Letters to the editor: volume 17, issue 7
Image credit: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash
In the August 2022 issue of E&T, readers discuss the pros and cons of concrete, waste disposal, engineers’ status and more.
Structures that last through time
The April 2022 issue of E&T looked at current and future uses of concrete in construction. Here in Quebec, Canada, cold weather down to -35°C in winter and hot weather up to +37°C during summer has a major and violent impact on concrete structures. The atmospheric humidity, hot-cold cycles and the use of de-icing salt on roads and bridges has also contributed to the rapid degradation of everything made of concrete that is located outside. Bridges, overpasses, sidewalks, buildings, monuments, statues... everything.
The quality of concrete was not very high in the past, and some say the new material is much better performing. But still, even today, we can see cracks forming in concrete that was poured just a year ago.
In the past decade, after the collapse of bridges and overpasses made of concrete, a major inspection of all transportation structures was urgently conducted. As a result, many had to be demolished because the concrete was brittle, exposing rusty steel rod armatures. Overall, the structures were unsafe. The Champlain mega bridge, built just 60 years ago, had to be demolished and replaced because the concrete of the deck and piers was falling apart.
As a comparison, the Victoria Bridge crossing the St Lawrence River was built between 1854 and 1859. It has 24 piers in water, all made of stone, and is still used by vehicles and freight/passenger trains.
Many constructions built with stone by the Romans are still standing tall after some 2,000 years. Finally, let’s not forget the concrete production process is very polluting, and so constructions made of stone were much more environmentally friendly.
Our egocentric society thinks that modern technology is above anything that has ever existed before. It is difficult for many people to accept the fact that some things made in the past were much better. A little humility wouldn’t hurt. We should build civil engineering structures that will stand the test of time, thus go back to the stone.
Robert Boily FIET
Time to talk waste in the boardroom
It was great to see the July 2022 issue of E&T devoted to the subject of waste. Some of the messages relayed in it correspond with the IET Strategy 2030, which outlines five societal challenges: sustainability and climate change, digital futures, healthy lives, people-centric infrastructure, and productive manufacturing.
These also align with recommendations from Jeremy Rifkin, advisor to German, EU and Chinese governments, who has suggested a series of guidelines to migrate out of the carbon-intensive second industrial revolution infrastructure, fuels and wastes. We should shift to renewable energy; transform the building stock on every continent to collect renewable energy onsite; deploy hydrogen (via electrolysis) and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies; use internet technologies to transform the power of grid of every continent into an energy-sharing inter-grid that acts as a distributed network, like the internet; transition the transport fleet to electric and fuel-cell vehicles that can buy and sell energy on an interactive power grid.
These five points can be distilled into one message – improve efficiency and reduce waste in all sectors.
I know there are major impediments to retrofitting existing systems. My question to E&T readers is, what can engineers do to help move towards this more efficient distributed economy in a practical and meaningful way, without losing our shirts? It’s not too late to have these discussions in our boardrooms, as well as with our customers and investors.
EurIng Alan Rossney CEng FIET
Easier disposal will tackle waste problem
I found the July 2022 issue of E&T enlightening, particularly the ‘waste mafia’ piece. The government is concerned about fly-tipping, the cost of clean-up and the associated environmental damage. If we want to stop fly-tipping, the answer is not more CCTV/surveillance – simply make it easier for everyone to dispose of waste.
My local tip accepts most waste in the back of a car; vans must have a permit but even private individuals have to pay to dispose of many items. I replaced a chipped sink in the downstairs loo, I checked the council website and, sure enough, if my load is loose in the boot (sink, a few tiles, some plumbing parts) that will be £50 (including VAT). This is apparently more reasonable than the neighbouring borough, whose residents are no longer allowed to visit ‘my’ tip.
On one occasion, a polite young man asked if I was local and wanted to see proof of address. This was an outrage for some members of my community, and now the tip has number-plate-recognition cameras.
If we make everything a cost-centre, everything costs more. Look at the bigger picture, Prime Minister.
How sandwich courses benefit both sides
I fully agree with CJ Poole’s comments about the advantages of university sandwich courses in the June 2022 issue of E&T. However, there were additional benefits. In my experience, these students were a pleasure to teach as they were more mature than school leavers and had a better understanding of why they were studying for an engineering degree. As a result of some discussions with these students, I gleaned valuable information about latest trends in industry that helped inform my teaching.
John Martin FIET
Hard truths for ‘moangineers’
I suspect that if I had a pound for every letter in your magazine from what I could describe as a ‘moangineer’ – someone bewailing the lack of status (whatever that really means) of our profession – I’d be on my way to being a rich man.
There are some hard truths for those (no doubt excellent) folks who complain about the lack of recognition they perceive they get, or (as they see it) the over-liberal use of the word ‘engineer’.
First, those who crave it are not going to get the ‘status’ they want just by asking for it. We can’t sit in our offices or look out of the window at others and simply say, “I’m better than you, and you’d better believe it!”. Status has to be earned, and it is not the reward of arrogance. To gain respect, I maintain that we have to be positive, creative, good to work with, and understand the needs of the people we work for.
Secondly, no-one is going to stop calling the dishwasher repairer an engineer just because we want them to. Indeed, why should we want to do that anyway? We should be proud of, and encourage, anyone who wants to make lives better to describe themselves as an engineer. Having the ingenuity to work out what a problem is and fix it, whether it’s a broken workflow or a fault on a piece of kit, is core to our discipline.
I suggest to those who want higher ‘status’ that they need first to work out what that means to them, and then realise that the means of achieving it are in their own hands. If engineering isn’t “doing it” for them, then they need to realise that it might be time for a change to a career that does.
Focus on technology to raise status
In the July 2022 issue of E&T, Anthony Gardner endorses Malcolm Joynson’s letter (March 2022) about the status of engineers. Unfortunately, neither gentleman states clearly what they want the definition of ‘engineer’ to be, though Malcolm Joynson does mention professional registration.
I have followed this debate throughout the 50 years of my membership. Many years ago, at an IEE local group meeting, we were honoured with a talk by the president of the day. The question of the status of the engineer arose then. The president’s answer was very succinct – the IEE had no copyright of the word ‘engineer’.
It is a very broad term, which has been used for centuries, and we are not going to change common usage of the English language. Instead, we need to look at another name to call ourselves to emphasise the level of our work. How about ‘technologist’, combined perhaps with one’s specialist discipline?
Some years ago, the IEE made the sensible decision to rename itself the Institution of Engineering and Technology. The word ‘engineering’ represents the very broad range of our disciplines and takes the focus away from the electrical side. The word ‘technology’ lifts our level to that of applying science to engineering tasks. It is the official name of our institution so let us use it more, and ‘engineering’ less, instead of a futile attempt to change millions of people’s usage of the English language.
Denis McMahon MIET
The EurIng option
For as long as I can remember there has been discussion about how professional engineers can achieve the recognition that their abilities, experience and qualifications deserve. During that time most of the discussions have been about how the status of professional engineers has been degraded, with numerous other less qualified or experienced roles being described as engineers.
It does strike me that there is a simple change that could be achieved: that of the use and subsequent recognition of the title EurIng across society.
In many cases, including many government forms, banking forms, passport and driving licence applications etc, the first box is to add your title. You are offered many options, but how many forms have you seen that have given the option to tick or add EurIng? The only times that I have ever been able to use it have been at technical conferences and exhibitions – and only then by selecting ‘Other’ and typing it in.
If the IET applied pressure to various organisations to have a default option of selecting EurIng as a title, it would start creating awareness of it as a professional qualification.
EurIng David Guppy CEng FIET
Use your chartered status
The title chartered engineer is protected under UK law. Referring to technicians or repair personnel as engineers is embedded in our culture now, so why fight a war that is lost when we already have the solution? Make sure to use your CEng title and the chartered prefix, just as chartered accountants or chartered surveyors do. The media and general public should be made aware of the 180,000 UK-registered chartered engineers.
If a fitter or technician advertises their services as a chartered engineer, we have UK law to prevent this. If you are not chartered and unhappy with the broader use of ‘engineer’, then here is a good incentive to register.
Peter Martin CEng MIET
Michael Hartz (Letters, July 2022) suggests reducing the amount of plastic used in a 4-pint milk container by changing the shape to a cylinder. The existing shape is easier to stack and hence transport. More importantly, how would a cylindrical milk container with diameter 14.2mm fit into the door of a fridge? The rectangular container has a depth of 11cm.
Patricia Lyle MIET
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