As a second-year engineering student, I had the fortunate opportunity of working for 7 weeks this summer at BE Design, a Civil and Structural Engineering consultancy that operates in a broad range of industry and residential sectors. Personally, I helped design the sub-structure of a 200m x 70m distribution centre, and you'd be amazed by the quantity of work that goes into just that.
For those that don't know, the sub-structure refers to the structural components of a building that transfer loads from everything above ground into the soil below. From a design perspective, the challenge is that the sub-structure elements can only be designed once all the loads from the actual structure are known, yet they are at the same time the first elements that will be constructed. Hence an adequate amount of technical judgement is required, because a wrong decision for loads acting on the sub-structure can quickly limit what can be safely constructed above. It is also a lot more expensive to resolve these issues later in the project. Affordable judgement was the name of the game.
In addition, the project also had several non-engineering challenges.
In terms of project management, the project type was Design and Build, which means that the contractor on site starts building the structure before the entire design has been completed. This puts, as you can imagine, design engineers into quite a stressful situation. Coordinating with multiple teams across the UK and communicating information succinctly within and outside of the team was crucial. But so is speed of design output, and the engineering proverb of "accuracy over precision" applied here.
For example, it became clear very quickly that there is an enormous potential for automation in the Civil and Structural industry. While the technology has not arrived to 3D print the actual construction of a structure, it is theoretically possible to automate the design. To be competitive in the consulting business, one needs to be able to complete the same task quicker or cheaper than a competitor. So far, due to the sheer complexity of projects and the lack of programming skills in the industry, this field has remained largely untouched. However, I see here an enormous opportunity for young engineers as myself.
Yet no one has ever changed the world by sticking to what it offers. Change only comes about when people decide to lead first, and it begins with the observation that things can be done differently. After all, isn’t the whole point of leadership about setting a vision first, and then putting your heart and mind to seeing it fulfilled?