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January 1, 2006   Canadian Consulting Engineer

TRANSPORTATION

After the storm

McCormick Rankin consulting engineers have designed the new bridge on Finch Avenue over Black Creek in northwest Toronto. During a fierce rainstorm on August 19 last year the existing 1950s era steel culvert collapsed, slicing a vital east-west traffic artery and leaving the road impassable for almost six months. The replacement crossing just completed is a structural steel arch culvert with an 11-metre inside span, 6-metres high, topped with an embankment. Easton Gordon, P. Eng. and Doug Dixon, P. Eng., have been leading the project at McCormick Rankin.

BUSINESS

2004 was a good year

Statistics Canada has painted a very positive picture of the state of the engineering services industry in Canada.

In December the federal government department issued its report for the state of the industry in 2004, indicating operating revenues of $12.1 billion for engineering services firms during the year. Profit margins were boosted to 11.6% compared with 10.0% in 2003, and the growth was across the spectrum of sectors and took place in most provinces. Firms in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario were marginally in the best position.

The largest sector for services was petroleum and petrochemicals (17%), followed by buildings and structures (16%), transportation (10%), and municipal utilities (8%). Engineering services accounted for 81% of the operating revenues, with the remainder mostly related to construction services, project management and environmental consulting.

More than half of the revenues were earned in work done for the business sector, less than one-third for work in the public sector.

International work outpaced the domestic market in terms of its growth: from 13.2% in 2003, to 15.0% in 2004. Geographically, the focus is moving from Asia to Africa, which represented a quarter of foreign revenues. The U.S. represents 44% of the total exports.

Large and small firms played an important role. While the 20 largest firms brought in one-third of the industry revenues, smaller firms of less than 50 employees generated two-fifths of the industry’s revenues.

The engineering industry employed 78,000 people in 2004, and contributed $7 billion to the gross domestic product.

Full details are available from www.statcan.ca

RESOURCES

Diamonds in Ontario

The first diamond mine in Ontario — the Victor Mine — has received final environmental approval and is starting construction this year. Owned by De Beers Canada, it is located about 90 kilometres west of the community of Attawapiskat on James Bay.

De Beers is also constructing Canada’s first underground diamond mine at Snap Lake in the Northwest Territories, and it has filed applications to develop another at Gahcho Ku in the Northwest Territories.

Engineering company AMEC is heavily involved in all three projects, doing engineering, procurement, construction and environmental services.

The Victor Mine site, accessible only by air and a winter road that is to be developed, is to cost $982-million and will have an impact on 5,000 hectares. Facilities being constructed include an open-pit mine and processing plant that will treat about 700 tonnes of kimberlite a day (2.5 million tonnes a year), living quarters for approximately 250 workers plus service infrastructure, and a permanent gravel airstrip. The project will take three years to construct, following which the mine is expected to have a life of 12 years.

The $636-million Snap Lake Mine, approximately 220 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, is under construction. De Beers has just finalized an Impact Benefit Agreement with aboriginal communities in the area to ensure the mine gives the local people training, business and employment.

MAILBOX

Levitated mass doesn’t please

Re. Ontario College of Art and Design addition wins Schreyer Award, (Up Front, December 2005, p. 6).

As one who recently sold a condominium directly across the street from the new OCAD building, it is clear that the engineering and follow-up public consultation process did not pay heed to owners facing this part of McCaul, owners who once gazed out on a park and who now gaze directly into the side of, well … you name it; I can’t.

While the design is eye-catching, it does not rest easily on the eye, nor on the pocketbook when losses in residential property value are accounted. I doubt that time and public opinion will be kind to this building, nor to the city bureaucrats who approved it. While the mandarins at city hall will disappear, the building will certainly not; a levitated mass that will never blend with the neighbourhood nor offer a pleasing attraction for the eye. It is a mere curiosity. Engineering should be more than creating things simply because you can.

Al Workman, P.Geo., Toronto

Codes vs. thought

Re. Engineers should be testing themselves (Comment, March-April 2005, p. 4).

I have been a consultant for 45 years and have progressed from drawings in ink on linen to CAD generated drawings. The speed of [CAD] drawing and in particular the inordinate speed with which changes can be made appears to be inversely proportional to the ability to think. There is an increasing discontinuity between the finger and the screen.

Added to this, it is virtually impossible to keep up with the proliferation of codes and regulations which all attempt to plug the holes left by technology. Codes have taken over the thought process and have replaced it with a minutiae of instructions leaving no time for analysis, thus subverting the very institutions they purport to save.

I am not pining for “the good old days” but I am saddened that some members of the profession have become nothing more than catalogue pickers and phobic engineers who actually believe that design follows code instead of the other way around. Any conversation that dares to approach problems from first principles is immediately seen as a repudiation of everything that is codified and akin to a sacrilegious act worthy of Don Giovanni’s fate.

Solution:

* Teach basics to students.

* Teach students that if you cannot detail you cannot design.

* Teach professionals the simple protocol of drawing transmission and control.

* Reduce codes to simple statements of fact instead of quasi-design manuals.

* Give back authority to the engineer commensurate with his responsibility.

John Spronken, P.Eng., J.R. Spronken & Associates, Calgary.

BOOKS

Professional Communications: a Handbook for Civil Engineers

By Heather Silyn-Roberts, Ph.D. ASCE Press, 2005

Reviewed by Peter Overton, MA

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” declared Dr. Johnson and he would probably find great support for his statement among the consulting engineering fraternity.

Engineers don’t like to write. If they did they would be Arts graduates. But they leave university, join consulting engineering firms and find out that not only must they produce safe, aesthetic, efficient and economical designs, they must also constantly be putting pen to paper (or digit to keyboard) to propose, explain, defend and otherwise capture in a net of words the products of their analytical minds.

It’s not fair.

Engineers who include a facility for written communication in their skill set tend to rise in their careers. Those who don’t can seek help by signing up for remedial writing courses. Or they can buy books like this one by Heather Silyn-Roberts, entitled Professional Communications: a Handbook for Civil Engineers.

Let’s not kid ourselves here. This is not gripping reading and I’m sure the author would be
the first to admit it. All one asks of a book like this is that it goes about its business in an organized, concise and straightforward fashion — exemplifying, as the author points out, exactly the characteristics that make a good engineer. In this, she succeeds.

A handbook is a work of reference and Silyn-Roberts’ book is put together in a user-centred, modular fashion. The book’s logical organization contributes to its utility. In addition to clear, way-finding chapter titles like “The traditional basic skeleton of most reports,” or “The purpose of any type of summary,” the author includes a comprehensive index to aid the impatient reader.

One might ask: Why a writing handbook just for civil engineers? Is good writing any different for engineers than it is for doctors or lawyers? Oscar Wilde said that people are neither good not bad, they are simply charming or tedious, and the same might be said for most communications.

But as the author points out, engineers have their own peculiar forms of communication to deal with — especially the qualifications documents and proposals that constitute such a large part of the industry’s work-getting efforts. A “documentation consultant” to large engineering organizations for 15 years, Silyn-Roberts clearly understands the pain of preparing these things and the greater agony of reading them. Measured in terms of strict poundage (the usual criterion for RFQs), she succeeds here too. At 250 pages, it’s no Elements of Style (under 100 pages), but nor is it as long as that other standard guide, Fowler’s Modern English Usage (over 500).

Should Silyn-Roberts’ book be on your list for light summer vacation reading? Perhaps not, but it is a useful tool for engineering scribes who want to improve their communications skills and their marketability.

Peter Overton is director of marketing and communications with Marshall Macklin Monaghan of Toronto.

BOOKS

Green Keen

Architects often have monographs published that document their work and design philosophy, but such publications are rare among consulting engineers. Now a mechanical engineering firm has broken the mould.

Keen Engineering’s steadfastly green approach to Canadian building projects over the past 15 years is well documented in a book published early in 2006 by Ecotone, entitled The Ecological Engineer, Volume One: KEEN Engineering. The authors are David R. Macaulay and Jason F. McLennan.

Under the leadership of Kevin Hydes, P.Eng., Keen has long become known for its work in green buildings such as the York University Computer Science Building in Toronto and the C.K. Choi Building at the University of B.C. in Vancouver. The book combines beautiful photographs with building studies and practical guidance on following the sustainable design approach.

Keen, which was headquartered in Vancouver, recently became part of the Stantec Group.

NOTES

New editorial advisors

Canadian Consulting Engineer is pleased to announce it has a new and expanded list of editorial advisors. The advisors offer the editor general guidance on the magazine’s content and direction as requested.

The new advisors are:

* Gerald Epp, P.Eng., president of Fast & Epp, Vancouver;

* Chris Newcomb, P.Eng., president of McElhanney Consulting, Vancouver;

* Laurier Nichols, ing. team leader, energy eficiency, of Dessau Soprin, Montreal;

* Lee Norton, P.Eng., principal of the Mitchell Partnership, St. Catharines, Ont.;

* Jonathan Rubes, P.Eng., president of Leber/Rubes, Toronto;

* Paul Ruffell, P.Eng., president of EBA Engineering, Edmonton; * Ron Wilson, P.Eng., chief executive officer of Morrison Hershfield, Toronto.

Continuing on as advisors are:

* Andrew Bergmann, P.Eng. chief executive officer of Halcrow-Yolles, Toronto;

* Bruce Bodden, P.Eng., president and chief executive officer of Marshall Macklin Monaghan, Toronto;

* Kevin Hydes, P.Eng., vice president building engineering of Stantec, Montreal.


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