NDY Celebrates World Engineering Day 2021

Each year on March 4 World Engineering Day (WED) is celebrated globally. This UNESCO day of celebration highlights engineers and engineering achievements in our modern world, with the aim of improving public understanding of how engineering and technology are central to modern life and for sustainable development.

To our team, engineering is an opportunity to change the world for the better. As we encounter the impacts of climate change, environmental issues, our growing cities and the challenges of new technologies including artificial intelligence, engineers are at the forefront of ensuring our built environment is cleaner, more sustainable, smarter and liveable.

To celebrate WED 2021, we present an exploration from members of the NDY family on the qualities that make a good engineer and why engineering was the career for them. Through the words of some of our more experienced team members juxtaposed with those that are in the first few years of their career, we explore some of the changes in the field throughout the years and what the future of engineering looks like.

Read more from each of our engineers: Georgia Alexander | Juris Prods | Martin Dabnor | Niro Siriwardena

Georgia Alexander, Wellington, New Zealand

What motivated you to become an engineer?

From age 7 I started playing the game ‘The Sims’ in which I spent many hours designing house after house, aiming to get the perfect layout. I enjoyed designing spaces, with a particular emphasis on efficient space use and smart design. My younger self narrowed this passion down to architecture – or so I thought.

I quickly realised that I was more interested in efficiency, functionality and the science of buildings. I determined that there was little point to a good looking home or building if it didn’t work well.

In my second year of tertiary education I found myself at home learning how buildings function and how we as building users and designers have the potential to continually improve our built environment.

What makes a good engineer, past, present and future?

Building design is like a very complex 3D puzzle or maze with a multitude of criteria and guidelines. There are many crucial parts to a functional building, and there are many ways that the pieces of the puzzle can go together. Our job as engineers is to design this puzzle to be effective, efficient and a smart design.

A good engineer not only understands their area of expertise but has a good knowledge of all disciplines and how they all work together to create a well-functioning building or project. It is also important to follow closely what is happening around the world and keep ahead of evolving technologies and industry initiatives.

What is the future of engineering, and how do you see things playing out to get to that point?

Looking forward to the future, we as engineers need to evolve our processes and techniques as technology, equipment and systems continue to evolve around us.

At present our industry is welcoming the idea of more sustainable technologies with many buildings striving and achieving sustainable ratings through tools such as Green Star. I see a future of engineering where more and more buildings are striving for Net Zero or even Net Positive designs.

It is important that we play our part in the industry to encourage and drive legislation and our peers to change and evolve, to support sustainable practice and continually improve our built environment for future generations.

About Georgia

Georgia joined NDY as a part time engineer in 2018 whilst completing her studies at Victoria University of Wellington and came on board as a full time Graduate Project Engineer in 2020. Her expertise lies in electrical and fire protection engineering.

She enjoys the diversity of NDY’s projects, and has a particular strength in the skill of cross-discipline coordination. Her other strengths include clash detection and resolution.

Georgia is an active member of NDY’s New Engineers Wellington (NEWs) group, with the goal of improving efficiencies, communication and collaboration within the office.

Juris Prods, Melbourne, Australia

When you first started out in engineering, what were your key ambitions in the field?

At first nothing specific because everything was so new! Pretty soon I wanted to see my designs constructed successfully, then see them operate as intended, and a bit later I was keen to see that my designs were completed on program and within the design fee budget.

Although I operated in managerial positions that was never a goal – I still like the engineering challenges and to see projects operate successfully.

How much have things changed during your career?

When I started slide rules were used for calculations. Five years into my career, the company I worked for bought a calculator that cost the equivalent of roughly 3 months engineers salary – now it would cost $5. Today most calculations are computerised.

The format of documentation has changed significantly, from hand drawn drawing board production to CAD drafting and 3D walk throughs.

Building project design times are not significantly shorter as a result of computerisation. There are a few reasons for this, including:

  • More iterations of design – it’s now much easier for the architect or structural engineer to implement a change which has significant impact on building services
  • The advent of project managers has added an extra link in the communications chain
  • Increased complexity of regulatory requirements.

Building construction times have generally reduced due to prefabrication but the reduction has not been as great as would be expected due to:

  • More complex building shapes, more curved buildings and irregular floor plate shapes and sizes
  • More complex services such as security, communications and provision of tenant services for fitout.

One thing that has not changed is that building owners and operators are challenged in maintaining good, easily accessible documentation relating to initial building construction and subsequent changes to building services.

What makes a good engineer, past, present and future?

Apart from requiring computer skills nothing much has changed. You still require:

  • An enquiring mind
  • Lateral thinking ability. There is usually more than one solution to an issue
  • Strength to give clients bad news rather than skirting around difficult issues
  • A detective-like ability when working on existing buildings with incomplete documentation, to understand the original design intent based on regulations and system conventions used at the time of construction.

I doubt that advances in artificial intelligence will change the above for some considerable time yet.

About Juris

With over 40 years industry experience, Juris is a long standing member of the NDY family.

He is on the NDY International Technical Committee for mechanical services and is responsible for updating and maintaining technical standards.

Juris has extensive experience as a Project Leader and has been involved in the Design, Documentation and Construction phases of building services for major commercial office, retail, hotel, residential, communication and telecoms and sports facilities and developments across the UK, Australia and South East Asia.

In the past, Juris served as a member of the Property Council of Australia’s Legionella Task Force, acted as mechanical team manager within NDY’s Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and London offices and was responsible for training and enhancing the skills of NDY mechanical services staff.

Martin Dabnor, London, United Kingdom

When you first started out in engineering, what were your key ambitions in the field?

It was my careers master at school who pointed me in the direction of engineering, at a time when I was favouring architecture as my target career. Following his advice, I went to Loughborough University, UK, for a four year, thick sandwich, honours degree course and studied Environmental Engineering. This was an ideal course for me as it covered many aspects of construction and introduced me to civil engineering, construction management, structural engineering and acoustic engineering as well as all the disciplines of building services.

During the third year of my course I was employed by my sponsor, which was a principal building services consultancy at that time. The majority of my time was based on site at the Barbican Arts Centre in London, operating as an assistant to the Team of Resident Engineers dealing with construction issues and commissioning activities.

This period gave me a real education in construction and revealed that what had been designed, and sometimes spuriously detailed, by office-based engineers, was often impractical and idealistic. These designs were challenging for the contractors to install and even harder for me to inspect and witness during commissioning in the constrained ‘real-life’ space available in plant areas and risers. This 14 month period gave me a hard-earnt appreciation for well-considered practical designs and has informed a key aspect of my own designs, and those of others, that I now guide and encourage.

How much have things changed during your career?

The tools in the armoury of contributors to the construction industry have developed immensely since the commencement of my career and the rate of development continues unabated. Intelligent, dynamic software has replaced steady state and iterative calculation methods to allow significantly more accurate design assessments to be made of operational energy consumption and this has allowed more precision to be applied when selecting plant and systems.

Speed of delivery has changed also, with automation enabling much more rapid design and construction processes. At the beginning of my career, design periods were necessarily longer as the production of design information took longer. Full duties appointments were commonplace and these required designers to labour for days and weeks to manually draught fully coordinated building services layouts, sections and elevations for plantrooms and risers and for on-floor services in ceiling voids.

This approach lead to Engineers becoming very knowledgeable about actual plant and equipment sizes, bending radii, fitting dimensions, relative spacings, etc. as it was essential to draw the details correctly due to the amount of time invested in the drawing production process. A need to change or correct a drawn design, or incorporate a new client instruction, could not simply be addressed by a few clicks of a ‘mouse’ but could instead be a reason to abandon drawings that had taken days to produce. If the change was relatively minor it might still take many hours to incorporate as it would necessitate the use of a razor blade or electric eraser to remove content from a completed drawing sheet so it could be laboriously replaced by new details.

The consequence of change was therefore an area for major concern on any project as it could easily lead to delays and/or significant financial losses and so great care was taken to formally agree and get sign off for designs before putting pen to paper. It certainly encouraged a policy of care and adopting a “measure twice, cut once” approach which became second nature for design teams and lead to a high level of collaboration and coordination between engineers and architects and diligence in formalising agreements as gateways to commencing production.

What makes a good engineer, past, present and future?

The basis of a good engineer has not fundamentally changed over the years. An engineer needs to be technically proficient, diligent in all aspects of their contribution, a willing contributor to collaboration and coordination with all project team members and a good communicator. A good engineer also needs to recognise that there is generally more than one way to do anything and there is therefore generally not a single solution to a particular design challenge.

Engineers also need to recognise that they have to continually develop their knowledge and skills to keep pace with developing technology, changing regulations and an increasingly more important level of social responsibility leading to the production of design solutions that consume less energy and natural resources, create less carbon emissions and lead in delivering a more sustainable future.

About Martin

Martin is a Director in NDY’s London office. He has over 30 years’ experience within the building services industry, gained primarily within the consultancy sector while 3 years were spent developing a building services contracting regional office. This blend of consultancy and contracting experience ensures that Martin provides design solutions that are both innovative and practical.

As the Principal Technical Manager for the London office, he is responsible for a team of discipline design verifiers that ensure the quality of our designs.

While Martin’s personal service bias is Mechanical his responsibilities encompass all services disciplines associated with a wide variety of project types including commercial, educational, residential, retail, health and laboratory, leisure and financial.

Martin has excellent communication and leadership skills which have proved to be critical when leading, managing, and participating with design teams, ensuring peer motivation and project delivery against often challenging circumstances or deadlines.

Nirodha Siriwardena, Sydney, Australia

What motivated you to become an engineer?

The desire to scratch the itch of curiosity definitely played a big role in my becoming an engineer. Growing up I spent half my time looking up how things worked, and then the other half of my time asking myself “ok, but what if we did this instead?” (unsurprisingly, my alternative solutions were rarely fruitful).

Now that it’s my day-to-day role it’s become more than a headscratcher – I derive a lot of joy from knowing that I’m making positive changes to the spaces and places where people spend their time.

What makes a good engineer, past, present and future?

I see the future of engineering taking a more careful consideration of how our built environment, and all the processes associated with it, affect our natural environment while still meeting the basic needs of society.

We’re already taking strides in ensuring the former minimises its impact on the latter by discussing this on a day-to-day basis. We are asking ourselves questions like – are we limiting our use of harmful refrigerants? What is the total life cycle of a product beyond its typical “useful” life cycle? How do we better monitor and manage our energy and water consumption?

And a lot of these questions already have good answers! Policies have been introduced regarding refrigerant phasedown, we can assess the disposal of a product based on its material data sheets, and we’re gathering so much data on energy and water consumption. It’s just now up to us as engineers to ensure our designs make the best of the information that we have at our fingertips so we can continue to take care of our environment.

What is the future of engineering, and how do you see things playing out to get to that point?

A good engineer learns best practices from the past, applies them to the present, and strives for continuous improvement in the future! Our industry is highly knowledge based, so we should never be afraid of standing on the shoulders of giants in order to develop great solutions for our surrounding environment.

About Nirodha

Nirodha (Niro) is a member of NDY’s Sydney Mechanical team. Since joining the company in 2018, he has become an integral part of the delivery team in the interiors and education sectors, whilst continuing to develop aptitude in a wide range of areas including retail, health, asset performance, data centres and in mixed-use developments.

With over three years in the industry, Niro finds himself deeply engaged in all aspects of engineering such as quality assurance sessions, project reviews and on-site inspections. In addition to having a strong technical focus, his skills extend into communication, developing stakeholder relationships and project coordination. As a package this ensures that Niro delivers high quality engineering solutions that meet our clients’ expectations regarding quality and programme.

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