A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 49

Day 49

APWA Tour of Concrete Products Plant

Welch Bros Concrete 2011

Today we had an APWA luncheon meeting. And after the meeting we toured Welch Brothers – a concrete product manufacturer located in St. Charles, Ill. I knew this would be an outstanding tour because many years ago when I was in college at Iowa State, they took us on a trip to tour a plant in Nebraska. Of course, things are a lot different today than back in 1986. Many of the machines that create the wire and rebar cages are now automated. The concrete mixer and several other processes were also automated. We saw them making concrete pipe and box culverts. He showed us a form for a 12-foot diameter pipe they used to manufacture the sewer pipe for a project at Congress and Wacker in Chicago. He said they were able to make two pipe a day. I have one photo here on the blog, but if you want to see the rest click on over to my Flickr account here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/publicworksgroup/sets/72157627873374634/

The rest of the day

The remainder of the day was spent more on management of my engineering group. I discussed some of the projects with the engineers and our technician. We also talked about our long-range vision of the group and in particular our training needs. This is something I have talked about before on this blog – I worry as a profession we are not doing enough to mentor and train people as we used to. And as important as it is to have on the job training for people just starting out, we need to also maintain training for more experienced personnel. Otherwise, we all fall behind and end up struggling to accommodate new changes in our field.

Also, I believe there are people who have a lot of experience who ended up missing out on training in specific aspects of the profession. When I worked for a consultant many years ago, they were always trying to get me to focus on one segment of civil engineering such as hydrology. And although I was interested in that, I didn't want to focus on it to the exclusion of all else. Fortunately I took a job with a city soon after because by working for a city I was able to stay involved in many different fields within the civil profession. But if I had done as the consulting firm had asked, today I would not have the knowledge and information I need to perform many of the tasks my job requires. The other consequence of not staying well rounded is that at this point in my career most people expect me to have a certain level of expertise in civil engineering. If I had only concentrated in one area such as hydrology, I would not be able to meet expectations related to transportation or water or wastewater work.

I do realize there has to be some specialization. And for public works professionals other than engineers, this works well because there are enough jobs for people with backgrounds in water, wastewater, or other operations like fleets. But for engineers, there are more opportunities for those of us who are well-rounded. And by increasing our skills and improving ourselves as professionals, we are also better able to perform our jobs and deliver better service – particularly in a government setting.



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 44 and 45

Day 44

Hopefully today will be the last day I have to combine more than one day in a post – finally getting somewhat caught up. Today, I went through more emails. And I finished up the final approval letter for that development I worked on last Friday – it is for an industry in the city that is expanding. We had several meetings then throughout the day:

South Street Bike Trail

The county has been planning on building a bike trail underpass at one of the busiest roads we have in the city. Right now it is a four-land road with a 45 mph speed limit with plans to someday expand it to six lane. The number of cars is probably around almost 30,000 a day. So crossing it can be a challenge on a bike or as a pedestrian. In order to help get people across, the county is proposing this underpass. They have received funding for a portion of it from the state. So now, they are ready to move forward and finalize the design then go to construction. They told us today they are looking at building it in fiscal year 2013. We discussed some of the coordination needed between the city and the county to get the project done. They will be acquiring an easement from us, and we will be entering into an agreement. But the terms of all that still need to be worked out.

Utility Proposal

A utility has proposed an installation in our community that is unlike any other submittal we have yet received. So we met today to discuss the information. From my perspective, I had received an application for a right of way permit, but upon reviewing the plans I realized the proposed location is not within the right of way. So the application is not valid for this case.

Campbell Street Parking Lot

We also met to continue discussions about our plans to build a parking lot in our downtown area. We were mainly updating other staff members of the status. The city is still working out the easements with the adjoining owners that will be necessary to  finalize the design.

Concrete Construction

A couple of us also had to inspect a few areas throughout the city that are targeted for improvements. We are in the process of obtaining bids for a small amount of concrete repairs we want to finish up this Fall.


Day 45

Finally today! This morning I worked on a multitude of issues. I completed our mid-year goals and strategies report and sent it off to my supervisor. Then I made sure my forms were ready to conduct performance evaluations later this month. All of us also worked on writing up our monthly reports for all our projects.

We had a bid opening today for our culvert project. There were a few bidders and the project seemed to come in near the engineer's estimate so we will now prepare the information to take it to the council for approval. Before I mention anything else about this publicly, I am waiting for an official determination of the successful bidder.

And our contractor for our alley project finally was able to place half of the concrete pavement. After last week's rain, we have had to wait a few days for the base to dry out. But today, it was finally ready for the pour.

In the afternoon, we had a staff development review meeting to go over a small proposed development in the city. It's so helpful to have all of us get together at once and just discuss the project after we've had some time to look it over. Many people brought up good discussion points. So now the review engineer will incorporate the comments into his response and send it out later this month.



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 14

Day 14

This morning we started out handling a concern from a resident whose driveway was poured last week as part of the road project. The contractor was supposed to have taken off the barricades yesterday. But for some reason, they never got over there to open up the drive. So we had to call right away to remind them to remove the barricades. (The reason we must keep everyone off the concrete for so long is that it takes several days for concrete to gain strength. Even if the concrete is hard and looks like regular concrete, it really is not strong enough and can be damaged until the proper strength is reached. You can read more about how concrete cures and gains strength here: http://www.ce.memphis.edu/1101/notes/concrete/section_3_properties.html)

ADS Facility Aug 2011

We ended up leaving the office fairly early because we were scheduled to tour the Advanced Drainage Systems manufacturing plant. This facility creates many different types of pipe and other drainage systems. I've used their materials for many years and have been happy with not only the price and installation, but also the performance. It was a great opportunity to be able to see how it is all produced and the testing behind it all. One of the best parts was watching how they created tees and other fittings in their fabrication shop. I would encourage anyone who hasn't been through a tour of this type of facility to try to get one scheduled. After seeing it, I have not only a better appreciation for how the material is made, but as a designer, I can better imagine potential uses and designs.

I also learned that the plastic used to make this pipe is a byproduct of the natural gas industry. Right now, they said a lot of their product is being sold in the agricultural market for tiling. I included in this post a picture of some of their product in their yard and also have uploaded several pictures to this Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/publicworksgroup/


100-year-old Experiment in Concrete

@PCA_NECSA TweetToday I noticed this Tweet by @PCA_NECSA pointing to an article about a 100-year study about concrete started in 1910 by Owen Withey. This research took place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a school well-known for its engineering programs. And while there are concrete-related studies going on at universities all over the world, what is interesting to me about this one is the time span over which it was conducted. How many people are willing to start and nurture a project knowing with full certainty they will not be alive when it is finished? And knowing they have to trust others to ensure a successful completion? But what also interests me about this is the parallel I see between this and what people working in public works and governments do every day.

Each of us working in government is tasked with carrying on a multitude of “projects” that support the ultimate project of building and sustaining a community. For most of us, our projects began long before we were born. Outside the U.S., government workers are carrying on from many centuries of prior work. It can be humbling when you stop to think how each of us is just one person in a moment of time of the overall “experiment.” But understanding our roles is also what should provide the motivation and sense of responsibility and dedication to our work. And, like those before us, we must be ready to begin and manage projects that we know we may never see finished. This project at the University of Wisconsin provides not only good information about concrete performance, but also serves as a great example of the importance of working for the public good rather than working just for individual reward.

Here’s a video for those who are interested in learning more about the concrete study:


Concrete Resources on the Web

Seems like everyone is launching their own TV channel. This week I discovered the Concrete Answers TV Channel on YouTube. The show also has their own website at http://concreteanswers.tv where you can find all their episodes, a concrete forum, and links to industry resources. Below is a sample of one of their shows in which the host talks about what happens to concrete brought back to the yard (I always wondered what they did with those rejected loads).


You can also keep up with Concrete Answers TV by following them on Twitter or Facebook.


Another resource I stumbled upon this week is CIP-26 – Jobsite Addition of Water, a pdf handout from the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. All of you who have inspected concrete projects or placed concrete yourself are familiar with this issue of adding water to the concrete at the site. What I particularly liked about this handout is the graph showing the relationship between slump and strength. As someone suggested on the American Concrete Institute LInkedIn group, this might be a good handout to pass out on the jobsite. I was even thinking it would be a good handout for a pre-con.


Social Media Tools for Construction Geeks

If you have an iphone, download AudioBoo for free – now! – particularly if you work in any construction-related field. This handy tool allows for the ability to combine an IM, a photo, a location map, and a 3-minute audio blurb in one upload. This upload can then be found on the AudioBoo Website for anyone’s viewing pleasure. But even better, it can also automatically get pushed out to your Twitter and/or Facebook feed.

So next time you see something particularly interesting out on construction, use AudioBoo on your iphone to share with the rest of us! Here is one I did today – it was also automatically sent to my Twitter feed and my Facebook wall. (Click the link to see the full post.)

Lack of Expansion Material Causes Concrete Failure