Building blocks of progress

Building blocks of progress

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It’s time to revisit one of the oldest and basic streams of higher education — Civil Engineering. Prof S S Rao provides the details

Civil Engineering is one of the oldest disciplines of engineering. It involves the design, construction and management of municipal infrastructure, highways, railways, transit systems, airports, harbours, bridges, tunnels. Hence, the term is used in a very broad sense. Civil engineers also ensure the availability of high quality water supply and sewage treatment facilities so important to the public health. It will not be an exaggeration to state that almost any major project has a contribution from a civil engineer. A civil engineer would generally work in one of the following areas:
In private practice: Plan, design, construct and operate physical works and facilities used by the public.

In public practice: Involved in city and/or regional planning, layout and construction of highways, pipelines and other infrastructure elements.

In academics: Teach students the fundamentals of Civil Engineering. Also be involved in research in order to contribute to the advancement of technology.

In combination with other disciplines: A civil engineering degree can be combined with another degree such as Engineering Geology or Engineering Economy.

Civil engineers today are expected to stay with the client and guide them through the approval and construction process while offering strategy, advice, and their experience and understanding of the requirements of the project approval process.

A successful project is not just about getting drawings approved and accepted. Every development project involves a team — architects, attorneys, engineers, and technical specialists. It is essential that the engineer be an excellent team player as project success depends on it. A civil engineer is often the focal point in a team and a motivating force.

They focus on the all-round development of design and working in harmony with nature. With the focus on environmental issues, such as waste water and sewerage disposal, engineers will operate as guardians of nature and her resources. Structural engineers are responsible for the design of buildings, offshore oil platforms, etc. Highway engineers are responsible for design of traffic flow planning, roadway geometry design etc. They create solutions to numerous environment-related problems as well as devise a way of maximising sustainability and minimising environmental degradation. These are just a few examples of what civil engineers do in their multifaceted roles.

A popular misconception is that design engineers are far removed from the use of computers. But in reality, much of what is now Computer Science was driven by work in civil engineering, where structural and network analysis problems required parallel computing and development of advanced algorithms.  AutoCAD, TEDDS, STAAD, STRAP, STRUDDS are used for structural design. Sewers CAD, Water CAD, Storm CAD are used for water supply and drainage system design.

In the design of highways and intelligent transportation system using GIS and GPS, design of flyovers and signals, the softwares used are Geo-Comp, Pave Mass, and Eagle Point. This helps in improving the efficiency of the transport system.

Job opportunities exist in design offices, consulting firms, government departments such as municipalities, environmental agencies as well as with contracting firms. As a member of this fraternity, one is most likely to be involved in any one of the above-mentioned activities.

Construction engineers /managers evaluate and determine appropriate construction methods and the most cost-effective plan and schedule. This may require sophisticated estimating and scheduling techniques and use of computers with specialised software. Construction managers regularly review engineering and architectural drawings and specifications to monitor progress and ensure compliance with plans and schedules.

Practical industry experience is also very important, whether it is acquired through internships, cooperative education programmes, or work experience in the industry.
Job opportunities exist with numerous government bodies to monitor and control the procurement and execution of their numerous public projects like construction of roads, highways, flyovers, harbours and petroleum projects. Private contracting and construction companies need construction engineers and managers. Developing countries and the Middle East are promising destinations for construction engineers, given that the construction industry is at the heart of all development.

Another key discipline in the construction sector is quantity surveying. Technical skills acquired in the areas of estimation, cost and specification together with a good knowledge of various procurement routes, tendering procedure and contracting essentials make quantity surveyors an inseparable part of the construction industry. Quantity surveyors become involved at the start of the decision-making process. The primary role of a quantity surveyor remains to manage costs on building or construction sites.

To sum up, the broad spectrum of civil engineering deals with crafting nature and protecting our environment while designing, executing, and solving engineering problems involved with water supply, sewerage and drainage infrastructure systems. These aspects are seen in most of the areas connected with Civil and Environmental Engineering (municipal public works, agricultural engineering, marine engineering, chemical engineering, oil and natural gas resources and other fields).

Knowledge and experience gained in this field makes one a proud member of a team that helps in nation building, since they are involved in the construction of infrastructure like buildings, roads and highways, water supply system and drainage facilities for rural and urban  people. The latest technological know-how like computer-aided design techniques; use of latest construction equipment, novel managerial techniques, use of modern construction materials and methods are pre-requisites to being competent in the field.

(The contributor is principal of Moodalakatte Institute of Technology, Udupi.)

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