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Timid Engineer Syndrome

Posted on February 13, 2013

This morning, I moderated a panel on technology innovations in infrastructure. The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers’ research and innovation taskforce put this event together to look at how policy- and decision-makers can learn to use innovations.

Every presenter agreed that LIDAR, building information modelling (BIM), and other intelligent technologies, along with mobile solutions and the cloud, will lead to a host of benefits. Cost reductions, quicker turnaround, more predictive costs, better infrastructure: it sounds ideal.

While Autodesk’s Steve Stanfill said that BIM use is ramping up, it’s by no means standard. Past articles in ReNew Canada point to a slow but steady adoption of these technologies among constructors and designers. How do we move beyond talking about these innovations to implementing them?

Some presenters, like Stanfill, felt “it has to be asked for”—in other words, it’s up to the client to demand innovation. One engineer said that municipalities and cities will just write “BIM” in their requests for proposals. “They need to get more detailed,” he said.

Beyond just cities—the most common client in these scenarios—some panellists felt that upper-tier governments should be taking the lead. As David Hill pointed out, the United Kingdom has mandates that by 2016 all publically funded projects must be BIM compliant. “When it’s regulated, that’s when it will happen,” said Stanfill.

Consultant Richard Gilbert disagreed, arguing that it’s up to the private sector. He used the example of private vehicle manufacturers pushing for vehicle automation, saying, “In Europe, the private sector is pushing government to act,” said Gilbert.

SolidCAD’s David Hill said civil and architecture firms need to start demonstrating BIM designs in 3D to their end stakeholders, making conceptual design part of the planning process. Jeff Lyons with Cole Engineering Group said, “The construction industry is literally begging for data so they can [create] 4D [models.] Engineers are slowing down the process.”

Edward Li with Morrison Hershfield said innovation is a joint effort between the client and engineer, though often it is the client putting pressure on its engineer to provide options.

This is not the first time an engineer in a room full of engineers has lamented what I’ll call “timid engineer syndrome.”

So, what’s it going to take to get North American engineers (and architect, too, I suppose) to push the public sector into the 21st century? Leave your comments here to continue the conversation.


2 Responses to “Timid Engineer Syndrome”

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    urbanworkbench says:

    Organizations such as CanBIM should work hard at establishing a national standard for BIM data, and to promote it’s use in all sectors for all projects, right across canada.

    Perhaps engineers are timid, because despite the obvious value added by BIM, industry as a whole has not pushed the relevance of BIM to the public, so benefits such as lifecycle costing and overall efficiencies in design, construction and operations are not even considered as variables influenced by design effort.

    Or perhaps engineers have not been convinced of the payback for the assumed additional effort? In this case too, marketing the BIM concept outside of just the software/design circles and into the C-level decision-makers realm is necessary.

  2. Hardat A. Barran P.Eng,. MBA says:

    Timid Engineer Syndrome is a good descriptor. But the timid engineers are not necessarily only at the supply end of the relationship; there are timid engineers aplenty on the owner side as well. It is the rare sponsor who can motivate a team to be boldly innovative and achieve grand outcomes.

    Visionaries are scarce these days.

    A great example of a visionary infrastructure project is the Columbia River Highway. Apparently the terms of reference specifically included a mandate to take advantage of the beauty of the natural scenery in addition to building an efficient farm-to-market road. The sponsor was a rare bird indeed.

    I would love to see a major North American city take avantage of LIDAR and create a comprehensively automated traffic system. I suggest that Toronto or Chicago or LA might gain more than 100% better utilization of the existing road infrastructure and reduce traffic congestion significantly if a sponsor emerges in one of these cities to lead the way. I believe that Edmonton has some thought leaders in this field.

    Is it asking too much to hope that someone can take up the gauntlet and really think and act outside the box? I believe that Google, IBM and auto manufacturers would welcome such an initiative and help make it happen. Imagine how the first city to implement this would become a showpiece to the rest of the world! And, oh! the relief of the traffic congestion that is making great cities places to avoid living in.

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