updated. But now created a vba macro and short cut key (Ctrl-e), to open drawing file currently selected in the worksheet. This didn't work too well using the vba shell command as it opened each drawing in a separate instance of Acad LT. However a simple experiment with vbs, and determined that the windows scripting host (WSH), shell object run command was able to open files by association, whilst the vba shell command required the executable command. That is using vba I needed to build correct command line including reference to Acad LT as well as file name, whilst using WSH shell command only need to pass the drawing file reference. Therefore created a WScript.Shell object in Excel/vba.

So I can now get from Excel description of drawing file, to the actual Acad LT drawing. Now that is something I wanted to do for a while.

For now have potential to mesh my bill of materials (BoM), or product structure tree to workshop details, and otherwise build model in Excel. For can otherwise get lost figuring out which part files belongs to which part, and have I drawn all the necessary parts and counted them all. Sure I could buy building information model (BIM) software, but where's the fun in that. Plus BIM software is expensive and I don't have the demand for workshop detailing to justify its purchase. Programming, well that's just kind of play time.

I had experimented with XYplorer, attaching tags to part drawings, but problem with that, I need two sets of tags: one for local work on laptop, and another for files on shared drive in office. Additionally adding tags to files, produces an ever increasing database of tags which have to be scanned through. By using Excel tables, I am not adding to over head of using XYplorer, and I can add data fields as I choose on an as needs basis, sort and filter and otherwise connect to other data sources.

One other objection I have to BIM, is that it is an enforced approach to building design, and that approach is built around 3D graphics, whilst the majority of people in the supply chain have no use of 3D graphics. Revisiting the concept of data as raw material, and information as data organised to assist decision and action, then the typical BIM software application, is a long way from being an information model. It is largely a data model BDM, and less than informative to other parties who don't want the graphics but do want to get at the data and present in formats which suit them, rather than formats that suit the authors and or users of  3D graphic software.

Consider that it is inappropriate to use a multi-million dollar flexible machining centre to make bolts and other high volume repetitive parts. It is preferable to have highly specialised machines to make bolts. The current BIM software tends towards being highly flexible, that makes it ill suited to more specialised purposes.

It is a common trend in software development that more and more features and flexibility are added, the problem is that something which previously took a few clicks now requires a multitude of irrelevant parameters to be set.

For example the modification I have just made to my spreadsheet, now requires I define the title block for each and every drawing, where as previously I only needed to identify the title block once. However, it is not a major problem because it is simple to copy cells in Excel, or to make one cell equal to another. It is that reason why I type project titles and drawing titles into Excel rather than directly into Acad.

By making software too flexible it then becomes necessary to expend time customising the software for something more specific and repetitive. The problem of creating a front end, to simplify input, is that there is a lot of over head associated with the flexibility. So whilst using an advanced flexible system may reduce development time, it does not produce a tool which is efficient. The resultant product uses more resources than necessary and operates slower than required.

Hence there is a need for custom tools. So comments like if not using the newest tools then behind the times, are largely nonsense. Should not be using the newest tools, but the tools most appropriate to the job at hand. A lot of modern software is becoming more video game than productive tool, whilst it may ease people getting familiar with the software and using, its not all that productive there after.

So some of these high end software vendors really need to pay more attention to the needs of the end-users rather than how they consider design and documentation should be carried out. There are still people producing workshop details freehand, and buildings plans freehand, that is people who are not using any form of drawing instruments and not drawing to scale: they produce simple concept sketches and that is all they need to get approval and to build. Drawing is a tool to solve problems, and many of those problems only need resolving by freehand concept sketches. So builders for example are not going to start using CAD, because drawing is not their business, they produce drawings as an aid, a means to an end. Whilst many modern architects, engineers and drafters are producing drawings as an end in itself: more concerned with document control than what is conveyed by the documents.

End-users buying BIM software also need to pay more attention to where they need productivity improvements. If 3D graphics contributes little value to an end-users activities then current array of BIM products probably of little value. That is do you really need a picture of an object to input all the other data and extract useful information about that object. If not then BIM is not a suitable solution, and other software likely to be more useful. For example MS Excel/ MS Access, or the array of MRP I, MRP II, software and various other specialist packages.

I go from Excel to Acad, because with Acad scripts (.scr) I can only really generate Acad drawings, there is little that I can do to extract Acad data other than extract block attributes, or export a DXF file, and extract data from that.

The first data for most things is symbolic, some kind of analogy, this then has to be expanded into graphics and other data. For example want a building or a machine. These are word symbols and not very specific, the definition thus has to be  refined until define something specific. This refinement can take place using more words, various kinds of charts and diagrams, or using pictorial graphics. Much can be done long before any graphics are produced, but seems in the modern world consultants dive straight into CAD drawings, when should have dismissed an idea almost immediately using simple freehand sketches.

A crazy world in which it seems only typed reports and CAD drawings seem to be accepted. Very wasteful.

Related Posts:

AutoCAD Speed Test
Automated Drawing List Update Acad LT (revised)

Cold-Formed Steel Shed Industry: part:#1 (Shed Framing Drawings)
Cold-Formed Steel Shed Industry: part:#2 (Shed Framing Drawings)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

2012 week 45 : State of Play.

I was getting worried. My father has a habit of calling me "Conan the Destroyer", because most structures I look at, calculation wise, I tend to break. Not particularly good for retailers who have been getting approval on the basis of standard calc's-for-council from multiple councils over period of some 20 years or so.

Now in assessing a sports net, I was challenged that wind load I adopted was too low. But I have now seen calculations for an adjacent net, and applying my approach I have broken it. So now happy.

Easily amused.

PS: Of course breaking the structures makes everyone else unhappy. So stage 2 of the exercise is typically working considerably harder than everyone else to justify the status quo: so everyone can go about business as usual.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

2012 Week 44: State of Play

Past few weeks been drawing up a few cold-formed steel sheds, my dad doing the engineering. I will be doing workshop details later, probably last minute before Christmas to get the steel ordered and available for erection early next year in January, whilst the steel suppliers otherwise shut down.

Produced calculations for aluminium glazing channel to be used for frame less or cantilevered glass balustrade. Then tested the channel whilst otherwise testing the proposed laminated glazing. Everyone was hoping to break the glass but didn't happen. Proposing to retest the glazing as the grout didn't properly fill the channel.

Otherwise done calculations for several framed balustrades. Seems that balustrades are an ignored component in multi-storey building design. All very nice reducing the thickness of the slab, and getting an extra storey in the height: but the edge of the slab requires some substance into which the balustrade framing can be anchored. Most especially important, if the architects are opposed to base plates. Compound the hassles of getting adequate anchorage in the slab, with the problems of connecting the aluminium in the first place whilst trying to avoid welding. If weld aluminium then reduce its strength, so somehow the aluminium has to be connected to a base plate with out welding, or connected to other structure with out base plate. Then there is the issue that the aluminium tubes themselves don't have adequate strength, but this can be compensated for by the inserts used to attach to the support structure. So balustrades went from relatively simple to some what complex composite structures.

Also been working on design of golf safety net. These are large nets which are placed at the perimeter of a golf course to protect roads and housing from flying golf balls. I reduced the wind load to that typically used for light poles, antenna's and similar structures, rather than directly use the BCA criteria. Such structure is a class 10 structure and covered by BCA: volume 2, which some how seems inappropriate. I was only requested to check the poles. So there is no real  design of the sports safety net. I checked the posts for:

1) Drag force on the posts
2) Cable reactions normal to plane of the net.
3) Cable reactions in the plane of the net.

Not having any specification for the requirements of the net or the posts. That is I would expect the post supplier to have been provided with a specification for the post: either forces on the post, or the required size of the post. Not having any of this, using MS Excel I simply did a goal seek on the catenary  formula, to get the minimum cable tension which would achieve equilibrium for the forces normal to the net. I checked pier sizes using the Rutledge formula.

Got request for further information. Not having section property tables for the circular hollow section (CHS) proposed, I lazily used Multiframe steel designer to check the members. Seems I didn't make it clear that the post was checked for biaxial stresses: the forces normal to the net and those in the plane of the net. The forces in the plane of the net are higher than those normal to the net. These forces are an important factor to design of structures supporting flexible cables. If had a solid plate wall supported between posts then would only really have the forces normal to the plane of the wall to consider. For internal posts the lateral forces in the plane of the net cancel each other, on condition that the net either side of a post is equally loaded. For the end post this is not so, only got a net on one side, however the cables supporting the net also act as guy ropes for the post, so post size can be kept down.

The request wants the wind load to be increased or the posts designed for the breaking load of the cables on the basis that the cable should break before the post. I disagree with this philosophy: when tension cables snap they can cut people in two, take their heads off. The structure should be robust and ductile. The nets should break free of the cables releasing loads from cable and posts. If the cables get overloaded then the posts should fail by forming a plastic hinge at some point above the base, the posts folding up, and reducing their profile to the wind.

The basis of the wind loading code is not altogether to prevent collapse of a structure, since the design load always has potential to be exceeded, rather the main task is to keep the structure and its components anchored to the site.

My design philosophy therefore would be that first the net detaches from the cables, not fully but along at least one edge. By doing so the net releases load from the cables and the posts, it would move from being in a vertical plane to being horizontal: if the wind can keep it horizontal. My first thoughts were that the lower edge should detach. But second thoughts suggested that the top edge should detach, the net would then drop  under gravity: either to the floor or a lower level. The load on the post would then be reduced. This would therefore require that the attachments of the net differ along the two support edges.

If the nets fail to detach and release load then, the heads of the posts would be pulled closer together under the lateral loads. It would be preferable that the posts are tapered: either constant external diameter with varying internal wall thickness, or constant wall thickness with varying external diameter. The post then only has such strength as it needs at each height: if the nets are overloaded then the posts should bend and yield reducing profile to wind and avoid further loading which would lead to fracture. All would then be retained on site, but in need of repair. That's the philosophy, demonstrating suitability is another issue.

So been refreshing memory how to use lights by Dr. Vinicius F. Arcaro, University of Campinas, Brazil. Experimented with about 10 years ago, for sail-shade assessment, at which time I wrote MS Excel/vba subroutines to graphically display the model and results in IntelliCAD 2000, because the AutoCAD script (.scr) which it produces was incompatible with IntelliCAD. Thus far managed to build a model of one segment of the golf-net. To do so also made use of formfinding routines operating in GID. Idea is to consider the net as a coarsely woven fabric and so treat as tension membrane, supported on cables, rather than model the whole net. Though at this point not certain how going to do that.

Not sure of the benefit though if I have no control over the nets and support cables.

The other issue is to provide more information on the design of the piers, and a request that the piers be designed as laterally loaded piles.

Any case designing the posts for the breaking load of the cable would make the steel CHS posts massive, much larger than the timber matchsticks supporting a much larger golf-net standing near by. There is also another golf-net of the larger size to be provided at a future date.

So it seems to me that some design philosophy is required for the design of the nets. Yet another situation where buy something as if off-the-shelf and get engineering done for some bit, on an as needs basis. Get even more complex if the buyer and the certifier both turn out to be the same government authority. Now that definitely would be a lack of independence: and not in the best interests of the community.

Very little is as simple as it first appears.

The Building Code of Australia: Evidence-of-Suitability

A reference to the assessment methods, and requirements for evidence-of-suitability as found in BCA 2010, Building Code of Australia Class 2 to Class 9 buildings, Volume 1 (ABCB)

A0.9 Assessment Methods
The following assessment methods, or any combination of them, can be used to determine that a Building Solution complies with the Performance Requirements.
Evidence to support that the use of a material, form of construction or design meets a
Performance Requirement or a Deemed-to-Satisfy Provision as described in A2.2.
Verification Methods such as–
the Verification Methods in the BCA; or
such other Verification Methods as the appropriate authority accepts for determining compliance with the Performance Requirements.
Comparison with the Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions.
Expert Judgement.

Part A2: Acceptance of Design and Construction
A2.2 Evidence of Suitability
(a) Subject to A2.3 and A2.4, evidence to support that the use of a material, form of construction or design meets a Performance Requirement or a Deemed-to-Satisfy Provision may be in the form of one or a combination of the following:
(i) A report issued by a Registered Testing Authority, showing that the material or form of construction has been submitted to the tests listed in the report, and setting out the results of those tests and any other relevant information that demonstrates its suitability for use in the building.
(ii) A current Certificate of Conformity or a current Certificate of Accreditation.
(iii) A certificate from a professional engineer or other appropriately qualified person which–
(A) certifies that a material, design, or form of construction complies with the requirements of the BCA; and
(B) sets out the basis on which it is given and the extent to which relevant specifications, rules, codes of practice or other publications have been relied upon.
(iv) A current certificate issued by a product certification body that has been accredited by the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ).
(v) * * * * *
(vi) Any other form of documentary evidence that correctly describes the properties and performance of the material,
(b) Evidence to support that a calculation method complies with an ABCB protocol may be in the form of one or a combination of the following:
(i) A certificate from a professional engineer or other appropriately qualified person which–
(A) certifies that the calculation method complies with a relevant ABCB protocol;
(B) sets out the basis on which it is given and the extent to which relevant specifications, rules, codes of practice and other publications have been relied upon.
(ii) Any other form of documentary evidence that correctly describes how the calculation method complies with a relevant ABCB protocol.
(c) Any copy of documentary evidence submitted, must be a complete copy of the original report or document.

Similar requirements can be found in Volume 2, for class 1 and class 10 buildings, but with different clause numbers.

Yes I know it should be BCA:2012, but I have little to zero use for the BCA, consequently hard to justify the expense every year.

To clarify I only have use of a single page in the BCA, a page which should be in AS/NZS1170. For the most part the BCA is just a partial catalogue of Australian Standards. Typically, designers make use of Australian Standards whether called up by legislation or not. Those who are not designers typically just propose, without demonstrating suitability for purpose. Suitability of purpose is dependent on a subjective judgement of what will be suitable: the task is to demonstrate that such level of performance will be achieved by a proposal.

The BCA requirements for demonstrating suitability and compliance, are only partial. Additional requirements may be required depending on jurisdiction. The additional requirements are typically forms to be filled in to meet local regulatory requirements. Manufacturers and suppliers should therefore seek to obtain designs and certifications which are independent of local requirements and which can readily be verified, accepted and approved in any jurisdiction. For example self-certification by RPEQ's in Queensland will meet opposition in South Australia, because it is not compliant with the requirements for a independent technical expert, further the certificates have inadequate information for independent technical assessment. Self-certification by designers and engineers, should therefore be avoided, no matter which jurisdiction operating in, since poor practice in the first instance.

I will write more on this later. I would prefer to be able to directly link to the clauses of the BCA, but this code is not readily accessible by all those it is imposed upon. If lucky you might get to view it at your local council office, or find it in your local library. Otherwise consult a building surveyor.


  1. SA Development Regulations: independent technical expert

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SA Development Regulations: independent technical expert

Division 1—Prescribed qualifications
In this Division—independent technical expert means a person who, in relation to building work—
     (a)     is not the building owner or an employee of the building owner; and     (b)     has not—     (i)     been involved in any aspect of the relevant development (other than through the provision of preliminary advice of a routine or general nature); or     (ii)     had a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any aspect of the relevant development or any body associated with any aspect of the relevant development; and     (c)     has engineering or other qualifications that the relevant authority is satisfied, on the basis of advice received from a relevant professional association or a relevant registration or accreditation authority, qualify the person to act as a technical expert under these regulations.

Elsewhere there are several references to engineer:

(3) In subregulation (2)professional engineer means a person who is—
     (a)     a corporate member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia who has appropriate experience and competence in the field of civil engineering; or     (b)     a person who is registered on the National Professional Engineers Register administered by the Institution of Engineers, Australia and who has appropriate experience and competence in the field of civil engineering.

These references typically differ only in the subregulations they relate to, and are generally concerned with roads, stormwater and earthworks.

First and foremost the primary requirement is independence.

At the simplest could say that:

Two idiots independently reaching the same conclusion is far better for the public interest, than one idiot acting as self appointed authority. It is through the continuing challenge from others that real competence is developed, not via a once off assessment and appointed position of authority. Far too many of the self-certifications flowing in from other states are worthless scrap paper. The certificates contain inadequate information to permit an independent technical check on the suitability of a development proposal.

It is not so much as that building officials in SA want to see the calculations, but that the requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA), is based on adequate evidence-of-suitability, and the certifications available are not considered adequate and the proposals are otherwise of questionable suitability.

At the simplest there is just a plain lack of effort defending the development proposals: besides a lack of evidence-of-suitability, the descriptions of the proposals are often also inadequate. The very lack of thought and consideration is the reason for the regulations being in the way. The regulations are only really a hindrance to those who choose not to do the right thing.

... more on the issues of independence later.


  1. The Building Code of Australia: Evidence-of-Suitability

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Engineered Products and Evidence-of-Suitability

Really beginning to dislike civil engineers supplying services to manufacturers of supposedly engineered structural building products. Notice I didn't use the Americanism pre-engineered, this word itself probably stems from part of the problem. Civil engineers typically provide services for the custom design of one-off products. If live in an industrialised society probably got a million and one complaints about all the infrastructure provided: that is focus is not on the benefit provided but the deficiencies and inconveniences which have to be tolerated. Put simply the designs are inadequate. These are multi-million to billion dollar projects we are stuck with once constructed: the systems are extremely difficult to fix or get rid off. Quality design cannot be achieved by merely crunching numbers and complying with codes of practice. Quality design requires imagination, ingenuity and a certain amount of paranoia.

Now when engineers dump these mega-systems into our environment, their experience is developed from one mega-system to the next. As they learn more deficiencies in design become fewer, but the more that has to be learnt and done under the supervision of the experienced before an individual can start to practice: for society becomes less and less tolerant of the defects. Now consulting engineers are not really operating in a market based economy in the same way as manufacturers do. Manufacturers supply engineered products which either do or do not satisfy the needs of the end-user, supplied at the right time, in the right condition for the right price. Consultants supply a service (a product), and largely irrespective of the quality and suitability of the physical systems supplied. The community criticises the systems, but continues to employ the same group of consultants to produce more of the same: possibly hoping, fingers crossed, that they are gaining experience and the next system will be better. Whilst the systems often suffer faults in workmanship, that can often be directed back at the design, the design failing to be quality robust. If a design is quality robust then at the ideal, cannot help but make to the specification, and need to deliberately go out of the way to not build to specification. The steel reinforced concrete buildings which often fail during earthquakes in relatively poor countries are examples of poor quality robust design: whilst the reinforced concrete was adopted to minimise use of expensive steel, it should be noted that the steel still too expensive and scarce, and such steel was never going to make it into the concrete. Therefore to specify such buildings constitutes poor design. Whilst large scale manufacturing has adopted the principles of quality robust design (QRD), the building and construction industry has been relatively slow to adopt. Most ISO:9000 accredited consultancies, simply have systems concerned with managing flow of contract documents: not concerned with the quality of service or the quality of the designs for the systems specified.

I will make the assertion that given the lack of whole system design, these custom engineered systems in the built environment that consultants deal with: are anything but engineered. We do not refer to a Boeing 747, an Airbus A380, a Holden Commodore (GMH), a printer, a computer or a TV as being pre-engineered: they are all engineered products: or hopefully so.

Peoples typical contact with so called engineers, is when they have contact with a regulatory authority who sends them off to get an engineers report, engineers calculations or an engineers certificate. Engineering is not about meeting regulatory requirements, being registered and filling in silly forms. {Which is what RPEQ's (Queensland) and RBP's (Victoria) seem to think engineering is.}

Engineers do not have ESP or xray vision. They cannot come out to sight, kick the dirt look through walls and certify some construction as compliant with code of practice. Such activity is totally contrary to the basis of engineering, and something being engineered.

If something is engineered, then there is a technical specification describing what it is, in terms of its critical characteristics and expected performance under varying conditions. This extends to all its component parts and raw materials. There is also technical specification concerning the control of all inputs and the process of transforming raw materials into finished end-product. Engineering is always an activity prior to the existence of a product or execution of a process. Scientific observation, measurement and control of a process without prior engineering is applied science not engineering. Engineering specifies an expectation and aims to control the process of achieving such expectation.

Large manufacturing enterprises got divide into the designers and the makers, giving rise to the process of "over-the-wall-design": this is a very inefficient process, for products get specified which cannot be made. Manufacturing aimed to remove this inefficient process. The building and construction industry via the tendering and contracting process is built around "over-the-wall-design". More over the industry is now has a multitude of manufacturers who rely on external consultants: because all that engineering provides is the certificates of compliance to meet regulations.

When I asked a manufacturer about its product and the materials it uses, I don't expect the material supplier to direct me to some consultant civil engineer in another state. That is absolutely not acceptable. In similar manner I sure hope that manufacturers we work for, don't go around declaring we are their engineers.

If producing an engineered product then it needs a technical specification as previously described. If have an engineered product then it required engineered components and materials, ecah of which requires a technical specification. If supplying components or materials for an engineered product, then your product needs to be an engineered product and have a technical specification. That technical specification needs to identify all the physical properties, all the characteristics necessary to engineer the component or material into the larger engineered system.

If make steel, aluminium, glass, bolts, gears, chains, cables, nets,  etc... then if wish such products to be used in larger systems to be engineered to be compliant with codes of practice and regulations, then all these products require a technical specification. Further more require more than a simple certificate declaring product is compliant with some code: the business needs to be able to provide evidence that it is capable of making product compliant with a code. Such evidence needs to be generated on an on going basis, to verify that the process capability is being maintained. For the benefit of external parties, this capability should be audited on a regular basis by an external party, to witness and verify the claimed capability.

Certificates of compliance and/or conformance, professional licenses, along with permits of regulatory approval all largely represent worthless scrap paper. They all fail to provide a reliable indicator of an engineered product.

Take glaziers they install glass and certify compliant with the glass code AS1288. The certificates are worthless. The requirement of the installation is that it is compliant with the Building Code of Australia (BCA), in particular the structural provisions, which requires compliance with the deemed-to-satisfy provision in the form of the loading code AS1170. The glass code (AS1288) is a design code, the loading requirements to AS1170 first have to be determined before a design-solution can be selected from the available design-charts or otherwise determined from first principles. The certificates issued therefore are inadequate.

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) is largely independent of jurisdiction. That is anyone anywhere in the world can design a building product with the intent of achieving compliance with the BCA. The BCA itself contains some criteria for demonstrating compliance. The requirements are basically centred around providing adequate evidence-of-suitability. Ultimately such evidence would be submitted in a court of inquiry, as a consequence such evidence needs to be reliable and capable of independent verification. A certificate from someone in authority is not adequate evidence. A certificate has to be more than someone declaring the product to be good stuff. A certificate should at the minimum make reference to the technical specification of an engineered product.

Cannot simply declare the glass is to AS1288, or that the steel shed complies with AS1170 and AS4600, such declarations are worthless. The glass has to have a technical specification, the glass has to have specific mechanical properties such as elastic modulus, yield strength and ultimate strength, the chemistry of the glass may also be important. If there is no technical specification then there is no evidence the supplier can produce a glass installation which complies with AS1288. The materials namely the glass is an unknown entity being installed into a still larger assembly of unknown characteristics.

For the steel sheds people running around trying to get lighter frames. This may be an acceptable thing if there was a high level of consistency in the engineering of the product, but there is not. Those consulting civil engineers, I referred to at the beginning, simply issue some simplistic often highly deficient calcs-for-council, which will be used to dump a product into the built environment at the rate of a 1000 or more per manufacturer per year. At least with consultants custom designs there is some potential for improvement from one building to another. With other engineered and manufactured products, there is on going engineering to improve the product and better satisfy the needs of the end-user. Not so with manufacturers in the building industry, no in-house engineering, just rely on external consultants, and have no proper product design or proper management of design and engineering requirements: the engineering is always at the last minute when hit a regulatory requirement for more information. That is meet a problem with an individual project. In the main all these problems are due to poor engineering and inadequate evidence-of-suitability.

Regulatory approval, such as development approval, is only concerned with checking that the proposed development complies with regulatory requirements to the extent assessed: it does not mean the development is actually suitable for purpose or 100% compliant.

The BCA has building-solutions and alternate-solutions. However the BCA is also highly lacking in defining the critical quality characteristics of a building and its component parts. In fact for a building code, it has very little content relating to buildings. Approval of new building materials for example is highly dependent on the individuals involved rather than the actual code. So straw bale, rammed earth, SIP's, ICF's, plaster wall panels, aerated concrete panels, polystyrene wall panels all problematic in terms of getting local approval. Yet its not as if the BCA deemed-to-satisfy materials like clay brick, concrete, steel, timber and glass actually have desirable characteristics in their own right as building materials. For example brick not particularly good, its soaks up water, that is why it is typically part of a cavity wall system.

Now when it comes to structural provisions of the BCA, it should be noted that AS1170, AS4600, AS1288 and all other Australian standards related to structures are all deemed-to-satisfy provisions. It is not necessary to use AS1170, it is necessary to meet the BCA performance criteria for structures. Deviating from the deem-to-satisfy provisions moves into BCA alternative solutions. Alternate solution or deemed-to-satisfy building solution, either way the fundamental requirement is to provide adequate evidence-of-suitability.

For a product to be engineered however it has do do more than simply meet BCA criteria, most especially at the end of the day, the performance criteria take precedence over the deemed-to-satisfy provisions, and when failure ultimately occurs the communities expectations and perceptions of what is considered fit-for-function over ride mere code compliance.

In terms of cold-formed sheds there is much that can be done to reduce frame size.

1) Adjust risk and life expectancy: {this changes: importance level, mean return period and wind speed}
2) Reduce internal pressure coefficients
3) Distribute wall wind pressure with height
4) Adjust serviceability requirements
a) Change serviceability risk and life expectancy
b) Change internal pressure coefficients
c) Change deflection limits
5) Allow stressed skin, or diaphragm design
6) Allow plastic or collapse method of design
7) Have monitored system with warning devices
8) Design mode of failure to be minimum hazard. (eg. failsafe)

Whilst such is possible there is requirement to justify the options taken, identify what constitutes fitness-for-function and suitability of purpose, then provide the evidence which demonstrates how the expected level of performance is to be achieved. It does not have anything to do with the BCA or any other national standard: providing such evidence is fundamental to science based design or design-science. The BCA and other national standards simply provide one set off criteria, one subjective judgement as to what one group of individuals considers to be suitable for purpose.

Something which merely complies with AS1170 and AS4600 is not fit-for-function. The codes only provide requirements for loads and the capacities of primary structural members, the structural capability of the components which enable those members to be connected together are largely ignored. The capability of the member is entirely dependent on the capability of the connections. In general the assessment of connections and the local effects on attached members is relatively inadequate. The engineering can be considered less than it should be, and the proposed structure does not comply with the structural performance requirements of the BCA, though it may appear to comply with the deemed-to-satisfy provisions AS1170 and AS4600.

The independent technical assessment required by the SA Development Act is entirely dependent on the knowledge and experience of the people making the assessment. Whilst some of these people are less competent than desired, the system is far better than having self-certifying RPEQ's and RBP's who never get questioned about not knowing what they are doing. When their self-certified products arrive in SA, then the certificates tend to be rejected, the agents for the product then seem to experience difficulty getting appropriate information to submit for approval and approach local consultants. If the products were properly engineered this would not be a problem.

It should be noted this is a different issue the other way round. When products from SA enter the other states, the issue is different: the suppliers have engineering calculations and drawings: what they don't have is an appropriate form filled in by the appropriate person. A good captive market those RPEQ's and RBP's have in Queensland and Victoria, but some contention of designing for the site and filling in silly forms does not constitute engineering. They seem to be getting away with dishing out high priced low quality rubbish. Registration, and licensing not very useful: not quality robust.

Certificates are not good enough, nor are calculations and drawings. Everything has to be part of an engineered whole, for it to be engineered and quality robust. Engineering is dependent on prior knowledge.

Now for some greater confusion. Has stated in prior posts, objective delete the word: engineer, and engineering from vocabulary. Since I have an idealistic perspective that engineering pushes forward the frontiers of science and technology. Engineering operates in a chaotic wilderness of uncertainty.

Going back in time, have an ancient building a stone wall, it gets so high then it collapses. The wall has to be built, resolving the problem was the work of an engineer. Designing stone walls is no longer the work of an engineer because the problem has been solved. To resolve the problem, the process is placed under observation and measurement, controlled and compared against an hypothesis regarding expected behaviour. The hypothesis is validated and the project is completed. The acquired knowledge is added to the body of prior knowledge. Attempting to solve problems as bump into them, is very expensive, wasteful of time and material resources, hazardous and otherwise highly inefficient.

It is preferable that prior scientific knowledge is available at design time, and all potential problems resolved and prepared for during the planning and design stage. For the vast majority of things this is possible, problems typically encountered are due to a lack of science, planning and design.

Applied science is important it makes observations, measures and collects data about systems, natural and artificial. Applied science may develop theories from the data to predict future behaviour of a system. Engineering science, adds the applied science knowledge to the engineering body of knowledge and expands and develops with respect to specific technological applications. For example idealistically, if we must have a division: then engineers designed and built the steam engine, applied science investigated and developed the science of thermodynamics, engineering science adopted thermodynamics and used it to further develop steam powered machinery. This further is added to the body of knowledge of technical science which enables the design of a steam powered device for a specific purpose.

Without a system developing the body of knowledge of technical science, just bumbling around in the dark hoping a product will achieve a desired level of performance.

So we can assess the performance of connections in hotrolled steel because the ASI and other organisations have sponsored research, either physical or literature, to compile and publish guidelines for connection design. No such research has been done for cold-formed steel design, not by industry organisations, nor public funded organisations for the common good, nor by businesses constructing products involving such connections. Everything is assumed ok on the basis of an authoritarian paper shuffling system.

Low quality imported steel, low quality imported bolts and other such issues are not a problem for a fully engineered product, produced by an engineered system. Nor does a lack of coordination, become a problem, just because of increasing availability of manufactured products to the building industry. So there is an increasing retail sector to the industry: but whether choose to make or buy still require a technical specification. Either a technical specification is sent to the supplier for them to comply with, or the supplier provides a technical specification against which the required specification can be compared to see if the product will be suitable. This should not be an exercise of paper shuffling  signature collecting, and identifying who to blame in future.

Manufacturers of engineered products should have technical personnel on staff. At the very minimum they should have adequate knowledge of the technical science for the product to be able to write technical specifications for the product. They should not rely on external consultants for design of their product, as generic as it may appear to be, unless they can properly manage the requirements for ensuring they have adequate evidence-of-suitability. The evidence-of-suitability relates to the product in its own right, and to the product as it relates to an end-users specific needs. An M16-PC(4.6) bolt may be suitable in its own right,  but from the technical specification for the bolt someone needs to determine if the bolt is suitable for a specific connection and thus provide a technical specification for the connection.

The technical specification and associated evidence-of-suitability all have to be adequate to the extent, that someone can independently verify the suitability with no other information beyond readily available publications. In terms of regulatory approval they are not going to conduct physical testing themselves to verify test results, the test results therefore have to be reliable on their own terms.

It should be noted that the onus is always on the proponent to defend the suitability of their proposal for development approval or any other regulatory approval. If going to test to demonstrate suitability, then should get that test witnessed by one or more independent parties: or otherwise send samples to at least two independent test laboratories. Also try to avoid having it tested and certified to the code: such is irritating when simply just trying to determine the products capability and all the lab can do is produce stock standard reports declaring compliant or non-compliant. Need to determine the products capability, its suitability for any specific purpose and compliance with any specific code is another set of issues: and not entirely with in the capabilities of the personnel of the test laboratories to judge.

We do not have a robust techno-scientific culture, and we need to develop such culture if we are to avoid some serious disasters in the future. The issue is not whether the product looks alright today, but whether the non-visual characteristics of the product will function as expected at some distant point in the future.

Sun 2012-Oct-21  02:12AM

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Weight of Steel does Matter?

Shed Retailers
As previously indicated getting started in the cold-formed steel industry was relatively simple. Get some standard calculations for a single shed which envelopes the size range of expected market. On a given sale fill in some c-section hole punching sheets, and send them off to rollformer. Have delivered to site. As far as such supplier is concerned they have no control over fabrication costs, nor control over construction costs. Therefore only issue appears to be the cost of the steel, reduce the weight of steel and therefore reduce the cost.

Steel erectors and other builders, have some control over construction costs, however any reduction in construction time results in lower fee for the job, and a need to get more projects per year, assuming their fees are time based. Often however their fees are based on $/sq.m of floor plan, some may charge $/tonne of steel erected. However tonnage doesn't really reflect the scope of the task. All that really changes from one shed to another is the area of the floor plan, which in turn increases the number of frames they have to erect. If frames get heavier then that may require moving from manual handling to need for mechanical handling. Increase in height of shed may also have an influence on costs due to need for people licensed to operate height related personal safety equipment (safety harnesses and fall arrest lines)

So as far as the builder is concerned construction costs are their fee and not something they wish to reduce, thus once again reducing the weight of the steel is the point of focus.

Fabricators + in-house Engineering
In some countires hotrolled steel sheds are engineered to suit the needs of the project. These sheds are either in hotrolled steel sections, or more commonly fabricated tapered beams welded up from flat plate. So here they have contol of fabrication, and also often control of construction. But once again, as with the builder, they have no real wish to reduce the cost of the activities which are seen as their income, and so the focus is still the weight of steel.

Optimum Solution is not Minimum Weight Solution
The flaw in all these cases is equating the weight of the steel to the cost of the steel. The real issue is the cost of materials, not the weight of steel. Further it is not the cost of materials on an individual project, but the cost of materials across many projects.

Hollow steel sections (HSS), such as SHS, RHS and CHS are typically considered expensive materials, and yet they found a market in small residential sheds and light industrial sheds, as did the use of hotrolled steel angles. They found a market because they were relatively light weight materials, and could be fabricated into welded trusses or bolted trusses. For a one-off project, the use of such sections and such fabrication would typically be considered far too expensive compared to the use of a single section in the form of a universal beam (UB) or possibly parallel flange channels (PFC). But for high demand small sheds, the smallest UB and PFC some what impractical and over sized. There was cost benefit in fabricating light roof trusses. Many home owners preferred sheds with trussed roofs they could store long items in the roof space, and otherwise use the bottom chord for a block and tackle to hoist engines from their cars. Then cold-formed c-sections emerged in the market, for a time trussed roof's held their place but slowly lost more and more market. The c-sections being light weight sections from high strength steel could and can span the required distances for small sheds without the need to expend time fabricating trusses. With c-sections no need for skilled welders, and possibly eliminate the need for bolt trusses. However as spans increase cold-formed sections bolted to form trusses can start to encroach on the market held by hotrolled UB's.

So in this we can see that cost includes fabrication and materials. At one time more fabrication could cut total costs by reducing the cost of materials used, that this then changed to lower cost materials bringing about a reduction in fabrication. The important characteristic about rollformed c-section, is that a significant amount of fabrication can be automated in the punching and rollforming process: and it is fairly rapid. {Maximum around 100 ft/min, or 30m/min}.

Whilst there is likely variability in rollforming feedrate say going from C7510 to C30030, I hazard it is off minor significance to productivity compared to length rollformed. The importance of this is that the retailers, do have some control over fabrication. For example can choose C7510 girts at 600 c/c or C15012 girts at 1200 c/c. {c/c = centre to centre}. If adopt the larger section, then have fewer rings around the girth of the building, that is the net length of section required is less compared to the smaller section. Therefore hazard it will take less time to rollform the total length of C15012 required compared to the total length of C7510 required. {Few in any supply C15010} If using coil of same total diameter, and strip of same thickness, then have the potential to get more complete jobs from the one coil, and therefore fewer coil change overs for the rollformer. Not sure about total length in a coil, but assuming it is 2000m, then say shed requires either 500m of C7510 or 250m of C15012, then from one coil can get either 4 sheds or 8 sheds.Sure the strip width is wider for the C150 than it is for the C75, but total volume of steel approximately the same. {The C150 requires slightly more steel: due to differences in flange sizes, and also differences in outer girt requirements.} However it is the total cost of supply which needs to be considered, and also the timing of supply. It should be noted that a  several years BHP held a seminar for consultants and they pointed out that some 80% of the cost of steel was in the cladding and cladding support system, but little effort was and is put into its design.

With respect to fabricators with in-house engineers, once again it is a flawed concept to assume that the value lies in them getting the weight of the steel to a minimum and therefore minimum cost frames. The benefit of going to such fabricators is that they can optimise the design to better meet their fabrication facilities and available resources. If get a consultant to design a shed and then go out to tender, then the shed will not relate to any fabricators production capability nor their available resources. If consultant says fabricate by folding, fabricator will want to weld up from plate: the fabricators will have alternative preferences to the design consultant. A consultants design may specify 250UB but the optimum design from a fabricator maybe from 310UB, because they have such steel lying around the workshop which is not going to be used for anything, and is tied up capital. In another situation the fabricator may have 250UB lying around and the consultant specfies 310UB, but fabricator can weld cover plates, castellate, or fabricate in a variety of ways from plate and their available sections to create a more economical structure. Most especially the case if the price of steel is on the rise, and most fabricators have to buy steel now whilst a handful of fabricators have stocks of steel bought previously at lower price. So in some countries (eg. India), holding stocks of flatbar and plate, and welding up into I-sections to suit the job, is more economical than using hotrolled UB's, UC's. The optimum solution, the minimum cost solution is highly dependent on circumstances.

Now in a market where increasingly software is being used to get minimum section size to suit a job, it may appear that getting the minimum section size is essential to minimum cost solution. I will hazard to say not so. During the 1990's there was a shift, from minimum cost optimisation to maximum profit optimisation: the purpose of a business is to maximise profit not minimise cost. Further more the minimum cost of everything is zero, don't do it. If choose to do something then it costs what it costs.

Business is a real world experiment, therefore costs and prices are not certain, they are highly variable. Buy something for one price doesn't mean can sell it at equal or greater price, it may be necessary to sell it at lower price to free warehouse space and cut inventory costs. Similarly can push prices up and up, until sales volume drops off. With higher prices can make same profit for less effort, sometimes this is necessary. By raising prices can cut demand, and therefore reduce the need to expand production facilities or otherwise generate the funds to expand production facilities. The latter is key, those who want to supply useful gooods, versus those who simply want profits for personal luxuries.

Those who want to supply will expand production facilities, they will eliminate waste, they will improve quality, and add value to their products. They may also cut per unit production costs, but not necessarily cut sales price to the full extent possible because the market will already be happy or partially happy with the existing market price.

The minimum size of structural section which can be demonstrated compliant with a code of practice is the lowest quality, lowest value product which it is legal permissible to sell to the market. Anything not compliant with the code of practice is considered defective, until demonstrated otherwise to be suitable for purpose and the codes modified accordingly. It is not science it is politics. It should be noted that the codes are actually deficient: for example the wind loading code is based on horizontal flow of air over a building typically producing suction or uplift on the surfaces: in non-cyclonic regions the primary storm event is a violent downdraft: rather than roof being lifted of the building more likely to have buidling flattened against the ground. Similarly the Australian interior is likely to experience tornado activity: also not covered by the codes. When it comes to the crunch, the requirement is not whether it complied with the codes but whether or not it was actually suitable for purpose.

Therefore there is a problem if shed manufacturers are running around trying to find engineering which will justfy smaller compliant section sizes to compete. If the cost of the frame is an issue, then I say they are not offering any major benefit over the custom design project and going out to tender to find a contractor. The problem with tender/contract is that the fabricators typically use relatibely crude and cumbersome fabrication processes, with relatively poor capability at replicating parts. No one is going to spend ten's of thousands or a few million dollars to make a die for replication of a few dozen parts. Something which could be stamped from sheet metal in a few seconds, will be fabricated from heavier gauge steel probably at the rate of an hour or more per part and these parts in turn will have an influence on the nature of associated parts. So to start with the consultant engineer cannot produce minimum weight solution in first place, unless the crude fabrication techniques are the only practical techniques for the size of structure. Buildings fit into classes, some classes have high demand, those high demand classes are suited for automation of repetitive components. However, to permit mechanisation and automation, it may be necessary to work with more robust components, and that may result in an increase in weight of material compared to the structural requirement. Whilst weight has increased, the per unit production cost have decreased and the volume produced per unit time increased.

The building industry zero inventory approach does not altogether deliver at the right time, nor to the right quality: not really something that manufacturing industry should be aiming for. Some inventory is necessary to buffer the flows required to satisfy the market at the right time.

Take example from another industry. Several years back I ordered a desk, there were different sizes available in terms of widths of the tables. I ordered the smaller width. The width I ordered wasn't in stock, and needed to be made, but they had a larger version available. They offered me the larger version at the same price as the smaller version: I didn't really want the larger version, but then again I didn't really want to wait either, so I accepted the larger version. They got rid of stock occupying space, I put my desk to work sooner.

Reducing the section size, is reducing the value of the shed structure, whilst increasing the section size makes the shed more robust. Shed retailers have the potential to negotiate with their preferred rollformer, and compare sales forecasts of shed sizes, against demand for various size c-sections. By doing so, they can cut the operational costs of the rollformer, and share in the cost savings, by buying high volume of a specific larger section at lower price, whilst prices of other sections are higher.

It should be noted that the rollformers want to sell steel, so reducing weight of steel sold not good for them. Rollformers entering the shed and carport industry, is so that they can sell more steel, but they have to balance this with competing against their customers. Their customers, may just decide to buy their steel from elsewhere. However, there should be more added value to the shed, than to the c-section. If trying to sell more steel then reducing weight of steel structure doesn't make sense: unless shed price has more added cost than added value and consequently sales of sheds are low.

It should be noted that many DIY's have priced materials and consider they can fabricate and build themselves for much lower than they can buy shed from any supplier. So suppliers do need to consider the other costs, and their desired profits. The buyer has to be able to see value, rather than cost and profits going to owners.

Capturing a greater share of the market does not require decreasing unit price, it requires grabbing the markets attention and selling them the function and value they need. People don't want sheds they want buildings for a specific purpose: domestic workshop, hobby room, double garage, storage room, chicken shed, stable, mechanics workshop, warehouse, self-storage units. Each of these buildings has characteristics beyond the performance of the portal frames comprising the structure. There are doors, windows, ventilation, shelving and a multitude of internal and external requirements. If the buildings are off-the-shelf as buyers tend to expect then suppliers would have such designs already available. Once again the unit price of say a stable from one supplier may be less than from another, because they have optimised that particular type of building. On the other hand the higher priced supplier may win the sale because of perception of higher quality product, and much safer for the horses stabled.

It is upto sellers to identify value in their products, and sell that value to prospective buyers. I know one supplier who was an agent for one brand of shed, and otherwise also custom built sheds. Samples of the branded shed were erected at their display site: they kicked and pushed and shook the branded shed and said they were happy to supply that shed, or for slightly higher fee they could supply their own more robust built shed. Its not necessary to reduce price to make a sale. However its difficult to kick and make the larger sheds shake, also not so convenient to have installed on a display site. So for the larger sheds a different kind of customer education and information activity is required.

If think the competition are using smaller section sizes, then that suggests that comparitive information is available in the environment: if only the fact the building site is accessible at some point. Therefore there should be no problem releasing decent technical specifications, which properly inform buyers of what to expect.

Yes I know, civil engineers representing the ASI shed group are all into custom design for the site, and therefore the requirements are uncertain, and so are into promoting an uneconomical infinite spectrum of goods. Once again, just because a lighter structure is possible for the site, does not make it the lowest cost structure, nor the optimum solution for a given set of conditions. Structures can be pre-engineered for a given set of conditions, those conditions can be compared against the project conditions, and a stock standard solution adopted. One manufacturers stock standard solutions should not be the same as anothers. This differentiation means they sell more specific products, to specific markets.

For example the cold-formed carport industry as largely moved away from using c-sections, to more customised boxed sections (actually variation of two channels designed to clip together), these custom box sections are specific to a single manufacturer, consequently their carport and verandah tables cannot be used to size a carport whilst buying steel from elsewhere. Whilst the development approval process, attempts to protect investment in RD&D, it has little control over what happens after approval. So city councils can reject a carport proposal submitted by one carport builder based on another suppliers tables. But little control and ability to check, that a builder submitted a proposal based on one suppliers tables and then bought c-section from elsehwere. It is largely this activity that pushed the industry to introduce a product which is more unique, of course everyone who wants to jump on the bandwagon is dreaming up their own variation of a stylish box section. With such sections its not so simple for the salespeople and buyers to compare section sizes, and argue about weights.

Whilst structural design is important, it is really architectural and industrial product design that the shed industry is in need of, not structural engineering. Each structural section has a limiting envelope for a given set of parameters: determining that envelope is a once of exercise. The issue is once have such envelope, what can be done with the section to create useful buildings: what value can be reaped from such standard design.

For example many people build American barn style sheds as holiday shacks. This is something of a waste as they then proceed to construct a substantial amount of timber framing internally for plaster board linings. But they have a building envelope constructed rapidly, and now can proceed at own pace as a DIY, fitting out the interior. Cold-formed steel buildings provide for rapid enclosure of space: that is value. Further the real standard design is a portal frame: not really a shed. That portal frame has more uses than providing the frame for a shed: those frames can be used in housing where large open spaces are required free from bracing walls. But for such purposes the frames would need to be stiffer,  to better control deflections, and that would push up section size.

Manufacturers should set their own performance criteria for their product, and not rely on regulatory authorities to impose.

When a business is offering a broad range of products, or more to the point offering nothing in particular, then it shouldn't be so concerned about the loss of sales based on price. Consulting engineers arguing about under cutting of fees typically offer nothing in particular. Shed suppliers offer nothing in particular. Not surprising therefore that some other business offering nothing in particular wins the sale on the basis of lowest price.

Products will always be compared on price, if that is the only observable difference. Suppliers need to differentiate their products: that is the combination of goods and services. Engineers are not all the same, noticeable from the fact that sheds are not all the same yet designed to same performance based codes. If sheds, and shed suppliers are not all the same, then why the focus on price, and the focus of weight of steel contributing to price difference? One reason is that the suppliers are too small, none really has a real product, they are really just retailers for pallets of steel: and often completely lacking instructions explaining how to assemble into a shed, and also lacking parts. They may advertise sheds, they may promote sheds, they may have pictures of sheds supplied in the past (or others have supplied): but they have little to no evidence they can supply the shed the current customer is seeking.  For the price what does or can the customer expect?

From many of the shed suppliers, all the customer can really expect is a pile of steel, and a lot of hassle getting development approval, along with a building which is a problem to assemble on site.

Buyers of light industrial and commercial sheds really need to be wary of unexpectedly becoming owner-builder, or otherwise leaving it to some salesperson to play architect and civil engineer in an attempt to make building and site compliant with requirements for development approval.

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