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Engineering for humanity

WEC 2019 Day 2: Sustainability in the built environment

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Day one of the World Engineers Convention (WEC) kicked off with a conversation about what defines a sustainable city. Matt Gough’s opening keynote on day two focused on how to make that possible and why.

Gough is currently the Director of Innovation at MACE, the construction company behind structures such as The Shard and the London Eye. It’s amazing to create projects like this and to shape city skylines, he said, but more importantly flagship projects like these not only create the vision of the industry we want, but serve to create contrast when things go wrong in construction. 

The Grenfell fire in London, the Morandi Bridge collapse in Genoa and the Opal Tower cracking in Sydney reinforce the importance of making improvements in how the construction industry operates. 

“We are in an age of exponential growth – small improvements are not enough. We have to do better,” he said. 

Why construction?

By 2050, there will be 10 billion people on the planet; 70 per cent will live in cities, which means we need to “build the equivalent of New York City every month to accommodate this change”, Gough said. 

As a result, construction is going through a period of disruption, but it’s not coming from the usual digital sources that other industries are facing. Rather, he said, the climate emergency is the biggest disrupter the construction industry and the built environment face today. 

“When I joined construction, everyone was talking about how digital technology would disrupt the industry,” he said. 

“But it’s not a panacea. It’s enabling a lot of things to be done better, but not necessarily better things.”

The difference is crucial, he said, but one feeds into the other. It’s important to do things better – to be more efficient, less wasteful, less labour-intensive – because it means the industry can focus on making the built environment as sustainable as possible. 

The reason the industry needs to think more about sustainability, he said, is that construction is a big polluter: it accounts for 30-37 per cent of total carbon emissions. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest contributor of carbon emissions behind the US and China.

“We have a pivotal role to play in making sure the planet stays habitable,” he said. 

“It’s not our task alone, but reduction targets are not achievable without us.”

Learning from others

To create this change, Gough suggested borrowing techniques from elsewhere to bring in advancements that help construction do more with less – less waste, less cost, less emissions. 

One idea is bringing elements from manufacturing into construction. There is lots of interest from construction companies, investors and governments in modular construction as a way to take work offsite, and the technique is being explored for houses to high-rises as a way to meet future demand quickly and efficiently. 

But what about creating factory conditions onsite? Gough spoke about the ways MACE is experimenting with “assembling buildings like the automotive industry assembles cars”. 

As an example, MACE’s recent NO 8 project in London was built in an innovative way to eliminate many of the factors that can cause issues on construction sites, like high winds, delays and the dangers of working at great heights. 

To work around these, MACE brought the assembly floor to the high-rise by building two, 600 tonne steel structures that act as rising factories. As floors are built, the rising factories ‘jump’, using the same amount of force as what’s required to launch a rocket into space. (Gough joked they called these factories MACE X). 

Building something in this way is unusual, but Gough said the benefits for construction are evident. No tower cranes were required, labour onsite was reduced by 50 per cent, and because it was a closed environment there were fewer safety incidents, less risk of falls or dropping something, and no leading edge. 

All together, they built two 36-storey high-rises in 18 weeks – 30 per cent faster than traditional methods. Other benefits included a 40 per cent reduction in vehicle movements (which meant less emissions and happier neighbours), and a 70 per cent less construction waste. 

Matt Gough gives the opening keynote on day two of the World Engineers Convention. A slide depicting the jumping factories can be seen in the background.

“Make better choices”

This example illustrates that it is possible for construction to do better, but Gough stressed there is still work to be done. 

“We are asking people to make good choices and do better, because it doesn’t just make sense environmentally – it makes sense financially,” he said. 

He recalled an incident where one employee asked a supplier to stop providing fittings wrapped in single use plastics. It seemed like a simple request at the time, but it reduced the amount of waste produced during construction, and saved both the supplier and the customer time and money. When viewed through the scale of how many fittings are required for any project, this small change can have a massive impact. 

“It pays to be sustainable,” Gough said. 

He ended his session with a call to action for the engineers in attendance: make better choices.

“We have to build more, but we have to do that in a better way and make better choices,” he said. 

“Reversing climate change is not going to happen without the construction industry’s help.” 

Integrating major projects for a sustainable Victoria

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The urban environment impacts on the life of residents and contributes to liveability.

Sustainable infrastructure is not only the environmental impact of major projects; it is also the usability and the cost to build and maintain the infrastructure for the life of the asset.

A sustainable world requires better business in order to ensure the lifecycle costs and the end-users are considered at the outset of the project. As the tagline says, “better business, better world”.

Better business involves a number of aspects: transparent ethics, clear business objectives, clear responsibilities and more informed decision-making. Clear business objectives make it possible to have a targeted approach across all stakeholders. They allow for more decisive action based on clear corporate targets. Business objectives can be used to drive the culture of the team.

As Victoria has more Big Build projects being integrated into the existing infrastructure, it is critical that the objectives of each of the stakeholders are clear and aligned. When building these complex projects, it’s crucial we work together as an industry to get the best outcome for Victorian residents.

Collaborative objectives allow for better integration and cohesive working between the different stakeholders. There is often a competing set of values between the design and construct (D&C) scope and the operate and maintain (O&M) scope.

The D&C stakeholders are incentivised to minimise capital expenditure in order to hit competitive budgets, which can lead to a high operational expenditure and high maintenance frequency.

Conversely, the O&M stakeholders’ interest is to optimise the use of the asset and minimise operational expenditure in order to give Victorians the best value for money service, which can add to construction cost. Instinctively D&C and O&M stakeholders have competing objectives.

In order to get the optimal life cycle cost of an asset, the balance of capital against operational expenditure needs to be set by the client in the contractual objectives. Sustainable lifecycle management starts at design and is driven by the contractual objectives from the client.

Every component on a product has a lifecycle; infantile failures become steady state performance, which lead to aged failures. This evolution is commonly referred to as the bathtub curve. Integration of new infrastructure into existing systems can cause disruption in the initial stages as the infantile failures of the new scope reduce the overall system performance.

Endurance testing can be used to drive down the number of failures; however, accountability of the D&C stakeholder is required otherwise the O&M stakeholder holds full accountability for the integration. Collaborative business objectives allow the two parties to work together for an overall improved outcome.

Collaborative objectives are needed to ensure Through Life Engineering is considered at the design stage; as with Safety in Design, it is more cost effective to include controls prior to construction. The performance of infrastructure assets is typically managed “On the Average” where the average life of a component set is used with a risk factor added to address potential variance.

A sustainable business will use asset condition data of individual components to manage the system lifecycle “On the Asset”. This minimises the operational risk to the business and reduces waste of resources. If the objective for this sustainable approach is not captured early, the inclusion of condition monitoring systems will not be incorporated into the design.

Monitoring systems are evolving and data collection systems are becoming more affordable. The tools used to analyse the data, visualise the data and generate useful information are also becoming more accessible. Return on investment of these systems, depending on the duration of the contract, is becoming more reasonable. However, businesses will only invest if there is a legal, contractual or financial incentive. Some projects can be funded through opportunity costs; some projects need the contractual nudge. A clear requirement in the contract will allow for both the D&C and O&M teams to agree on what level of data management is involved.

With accurate data on the performance of each component, the ideal time to maintain or repair parts of the system can be identified. Mature asset management based on condition data will establish the degradation rate of the component and indicate any risk or opportunity for the business. By working together with the O&M team, the D&C team can identify systemic improvements from accurate performance analysis. This allows for the design to develop over time so that we can evolve as an industry to have better performing assets and provide a better environment for Victorians.

With better integration comes better performance and a better Victoria. Complex systems need clear objectives and clear roles in order to integrate new infrastructure with minimal impact. Collaboration through the lifecycle will allow for a more sustainable approach to managing assets to provide sustainable infrastructure for sustainable cities.

WEC 2019 Day 1: Why engineers are vital to more liveable cities

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It’s only fitting that a discussion about what makes for liveable cities should take place in the most liveable city in Australia. 

Engineers from around the world met in Melbourne for the World Engineers Convention (WEC), which kicked off today with a look at the role the profession plays in creating urban spaces where people can live, work, play and thrive — now and into the future.

Professor Carlo Ratti, Director of the Senseable City Lab at MIT and Founding Partner of Carlo Ratti Associati, summed up the reasoning for creating more liveable, sustainable cities in four numbers: 2, 50, 75, 80. Cities take up 2 per cent of the planet’s surface, yet they have 50 per cent of the world’s population, consume 75 per cent of the energy and generate 80 per cent of emissions. 

“Making our cities more sustainable can have a huge impact at the global level,” he said. 

Stephen Yarwood, an urban futurist and former Lord Mayor of Adelaide, took up this message and said the exponential pace of technological advancement offered so many opportunities for engineers and city designers. 

He pointed to innovations such as 3D printing, peer-to-peer networks like blockchain, autonomous technology, ‘smart’ technology, and mobility as a service (MaaS) as forces that will have huge impacts on how people live in and move around cities. 

“Technology will create a new urban operating system … data will become an overlay for cities, which will become these complex systems and operate almost like living organisms,” he said. 

Both Ratti and Yarwood agreed that the amount of data we can now capture is “a bit of a Pandora’s Box”, but, for now, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

“We can see dimensions of the environment we couldn’t see before, which lets us solve problems in different ways,” Ratti said. 

Knowing your end user

Later, Yarwood was joined onstage by Marco Assorati, Operations Regional Director SAE and Oceania for Salini Impregilo; Paul O’Halloran, Executive Director Network Integration for Metro Trains Melbourne; and Tanya Ha, Director of Engagement for Science in Public and WEC Master of Ceremonies for a panel discussion about engineering liveable cities. 

One common thread throughout the discussion was the importance of stakeholder engagement.

Assorati used a current Salini Impregilo project — the Perth Airport rail link — as an example of how the company prioritised communicating with end-users. He said it’s important to keep communities and end-users informed because “their lives are most impacted by these changes”. 

O’Halloran added to this by saying that, as a transport operator, it’s important to share information with end-users in an accessible way so people can make the most informed decisions about how to get from A to B.

A question from an audience member about how to balance short-term and long-term goals sparked a wave of nods from many others in attendance, as it’s a common problem experienced by those who have to forecast for future demand, which many engineering roles do. 

O’Halloran said it’s a hard task, but it’s important to plan in a way that’s agnostic about factors such as political cycles, as infrastructure spending in Australia can depend on who controls Parliament.

Assorati added that while we can’t predict the future, “we can be prepared for it”, and that means creating infrastructure that’s adaptive. 

“The key to liveability is not necessarily building more things, but we need smarter ways to build things,” he said.

It’s definitely true for Melbourne, as the things that make it liveable now will change as the population grows, said O’Halloran. What’s important, he said, is doing the most with what you have.

“Building new infrastructure needs to be done, but with moderation — we need to optimise what we already have,” he said. 

More than city centres

Later in the day, several speakers added to the conversation about the future of liveability by sharing their experiences on topics ranging from smart infrastructure to community engagement, and where engineers fit into the mix of creating sustainable urban landscapes. 

As a reminder that liveability doesn’t just apply to large capital cities, WSP New Zealand’s Philip McFarlane presented insights on how to enhance liveability in smaller or more regional areas through community-centric approaches and affordable digital tools.

The team reported on Building Better Homes and Cities, a National Science Challenge research project in New Zealand that involved partnering with two regional district councils to identify what’s required to create an affordable yet comprehensive community-centric approach to asset management. 

The project came out of the need for councils to connect with communities when making asset decisions, and to help councils answer some pressing questions like what level of service people are willing to pay for, and what’s the ongoing conversation.

“Regional areas have smaller everything — smaller budgets, smaller resources — but their people have the same needs as cities. How do we develop affordable tools to address this?,” he said.

“How do we capture needs and wants of the community, and how do those change over time?” 

Through their work, the WSP team identified key factors for determining what will be useful digital tools. They found creating ‘smart cities’ isn’t about implementing the latest, shiniest piece of technology. 

McFarlane said the first question to answer should be “How do you give purpose to data, and link it together so the community can understand it?”.

“For example, if I told people that for the price of a cup of coffee a day, we could have this piece of infrastructure — we need to develop that narrative,” he said. 

And from there, like anything else: prototype and test, test, test. 

From the ground up

Retrofitting existing communities is an important step in bringing more places into the age of the smart city, but what if you could create a smart, sustainable city from scratch?

That’s the situation Jonathan Howe, from Jacobs, found himself in when he became involved with the Australian Education City (AEC).

AEC will be a $30 billion “super city”, built on a 412 ha site located 25 km from Melbourne’s CBD. Creating this community from scratch lets “ideas come to life”, Howe said, and he’s excited by the prospect of creating an eco-city that puts community and people first — made possible by clever use of digital engineering. 

Use of digital technology proved invaluable during design, allowing the creators to “find the balance between digital expression and intuitive know-how”, Howe said, and allowed the team to “optimise recursive design cycles” and create an evidence-based design. 

“Data was invaluable to this process,” he said.

Digital twin technology was also crucial. For this project, Howe said they used both a data-rich model, and then a model that was “more creative” and focused on design expression. 

“Ultimately these two would come together, but there is a need to have both,” Howe said. 

“If you’re not doing a digital twin on this scale, you’re lost.”

While the project is a 30-year long game, Howe hopes it can serve as a blueprint and a benchmark for future sustainable developments.

world engineers convention liveable cities

Community, sustainability, accessibility: Engineering experts share what defines a liveable city

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What defines a liveable city — now and into the future? Is it the infrastructure, the people, the economy, the communities? We asked engineering experts to share their thoughts about what makes liveable cities work.

 For a record seven years, Melbourne reigned as not just Australia’s most liveable city, but the most liveable city in the world. 

Although it was bumped to second place last year (thanks, Vienna), it still serves as an example of how a city can reflect the character and culture of the people living there.

“We have always had a strong focus on incorporating public art and amenity into our major infrastructure projects,” said Victorian Chief Engineer Dr Collette Burke. 

“Through doing this, we have retained our unique character and have created a real sense of belonging throughout the city — by putting liveability front and centre of planning practices.” 

Burke will be speaking at the upcoming World Engineers Convention (WEC) during a special public forum on the future of Melbourne and liveable cities. She added that liveability can’t be pinned to one factor over another. 

“A liveable city has a beautiful natural environment, well-planned infrastructure projects, top-class education, health and transport services, and a diverse and unique culture where everyone can live, work and play,” she said. 

In terms of the criteria used to measure liveability, Chris Champion, Secretary-General for the International Federation of Municipal Engineering and Director International with the Institute of Public Works Engineers Australasia, agreed, saying that many of us innately know what works and doesn’t.

A recent experience moving house reinforced in his mind what matters to people when making those choices. Are there public transport options? Access to healthcare and hospitals, schools, green spaces and parks? Is the air quality good? Is housing affordable? Is there a sense of community?

The point is there’s no one-size-fits-all model, he said.

“A liveable city means different things to different people, or in different stages of life,” said Champion, who will also be speaking about sustainable community infrastructure at the World Engineers Convention public forum. 

Parts of a whole

The Public Forum at the World Engineers Convention will bring together top minds in engineering and city planning to discuss what needs to happen now to make Melbourne — and other Australian cities — liveable in 10 years’ time. 

The Global Liveability Index is a snapshot of how cities around the world rate in categories such as infrastructure, education and healthcare. But keeping cities liveable will become more and more important over the coming decade as countries experience a booming rate of urbanisation. 

The subject of sustainability is particularly important when considering cities of the future. Burke said her priorities for Victoria’s future include baking sustainable practices into engineering. 

“We need to make sure our communities create a sense of belonging, and that they are both accessible and sustainable for generations to come,” Burke said. 

But to achieve this will require collaboration between government, industry and communities. Both Burke and Champion said viewing everything engineers do as parts of a whole will be crucial, and collaboration between sectors will become a must.

“Engineers are responsible for our transport, food, water supply, buildings, housing, communications systems and much more. It will be important that we have integrated planning approaches for precincts that has the community at the heart of development decisions,” Burke said.

“Moving forward, engineers will need to become more multi-disciplinary and aware of the key elements and touch points of the cities they live in. This will be important to ensure they’re involved in the decision-making process and incorporated into technical thinking behind projects.”

Champion agreed, saying that engineers need to capitalise on the benefits of collaborating with other professions as their roles in city building change over time. 

“Infrastructure is the foundation of our sustainable, liveable communities and needs to be made a priority. Engineers can deliver on infrastructure if it’s properly planned and funded,” he said.

Exponential change

External factors like climate change will also continue to throw new challenges at engineers as more cities look to mitigate the effects of extreme weather events, rising sea levels and increasing temperatures. 

“More than ever, we need to consider how the services that we provide from infrastructure can be designed, built, operated and delivered to mitigate impacts and adapt to changes in the environment and our climate,” Champion said. 

“We can’t leave an infrastructure liability for future generations.”

Another factor is the exponential pace of change in technology.

“Like changes in our climate, we need to plan and adapt for changes in our use of technology and how changing technology will provide services for our future communities,” Champion said.

He gave the example of how technology is facilitating more remote working options, which has implications for transport infrastructure, communications technology and delivery of services.

“Extended out, these trends will have significant impacts on our urban planning and how and where we deliver infrastructure,” Champion said.   

Keeping cities liveable will be an ongoing challenge, and what works for Melbourne might not work for Sydney. No matter the location, engineers need to be thinking now about how they can build liveability into cities and work with whatever the future has in store.

“Engineers are driving change and our skills are essential in planning and accommodating for change,” Champion said.

“Engineers have a significant role to play in creating more sustainable cities into the future. Our niche is being able to develop creative solutions for the challenges of tomorrow.”

Dr Collette Burke and Chris Champion will be part of a forum at the World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne discussing the future of Melbourne and how to keep our cities liveable. They will be joined by The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp, and Stephen Yarwood, an urban futurist and former Lord Mayor of Adelaide. To attend the public forum, register here

Barangaroo precinct sustainability

Steel’s sustainability role in iconic Barangaroo precinct

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InfraBuild is helping construct a sustainable and world-class precinct in Australia’s largest city by taking active steps to reduce the embodied carbon in its steel products.

Lendlease’s Barangaroo precinct on the western shoreline of Sydney’s CBD is creating a major urban zone with leading sustainability credentials and world-class amenities.

Barangaroo South’s leadership in demonstrating sustainability initiatives and advanced workplace design has led to it winning several awards, most notably the prestigious Australian Development of the Year award at last year’s Property Council of Australia Innovation and Excellence Awards.

Lendlease said its goal for the wider Barangaroo development is for it to be “the first of its size in the world to be climate positive – that is, to be carbon neutral, water positive and to generate zero waste”.

Already, 89 per cent of all the on-site waste is recycled, reused or repurposed. As a comparison, the average commercial building food court recycles only 25 per cent of its waste.

Steel manufacturer and distributor InfraBuild (formerly LIBERTY OneSteel) played a significant role in the already-completed Barangaroo South precinct through its integrated and collaborative supply of Australian-made reinforcing and structural steel.

InfraBuild Construction Solutions (formerly LIBERTY OneSteel Reinforcing) supplied more than 45,000 tonnes of reinforcing steel product to the Barangaroo South precinct over a 4.5-year supply period. Processes were implemented to ensure a 20 per cent reduction in embodied carbon for the reinforcing steel used, which contributed to the project being awarded a Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) Six Star Green Star – Communities rating, the highest available. All product was delivered with Australasian Certification Authority for Reinforcing (ACRS) certification.

Barangaroo South’s sheer scale and its CBD location added a layer of complexity that required detailed collaboration between InfraBuild Construction Solutions and the project’s construction partners, including developer Lendlease.

Embracing green renewal

Property Council of Australia Chief Executive Ken Morrison praised Sydney’s newest urban redevelopment, which he said “has recalibrated the way Australians think about precinct-scale urban renewal”.

“Lendlease has combined iconic buildings designed by acclaimed architects with world-leading sustainability initiatives that have transformed entire supply chains and challenged large tenants to embrace green business practices,” Morrison said.

With the southern precinct now complete, attention has turned to the landmark Crown Sydney project at the northern end of the Barangaroo site, with InfraBuild supplying 2500 tonnes of structural steel, welded beams and plate to what will be Sydney’s tallest habitable building when it tops out in 2021.

Engineering for humanity and liveability will be explored in detail at the upcoming World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne. To learn more and to register, click here.

Climate change makes sustainable water management more important than ever

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Whether it’s under a lake, a river or the streets of a city, Salini Impregilo is ready for whatever job needs doing to help clients improve people’s lives.

This is especially the case when it has to do with water, a sector where its leadership was confirmed for a fifth year in the latest global rankings published by Engineering News-Record (ENR), the US trade publication.

As the world’s climate changes, this most precious of resources is becoming even more precious. So much so, that the management and treatment of water has also assumed greater importance. This is not lost on Australia, which has had its fair share of droughts, floods – and everything in between.

With decades of experience, Salini Impregilo helps cities manage heavy rainfall, treat wastewater and make seawater drinkable. It also harnesses the flow of rivers to generate electricity and light up the homes of countless communities. Briefly put: it makes available everything that water has to offer.

For decades, Salin Impregilo’s dams have helped communities thrive in the most sustainable way possible, producing electricity without the harmful emissions that come from other forms of energy production. In Australia, it will be building Snowy 2.0, the expansion of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme that will provide the storage and on-demand generation needed to balance the growth of wind and solar power and the retirement of Australia’s ageing thermal power stations. The electricity produced will also support the push towards sustainable mobility, whether it be in the form of light rail transit or electric vehicles.

In the United States, it helped Las Vegas secure its water supply in case of drought by excavating a 4 km-long tunnel under nearby Lake Mead. This record-setting project saw it bring the tunnel to a pipe at the bottom of the lake. The water drawn by the pipe is pumped to a treatment plant on shore and then sent to the city. This has made the pipe – known as the Third Intake – the main supplier of water because two other pipes near the lakeshore risk going dry whenever the water level goes down in times of drought.

And when potable water is hard to come by, Salini Impregilo extracts it from the sea by means of desalination. In Dubai, the Jebel Ali M is an icon for the sector because it was the largest such plant in the United Arab Emirates at the time of its completion. With a capacity of 140 million gallons of water per day, its eight desalination units provide nearly all of the city’s potable water.

Of droughts and flooding rains

Sometimes the problem is too much water, such as when heavy rainfall overwhelms a city’s sewer system. In Washington, D.C., Salini Impregilo is excavating its second tunnel for a project to expand the system to reduce the amount of untreated stormwater and sewage that flows into nearby rivers during a storm.  Known as the Northeast Boundary Tunnel, it is the biggest component of the Clean Rivers project. By helping reduce combined sewer overflows by 98 per cent and the chance of flooding in the areas it serves from about 50 per cent to 7 per cent in any given year, it will help improve the quality of the water in the nearby Anacostia River.

In some cases, the river is polluted for reasons other than combined sewer overflows. Victim of decades of industry abuse, the Matanza Riachuelo River Basin near Buenos Aires, Argentina, is among the most contaminated in the world, putting at risk the health of millions of people. Part of a massive project supported by the World Bank, Salini Impregilo is building a pre-treatment wastewater plant, pumping stations and an evacuation tunnel to help clean it up. At a capacity of 27 cubic metres per second, the plant will be one of the biggest of its kind in the world. The water it treats will be flushed through the 12-kilometre tunnel into the River Plate where the basin empties.

Respect for the environment is a tenet that Salini Impregilo has and will always uphold in everything it does, especially when it has to do with water. It is the kind of respect that it has found in Australia, where efforts are made to grow in the most sustainable way possible. And as these efforts accompany the ambitious investments being made in infrastructure, Salini Impregilo will be there to help.

The World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne is about engineers coming together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

To learn how you can help build a better world, register here

Budj Bim named to UNESCO World Heritage List

Budj Bim, a 6000-year-old Aboriginal engineering site, earns World Heritage status

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One of the finest examples of ancient aquaculture and hydraulic engineering is right in Australia’s backyard. 

After a decades-long campaign by the Gunditjmara people, the Budj Bim eel traps have become the first Australian UNESCO World Heritage site to be listed exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural values.

The eel traps at Budj Bim comprise a vast network of weirs, dams and stone canals to manipulate water levels in various lake basins. Some of the channels are hundreds of metres long and were dug out of basalt lava flow. 

These structures force eels and other aquatic life into traps as water levels rise and fall. The canals also appear to have been used to create holding ponds to keep eels fresh until they were needed for food. Not only did this provide the region’s Gunditjmara people with a year-round food supply, it was also important for trade. 

The site also features the remnants of almost 300 stone houses — the only remaining permanent settlement built by an Indigenous community in Australia. 

Located in southwest Victoria, Budj Bim has been carbon dated to 6600 years old, meaning it predates more internationally well-known examples of ancient engineering like the Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge. 

Aborginal activist Burnum Burnum said these traps are a prime example of how complex and varied the Aboriginal economy was at the time. 

“Gradually it is dawning on the outside world that life in the traditional Aboriginal way involved a great deal of knowledge and skill,” he wrote.  

Budj Bim is managed by the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation. Gunditjmara Elder Denise Lovett called this a very special day for the community.

“This landscape, which we have cared for over thousands of years, is so important to Gunditjmara People,” she said. 

“The decision also recognises Budj Bim’s significance to all of humanity. We are so proud to now be able to share our achievements and story with the world.”

Gunditjmara Elder Denis Rose agreed, saying the ingenuity of their ancestors “shows in the aquaculture systems that are still operational to this day”. 

Traditional owners had been petitioning for the site to receive World Heritage Listing for some time, and hope to restore the site to what it would have looked like before European colonisation.

Tae Rak (also known as Lake Condah) was drained in the mid-20th century to create land for grazing, and so water can only be seen in the channels during very high floods. The site has also been damaged by vandals and livestock over the years. 

The Victorian Government has committed $5.7 million for preserving Aboriginal heritage in the state, and restoring Budj Bim is a large part of that. It’s expected that Budj Bim’s World Heritage listing will now turn the world’s attention to this millennia-old site. 

The announcement was made at a ceremony this past Saturday in Baku, Azerbaijan. In recommending Budj Bim for World Heritage listing, the International Council on Monuments and Sites acknowledged the Gunditjmara People’s involvement and leadership in nominating the site for inclusion on the World Heritage List.

Budj Bim has also been recognised by peak body Engineers Australia as one of the country’s top engineering achievements. Engineers Australia CEO Peter McIntyre said the UNESCO World Heritage listing is welcome news, and highlights the important contributions of Australia’s first engineers.

“Budj Bim is an extraordinary feat of engineering by the Gunditjmara people. For thousands of years, engineers have been using the tools available to them to improve lives and build communities,” he said.

Budj Bim is now Australia’s 20th property on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Other sites include Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Opera House. 

You can take a guided walking tour of the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape as part of the upcoming World Engineers Conference, held 20-22 November in Melbourne.

Register here for the Great Ocean Road and Budji Bim Cultural Tour

Register here for WEC

future of transport

How can connected transport help urban networks work in perfect harmony?

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Automation is just one example of how technology is influencing the design of future transport to challenge our current understanding of urban landscapes.

A blue, blocky, mini bus shuttles its way around the suburban streets collecting waiting passengers, humming to a stop as it lets people on and off. The bus is depositing people safely and efficiently between homes, shops and transport hubs.

There’s no polite nod to the bus driver as passengers alight from their ride – because there is no driver on this bus. The bus is automated. It knows where to go, and it senses when it needs to stop to let a person safely past. It ‘speaks’ to other vehicles it meets along its path so they both know which way to go. This is the future for automated vehicles like those being trialled in the University of Melbourne’s Australian Integrated Multimodal EcoSystem (AIMES).

Transport nirvana

Automation is just one example of how technology is influencing the design of future transport to challenge our current understanding of urban landscapes. It is a future in which the peril of human distraction and its potential consequences have become a thing of the past. An effective transport system plays a vital role in making a city liveable, and is a key driver of competition in the global marketplace.

In this sense, AIMES is at the top of its game as a world-first living laboratory based on the streets of Melbourne, established in 2016 to test highly integrated transport technology in a real-world environment. AIMES has grand plans to deliver safer, more efficient and more sustainable urban transport outcomes.

Together with a team of transport experts, Professor Majid Sarvi, Director of AIMES, is developing overarching infrastructure to allow all road users (drivers, cyclists and pedestrians) to connect with each other and sense their greater environment for distributed cooperative cognition.

 

This shared thinking approach allows road users to detect congestion hot spots faster and keep traffic flowing better. It will also make our roads safer.

“It has been estimated that connected transport can reduce the economic cost of road crashes by more than 90 per cent. And best of all, such a system can learn, improve and evolve. We call this new technological capability ‘intelligent connectivity’,” Sarvi said.

Success factors

A key driver of AIMES’ success lies in its collaborative approach. AIMES is an evolving partnership of more than 50 domestic and international transport leaders from industry, research and government. AIMES partners share a passion to work together to solve today’s city mobility challenges.

AIMES’ is network of smart sensors connecting all parts of the transport environment within a six square kilometre grid on the streets of inner-city Carlton, Melbourne. AIMES provides a unique platform in a real-world environment for collaborative technology trials which integrate the movement of all road users (people and vehicles) with transport infrastructure.

The vision from the team behind AIMES is as simple as it is complex: connected vehicles, connected public transport, connected pedestrians and cyclists, and smart public transport stations.

Hopefully that same blue, blocky mini bus will soon greet you at the train station to offer you a safe, efficient and smart ride home.

See this world-first living laboratory in action as part of an offsite tour at the World Engineers Convention, held 20-22 November in Melbourne. To learn more and to register, click here.

Darron Lomman plastic recycling

Meet one engineer transforming plastic waste into the filament of the future

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Perth-based mechanical engineer Darren Lomman is working to stop plastic waste ending up in our oceans by converting it into 3D printer filament.

In December 2016, Darren Lomman was watching television in his lounge room when he saw an advertisement that changed the course of his career. The ad was for reusable water bottles and included an alarming statistic: by the end of 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.

“My first reaction was that it sounded far-fetched,” he said.

“I looked it up and found that it’s actually based on scientific research. I have a 2-year-old daughter — is this the kind of legacy we’re leaving for our kids?”

It was that initial curiosity that led Lomman to discover an uncomfortable truth about the state of plastic recycling in Australia. It was his knack for problem solving, however, that prompted him to make a difference.

After six months of research, Lomman launched GreenBatch, a social enterprise that is building a system to reprocess plastic bottles into 3D printer filament. The plastic will be collected by a broad network of secondary schools in Western Australia and the filament will be returned to the schools for their 3D printing projects.

Backed by institutions such as the University of Western Australia, GreenBatch is also receiving assistance from industry giants such as WorleyParsons, and Lomman is fast building a strong community of supporters who share his passion and purpose.

Starting up again

At the age of 34, Lomman might be regarded as a veteran of the Australian start-up scene. While a 19-year-old mechanical engineering student at the University of Western Australia, a chance meeting with a fellow motorcycle enthusiast prompted him to launch his first enterprise, Dreamfit, a not-for-profit organisation that develops innovative equipment to enhance the mobility of people with disabilities.

During his 15 years as CEO, Lomman grew the enterprise from humble beginnings in his backyard shed to a 1500 m² workshop and helped more than 10,000 people with disabilities to fulfil their dreams.

“It was never intended to be a big business or enterprise,” said Lomman, who was awarded 2007 WA Young Australian of the Year for his work with Dreamfit.

“The whole drive behind it was to help people.”

DarrenIn May 2015, Dreamfit was acquired by Ability Centre, which provides services and support for people with disabilities in Western Australia. Lomman stayed on as Chief of Design and Innovation before becoming restless.

“Dreamfit had grown so big that it didn’t need me anymore, so I decided to unclip my entrepreneurial wings,” he said.

Lomman spent the next six months exploring new ideas.

“I had a blank canvas and could paint my own picture,” he said.

He wanted his next venture to involve 3D printing, but it was only after seeing that TV advertisement about plastic in our oceans that the picture began to take shape.

Like most Australians, Lomman has always separated his recyclable rubbish. However, while developing his idea for GreenBatch, he struggled to locate a plastic recycling plant in his state. He went on a tour of a material recovery facility, where further separation of materials occurs, and asked where they would be sent for recycling. He was met with a blank stare.

“That’s when I found out the truth behind our recycling industry,” Lomman said.

“[Plastic] is put on a ship and sold through the international waste market to whoever will buy it. We have zero reprocessing in WA.”

Lomman cast the net beyond his home state in search of an Australian PET (polyethylene terephthalate) recycling plant. He could only find a small facility in New South Wales that recycled just a portion of the state’s plastics.

“Not a single bottle that I had put into a recycling bin has ever been recycled in Australia,” Lomman said.

“I felt that we’d been lied to. I just thought, how the hell have we not dealt with this?”

Ideas into action

Frustration with the state of recycling — and a passion for 3D printing — helped foster Lomman’s vision for GreenBatch. His first idea was to design a desktop machine that would shred and melt plastic bottles to create filament; however, it proved too expensive and Lomman knew that sales would not cover his costs.

It was time to think big; rather than desktop machines, he decided to build an industrial-scale recycling plant. The original plan was to produce 300 kg of filament a week from recycled plastic.

“As I’ve got more supporters onboard, we’re now scaling the plant to 300 kg [of filament] an hour,” Lomman said.

Darren Lomman demonstrates 3D printing

Lomman demonstrating the 3D-printing process to students.

At this scale, Lomman predicts the plant will recycle approximately 131 million plastic bottles a year.

“We’re going to have to create other product lines and we’ll keep going until not a single PET bottle leaves the WA shore, because how else can we guarantee that the plastic is not going to end up in a waste incinerator or a landfill or a river that feeds our oceans?”

Building a community

Financial investment has been vital to getting GreenBatch off the ground, but rather than looking to the world of venture capital, Lomman chose to ask the community for help.

“I did not want to take commercial investors onboard with this,” he said.

“I want it to be driven by environmental gains for the community.”

Lomman launched a crowdfunding campaign in October last year, with the aim of raising $50,000. It ran for four weeks and raised $70,000.

“It was one of the biggest crowdfunding campaigns to come out of WA,” he said.

If Lomman is successful with a recent grant application, he might soon be able to draw a salary from his enterprise. WorleyParsons is contributing pro bono support for the plant design and UWA has provided Lomman with office space to work from, access to its network, plus eight student interns to assist him. It has also provided the land on which the facility will be built.

The layout of the Greenbatch recycling plant.

Kent Anderson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UWA, describes the university’s involvement with GreenBatch as an “anchor” for the enterprise.

“Getting your first big partner is essential because it enables you to get your second,” he said.

“Darren came to us when the business was at a nascent stage and we were like, ‘wow’. We believe GreenBatch is going to become big very quickly.”

Secondary schools have also been willing partners and GreenBatch is currently working with 50 schools across the state. Lomman hopes to increase the number to 300 next year.

Hannah Fay, science teacher at Santa Maria College, a pilot school in the GreenBatch program, said students are learning vital lessons from their involvement.

“From an education perspective, GreenBatch not only shows students the importance of considering their environmental impact, but it also encourages them to look beyond the standard career and into more innovative roles,” she said.

GreenBatch is working with 50 secondary schools from across Western Australia.

Leading the way

The GreenBatch recycling facility is predicted to be up and running by July 2019. Lomman said he is overwhelmed by the support he has received from the community.

“Plenty of people say that this should be the responsibility of government,” he said.

“I put my hand up and said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to wait. I’m doing something about it.”

Susan Kreemer Pickford, General Manager, WA Engineers Australia, and a member of the GreenBatch Corporate Advisory Board, met Lomman a decade ago when he was still involved with Dreamfit. She believes he is a natural leader.

“He has the self-belief to forge a mission that people will follow,” she said.

“It doesn’t come from ego, but from wanting to step up and do something. Darren has put himself out there and people want to get behind him because it’s good for the whole community.”

With the GreenBatch recycling facility still at design stage, Lomman is focused on building his network of supporters.

“It takes pigheaded determination to fight through all the naysayers and the people who don’t respond because it’s not on their radar,” he said.

“But I’m pushing it and I’m driving it. I can’t do it on my own, but what I can hopefully do is inspire others to join me.”

Darren Lomman will share how we can give plastic waste a second life at the upcoming World Engineers Convention. To learn more and to register, click here

Cities of the future will be built on big data to enhance the human experience

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Engineer, architect and designer Carlo Ratti wants cities to be smarter so that we can live in them in new and better ways.

Walls made of water, mobile phones that measure bridge stability, skyscrapers that burst apart to reveal tropical gardens … Carlo Ratti’s ideas sound like science fiction, but for a man who has written a book called The City of Tomorrow, he is not much inclined towards prognostication.

“It can be very difficult to predict the future,” the engineer, architect and designer told create.

“The future is not written in stone; the future is something that we all build together. So it depends on the decisions that we make today, tomorrow, in a year and so on.”

Maybe that is why Ratti’s designs — from schemes that use big data to reimagine infrastructure use in urban areas, to high concept installations in expos and festivals — seem to transform the future into something that can exist right now.

Carlo Ratti at one of his creations. the Digital Water Pavilion.

“What we can do is experiment with the present,” he said.

“And I think that’s what we really should do as architects, designers, engineers — to try to look at the potential of the present and how we can change it. That’s a way to try to build the future, not to try to predict it.”

Coming together

A native of Turin, Italy, Ratti built up his knowledge of maths and physics studying structural engineering — first in his home country and then in France.

“And then I liked architecture, so I went to do architecture at Cambridge,” he said. He earned his PhD at the esteemed UK university and added studies in computer science to his repertoire.

“The path was very weird,” he said.

The Digital Water Pavilion has curtains of water dividing its spaces instead of walls.

“Those things started converging into this space, which is in between computer science, design, and engineering — which is the space of cities and intelligence.”

Today he is the Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Lab, a research initiative that studies how digital information and layers of networks are transforming the way cities can be designed and understood.

He is also a founding partner of the architecture firm Carlo Ratti Associati, and has been described, by Fast Company, as one of the 50 most influential designers in America and, by Wired, as one of 50 people who will change the world.

His Digital Water Pavilion, an installation created for the Zaragoza Expo 2008, was listed as one of the inventions of the year by Time magazine. The installation was a structure with controllable and reconfigurable curtains of water dividing its spaces, rather than walls.

“It was a way to show people in an exciting way how digital could allow us to control atoms — in this case drops of water — in a new way,” Ratti said.

“To create an architecture made of that.”

New perspectives

The inventiveness in these one-off ideas comes to life in some of Ratti’s larger designs. One example is his CapitaSpring project in Singapore.

A 280-metre tall skyscraper designed with Bjarke Ingels Group, CapitaSpring forms a literal oasis in the centre of the South-East Asian metropolis.

The CapitaSpring building in Singapore. (Image: Big-Bjarke Ingels Group)

“This building has a tropical forest in the middle,” Ratti explained to an audience in Sydney this past November.

“With a public space where people can go and meet, you can have a coffee and look at the city in the middle of nature.”

But the building’s smart design outlook extends beyond this integration of natural and built spaces. It features an array of sensors, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things capabilities.

Even its car parks are forward-thinking, built with an awareness that a future of ride-sharing or self-driving cars might render vehicles for individual transport obsolete.

“You might need much less parking spaces tomorrow. So how do we do it?” Ratti asked.

One answer was not to bury the parking beneath the ground.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that’s going to be useless tomorrow and we cannot convert it into anything else,” he said.

“Let’s keep it above ground … let’s make the structure inside a bit more flexible so that place could be used for some other activities tomorrow.”

Another Ratti project that brings together technology, data and the people that use each is Good Vibrations.

A creation of the Senseable City Lab, Good Vibrations is a scheme to check the structural integrity of tens of thousands of US bridges without relying on costly sensors or infrequent and potentially inadequate visual evaluations.

Ratti’s plan to find a new way to measure the ‘structural fingerprint’ of a bridge relies on the ubiquity of a device able to measure vibrations: the smart phone.

“The bridge’s vibrations are transmitted from the road surface, through the tires, into the suspension system, and vehicle cabin,” explained the Senseable Cities website.

“The vibration sensors located in the vehicle can capture traces of the bridge’s structural dynamics.”

A trial involved sending cars back and forth across San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.

“We collected all the data and it turns out you can actually get a lot of information,” Ratti said.

“Of course, it’s not super accurate.”

But aggregating large quantities of data — if the technology were incorporated into a common app like Uber, for instance — would allow a lot of bridges to be monitored at once, highlighting which ones show trouble signs and might need closer scrutiny.

BIM me up Scotty

Engineers are a driving force behind artificial intelligence, but in building information modelling (BIM) software, Ratti sees danger — at least for some engineers.

“BIM is a digital representation of the physical world,” he said.

“And BIM, I think, is going to destroy a lot of work that today is done by engineers.”

By way of example, he points to a pavilion designed by Carlo Ratti Associati for Milan Design Week in 2018.

“We did everything in BIM,” he said.

“This is just commercial software — but I think that BIM plus artificial intelligence will lead in just a few years to a condition where a lot of the structural calculations … of a building are going to be totally automated.”

To survive, engineers must focus on their creative talents.

“Engineers usually are the ones who power the transformation, but in this case, they might be the victims,” he said.

Engineering poetry

Among Ratti’s future projects are a bid to revitalise the grounds surrounding Paris’s Eiffel Tower, reinventing the space as a modern and digitally informed boulevard.

Testing Good Vibrations

Another involves a sustainable battery factory in Sweden that incorporates principles of the circular economy into its design.

“It’s for a company called Northvolt,” he said.

“It’s two people who left Tesla and started this kind of Gigafactory in the north of Sweden. We’re very excited; it’s a building all made of wood, all circular.”

It is a demonstration of how Ratti’s vision of the city is more than an antiseptic void of apps and algorithmic efficiency.

“I think you can use the same technology also to create art and amazing interactions for people,” he said.

“It depends if you want to see it or not, but I think there’s a lot of poetry.”

He quoted Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: “What is the city but the people?”

When people talk about smart cities, Ratti believes they can too easily forget about that human dimension.

“Cities, when they emerged 10,000 years ago, they emerged as a place that was a magnet for people,” he said.

“I think what is going to change a lot with technology is the way of living and inhabiting the city.”

Carlo Ratti will be the opening keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 2019, 20-22 November in Melbourne. 

Register now.