The Engineer is a key member of the construction team and has a significant influence on product specification. In this blog we take a look at the many roles of the Engineer in construction and the influence they have on construction product specification.

The Construction Project Team – the role of the engineer

There are a variety of engineering roles; Civil, Structural, Mechanical, Electrical. These then break down into further specialisms such as Building Services and Public Health.

As construction becomes more complex Architects are relying more and more on Engineers. In the initial stages of a construction project the architect develops the buildings’ design taking advice from specialists. These specialists are often Engineers, who have responsibility for areas such as fire, acoustics and sustainability.

In many cases Engineers will be involved at the concept stage of a building’s design. At this early stage they probably will not specify. However when thinking through that concept they inevitably have products in mind.

The Structural Engineer is a key member of the Construction Project Team. Structural Engineers design the skeleton or structure of the building, enabling Architects to focus their talents on creating a design that satisfies their Client’s demands. Many Structural Engineers work in dedicated practices but they will also be based in the larger multidisciplinary practices to provide a comprehensive range of services.

As the project progresses the Engineer becomes involved with the detailed performance of components.  This is generally in a support role to the Architect, but is still very influential. For example Engineers want to ensure their designs satisfy given criteria; that they are safe, serviceable and perform well. Therefore they will want to understand how your construction product meets their performance requirements. Engineers will monitor the progress of a project and when work has begun, they inspect the work and advise contractors. They are also accountable should the design not work.

The Engineer – a brief history

Civil engineering is the oldest engineering discipline. It was originally defined to distinguish non-military engineering from military engineering. The role of the Structural Engineer became more defined in the 1800’s as new materials, such as cement, reinforced concrete and steel became commonly used in construction. This combined with the industrial revolution and a greater requirement for larger structures, leading to the need for greater understanding of the design of structures. New engineering disciplines developed with the advent of each technology; electricity, heating systems etc.

  • Prior to the 18th Century most Engineers were military men
  • 1729 “La Science des Ingénieurs” published. Written by French Engineer Belidor it was the first published study of the science of structure
  • 1760’s Canal building and then railways marked growth in the Engineer’s role
  • 1771 Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers formed by John Smeaton the first self-proclaimed civil engineer
  • 1790’s Cast iron begins to be used
  • 1794 Portland cement patented
  • 1818 Institution of Civil Engineers founded
  • 1830’s The railway age commences requiring a broad range of engineering skills
  • 1820 Thomas Telford becomes president of the Institute of Civil Engineers
  • 1828 Royal Charter granted to the Institute of Civil Engineers
  • 1856 Development of structural steel
  • 1860’s Major sewer building programme commences
  • 1887 British Fire Prevention Committee formed by Edwin Sachs
  • 1897 Institution of Heating and Ventilating Engineers founded
  • 1901 Engineering Standards Committee formed
  • 1903 British Standard for structural steel published
  • 1908 Concrete Institute founded by esteemed Architect Edwin Sachs
  • 1909 Illuminating Engineering Society founded
  • 1912 The Institute was widened to embrace all areas of Structural Engineering
  • 1922 The Concrete Institute renamed to become the Institution of Structural Engineers
  • 1934 The Institute for Structural Engineers is granted Royal Charter
  • 1968 First Structural Awards
  • 1976 New definition of Structural Engineering published
  • 1976 The Institute of Building Services Engineers received its Royal Charter
  • 2007 Technician grade of membership introduced by the Institution
  • 2013 CIBSE has numerous specialist groups including Lighting, Public Health, Facades, Ventilation and Low Carbon.

Communicating with Engineers

In general, the engineer will write a performance specification. But where there are challenging problems they may well nominate a product, and if this does happen, it is much more likely to stay firm.

For the manufacturer it is important to engage with the engineer. They are an important member of the Construction Project Team, providing guidance to the architect and working with the contractor as the project progresses.

Engineers are a practical bunch, requiring answers to technical challenges. So remember to include the practical technical guidance on your website, in your CPD material and via your helpline. Our recent Construction Media Index research shows they still refer to the leading product directories to source information. Yet the most popular sources of product information and ideas are manufacturer websites and online search engines. Next popular is phoning the manufacturer. As with Architects, Engineers are particularly interested in CPD seminars, keeping themselves accredited and current.

In conclusion, what Engineers want is good quality technical advice. They will be happy to deal with a manufacturer or supplier who can provide comprehensive information on demand. Do this and you will make it easy for the engineer to recommend your product.

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