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Structural Engineering Consulting

written by: John Moehring • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 6/27/2011

Utilizing a broad knowledge of civil and mechanical engineering along with one or more specialty skill sets, structural engineering consulting provides an invaluable resource for the design/build process.

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    The Role Of Structural Engineering Consulting

    While structural engineers generally have a broad knowledge base and skill set that can be applied in many areas of civil and mechanical engineering, at least one and typically several areas of specialty are also developed over the course of their career. By engaging in the business of structural engineering consulting the skills of a qualified engineer can provide valuable contributions to a wide variety of projects and firms. With an intimate knowledge of materials characteristics, mechanical response, building codes, limits of safe design, ethical responsibilities, and cost effective integration of manufacturing and construction, the structural engineering consultant becomes an indispensable link in the design/build process.

    One of the major reasons a project may require structural engineering consulting or review is to obtain design approval prior to manufacture or construction. The most innovative and imaginative project design is not very useful if it cannot be made to meet the reality of required structural response and satisfy any number of safety requirements. And these requirements must also be balanced against the need for cost effective use of materials, realistic manufacturing and construction methods, and adherence to production schedules.

    More often than not this requires modifications to the original intended design in order to safely withstand expected loads, vibrations, environmental stresses, and code compliance while incorporating realistic materials costs and availability.

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    Risk Management In Structural Engineering Consulting

    Fulfilling this vital engineering role requires not only specialized skill sets but also a fair amount of administrative acumen and knowledge of risk management. Insurance statistics show that the structural engineering consulting profession faces the highest incidence and severity of claims for injury, damage, and liability. It becomes important then for the consulting engineer to be familiar with contract administration and review, to maintain site visit and phone logs, generate accurate status reports, have effective written and verbal communication with clients, and engage in risk management programs and planning to help identify risks and mitigate them with policies and procedures as required. These practices not only help protect the consultant but also clients from unnecessary loss associated with unsubstantiated claims.

    In light of these responsibilities, structural engineering certification must also be obtained. These certification requirements vary depending on the country, jurisdiction, and areas of specialty. For example, in the U.S. a P.E. license may be required to practice structural engineering in a given state, while in the U.K. one must be a Chartered Engineer. Such certifications allow the engineer to “stamp" design or analysis documents, which confers legal responsibility for a project to the structural engineer and/or consulting firm.

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    Specialties Of Structural Engineering Consulting

    There are many specialty areas for structural engineering consulting. A small subset of these are:

    • State of the art analysis and testing using computer modeling
    • Earthquake resistant design and retrofit
    • Acoustical characteristics
    • Vibration, squeak, and rattle analysis
    • Stress and strain analysis
    • Building code compliance
    • Concept to Completion support and guidance
    • Expert witness testimony
    • Forensic services
    • Design and Build development teams
    • Novel materials applications
    • Steel structures
    • Hydrological infrastructure
    • Foundation loading
    • Geotechnical modeling and analysis
    • Structural drafting
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    About The Author:

    John Moehring is a practicing Engineering Technologist in civil, geological, biological, and electrical engineering fields. And one of these days he may actually get it right.