the Technology Interface Winter 97

Civil Engineering Technology: Helping to Close the Gap

by Sonya Cooper
Department of Engineering Technology
New Mexico State University

Civil engineers are faced with constant environmental and economic changes that influence the design and selection of materials. Government and private owners of civil projects are forcing engineers to design less expensive structures. They are also telling us to fix their deteriorated structures quickly, so that they may resume service. These requirements are not new, however the complexity of incorporating all of today's criteria gives engineers a much greater challenge. There is room for improvement in the way we assure that we have done the best we can to satisfy all criteria for the owner and the public.

There exists a gap within the civil engineering community between the design engineers and construction contractors. Due to the lack of understanding or a lack of interest in learning the other's roles, each entity continues to operate as they have traditionally, as a separate service to the owner. The result of this discontinuity inevitably results in excessive construction costs to the owner. Another problem exists in the planning and design phase. There is a lack of knowledge with respect to designers for all materials available and their properties. This knowledge is critical in order to specify the best materials for particular design elements, and even the entire structure. Again, the owner is the loser because of this lack of knowledge. Design engineers and construction managers must close the communication gap and work together to understand and keep up with current construction methods and materials for all types of projects. This is an on-going task.

Composite materials have been proven successful in many applications of the aerospace and electronics industries, and are now being taken seriously by the civil engineering community. Due to the flexibility of organic materials synthesis, and the different processing techniques, specific properties may be attained for a wide spectrum of civil engineering applications. We can no longer ignore the fact that they can be applied to our projects. Some applications that have been researched and tested include polymer concrete bridge overlays, fiber-epoxy column jackets, epoxy-bonded external steel plate reinforcement, and uses of fiber-reinforced-plastic rebar. There is much to learn about the different types of composite materials and their behaviors, which today's practicing engineers were not required to learn in traditional university civil engineering courses.

In Civil Engineering Technology, professors who have worked in industry recognize the importance to emphasize the different roles and associate them with the topics discussed in our courses. We use methods to better prepare our students so that they can help close the communication gap that is existing in our industry today. We also give materials a more in-depth visit within the exisiting curriculum courses. Whether the student is placed out on a job site or in a design firm, in various labs observing and gathering empirical data, or in a classroom learning applied design techniques, they are becoming knowledgeable of civil engineering roles, methods, and products (materials) so they will be prepared and skilled toward industry needs.

Let us prepare our students to be knowledgeable about our roles, methods, and products (materials) so they can be good communicators when they graduate.