An engineer is responsible for the way the building works. It’s up to them to validate the design of project and how it will function, and to ensure that all the quality, health and safety requirements are exceeded.
Their involvement on a project will run throughout its pre-operational life-span, from even before the design stage right up to the handover. For example, one of the first tasks an engineer will carry out on a project is to look into the maps and data gleaned from surveys to ensure the site will serve as a stable foundation for the structure.
They will work closely with the client, the architecture and design teams, and the main contractor, especially at the outset of the project, as well as collaborating with other stakeholders involved throughout the build.
There are various types of engineers who may play a role on a building project.
As well as validating the overall structure of the design, structural engineers work out the loads and stresses on different parts of the building to make sure they are all sound. They might use computer modelling to test how the building will react under extreme conditions, such as storms or earthquakes. They might also factor in the possible future expansion of a building and how that might work.
Civil engineers will deal with the infrastructure to support the building, and will be involved in validating all the site utilities, such as water retention and sanitary issues. Mechanical engineers might be focused on the ventilation, heating and air conditioning of the structure, while electrical engineers will work on power supply, lighting, alarms, etc. Similarly, plumbing engineers will figure out the water supply, toilets, drainage and heating.
A branch of engineering that’s becoming more important is energy engineering – the drive for sustainable and low carbon facilities means energy performance and efficiency is crucial.
What all the different types of engineers have in common is they must ensure the buildings operate properly and are safe. They hold a supervisory role throughout the project to make sure things are happening as they should.
The early part of an engineer’s role on a project involves collaborating with owners, architects, designers and main contractors to figure out from the plans how the building will perform and to try to spot any possible problems.
This work depends on data coming in from various stakeholders – often including subcontractors – regarding timelines and materials. When this work is done using traditional paper methods, collaboration and communication can be complex, time-consuming and the potential for human error is high. The engineer will use information at this stage to advise on what materials to use, so inaccuracies can lead to bigger problems down the line.
The engineer must take into account and balance competing agendas – for example, while the client wants energy efficiency in a certain part of the building, this may conflict with regulations or clash with the provision of utilities.
They must make sure that no problems will arise with the operation of the building, such as a service vent passing through a particular load-bearing wall. On paper, this can be a long-winded process and involves the over-laying of drawings to look for potential problems. If these clashes are missed, they will require remedial action which can slow down a project and drive up costs.
They also face a challenge regarding oversight of the job, with lots of moving parts and many stakeholders, some coming and going long before the project is complete. This involves being on-site and dealing with challenges as they arise. It also means updating documents as changes happen, and making sure everyone is working off the latest versions.
Spending lots of time in the field raises the challenge of access to documents, and time can be wasted as the engineer has to return to base to check something on the drawings or supporting documents.
They must also manage the large number of quality assurance documents and certificates flowing in from all aspects of the project which prove that the build is within all the engineering norms and regulations.
A construction software solution offers engineers a very useful tool when it comes to meeting the challenges they face.
Using digital technology, all the information in the initial stage flows in to building information modelling (BIM) software. This creates a 3D virtual model of the project, greatly simplifying and speeding up the engineer’s ability to test that various aspects of the structure are sound and that the calculations for materials, etc, are 100% accurate.
It also offers clash detection – the process of finding conflicts in the design or operation is automated by the software. This allows potential problems to be spotted and solved before any cement has been poured, and it greatly reduces problems on-site and the delays and cost over-runs they incur.
Another benefit of using digital software is that it gives the engineer access in the field to all the drawings and documents they need. Using the Zutec apps, the engineer can access and even update key documents from their smartphone or tablet, which saves valuable time and brings efficiency to everything they do.
And the fact that everyone on the project is plugged into a fully integrated system means the engineer has more efficient communication and collaboration with all stakeholders, both in the field and in the office. It also means oversight of the job is much easier and the quality assurance documents an engineer needs are easily accessible and can’t go missing.