Geotechnical Engineering Basics for Young Civil & Structural (C&S) Engineers

posted May 8, 2022, 5:55 PM by jeffery jim

Today, I spent some time with young civil and structural engineering graduates. The followings are some of my advises I gave and probably some of you can benefit from these.

2. Young C&S engineers are clueless about their career path, whether to specialized in structure design, civil engineering, geotechnical engineering, hydrology and et cetera. Most would just follow the flow and accept what is offered to them and make the best out of it. It seems like a norm like many other career where specialization will take place after one is comfortable and willing to further excel in certain field or discipline. In my opinion, the best way to move forward is to understand challenges of each field and/or discipline of engineering since this particular branch of engineering is relatively vast.

3. If you are a young C&S engineer and not so sure how to progress forward, I encourage younger engineers to start with geotechnical engineering before heading for structural engineering and the rest. It is known to most C&S engineering undergraduates that geotechnic is the toughest discipline in civil engineering. Nevertheless, it is the best field to start as a young engineer and easily optimized regardless of your working condition; in design office, supervision, laboratory and testing, management or so forth.

4. Geotechnical engineering is quite a niche area of civil engineering although it is widely use for all types of works. Everything will fall back into the understanding that one has about soil as foundation, capitalization of its bearing capacity, hydraulic nature and even to the state of soil affected by geology, pedology and reaction by bacillus. The information is limitless and one can treat extracted information from field testings and site investigation as big data. There is no specific way to understand and determine particular soil properties. Moreover, it is the way that derives records and reports are translated, and dissemination of information which relies on possible structures in affecting, mediating and moderating. It is quite similar to statistics where underlying cause cannot be directly translated unless steps were taken when reviewing available information, making inferential, correlations for the purpose to explore possible diagnostic approach which reveal possible prognosis or theory.

5. A young and inexperience engineer can start with geotechnical engineering based on their pace and their job scope. First, seek for your opportunity to be relevant or work with geotechnical engineering information. The journey began with standards and specifications. In this case, as I have frequently advice, one have to start with JKR standard specifications. There are numerous but always start with basics such as Standard Specifications for Building Works, Standard Specification for Road Works, Slope Design Guideline, Inspection and Test Plan and et cetera. These references are important sources of requirements that one must be familiarized before making reference to British Standard such as BS 1377 and BS EN 5930. In this instance, I would recommend young engineers to comprehend the requirements in BS 1377 Part 1, 2, 4 and Part 9. These are essential for basic testing for all kind of works related to conventional projects where other parts may be required for detailed soil testing.

6. BS EN 5930 comes on handy when a C&S engineer start to get involved in design process. Substantial number of principals and veteran professional engineers are not competent in planning for a proper site investigation and geological interpretation based on raw data. Most time, geologists recommendations are the sole reference point of reference although geologists state disclaimer in their own report. This has been a dangerous practice and in many cases, wrong interpretation could increase the project price variation. If a young engineer could understand this particular guideline and comprehend Eurocode 7 or BS 8004 and other relevant geotechical engineering guideline, it would be a great advantage to the design office.

7. BS EN 5930 tied up closely with Eurocode 8 for seismic design especially when the Peak Ground Acceleration is close to 0.08G and the need to introduce low to medium ductility structure design. Often, this was not tackled as per my past experience as an independent checking engineer for projects in Sabah. An upgrade from status quo via Eurocode 2 to ductile design based on Eurocode 8 will lead to a significant increase the project cost and may exceed 20% of the initial cost.

8. BS 1377 is still in place with newer revision for certain parts. This particular standard have complemented most of JKR standard specifications and hold certain prerequisites related to concrete design mix with a few exceptions such as the use of JKR Probe for site investigation.

9. Other manuscripts and guidelines by British Research Establishment (BRE) are great as source for detailed ground conditioning aside from Geospec by Hong Kong's Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD).

10. With these references as mentioned in earlier paragraphs, I hope young C&S engineers can propel forward and be advocates to the importance of geotechnical engineering in nation building. Without proper foundation and bearing, none of the infrastructure would stand stable, robust and durable.

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