Northlands rapidly increasing growth in population over the last few years has put huge pressure on the building industry. Many of the building companies and businesses simply cannot find enough staff in order to meet the demand from the ever increasing client base the region is seeing. Due to this, the demand for civil engineers in Northland is very high thus there are a large number of small privately owned companies set up in the area.
Richardson Stevens Consultants Ltd. is a privately owned company which is run by three directors. They specialise in structural engineering and their main cliental are a number of home building franchises. They employ structural engineers who have studied civil engineering at university and also draftsmen.
Working as an engineer for such a company gives the employee a whole understanding of how the company is run and managed, how problems are dealt with and the rewards of finishing major assignments on time and to a professional standard.
2. Company Structure / Products and Services
Richardson Stevens Consultants Ltd. (RSC) was founded in 1997, originally they had one director and employed three structural engineers and a draftsman. It now employs nine engineers, three draftsmen, two secretaries and is run by three directors. The company is based in Whangarei and their work comes from throughout the Northland region.
2.1 Products and Services The majority of the work that RSC perform is structural engineering, however they also do a small amount of geotechnical engineering. As there is no specialist geotech engineer in the office, they have to hand on a lot of their work to offices such as Tonkin Taylor who do have geotechnical engineers.
The company does a lot of domestic work for home building franchises such as GJ Gardener homes and Golden homes. Typically this would involve a site investigation first to determine the ground conditions and then make calculations based on these conditions as to what foundations are required. The housing companies all have plans pre-drawn and they sell these to the client.
However the clients always want to change something around a bit, so before the housing company can go ahead and build, they come to RSC who do structural calculations in order to determine if the change is ok. RSC also do a lot of work with subdivisions. These involve the civil engineers in the office rather than the structural engineers. Before building consent can be granted to a sub-divider, RSC has to design the roading, sewer, storm-water and the surface drainage. These are all designed then drawn up by the draftsmen and sent in to the Whangarei District Council along with the building consent application.
Four years ago Richardson Stevens tendered for a ten year coastal maintenance contract in Northland. This is a large task which involves inspecting a huge number of coastal structures such as wharves, seawalls and boardwalks. These structures are all visually inspected once a year and any repairs or maintenance which needs doing is detailed and the Whangarei District Council is notified.
2.2 Technical Processes From start to finish on any project that RSC works on, there are a large number of steps incorporating technical processes.
The very first step is consultation with the client. Here RSC learns what the job is and what the time frame is that they have to work with. A site visit and investigation is usually the next step. The work which is carried out on the site investigation is completely dependent upon what role RSC plays in the completion of the project.
For example, if it is structural calculations for some type of building including foundations, then the first stage is an investigation of the ground conditions. This may entail sub-soil testing, slope, and flooding conditions. The topography of the area is also looked at. This is done so that factors such as wind multipliers can be determined. Once all of these factors and conditions are known, calculations can be made in the office in compliance with the building codes such as NZS3604.
These calculations are done to determine all foundation requirements, member sizes, bracing, roof systems etc. Before it can go any further the calculations are passed on to one of the directors in the company who read over them and can then sign them off. The calculations and details are then handed over to the draftsmen who draw up components such as joints and connections. They are then faxed back to the client who hands them on to the contractor.
In some cases the engineer is required to go back onto the site once building has begun or been competed in order to make sure that everything is being constructed as per what has been specified. The work can then be signed off by both the engineer and the contractor.
2.3.1 Design Department For a large period of my employment with RSC, I was involved with the designing stage. This would involve structural calculations for things such as retaining walls, foundations, columns, beams, roof systems, walls and bracing. This was all done in accordance with today’s building codes and standards. There were a total eight engineers working in this department. All of them had graduated from university with structural engineering degrees.
All the jobs would come into the office and be handed over to one of the directors who would be in charge of it. They would read over it and then hand it on to one of the engineers and give them a quick briefing about the project. The only equipment used in this department are a structural computer programmes.
2.3.2 Site Work Department
The remainder of my work with RSC was site investigation work. Everyone in the office would do a bit of site work at some stage but the majority of it was done by four civil engineers who had studied a diploma of civil engineering at a polytechnic institute. The main aspects of site work was ground testing.
The directors and the structural engineers would assign them work and brief them on it. The equipment used in this department were testing apparatuses such as shear vanes, scala penetrometers, smart levels, augers, levels, theodolites, spades and gum spears.
3. Staffing Issues and Management
3.1 Organisation Structure
Figure 1. Employment structure within the office
The company is run by three directors. They are in charge of all the work that comes in and goes out of the office. They control all management issues that arise during the day to day running of the company. As well as that, all three directors are design engineers themselves.
3.2 Personnel Relations Because the company is rather small with not all that many employees and only one office, there isn’t much room for bad relationships within the team. In order for the company to function successfully and complete projects on time and to a professional standard, everyone needs to get along and cooperate with one another. Also, being a small firm results in a much closer relationship between the staff and the three managers. Even though the directors have the total authority over the company, they are on the same level relationship and personality wise as the rest of the staff.
Once a week on a Friday morning, the office would have a meeting to ensure that everything was running smoothly and to sort out any problems. If anyone had too much work to cope with, then another staff member would be able to help them out. This was all sorted out at the meetings. It also gave the directors a chance to let everyone else know how the company was running, in terms of economics, competition and also what they visualised in the near future.
3.3 Human Aspects Because I did a bit of work in all departments of the office, this meant that I had a close relationship with all the staff. I worked quite closely with the directors, and they would always make sure that I had enough work to do and if I needed any questions answering they would be there to help.
3.4 Health and Safety Being a consultancy firm, health and safety was never a major aspect. During an induction for a new employee, a health and safety manual is gone through thoroughly. This outlines all the policies within the company regarding the issue. It describes the safety equipment which is to be used while on site, such as high viz vests, safety boots and hard hats.
All staff members in the office have completed a site safety course, which is a half day training course and once completed you are awarded a site safety passport’. It teaches you how to be more aware of hazards and what to do in potentially dangerous situations.
During the last meeting of every month, a health and safety report is filled in. It outlines anything which may have arisen throughout the month which may need attention regarding health and safety.
4. Work Performed
4.1 Structural Design Throughout my period of employment with RSC I worked on a number of different buildings and structures. Some of these included a museum expansion, retaining walls, analysis of a concrete roof and a farm shed design.
The museum which I was working on was having a second storey added and a large viewing platform around the perimeter of the top storey. One of the technical aspects of this design which made it a little different from others was that it had to be designed for an unusually large floor load of 4KPa. Compared with a usual live load of 2.5KPa. This resulted in some very large loads which had to be transferred through the structure and into the foundations. A problem was that it would be too difficult to replace the old foundations of the existing structure, so they had to be beefed up in order to cope with the additional loading condition.
Another problem was that the museum owners wanted to keep all visual members in the structure as timber. I later had to inform that this would not be possible and that the three main roof beams would have to be a steel I section because of their large span and the increased loads.
I worked on a number of retaining wall designs of all different sizes. I did both masonry and timber designed walls. These were relatively simple; it was just a matter of assessing the soil and loading conditions and then designing the wall so that it wouldn’t fail by sliding, overturning or bearing failure. In some cases the walls would have the exact dimensions and loading conditions as the examples detailed in the masonry or timber code and it was just a matter of copying them. Once a design was completed, I would hand it to one of my bosses who would sign it off and then I was able to fax it out to the contractor who could then build it.
A local art and crafts Trust approached RSC to analyse a concrete roofed building which was shaped into a scallop shell. The reason was because the building had recently been shut down due to leaks in the roof and a worry that the structure was not sound. My job was to assess the damage the water had done to the roof and to determine whether it needed complete waterproofing, also to analyse the load on roof in order to tell if the concrete was strong enough.
I used a drill to see if the concrete had incurred any damage from the water. One problem I had in analysing the concrete was that there were no architectural drawings detailing the reinforcing in the structure. So I had to use a dyna-drill to chip away at a section and determine the reinforcing. I then calculated the cracking moment capacity of the concrete and also the applied moment. From here I concluded that the roof was in no danger of cracking and was in a structurally sound condition. The building authorities were notified and it was then re-opened.
A farm shed which I designed was a little unusual in that it had height of 5m to the eaves. Thus a very high wind loading had to be accounted for in the design. Wide windows in the walls of the shed resulted in a mixture of both steel and timber wall studs while all roof purlins had to be constructed from steel PFC sections. A farm shed can usually be designed with a relatively high deflection, but because of the large windows I had to keep the deflection in the design to a minimum.