Intention is to make available technical drawings and engineering (technical) calculations in electronic format, typically Acrobat pdf, some for free and others for a fee. Software will also be available for quick assessment of simple and common structural forms.
Part of the objective is to provide resources for DIY and small builders, so that they can construct simple structures and stay with in the scope of standard calculations. Often DIY’s introduce connection details and other features which are outside the scope of standard calculations and as a consequence the structural assessment of such features becomes either extremely complex and time consuming or otherwise is beyond calculation altogether and requires physical testing.
Typically the size of a structure should have little to do with the real cost of engineering, rather it is the risk and complexity of the structure. If two structures have the same structural form but are different sizes then the time required for design of both is the same. Unfortunately for small structures the cost of the engineering design could exceed the cost of materials and/or labour to make. It is therefore important for small structures that they are designed once and made many times.
Whilst manufacturers can distribute the cost of design across sales of multiple units, the over all cost of the item can still be greater than some people are willing to pay. These people can cost materials, provide their own labour and otherwise determine that suppliers are charging prices which are far too high. Unfortunately they hit the problem of needing engineering, and that can become expensive for their one-off-project. Many of these people have generally had the expectation that consulting engineers have such engineering reports lying around on shelves collecting dust. Which didn’t seem to be all that unreasonable an expectation.
Back in the summer of 1994 when we started, it wasn’t possible for this business to have such reports on the shelf, we hadn’t produced any reports at such point. But why didn’t existing businesses have such? One issue is such reports consume paper and space, and need to know what the content of the reports need to be. Consultants are set up to handle design project by project, not design across ranges of similar projects. There is usually some feature that differs from any attempt to create a standard design, requiring custom design. So the real need is to ensure that standard designs are used at the start, rather than try to find a standard design to match that which has been built or proposed to be built. The other issue is that based on paper reports such service is not all that viable. However built around digital on-line services, it becomes more viable. The big issue, there after, is the appropriate style, use and licencing of the reports.
An important characteristic of such reports is to differentiate between systems, applications and installations. Whilst the application of a structural system maybe fit-for-function in its own right, it isn’t necessarily fit-for-function when applied to a specific installation. Digital reports can only provide specifications and evidence-of-suitability for systems and applications: such cannot cover the requirements for specific installations. Design and assessment for a specific installation requires the judgement of a suitably qualified person appointed to the specific project. Suitably qualified depends on the complexity of the assessment process that needs to be conducted in order that a standard system can be selected.
So just as a structure needs to be designed, so also does the documentation of such structures need to be designed so that it best meets the needs of end-users. Once such documentation is published and readily available it is expected that it will become a benchmark: neither good nor bad, but a readily available point of reference for criticism.
Whilst I believe in supply of engineering to suite the specific project, I don’t believe in wasting 80% of the time on replicating that which is similar to all preceding projects and then actually ignoring the detailing of the custom features of the specific project. So part of the objective therefore is to make it clear where the commonality is, to design ranges of similar items, to document limitations and provide design charts and tables.
Architects, industrial product designers and other designers need to be able to get on with design without delay caused by engineering and then without further waste redesigning to meet engineering impositions. Span tables for example allow designers to get on with designing spaces already aware of space occupied by posts and beams.
It shouldn’t be necessary to go back to fundamentals of stress and strain for each and every project. Such characteristics are typically abstract and esoteric relative to the end-users real needs such as desire for a house or workshop. Just as we have higher level programming languages to make computer programming easier for as many people as possible, it is also desirable to have higher levels of engineering information to enable and empower people to design their high level systems without being directly concerned with the lower level details of how the system functions.
Engineering should enable and empower, not hinder and obstruct through regulation.