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5 questions a fresh structural engineer ask

If you are a civil engineer who wants to get into structural engineering, you are not alone. It is a responsible and lucrative career field for any young civil engineer. Many civil engineers have confusion on structural aspects when they try to start a business in structural engineering on their own.

This blog attends to 5 generic structural engineering related questions that I often hear from young civil engineers who decides to start up their own structural consultancy or have a career in structural engineering.



Is MTech in Structural Engineering mandatory for practicing as a structural consultant?

As per the National Building Code of India the qualification for practicing structural engineering in India is defined as below.

The minimum qualifications for a structural engineer shall be graduate in civil engineering of recognized Indian or foreign university, or Corporate Member of Civil Engineering Division of Institution of Engineers (India), and with minimum 3 years’ experience in structural engineering practice with designing and field work.

The NBC further relaxes the number of years of structural work experience to 2 years in the case of postgraduates in structural engineering and 1 year in the case of engineers holding a PhD in structural engineering.

Having said this, it is important to note that, it is the experience in practicing structures that matters most. Also, your technical subject understanding plays an important role in your success as a structural consultant. Experience working with a qualified structural engineer after your BE in civil engineering or MTech in structures, gives you structural skill set that is needed for execution of significant structural projects safely and economically meeting all the IS code stipulations.

Therefore, if you aspire to be a structural consultant, pursue it by gaining expertise by working with a senior consultant in the industry.


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Is it mandatory to register in each city as a structural engineer for practicing structures.

The rule of registration varies from state to state and from bylaw to bylaw. All states in India have a separate building rule and building bylaw to suit the state. Each city in the state also will have its own local needs and hence most cities in India do have a separate bylaw. All these bylaws are in lines with NBC. However, most city bylaws mandates that a qualified structural engineer should register in each city for his right to practice in that city.

However, there are some rulings that allows engineers to practice in the entire state of Kerala if you have a membership in Institution of Engineers (India). Similar ruling can be sought from legal bodies through associations in all states. It is high time that a license for practicing in the entire country is made available for consultants. One can also associate with local consultants in other cities and meet the current need of separate registrations.


Is it possible to shift to structural engineering if I have experience in site engineering?

Site engineering is a good profession for everyone who likes it and who has skills in managing the site requirements. However, in many cases, the site engineering roles turns out to be just supervisory. I have seen many engineers wanting to shift to structures. I also have enabled many to do this shift and have heard, seen and solved their problems.

It is possible to shift to structural engineering if you have a basic engineering degree in civil engineering. However, one need to develop the essential structural basics and skills and then practice structural projects and gain experience to transform to a structural consultant. The project site experience also helps a lot as structures is not just about analysis and design. It is also about structural detailing and understanding the site requirement and the buildability issues.


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Should we design small buildings for seismic forces & wind?

Many engineers have this question since most clients and architects wish to reduce the construction cost by adopting gravity only design. Engineers are forced to ignore seismic resistance and adopt compromised structural design. However, this is not a safe and correct design practice.

Whole of India is seismically active and seismicity is only increasing. Therefore, all buildings shall be designed as an earthquake resistant building as per earthquake resistant code of practice IS 1893 and ductile detailing code IS 13920 for avoiding structural failures and disproportionate collapses. Small buildings will also have to be designed for the appropriate forces as mentioned in IS 1893. The smallness of the building is accounted by the code and the seismic demand of such buildings will be less and appropriately considered by the codes of practice. Therefore, it is not correct to say that buildings will be uneconomic. Economy always comes only after meeting the code provisions and structural requirements.

Same is the case with wind. Wind loads are more probable than seismic activity and hence it cannot be avoided either. One need to calculate the loads as per IS 875 Part 3 and analyze and design the structure.


Is it necessary to be in site first before getting into structural design?

While it is good to have site experience, it is not mandatory that you need to be in site for years to become a successful structural engineer. For appreciating the site requirement and the site challenges and construction ability, it is good to have strong understanding of how a site functions. Also being at site allows you to appreciate reading drawings and inter disciplinary co-ordination. You get to know other stake holders’ requirements like that of an architect or a MEP consultant. Your structural detailing and visualization ability also will be better if you spend time at project sites.

However, this knowledge can also be developed by visiting sites frequently while you are working as a structural engineer.

The issue of spending a full-time site job is that, many times, the site job can end up as a supervisory role. A site engineers’ job may not be limited to structural aspects, and you may end up doing routine works like inspecting and mobilizing workforce and materials. This is of course a skill and good for some one who likes it. What am saying is that it may not improve your structural related skills. You may be spending only a lesser time on structural aspects, and this can affect your progress if your aspiration is to be a full-time structural engineer.


Summary

Civil engineering is not an organized sector. There is no exact clarity on role and scope of a Civil engineering consultant. There is no unified definition of the responsibilities and even minimum fee structure is not defined.

One good thing is that the code of practice for technical compliance is available as per the guidelines in various IS codes. If it is implemented stringently by consultants and clients and authorities is a different question.

As some one aspiring to get into consulting, you should be adhering to all codes of practice. Improvise and economize the structure within the possibilities and be ethical for the well being of projects and civil and structural engineering profession.

There is a need to unify the rules, the role, and responsibilities. The need of the hour is micro associations at all levels of experience and cities who work together with a common minimum program for the wellbeing of the civil engineering profession.

If you have more similar questions, please feel free to comment in the comment sections below this blog.

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