To: "INTERNET:seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org" <seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org>
Subject: The Good Ol' USA vs. Them pesky "furrin codes"
From: Peter Higgins <JillHiggins(--nospam--at)compuserve.com>
Date: Mon, 1 May 2000 19:32:08 -0400
The good ol' USA got where it is by being the best around. I assume we all
want to remain the best. If so, we'd better take our "Yankee only" blinkers
off and take look around.
The only way we will maintain our current preminence is by staying the best
around. My point was that in steel design, we are no longer the leader.
Worse, AISC is promulgating a code which is ear trumpet technology in a
hearing aid world. [OK maybe LRFD is a vacuum tube hearing aid, but the
transistor was an American invention too.] Even the ASCE (as in AMERICAN
Society of Civil Engineers) is fed up. I don't blame them for a minute.
As you correctly noted, we also got here by doing the best research around.
However, you're a bit out of date. Perhaps when you went to school, and
certainly when I was an undergraduate, AISC was head and shoulders above
the rest of the world. Sadly, that is no longer true. Those researchers no
longer study here in droves like they used to. Read your literature, and
look at the affiliations. The reason is obvious. Ever had a look at dear
old AISC's research budget these days?
Then compare it to their current (and splendid) marketing budget.
Advertising only works so long on a non competitive product. After that
people wise up and buy elsewhere. My point was not that we should adopt
some "furrin" code, but that if AISC doesn't lead the way, eventually
another "American" group will have to step in. AISC isn't the only game in
town for specification writing. AISI, ASCE and the ANSI consensus process
are pretty good at it too. So far, they're holding off in deference to
AISC's superb work in the past. But we can be patient only so long.
Personally, I believe AISC still has the best infrastructure to write the
successor to LRFD. I just wish they'd get going on it.
Ever try to do a rigid frame in earthquake country with LRFD? Isn't it fun?
I just love computing a dozen plus different load cases (and different
column capacities for them). Isn't it great how you have to iterate a
flexible frame to some sort of convergence before the lovely LRFD will give
an answer? Unfortunately, my overhead and profit go into the tank. Afraid
of new things? Us dogs too old to learn new tricks? I don't think so. Our
colleagues cling to ASD because it is a better everyday design tool, at
least in earthquake country. Unfortunately, we're clinging to a sinking
For example, last week I finished the preliminary design to bid around
30,000 tons of steel for three industrial buildings. Using ASD it was over
40,000 (!) tons. Now, maybe I could have gotten there with LRFD, but it
would have taken the same team a week with computers rather than 2/3 of a
day with calculators. Further, I would have fielded far more questions
regarding the accuracy of the results as LRFD is really, really good at one
thing: obscuring the behavior of the structures and elements you are
designing. I cringe at the thought for potential errors in the overly
complex analysis LRFD requires. 30,000 tons of steel is significant
structure to just about anyone. [To this client it might be 15% of their
annual production.] LRFD simply isn't something I am comfortable staking my
or my client's survival upon. That's why ASD survives (albeit heavily
modified) in my office.
You're right: The Canadian market isn't really big compared to the USA. But
that doesn't mean they don't have a good code, and will run us out of town
in a fair contest. As for foreign markets, you may not compete in them, but
the global economy and construction is far larger than the US alone. Have
you seen the ENR reports of the amount of "foreign" work US based
consultants do? It's huge. We are going to lose that work if we don't stay
competitive. If our large consultants don't work, they lay our colleagues
Even if you personally aren't concerned for the human element, these guys
will start competing with you. That will affect everyone's bottom line as
the job market shrinks relative to the engineers available. Are you old
enough to remember the early '80's? Those of us that do have no wish for a
repeat. Why on earth do you think we brought out LRFD (5 years later) in
the first place? ASD was getting its collective butt kicked all over the
world, and AISC knew it.
And finally, I'm all for the Good Ol' USA too. However, the
Rah-Rah-Rah-Sis-Boom-Bah attitude will only take you so far. You might like
Buchanan, but I think Teddy Roosevelt had a better idea: "Walk softly and
carry a big stick". We don't have the big stick anymore. If we don't get
our act together, we'll all end up hemmed within our borders, cowering
behind our obsolete codes, and fighting ourselves for the remaining scraps
of domestic work available. We've never been afraid of competition. I just
don't want to go into the fight with one arm tied behind my back. That,
most definitely, isn't the "American Way". Both Roosevelt and Buchannan
would have agreed on that one.
Peter Higgins, SE