IABSE Talks: Research, Design, Make and Construct in the North

“Science is to an engineer what paint is to an artist.” Nick Cooper

As part of a series of IABSE events in the North of England, the first IABSE event in Leeds was held in October at Leeds Beckett University. “Research, Design, Make and Construct in the North” offered an opportunity for leading lights from each of those fields to showcase the best of engineering in the North.

Tim Burton delivering Pecha Kucha

Utilising quick fire Pecha Kucha style presentations attendees were whisked through aspects of engineering as diverse as being inspired by wall hugging tree frogs, to purple walkway panels that soften in colour once exposed to the elements, and to large scale structural and infrastructure schemes.

Professor Anne Neville of Leeds University is Director of the Institute of Functional Surfaces – an organisation that uses engineering science to understand and optimise processes occurring at engineering interfaces. Anne discussed a mix of eclectic topics including research into tribology, corrosion, mineral scaling and tribocorrosion. Projects outlined included investigating increasing engine efficiency and lubrication, and studying hip replacement joints and their rate of corrosion / wear. The most striking project emphasised the benefit of looking to nature to solve problems; specifically looking at tree frog feet to develop a robot that grips to tissue and can travel within bodies to access areas for treatment.

Nick Cooper of Spencer is and independent consultant specialising in complex and novel projects. Nick expatiated that he is a design engineer but that he was educated by a generation where engineers evolved through the transfer of experience and skill, and where intuitive ability was subjectively valued. His career started in a time where risks were understood and resolved rather than managed and off-loaded. Nick ran through a fascinating assemblage of projects that he and his teams have been responsible for. When it came to what differentiates ‘Northern Engineering’ Nick enthused that engineers in the North must not wait for what they wish/want to achieve, they must offer something better. Investment success in the North requires building a foundation of engineering knowledge – not just a new road, building or wind farm. Nick emphasised the importance of recognising skills and trades across the industry: “Engineering is like a gearbox: the input is Academic knowledge; it works when all the gears are equally valued from the academic theory to the fitter.”

Tim Burton of SHS Structures shared fascinating extracts from his extensive experience in steel fabrication and construction. He enthused the importance of knowing your materials, and to know the specialists and engage with them. He advised the audience to “think things through and to not overcomplicate things”, as well as reminding that “procedures are there for a reason”. But Tim also provided encouragement to be creative and to design with efficiency, economy, and elegance.

Tom Stanton, a Planning Manager at Morgan Sindall, discussed the Carillion Morgan Sindall Joint Venture Scheme A1 Leeming to Barton which involves constructing 20km of new motorway. The completed scheme is expected to help to save 20 lives and prevent more than 450 accidents over the next 60 years. Tom is responsible for programme delivery, ensuring project controls and driving the utilisation of digital engineering. With 12,000 activities in the programme project control is essential. There are 19+ disciplines, stakeholders, the client, and the customer. Tom explained how the project has embraced digital engineering: from existing conditions, proposed works, utilising parametric driven design, digital construction, and mobile field activities. The project utilised innovative techniques such as a virtual review process, and digital machine guidance for earthworks and pavements. On such a large scheme embedding a strong culture was vital and Tom described how the A1L2B Hexagon tool was utilised to capture and communicate the culture throughout the project team.

The event was closed with a discussion panel consisting the four presenters, the facilitator Mark Bulmer (AECOM and Secretary of the IABSE British Group), and sponsor Matthew Dronfield (Freyssinet) with enthusiastic engagement from the audience.

Many thanks to Fresyssinet for sponsoring the event.

Ian Towler, Senior Civil Engineer, Mott MacDonald.