Category Archives: Training

3D Printing for Civil Engineers

3D Printer
3D printer
Lately I've been thinking our field might be missing out by not exploring the opportunities offered by 3D printing. Even though 3D printers have been around for many years, I haven't seen anything significant related to its use by agencies or firms in our field. I remember a 3D printer in use in a classroom at the college where I used to teach and that was at least 13 years ago. But that printer was used by the mechanical drafting students – not those in the civil technology field. So my partner and I have embarked on the goal of learning more about 3D printing and how the technology can be used in the civil engineering field.

Fortunately we found a learning program hosted by the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana which also happens to be our alma mater. The program is offered through Coursera and is a series of 5 courses leading to a specialization certificate in 3D printing. We began the first course right at the start of 2017 and are almost finished with the second one. So far the content has provided a good introduction to 3D printing and offered ideas about how it has been and could be used in many different fields.

Near the end of the second course, we were introduced to Josh Ajima, a teacher in Northern Virginia. In his presentation, he described how he created 3D representations of the earth's topography to visualize how different areas of a watershed relate. A description of his work with fabricating the Chesapeake Bay Watershed can be found in his article, "Design Challenge: Chesapeake Bay Watershed." Civil engineers can see right away how 3D printing an area's topography can lead to better understanding of watersheds, flooding impacts, material transport, and other related concepts.

Then, in our effort to learn more about the local 3D printing community, we attended a workshop at the Maker Lab in the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. There we saw a printout of the topography of the bottom of Lake Michigan. We were also introduced to the idea of using 3D printing to display data. An example of this type of use can be found on a 3D printing site called Thingiverse where the user anoved has uploaded a model of the United States to be used to visualize data sets for the states. A screenshot of anoved's Thingiverse page with the map is shown below. We can imagine an agency using this model for public education to show the amount of transportation funding spent by each state or the number of highway fatalities or miles of roadway.

Thingaverse Example of US 3D printed map with data

I'll continue to share our experiences with 3D printing as we learn more about the technology and increase our understanding of how it might fit into civil engineering. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more, I'd encourage you to check out the classes on Coursera – they are free to take if you are not interested in earning a certificate for the specialization. You can also visit Maker Labs in your own areas – they are usually found in most larger cities, particularly in libraries. Also, if you know of any uses of 3D printing in our industry, we'd love to hear about them – just drop us an email, comment below, or reach out to us on social media.


Choosing a Running Shoe Infographic

If you implement a running program at your company as part of your wellness program, you might want to also offer guidance and resources about running to those employees who begin taking up the sport in earnest. Because shoes are one of the main items of gear needed for running, some advice on picking out the right shoe can be a great place to start. There are so many factors to consider in picking out a shoe that it can seem overwhelming to a new runner. So to help summarize the process, we did some research about choosing a running shoe and put together a simple infographic with the basic information someone might need to pick out the right shoe for them. Feel free to use this in your own programs, share it on your own social media channels, or grab the embed code below to post it on your own website. 

Click the infographic to get an enlarged image:

Choosing a Running Shoe

Share this Image On Your Site


Happy New Year 2015!

Happy New Year 2015

We are starting out the new year of 2015 still a little overwhelmed by everything that happened in 2014. This was due to several factors including an increased yet exciting work load at our primary jobs and some major changes we were making in our personal lives leaving little time to hop online and share with all of you. So because of this, as regular readers might have noticed, there have been few posts made to the site since June of last year.

We want to thank all of you for being patient with us while we were going through these changes. Hopefully they have increased our knowledge and abilities so that we can bring a new and better offering to all of you over this new year.

So what happened in 2014?

The Book! First, we’d like to review the status of the goals we set at this time last year. One of the most exciting of these was to begin writing a book that will offer information and guidance about city engineering. This effort was started about mid-year. And as each chapter is completed, an excerpt or synopsis will be posted online on the Public Works Magazine website. The first article was published last fall, Establishing the City Engineering Position, and the next one is due to be online soon. So if you’ve ever wondered about how to establish and run a city engineering department, make sure you stay tuned for the release of each article. And when the book if finally completed and available for purchase, I’ll announce it here.

WATERCON! Next, as planned, I was able to attend WATERCON in March of last year. It was incredibly informative as always. As part of this, I did set up a small demo of a WATERCON conference site in Unity3D you can check out over on the WATERCON blog site along with the other resources. However we were not yet able to develop the remaining Unity3D offerings we had planned and will most likely extend that goal into the new year along with the development of an Android app for PROWAG which we were also not able to make time to create. But with PROWAG still not yet adopted, this goal could also be extended into 2015.

The Curve Balls!The surprising, yet very positive, upsets in our careers last year were lessons in how goals can easily be redirected. As mentioned above, while we did manage to make a few of our planned goals a reality, most of our accomplishments ended up not planned at all causing us to change direction mid-year:

Not long after 2014 launched, both of us had the opportunity to be involved with the update of our agency’s ADA Transition Plan. As part of this initiative, I had the opportunity to become the ADA coordinator for my area at work. If you’ve been reading this blog for years, you would best understand what this meant to me. Accessibility and ADA related matters have long held a strong professional interest for me. (A few years back I developed a 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government and have been working on other related resources for some time.) This opportunity allowed me to attend the Annual ADA Symposium in June of last year which was highly informative and helped to solidify my understanding of this topic. And I’ve been able to teach a few ADA courses alongside some of the professionals I’ve known and respected for a long time.

I was also asked by my co-workers to become more involved with our employee health and wellness and was allowed to became a member of our health committee. We organized bike rides after work and worked on several other programs the group regularly offers. Personally I started running regularly with their encouragement and ended up becoming significantly more fit as a result of their support and influence.>

Finally both of us were able to take more active roles in our agency in bicycle planning and design. This is still somewhat of an emerging trend in civil engineering. So while the efforts have taken over the year considerable time and commitment, we are excited to be actively engaged in our agency’s activities in this area.

So, dare we plan for 2015?

Even though 2014 was a good lesson in proving we cannot completely predict the future, we still believe it is helpful to have some type of plan. The key is understanding the plan should be flexible enough to respond to changes if necessary. So here is what we are starting out with as a general framework for 2015:

Finish that book! >Yes, we hope to finish the book on city engineering so that you can have your very own copy by the end of the year. That is a huge goal, but one we are most focused on accomplishing.

Finish developing an online PROWAG related course! Last year I also started setting up an online training course for learning PROWAG. The opening video for the course is below. When complete, the entire class will have 57 short modules designed to level someone from an accessibility apprentice to a PROWAG Master.

Develop and offer employee health and wellness resources! Because of my involvement in employee health and fitness, I’ve become more aware of just how much employers are focusing on this issue. So drawing on our own knowledge and experience, we’ll be setting up an online resource to begin offering health-related information to both employers and employees. As this goal develops, we'll keep you posted here.

So that’s it! While we would like to pursue many more goals, we will have our hands full just meeting the ones listed here. Keep stopping back to check our progress as we will try to keep you up to date on the status of each of these goals.


Finally we wish all of you a healthy and success-filled new year!



3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in Unity 3D

Welcome area of the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government

A couple years ago I put together an unofficial 3D version of the ADA Toolkit for Local Government. It was based in an immersive environment anyone could visit and experience as an avatar or digital representation of themselves. Normally the ADA Toolkit is only available as an online, primarily text-based document. So I figured the ability to learn it through an engaging and interactive format might offer a much more interesting and possibly memorable experience. Eventually I moved this build over to Kitely – a service which hosts 3D immersive environments created using OpenSimulator software. People who want to visit and stroll through the 3D ADA Toolkit can still do so by visiting, signing up for an account or using an existing Twitter or Facebook account, and then accessing the 3D ADA Toolkit through the use of a viewer that Kitely will install on their computer. But while Kitely makes it very easy for someone to visit the places it hosts, some people are still hesitant to try out this type of experience – particularly those who are new to using an avatar to interact with digital content. So for some time, I have been wanting to create the same build in Unity 3D because it still offers the ability to visit and interact with the information in a 3D format, but does not rely on a login or the installation of a software program in order to view the content. Instead Unity 3D allows everything to work directly in someone's browser with only the installation of a plug-in to the browser. The end result can be closer to the browsing experience people already are familiar with.

It took some time for me to actually accomplish a build in Unity 3D for several reasons. One was the need to learn the software and interface. Fortunately there are plenty of tutorials out there for this so I was able to at least become comfortable with it over time by following these examples. But I still faced the need to create new content and doing so in the Unity 3D environment is not very easy. It definitely is not as easy as creating it in something like OpenSimulator. Then just within the last month or so, the folks who develop the Singularity viewer for OpenSimulator came up with a way to export 3D objects from the OpenSimulator environment. So I was able to export the objects from the 3D ADA Tooklit in OpenSimulator and import them into a Unity 3D build.

While that certainly helped move the project along, I quickly figured out there was still a lot more to learn to create an interactive environment. By again researching tutorials, I managed to script some popup messages to simulate what someone would see in the original OpenSimulator build. So at this point I have a very simple example of a portion of the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in a Unity 3D environment. I caution anyone who decides to try it out that it is far from perfect. I need to learn how to do a better job with the messages, perhaps add some NPCs, create more interactive elements, and figure out how to launch a website so that it doesn't take the person out of the Toolkit forcing them to restart it to get back in. It would also be nice to figure out how to keep the flowers from floating just above the ground. Anyway, so far I've only made the welcome area and the historical background of the ADA laws related to right of way interactive – the rest of it has not yet been done. And, again, I don't have the entire toolkit in Unity 3D – only a small portion. If you want to check it out, just click the image below – if you've never run Unity 3D in your browser it will prompt you to install the Unity 3D plugin. And remember if you click anywhere in the Toolkit to access a website, you'll have to relaunch the Toolkit to get back in. Thanks for trying it out! I'd also love to get any type of feedback on it.

3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in Unity 3D

Click the image above to enter the 3D ADA Toolkit for Local Government in Unity 3D in your browser!


IPSI – Public Works Management Training that Works!

I just returned from spending a week at the Illinois Public Service Institute – "a three-year training program which provides instruction expressly designed for public service professionals." Since this is my second year of the three-year program, I thought it would be a good time to share my experiences with others who might be considering attending in the future. I don't know how other professions handle training of their managers, but in public works, those of us who advance up the ladder rarely receive formal training to prepare us for our new supervisory roles. Some agencies send managers to an occasional class, and some might have personnel who have taken public administration classes. But rarely does this type of training really prepare people for handling the public works industry. It just doesn't fit the traditional public works place, so if you haven't worked it, you won't get it. Fortunately 12 years ago, the Illinois and Chicago Metro chapters of APWA decided to fill this training gap by setting up IPSI. The result has been effective supervisory training for public works managers by public works professionals that just works.

Before I attended last year, I'd heard all the stories about how wonderful and amazing IPSI was. Frankly I was skeptical. You know how it is – you've been to all those classes that promise to miraculously transform you into a management superhero. But in the end, most of what you learn just doesn't work in the public works environment. Not only don't they understand how we are set up and how we deliver services, but they don't get the structure within which we work which presents specific types of challenges. IPSI is different because the content is approved by a committee of public works professionals and delivered by Dr. Lew Bender – an educator with extensive experience in training managers in the public service sector (and who is assisted by his amazing wife, Mary).

Last year was my first of the three year program. The focus for the 2012 class was on service excellence. Some of the highlights of the training were:

Performance appraisals – we learned how to conduct them to ensure the maximum benefit for everyone. We also learned how to work within the current appraisal framework we have if we were not allowed to change it.

Business etiquette – Maybe other people get the "Miss Manners" training at home, but my parents were simple folk who never taught us what all that silverware on the table was for and what order in which to use it. Fortunately for me and others who lacked this training, this session took care of filling us in on the details. By the end we were more aware of the entire process of conducting business over a meal along with other business etiquette knowledge. 

Communication, law, and the service culture – for the law portion of this group of sessions, we had an attorney visit to fill us in on important laws that affect our work. That's another aspect of our jobs we are rarely trained in yet are expected to just know and understand so it was good to get this information. 

Workplace safety – this was a great session that showed us how to try to avoid and if necessary respond to a threat. Although I'm thinking I'd really rather not have to put any of this training into practice.

So this year's focus was on supervisory skills – here are some of the highlights I took away:

Supervisory Dos and Don'ts – the committee along with Lew, the instructor, shared about 50 pieces of advice. The top three for me that I decided I need to build on were

  1. ensuring people know and understand expectations
  2. allowing people to develop skills through failure and risk (non-safety related) and remembering to debrief afterwards
  3. developing a vision and a few goals for our team as a group

More legal stuff – the lawyer was back this year to explain ADA, FMLA, and workplace investigations. The scariest thing I learned is for some reason the law makes supervisors personally liable for FMLA if acting in the best interest of the employer and if in violation of the FMLA law. This makes it even more important to understand this confusing law – ignore it, and you can get personally hit by it. Not that this makes it any simpler to understand, but I did find a presentation that shows some of these issues:


Managing Problem Employees (or problem children – PCs) – PCs are always a favorite topic because it seems too many people have some of these folks working for them. Some surprising information I got from the class was that PCs can take up a rough average of 40 to 75% of a manager's time. It was also uncanny how closely Lew described their behaviors – almost as if he knew the people personally. The most enlightening thing I learned was that PCs think of work as some type of fight for the "pie." If they actually perform some task you give them, it's like allowing you to take part of their pie. So they do whatever it takes to make sure they get your part rather than give up theirs. I had always thought everyone was thinking:  this is work, we have tasks to complete, and we do them. Now it makes so much more sense – it's not about work at all to them. It's all about guarding their pie.

Social media and public works – this session was facilitated by myself and Dave Lawry. We focused on opening discussions over the use of social media in our industry by having the group analyze two incidents related to municipalities that played out on social media. We also discussed the type of messages we typically send out and looked at a few examples of how other agencies are using social media platforms to communicate. This could probably have been an all day session that started out with an introduction to social media. For anyone who is looking for a fun introduction to social media, I embedded something I put together a few years ago – keep in mind some of the sites might have minor design changes:


More performance appraisal information and stress (not necessarily tied together)

Successful communication and employee loyalty – this was a full day session with Doug Cartland. If anyone has seen him talk, you understand how completely motivational and interesting this day was for us.

Strategic Planning – I am absolutely fascinated by this topic and in understanding how teams work together in planning. What was particularly interesting in this session was how I could relate it to conducting this type of exercise in a virtual setting. Most of the issues that hijack a strategic planning session are easily knocked out of the way by instead conducting the planning in a virtual setting. Of course we didn't have that choice here – totally face to face.


So those were the session highlights for me. But there is one other significant part to IPSI you won't get from the class schedule – the people. It really hit me this year as soon as I walked in and lasted until the minute I left. There is a closeness and bonding that takes place during the entire week that I'm not sure is obvious at first. It kind of sneaks up on you without you realizing it is happening. All the shared experiences in class, the jokes, the fun, the learning, the sharing of ideas and challenges, and the sharing of meals and time together build relationships and bonds we would not otherwise have. In the end for me, that's a priceless gift I hope I never take for granted. Because of it, we no longer feel alone or that we have to face our battles without help. We may be urged in class to constantly think "what hill we want to die on," but once we choose, we go there knowing we won't be rushing the hill alone.

Lindberg Rd Reconstruction LaSalle IL


Creating a Great Class

Building on the last post, this one goes into more specific detail on what tools a teacher can make use of to create a great class. This means a class that is effective, attractive, and provides a clear path to completion. Rather than use words to convey this information, I made use of a tool I've tried out in the past: Glogster.