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RE: Weak Rivets of Titanic, Weak Steel Bearing Walls of WTC, Weak Levees of New Orleans- Weak Gussets of I-35W Bridge= 6000 deaths

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Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl wrote:

"A dear friend of mine in the business school ... told me that

"you engineers think that the planet earth is un-inhabited!"

<end quote>

Gee! I thought it was those in the school of business who thought the planet
is uninhabited, or if it is inhabited then people are simply there for
business to exploit. But it would be over generalisation to declare all
accountants, economists and business graduates to be simply bean-counters,
who cut costs by cutting corners, and cause death and injury. I suppose it
was an engineer responsible for the global impact of the sub-prime mortgage

Economists and politicians with their appallingly poor mathematical models
of the economy and of society, with business and political decisions based
on, potentially cause more injury and are responsible for more deaths, than
any designer of a physical product. Structural unemployment as industries
close down and wide geographical areas are left without work. People
starving and without fresh water and sanitation and shelter: not because
humanity lacks the resources, but because no one has the imagination to find
a practical means of distribution and transaction. The IMF and World Bank
provide loans to pay off loans. Every transaction is counted in monetary
exchange, and inflationary terms. Debits and credits creating the
circulation of fictitious money. People able and willing to work, but
business systems and regulations won't permit them to do so. Things are
decaying not because we don't have the materials and labour to repair and
maintain, but because we don't have the dollars to drive the system. In some
countries people have been placed into debt for 5 generations: the people
remain exploited and oppressed. But the people who demand the return are
still living a life of excessive luxury, it is not as if they really need to
be paid back with interest, or even paid back: probably wasn't theirs to own
and give in the first place.

So if anything it is the business graduates who seldom if ever think of the
impact of their decisions and actions on human lives.

As for structural performance: acceptable performance is a matter of
subjective opinion. The real resistance of materials used in a structure are
uncertain, and the actual actions which a structure will experience are
uncertain. The requirements in the codes of practice are little more than a
guess. When something fails the usual response is to increase the design
load: the less than intelligent thing to do, but it requires no thought of
structural behaviour and response.

>From my view design has been fragmented. Architects gave rise to industrial
designers. But instead of creating a better more able designer, it simply
created a separate discipline. Why? And when did architecture split from
building? When did engineering split from architecture and from building?
Christopher Wren was an architect builder, and Thomas Telford an engineer
builder: why now are we training applied mathematicians and calling them
engineers? When did universities stop providing a universal education and
start all this vocational rubbish: B.Arch, B.Eng, B.Tech, B.Econ, B.Bus?

When Thomas Telford built a prototype bridge not only did he test the
product but also the process of construction. The point of design is to plan
and evaluate both product and process. If designers were being trained
properly in the first place then there would have been no need for the
emergence of quality assurance, total quality management, quality
engineering, and quality robust design.

Robust design requires proper consideration of variation. Variation
throughout all processes that leads from concept to implementation and
operation, maintenance and final disposal of a product.

References to sub-standard components is a deliberate attempt to incite
outrage, it plays direct to human emotions, and has nothing to do with
quality and adequate performance.

If builders want to use cheap imported steel because it is half the price of
local steel: fine! On condition that the structure is designed to use that
steel, and they use twice as much because it's only half the strength.
Imported steel may not be to Australian standards, and therefore
substandard, but it doesn't make it defective. Otherwise that would make US
and UK steel defective. And what about Chinese steel: doesn't appear to be
large scale reports of structures collapsing daily. Design to suit the
materials and the fabrication processes.

If have an unskilled labour market, don't go designing the structure to be
reliant on high level trade skills, the structure will turn out defective.
If do not produce process-specifications and do not supervise production,
then do not be surprised when the building does not meet
product-specifications. And why do we have a lack of trade skills? Because
of social experiments: the education system turning people away from trades
and pushing everyone into degrees. Everyone may get a degree in nuclear
physics but someone still has to empty the bins. And there is no point
designing a welded structure if there is no one who can weld it. A desire
for learning to understand the world is not the same as the need to be
qualified for employment. Having a vocation/occupation is a relatively new
and dumb concept: humans are supposed to be intelligent and adaptable. Seems
universities train humans to be anything but. Universities are factories
which turn out obsolete product. We need a population which can solve
problems, and implement solutions: not graduates in business or engineering.

It is not simply a matter of designing the latest widget. Factories and
other infrastructure need to be designed, developed and built: including
schools and training facilities to develop the required labour force. When
designing physical systems should not ignore human factors, for it is human
factors that give rise to the needs which lead to the need for design in the
first place.

I think it was Hoover who said: "there are 1000's of people who can
calculate stresses and strains, the great engineer is the one who can decide
if we need the bridge in the first place."

Things fatigue or decay with time. Who is it that decides to build housing
down stream of a dam? Who makes a city dependent on a bridge? Who shifts
industry out of a city and places it on the other side of a bridge? Who
demands the bridges, and the dams, the hospitals and the schools? Who places
houses on fertile soil, and pushes agriculture beyond the drought line? Who
is it that plays games with financial values and pushes the houses in and
the farmers out, and ignore all physical resources and social impacts:
business graduates maybe?

Scarcity of resources is an important factor in decision making, but
currently the only scarcity of importance is money. The physical resources
are there, the labour is available, and the need exists, but no money to
stimulate them into action. The activities money is fuelling are typically
inappropriate or the cause of many of our problems. That is the activity is
purely financial, with no food, clothing or shelter produced. It is amazing
that we can evolve a society with enterprises employing large numbers of
people simply shuffling paper around all of which is no value to the success
or failure of the enterprise. Making them unemployed is undesirable, but
getting them to do something useful would be beneficial.

Scarcity of resources means that we should get smarter at design. Products
which fail in operation are wasteful of resources. Products which are
difficult to make and result in rework or otherwise and simply result in
discarding defective product are wasteful of resources.

But it is also wasteful to simply keep increasing loads and demanding higher
resistance of structures. Robust design and FMECA assist in designing less
injurious modes of failure. But it is not just the immediate hazard to life
that needs to be considered, it is also the loss of amenity and the economic
cost of re-supply. It is a more serious loss of amenity when people don't
get the houses or hospitals in the first place, because codes of practice
have made them too expensive to build. It is a threat to life when a
hospital is delayed because of unnecessary paperwork between concept and

It is wasteful when engineers all over the world are conducting the same
calculations for the same structural components and some less competent than
others: yet all are getting approval. Get the calculations done once,
published and publicly criticised. Performance based codes are to permit
innovation and generate additional prescriptive solutions, not eliminate
prescriptive solutions. Get things designed once and applied as often as is
appropriate. Identify the variations which make the stock-standard solutions
inappropriate and design new solutions to meet these additional needs.

Designing a ship to use steel rivets when the infrastructure does not exist
to supply steel rivets, but iron rivets are more plentiful is bad design.
Designing a transportation system dependent on bridges and not having
redundant pathways, and not having the necessary infrastructure to replace
bridges within say hours: is bad design. So if it going to take weeks to
construct a bridge in the first place, then it is probably a bad design. If
we need a bridge and cannot afford to be without the bridge, then we need
appropriate infrastructure to repair, maintain and replace the bridge: it is
not simply a matter of designing a beam to span a gap. The emergent
behaviour of the whole transportation network when a new road or bridge is
introduced is highly unpredictable. Roads built to reduce congestion have a
tendency to increase traffic on the roads, re-instating the earlier
congestion. Building more bridges and roads may provide the prestigious
multimillion dollar projects, but not necessarily the real solution. In
similar manner domestic rainwater tanks have less prestige than dams and
water filtration plants.

The criticism to be aimed at engineers is a lack of engineering talent, no
ingenuity, simply implementing stock-standard solutions taught by
universities, rather than finding design-solutions to the real problem.
Human needs are seen in terms of available design-solutions, rather than the
real design problems to be solved. But implementing better solutions is
hampered by: politics, scarcity of time and scarcity of money.

When it comes to building and construction little engineering effort appears
to have gone into the processes. Hence a lack of quality on site, and
unacceptable levels of industrial accidents in construction. But how can
engineers contribute to the processes when wasting time crunching numbers to
make decisions they have made a 100 times already. Also why are so few
construction and manufacturing companies owned by engineers? Why are so many
production enterprises started and owned by trades people? Why do engineers
prefer to start paper shuffling businesses? Why don't engineers ensure they
are in control of production/construction by owning the contracting

But then what can we expect when professors and universities fracture
knowledge and disseminate such a narrow understanding of the world?
Architecture, engineering, economics, business, law and politics all need
integrating into a single qualification to create the leaders of tomorrow.
But with teachers focused on irrelevant depth not likely to be a practical
proposition. Teachers believe they are doing good, and have good intentions,
and are otherwise ignorant of the harm they cause.

Instead of publicly accusing, blaming and criticising people and
organisations, it would be far better to seek out the real causes of the
problem and fix it there. The B.Eng and licensing are clearly unreliable
indicators of technical competence. Improving the examination process may
improve competence with respect to compliance with codes of practice: but so
does programming a computer and generating prescriptive solutions for common
applications, and then publishing those solutions. Having more
standardisation, with more published prescriptive solutions, and enforcing
compliance with, is potentially far better than unwarranted variations being
introduced and the labour force not being able to get proficient with any
techniques: leading to defects in production.

Human factors are given poor attention throughout most systems and by most
people. We should not be criticising individual professions, for it is the
existence of specialised professions that is largely part of the problem.
Few people are looking at the whole, and the whole is different than the sum
of its parts: emergent behaviour is important to design. Tweak a business to
make it more efficient and the whole of an industry or nation becomes
inefficient. Finding the right balance is difficult. Standardise and people
get lulled into a false sense of routine and security. Give people too many
options and decisions to make before they can perform otherwise simple tasks
and they get mentally fatigued and frustrated and make mistakes.

Code writers ignore human factors when they write codes of practice.

Design is complicated and all designs have some flaw, which someone,
somewhere will consider to be a serious defect. At least with a car and
other products, end-users can always choose another brand see if that
performs any better to their requirements. With bridges, dams, and buildings
we are stuck with defects for a long time: and defects which maybe hidden.
Defective gusset plates and rivets are minor issues. What permitted such
defective components to be installed? And what put all the people on the
titanic? What causes people to need bridges, dams and multistorey buildings?
What causes people to live where there are earthquakes, volcanoes, floods,
hurricanes and tornados? What causes people to want an unprecedented level
of safety? What causes people to want longer lives, yet complain of being
bored to death in a retirement home? The environment is dangerous, life is
dangerous. We cannot really remove the dangers only control the

So if bridges are a problem. How are the construction processes to be
improved so that bridges can be removed and replaced at a rapid pace? If
cannot develop adequate construction technology: then what?

If components in a bridge structure are not compatible with the desired
performance of the bridge: what is going to be done about it? How is traffic
flow to be constrained without having a huge social impact, resulting in
business closures, people loosing incomes, and others committing suicide?
Human factors are difficult to gage.

Building levee banks and dykes and populating the flood plains is not all
that sensible. Ultimately the systems will prove inadequate. People whose
very existence is dependent on technology have to accept that ultimately the
technology will fail and lives will be lost. Education systems isolating
people from their natural environment and failing to make them aware of
dependence on technology is responsible for loss of lives and failure to
adapt to changing circumstances. An economic system that also prevents
people from adapting and taking necessary action is also responsible for the
loss of lives.

Business schools need to be teaching new models of business. Strange idea
but business exists to provide goods and services which profit the end-users
not simply generate profits for the business owners. The profits to the
end-users are not monetary.

And on and on I can go!

Conrad Harrison
B.Tech (mfg & mech), MIIE, gradTIEAust
South Australia

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