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sustainability

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.

world engineering day

World Engineering Day announced at WEC 2019

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President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) Dr Marlene Kanga announced that, starting next year, 4 March will be celebrated annually as World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development.

Kanga made the announcement as part of her welcoming address at the World Engineers Convention, which opened in Melbourne on 20 November.

A vote Tuesday at the UNESCO General Conference confirmed the declaration of the date, which followed the adoption of a resolution supporting the proposal by the UNESCO Executive Board this past April.

The 4th of March has a particular significance for the WFEO, which was founded on that date in 1968. The peak global body represents 30 million engineers and 100 organisations.

“World Engineering Day is an opportunity to celebrate engineering and encourage young people to consider engineering as a career for a better world,” Kanga tweeted after the announcement.

“Let’s start planning our celebrations on 4th March.”

Engineering the future

If the world is going to successfully adapt to a carbon-constrained future and produce enough resources for all its inhabitants, engineers will be crucial.

Each of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets for 2030, will require engineering to be successfully met.

Raising awareness of this — as well as overall importance of the profession — is part of the reason for adopting 4 March as World Engineering Day.

As WFEO President, Kanga has personally led the initiative.

“It was a remarkable process, with many twists and turns,” Kanga said.

“We had to learn along the way, receiving support and advice from the UNESCO Secretariat as well as various ambassadors from the UNESCO delegations to UNESCO. This is important because the proposal is put to UNESCO by member nations. It was supported by 80 engineering institutions from around the world with total membership of approximately 23 million engineers.”

Kanga wrote the explanatory note for the April session of the UNESCO Executive Board and the proposed decision.

“This eventually went through with little modification,” she said, adding that it seemed “touch and go” at the April meeting, though Namibia, China, Nigeria, France and UK supported the decision before “many countries from every continent followed”.

A worldwide celebration

World Engineering Day will celebrate the essential role of the engineering profession to a modern economy, its role in advancing the 17 SDGs, and its role in both modern and ancient history.

The day will also encourage engineering as a career in which science and mathematics can be applied to solve problems.

Proposed outcomes also include demonstrating high-achieving female engineers throughout the ages, addressing the gender imbalance, engaging with industry and government, and building awareness of the need for extra engineering capacity in developing countries.

“In all countries there is great deal to be done — to deal with the impacts of climate change, environmental issues, our growing cities and the challenges of new technologies including artificial intelligence,” Kanga said.

“There are many opportunities and the day can be used to engage with young people and say, ‘If you want to make change for a better world — become an engineer’.”

Kanga is currently in her second and final year as WFEO President.

“I am very proud that this will be one of the significant legacies of my term,” she said.

“Although there are 11 days in the calendar that celebrate various aspects of science, and a World Science Day on 11 November, there was no day that celebrated engineering.”

At the UNESCO Executive Board meeting, WFEO Executive Director Jacques de Méreuil, speaking on Kanga’s behalf, told the UNESCO Executive Board that World Engineering Day would be an opportunity to engage with society and young people, especially girls.

”You cannot have a modern nation without engineering,” he said.

“Engineers are critical to advance the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and we commend this decision that will enable focus on how engineering can create a better world.”

Kanga said it was important to put the profession forward.

“Look around you. Everything you see is nature. The rest is the result of the work of an engineer,” she said.

“World Engineering Day will be an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable achievements of engineers and engineering.”

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

By | Engineering for humanity | One Comment

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.

How 3D printing, generative design and automation will revolutionise the built environment

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Advances in technology like 3D printing and generative design are helping reinvent building and construction for the 21st century.

Mention an industry that has been disrupted by technology, and manufacturing immediately springs to mind. For some, it’s a symbol of how innovations like robotics and machine learning are optimising processes and improving productivity.

But if you ask some in the construction industry, it’s a warning sign of things to come. According to Andy Cunningham, Regional Director at software solutions provider Autodesk, construction can be very tech averse. Thoughts of digitisation and automation play into two common fears about the rise of technology: one is the complexity involved; the second is job loss.

“People in construction and building tend to gravitate towards manufacturing as an example of what can happen,” said Cunningham.

The reality, he said, is that technology has the potential to solve some really big challenges in the industry.

“There’s a skills shortage in engineering, so the question becomes how can we implement technology to optimise our human capital, and in the process free up people to do more interesting work,” Cunningham said.

Pioneering technology

The overarching theme of the World Engineers Convention is sustainability, and making the built environment more sustainable can have a huge impact at the global level. At WEC, Matt Gough from Mace (a global construction and consultancy company and Autodesk customer) will feature as a keynote speaker, sharing more about the future of making and sustainability. He will focus specifically on how to address the housing crisis by creating capacity and scale, and reducing the impact on the environment at speed.

By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach 10 billion people. In Australia, the current population of 25 million will grow to 41 million in that same timeframe, while the number of people dwelling in the country’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, will balloon to nearly 8 million each. That’s almost double the present day.

The challenge, said Cunningham, is not just to build more infrastructure to meet these future needs, but for the building industry to do more with less. Technology and the benefits it brings – data, reduced cost, increased productivity – will be crucial to achieving this.

“There are huge sustainability improvements to be had in construction: 30 per cent of construction material ends up as waste, and buildings consume 20 per cent of our water and 40 per cent of our energy. We can’t keep doing what we’re currently doing,” Cunningham said.

Developments like building information modelling (BIM), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and 3D printing are game changing for building and construction, and each brings something different to the table.

Generative design can explore thousands of new forms and help engineers tap into their creative side.(Image: Autodesk)

BIM, which Autodesk is known for pioneering, is particularly useful when it comes to optimising designs to be more energy efficient.

“The ability to learn what works, what doesn’t, and to optimise operations based on what the data is telling you to make buildings more sustainable is a huge benefit,” Cunningham said.

Learnings on a building-by-building basis can then be extrapolated to the wider network, he added.

“What changes can then happen on the macro scale for a whole city? We can supersize these learnings from individual buildings to see what needs to change and work towards creating more smart cities,” Cunningham said.

Beyond sustainability, Cunningham said technology is enabling imagination and creativity in the engineering profession as well.

One promising development in this space is generative design, where the user sets constraints and a program produces numerous options based on the parameters.

Cunningham also sees huge potential for integrating 3D printing and other manufacturing methods into construction processes to bring them into the 21st century.

“People still think of 3D printing on a small scale, but it’s now moving into new forms, incorporating new materials like metals and aggregates,” Cunningham said.

“Modular construction is also having a huge impact, and it’s bringing down costs and construction waste, and increasing productivity.”

An Autodesk 3D printer at work. (Image: Autodesk)

He points to some recent examples of how these technologies are helping companies become more innovative, all while helping reduce their footprint.

One is Factory OS, a company based in the US that is using a modular factory method in home construction. According to the company, this method is 20 per cent cheaper and 40 per cent faster than traditional methods.

Another example is Van Wijnen, a construction firm based in the Netherlands. They use BIM software to identify clashes in designs to reduce sequencing changes on site. The firm is also combining BIM with generative design to create a unique spin on urban planning by setting predetermined goals like solar energy potential, backyard size and costs – and letting the software generate countless layout options.

A Van Wijnen design.

Building a community

If past experience is anything to go by, it’s hard to predict how this technology will evolve in the next five years, never mind the next 100. But if he had to guess, Cunningham said he expects to see these technologies create new improvements across the building and construction industry.

“Advancements in material handling will be really exciting, especially the use of 3D printing. We’ll see forms we’ve never seen before and better marriage of form and function,” he said.

However, there’s one thing Cunningham is sure off: it has to be a better, more sustainable world.

“The construction space is the big piece of the sustainability puzzle … We can’t afford to engineer in isolation. It’s imperative to consider how the surrounding community will be affected – we don’t just build a building, we build a community,” Cunningham said.

“There are big benefits when these concepts get translated into the real world.”

The future of engineering innovation and technology 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

Why the world’s engineers need to come together to build a better future

By | Leadership and influence | 6 Comments

The clock is ticking to achieve the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The World Engineers Convention will explore the crucial role the profession plays in hitting the UN’s 2030 target.

“Every single one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires engineering to implement, and this is the message we have been putting out since the goals were implemented two years ago,” said Marlene Kanga, President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO).

As co-host of the upcoming World Engineers Convention (WEC) with Engineers Australia, WFEO will tap into its network of 100 member nations, comprising almost 30 million engineers, to make this a truly global event, Kanga said.

Each of the convention’s six themes aligns to the UN Sustainable Development goals – from technology and innovation to fostering diversity and inclusion, increasing liveability and preparing the next generation of engineers.

Across the three-day event, WFEO members present alongside Australian engineers on topics that showcase how these themes are being put into practice.

Trish White, National President of Engineers Australia, said collaboration between engineers from around the world is crucial to building a more sustainable future.

“It’s an exciting time to be an engineer, and this coming together of some of the world’s most prominent engineers is the perfect time to think about how you as an individual can make an impact,” White said.

“The No. 17 UN Sustainable Development Goal is about Partnerships — what are the connections and networks that need to be pulled upon to make it possible to fulfil the other 16 goals? That’s what makes the World Engineers Conventions a wonderful opportunity to come together and see what is possible for the future of engineering.”

This is the first time the event has been held in Australia — and it’s likely to be a long time before it’s on Australian shores again. As such, both White and Kanga urged the country’s engineers to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with and learn from their peers around the world.

“There are some 500 speakers, about 25 per cent are women, and more than 60 countries are represented,” Kanga said.

“Whether it’s water, whether it’s energy, whether it’s sustainable cities, technology … It’s about engineers thinking about the impact of our work. It’s about the purpose of our work, and that makes engineering more meaningful.”

A pivotal moment

Besides coming to Australia for the first time, the World Engineers Convention also coincides with Engineers Australia’s centenary year.

The organisation was founded just after the end of World War I, which was a time of immense change similar to the one we are experiencing now, said White.

“It was formed then to help the country’s engineers take advantage of the great technological changes that were happening and help the many disciplines come together,” she said.

“We’re in a rather similar time now. The next 100 years will be a time of enormous technological change, so we need to come together to think about what is the potential future of the engineering profession.”

Having the World Engineers Convention hosted by Australia during this important time in Engineers Australia’s history speaks to the centenary theme of ‘Anything Is Possible’, Kanga said.

“I think we can communicate about Australian engineering to the world, just as the world’s engineers will communicate to Australia,” she said.

“We are bringing the world to Melbourne.”

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

renewable energy exports as hydrogen

What will it take to make hydrogen the clean fuel of the future?

By | Climate change resilience | 6 Comments

Interest in hydrogen as a source of clean energy has risen in recent years, and engineers have a key role in scaling up technology to help Australia fulfil its potential as a major exporter.

According to Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, a keynote speaker at the upcoming World Engineers Convention, Australia has all of the key ingredients needed to make and export hydrogen.

“We’ve got the land, the sun, the wind, the coal and gas, the technology smarts, the regional hubs, the global networks and the industry expertise,” he said.

Finkel added that clean hydrogen technologies could also help reduce emissions on the home front. For example, hydrogen-powered trucks, trains and ships could meet the growing demand for zero-emissions transport.

Hydrogen could also replace liquified natural gas (LNG) in domestic and industrial heating, which has the potential to cut emissions and reduce energy bills at a greater rate than electrification.

And engineers will have a key role in making hydrogen a viable energy source for both local use and export.

“The key challenges here are to get to scale, bring down production and utilisation costs and improve efficiencies – these are all the bread and butter of engineers,” Finkel explained.

Why now?

As well as a zero-emissions energy alternative to coal, oil and natural gas, hydrogen can be used as a feedstock for industrial chemistry.

And while this isn’t the first time the world has gotten excited about a hydrogen revolution, Finkel said current interest is being driven by factors including rapidly falling production costs, as well as hydrogen fuel cell transport options such as the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo, which are starting to compete with petrol-fuelled vehicles in terms of cost, efficiency and performance.

hydrogen powered cars

Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells offer benefits like faster charging compared to electric vehicles.

“This isn’t the first time the world has been interested in hydrogen. But I can tell you that this time it is different,” he added.

Another driver is that energy-intensive countries such as South Korea and Japan do not have the capacity to generate enough clean and renewable electricity to meet their needs.

“These countries will be looking to import zero-emissions energy. This is where clean hydrogen comes into the picture,” Finkel said.

Japan has already made a strong commitment to importing hydrogen from Australia. Construction has recently begun on a government-backed joint venture between Japanese and Australian industry to prove the technology to liquefy hydrogen produced from brown coal in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley and ship it to Japan, although carbon capture and storage will be needed to prevent increased local emissions if the trial is scaled up to commercial proportions.

It won’t happen overnight

Finkel said that turning this opportunity into a real-world transformation will require both the production and use of hydrogen to be significantly scaled up.

“This is not something that can happen overnight. It is a journey to be navigated with patience, innovation and determination. We will need to build out gradually, learning and recalibrating along the way,” he added.

But Finkel believes that Australia has what it takes to build a large-scale hydrogen industry, citing the three decades of work that has put Australia in a position to surpass Qatar as the world’s leading exporter of LNG.

To help the country fulfil its potential, Finkel is leading the development of a national hydrogen strategy commissioned by the Coalition of Australian Governments Energy Council (COAG), which is due for release in December .

Australia Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel

Dr Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist

The strategy is focused on six areas: hydrogen exports; hydrogen for transport; hydrogen in the gas network; hydrogen for industrial users; hydrogen to support electricity systems; and issues such as safety, finance, and research and development (which could affect the other five areas).

In July, the Hydrogen Working Group released nine issues papers that focus on various aspects of the emerging industry, which has already attracted more than $100 million in Federal Government funding. Finkel said these papers provide some indication of what the final strategy will look like, and will provide more details during his WEC keynote in November, when the strategy is closer to completion.

Demand for engineering resources

Finkel said scaling up hydrogen production and use will require a huge quantity of engineering and manufacturing resources.

In the longer term, engineers will be needed to maintain the reliability of the hydrogen energy network by developing smart systems to manage diverse networks and loads, and solving the challenges of large-scale storage.

They will also be key players in managing trade-offs and opportunities as we move from independent electricity distribution and transport sectors to a coupled relationship governed by hydrogen use.

And while the challenges are far from trivial, there is scope to use hydrogen along with other clean energy technologies to improve reliability, while reducing energy costs and emissions.

“If we get this right, we will all benefit from using new technologies to overcome the problems that have emerged from the use of older technologies,” Finkel said.

Dr Alan Finkel will be a keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne, where he will explore the challenges of scaling up to meet the dream of a low-emission planet based on the development of Australia’s national strategy for clean hydrogen.

Register here