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we offer Structural Engineering in New York state and Connecticut. or work includes structural design of all types of structures. we try hard to be one of the best structural engineering firms in nyc metro.
Never Use Structural Plans Not Created By Licensed Professionals Experienced In Structural Design.
The structural system of a building is similar to bones to a human body. The structural frame is the most important part of a building. A defficient structural frame will always result in building damages and sometimes total loss. Usually the owner hires an architect first to analyze the building in regards to zoning and spaces. Most architects are honest people and assemble teams of true professionals based on their previous experiences. Some architects convince the owners that they have an "inhouse structural designer" who is very good at producing structural plans but it is not a licensed engineer experienced in structural design. Some architects will go even further and claim that they have been doing this for so long and they have designed structures for a lot of buildings.
After inspecting thousands of losses for insurance companies and as a consultant, I have few words to say.
Always have on your design team a licensed structural engineer who has experience with structural design. There are thousands of things that can go wrong from a defficient structural design. I have seen buildings settle because the foundations were not designed properly because not all the loads were acccounted for in the foundation design. I have seen balconies collapse after few years of use because the wrong beam sizes/materials were used. I have seen multi-million dollar mansions with floors shaking because the vibration analysis was not done.
In more modern times, computer programs and programmers sometimes overlook the effects of secondary stresses and other factors. An increase in recent structural failures has alerted the structural engineering community to the dangers of totally relying on computer analysis when designing the structural sizes for long-span construction.
Home Insurance Will Not Cover Losses From Improper Design and Improper Workmanship
A lot of owners learn the hard way that the home insurance companies will not cover losses from improper design and improper workmanship. Most home/building owners invest their live savings in real estate only to pay out pocket from expenses caused by improper building desing. Those who can't afford, simply declare bankruptcy. I have seen an owner build a 2 million dollar home using his live savings only to find out that the top floor deflected several inches and needed to be replaced. The replacements cost was $300,000 which came out of his pocket. The structural design was part of the architect's scope and no experienced engineer was used to create the structualplans.
Why Engineering Judgement is so critical
In studying cases of engineering failures, we often wonder what could have been done to avoid the problem in the first place. Questions often arise, such as “Didn’t anyone notice that …” or “How could this have been designed without anyone realizing that it was a disaster waiting to happen?” As professionals, engineers are often called upon to assess, inspect, certify, evaluate, etc. complex structures, systems, devices and software, to help both designers and those charged with operations and maintenance to catch problems before they happen. These engineers are often identified as “experts” in a particular area, and their judgement is highly valued. But this brings up other important considerations. For example, exactly what makes a person an “expert”, and how can engineering judgement best be used to help avoid failure?
In considering these issues from an educational perspective, I recently encountered a very interesting paper which is available online: “Engineering judgement in reliability and safety and its limits: what can we learn from research in psychology” by Lorenzo Strigini of the Center for Software Reliability, at City University Northampton Square, London. While the paper is from 1996, it provides an excellent lesson for engineers today, starting from a psychological perspective.
The author considers such issues as the ‘presumption’ of expertise, the role of experience and background knowledge in evaluating reliability, and the value of an informal judgement process versus a structured methodology. The latter is especially important when the “expert” is asked for their judgement in a situation where they encounter a possible fault with which they have little personal experience.
A number of psychological factors which are critically important in considering the nature of engineering failures (and how they managed to occur despite supposedly thorough analysis and inspection) are reviewed in this paper. Overconfidence is identified as a leading contributor to failure, as is the existence of various biases in the judgement of engineers. Examples of overconfidence are abundant — for example, the space shuttle Challenger disaster, on which much has been written.
An interesting psychological bias described by the author is “hindsight” bias — as in “hindsight is 20/20”. But hindsight can skew our impression of how a failure occurred. In the words of the author:
“When reviewing a sequence of events and decisions which ended in failure, we build a theory that predicts what we already know to have been the final outcome; then, the decisions which preceded it appear to have been wrong: we no longer recognise the dearth of information, or the ambiguity of the information available, at the time decisions were made.” This is an important concept to keep in mind, especially for those of us using case studies to teach about learning from failure — while in hindsight, the causes of failure may seem obvious, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the engineers and others who designed the system, operated it, or were present when the disaster occurred. Doing so may provide us with new lessons for how to better avoid problems in the future.
The conclusions of the paper describe a number of ways to ensure that engineering judgement and the opinions of experts can best help us avoid failure — for example, using multiple experts (as a check) and using structured methods for analysis and failure prevention. Techniques such as Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) can be used to help remove some of the biases and overconfidence from the process, and are often taught in engineering design courses.