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How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

  • 1.  How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-11-2021 09:19 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 03-11-2021 09:18 AM
    Speaking with the more senior engineers in the industry I am beginning to understand how engineering was approached before computers and advanced programs.

    Not Using AutoCAD! No Excel! These are my nightmares!

    I wanted to start a discussion on what methods and practices have changed in Engineering over the years?

    Daniel Bressler EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Brooklyn NY

  • 2.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-14-2021 10:47 PM
    Edited by George Watson 03-14-2021 11:49 PM
    The basics never change.

    I began college in 1967 and learning to use a Slide rule was a required college course. I had used one in High School for the basics.  Beginning Physics was the flunk out course to see who was going to last and who was going to Vietnam.  I made a grade on the final exam just enough to avoid the F. I had one professor that graded on the curve that was 10 times the square root of the actual test score.  The person that made 100 got nothing, above 36 was a passing D. I switched Majors to Technology rather than flunk out of Engineering and going to Vietnam, graduated in 1971 to a horrible economy. Got an entry level job, got laid off and got a job in the engineering department of my present employer in 1973. I went to night school and got my engineering degree mostly getting straight A's because I had the time to study. We had 15 Engineers, Technologists, and technicians that shared a 4 function Friden/Singer calculator (RPN with 4 stacks), a square root key but no Trig functions. We had a Smoley's book of Trig functions to use. We designed and checked lattice transmission towers plus tapered tubular column substation frames.

    You did all hand calculations and wrote out all the numbers, borrowed the 30 pound 110v Friden on a rolling cart, then performed the summation of forces and summation of moments calculations then find the member size and the base plate on the ends. The 4 function Friden's cost was equal to a month salary of a beginning engineer of $1000.  The load path was traced from the wire attachment point all the way to the foundation. Lattice towers used a Graphical Analysis that was a method of joints to determine member forces. The compression allowable was a curve based on tests of single angle members. Tension allowables was also based on testing.

    We would only do a few load cases that were fairly easy to finish depending on the angle the wind made to the wires. Many assumptions were made. 

    Your work was subject to a peer review that checked every number and assumption. That calculation was spot checked by a supervisor and his boss looked over the package and if any mistake was found, everyone got chewed out and had to do it over again. A memo was hand written outlining the findings and a secretary would type it up, letter perfect.  If any typing errors were found, the memo was checked and revised and cycled back thru. It would take 2 weeks to produce a 2 page memo from one department to another.

    Eventually HP35 calculators came around with Trig Functions. HP45's came and eventually HP97's with a card reader and were programmable. HP12c's came out and we got a few. I finally got a HP41 which I still use. Lotus 123 replaced most calculators if the calculations were repetitive.

    As I said before, the basics are the same, you just do hundreds of permutations with the software we use today.  In my industry, PLS-CADD is the gold standard that brings all the parameters together to do the wire sag and tension, add the wind loads to the tower and do an analysis and member check.
    Old Singer/Friden calculator

    George Watson P.E., M.ASCE
    CenterPoint Energy
    Houston TX

  • 3.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 09:28 AM
    I graduated in March 1980 from the University of Washington and started work in April for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).  My first job was helping two other people doing construction inspection of a brand new bridge on Interstate 82 near Yakima, WA.  Electronic calculators had recently become available.  I had an HP-25 that had a battery that could hold a charge for about 2 hours.  At that time WSDOT performed the surveying for all road construction (today the contractor does the surveying).  So I got to help my two coworkers survey the bridge (It took three people to do a survey: One instrument person, and two chainmen (I suppose they are more correctly today called chain-people).  We had survey equipment that was completely manual.  After a few years electronic distance measuring (EDM) devices became available.  They could be used by two people. When I started WSDOT had a mainframe computer at the headquarters building at the state capitol (in Olympia, WA).  Each field office had one "dumb" terminal that was only a data entry location for calculations performed by the mainframe computer. While I used a slide rule in High School, calculators had taken over by the time I graduated from college.  Another early project was to design and make right of way plans for a planned new roadway.  The drawings were made using ink on mylar and a device called a Leroy Lettering Set, made by the Keuffel & Esser Co.  The Leroy helped make the letter very neat and readable.  And if you made a mistake, just a little water was needed to remove the ink.  I'm retired now.  My kids are all frown up and out on their own.  Make sure you have lots of hobbies when you retire. I do, such as hiking, house remodeling, piano playing, model railroading, train watching, traveling, etc.

    Eldon Jacobson P.E., M.ASCE
    Seattle WA

  • 4.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 09:30 AM
    I graduated from College with my engineering degree in 1979. The company I worked for had a main frame computer that filled half of the second floor in their office building. They had a suite of proprietary design programs for civil and structural design. Coordinate geometry (COGO) and STRESS were two of the more popular. The programs were written in FORTRAN and all the data entry was done with punch cards. I would fill out forms and have the forms checked before they were submitted to the key punch operator. The punched cards were then checked once more before they were submitted to the computer room to be run. I once spent three days debugging a deck of data cards before I discovered that a 0 (zero) had been punched as an O (capital o). If I was lucky, I would get my results in a few hours, often it was the next day. I remember when the company got it's first data terminals where the engineers could work directly with the data file, submit it to the computer to run, and see the results all on the terminal. It was like magic! I had the pleasure of working with an older engineer, in his 80's at the time, whose comment was, "Great, now we can make mistakes twice as fast!" I watched the company evolve from key punch, to terminals, to mainframe CAD, to PC's. By the mid 1980's I had access to Lotus 123, AutoCAD and soon after, Excel and Microsoft Word and MicroStation. And then came the internet. My iPhone now has more computing power than the first mainframe computer that I used. I eventually moved on to several other companies and then into private practice. The companies that I worked for had one thing in common, they were like the United Nations. I had the opportunity to work with engineers from all over the world. We worked well together. We learned. We shared. We helped each other to succeed. While the tools that we use have changed, the basics of engineering have not. Gravity works. Water flows downhill. "Build to fit, grade to drain." I still have my slide rule and every so often I dust it off and use it, just for fun.

    Robert Luebbers M.ASCE
    Cassio Engineering
    Downingtown PA

  • 5.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 12:45 PM
    Daniel, this is an interesting topic. Here is my take on some broader aspects of it.
    • As with other branches of science, our areas of work in the Engineering Profession (EP) are dynamic – continuously evolving and adapting to the advances in science and technology; changes in social attitude, administrative policies, environmental awareness, etc.
    • The changes occur not as a disruptive process, rather as a progressive smooth flow.
    • An EP also evolves simultaneously – ie from the young and fresh to the experienced. Therefore, the perspectives of adapting (e.g. the young is more eager to learn needing help – the experienced, by virtue of its very nature, is more keen on offering expertise; and taking lead or participate in steering and managing things) also change – which indicate that adapting does not mean same to all at a certain time and location. Agree that in both the cases, adapting to changes can be difficult and challenging sometime. For many reasons, some can adapt easily, others may stumble; yet for others adaptation can translate to losses and pain. This is because adapting to changes is relative – ie the change vs the constraints of an individual's ability.
    • But continuous learning has always been the norm in attempts to keep up or adapting to changes. These are extra work and effort, but there is no way around it. As an example, let us think of computing tools. The changes: slide rule scientific calculator programmable calculator desktop computer lap top computer . . . All these changes occurred in less than one generation. Things are even changing faster in the age of Internet.





    Google Scholar

    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

  • 6.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 01:27 PM
    I started college in 1977, with a slide rule and my recently-acquired TI SR11 (5 function) calculator.  One of my fellow students worked all summer to buy a HP45 ($400),which had all the scientific functions.  The rest of us drooled.  Most of my professors required the slide rule at first but by 1974 everyone had calculators.  The next year we all had programmable scientific calculators.  While this made calculating easier and more precise, the method of learning then solving engineering problems was maintained.  Block lettering on quadrille Calc pads.  You showed all your work.  This continued into my civil engineering design career into the 1980s though other tools became available in the mid-80s, especially spreadsheets like Lotus 123.  But, even with coordinate geometry tools and the like you still had to understand and document every mathematical basis for every design.  There is a benefit to that approach.  New engineers today are able to use amazing PC tools and out produce us geriatrics hands down.  But, there is still a need to understand the details of what the automated design is providing...not trust too much the output.  

    By the way, I have a collection of working models of several slide rules, including my original, and electronic calculators of my era.  The king was the HP 41cx.  Mine is not the only one still working, as a lot of aging engineers will just not give them up.  Nostalgia.

    Loy Warren P.E., M.ASCE
    National Practice Leader/Aviation
    Argyle TX

  • 7.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-16-2021 09:48 AM
    Correction...I started college 1973; graduated 1977

    Loy Warren P.E., M.ASCE
    National Practice Leader/Aviation
    Argyle TX

  • 8.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 02:21 PM
    I graduated in 1966 and slide rules were still used by some of us.  Survey crews used a Curta (sp?) a mechanical calculator. The best grade I ever received was a D- in circuit theory.  I would have appreciated a more practical electrical engineering required course for civil engineering students, like how generators worked, transmission lines, etc.  Never used any circuit theory.  But, that D- allowed me to graduate.   That said, I did spend the entire year of 1968 in Viet Nam

    Bob Douglass, P.E.
    Colonel USMCR (ret)

    Robert Douglass P.E., M.ASCE
    Cargill Salt
    Fremont CA

  • 9.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 02:22 PM

    I graduated from college in 1970 and was hired by a national A. & E. firm in St. Paul, MN.  The firm did all the engineering disciplines working with in house architects so nothing was farmed out.  The firm used a lot of reinforced concrete in their structures.  They were one of the first AE firms in the nation to use a computer.   They decided that the use of moment distribution by hand to do concrete design was taking too long with two many engineers involved.   In 1957 they bought a Bendix computer just to do structural engineering.  The problem was that the calculation programs you use today did not start to come around until about 1980.  So the firm took 2 engineers out of production just to write the problems they needed.  So I when I started with them in 1970 they had developed in house all the programs they needed for concrete and now had a IBM main frame computer so even though I was still using a slide rule for steel jobs most of the concrete work was done on that computer.  Once they got it working years before I started there they laid off one half of their structural engineers even though the work load was increasing.  We upgraded to HP calculators in late 1971 or early 1972 so the slide rule became an instrument I now show other interested people who do not know what a slide rule is.  The firm started doing some drawing on computers in 1980 even before Autocad started selling their product.  Autocad however was so slow that drafting by hand was still faster with all the firms I worked with until the 1990s anyway.  Having learned Autocad in the early 90s I also discovered that you will forget it if you don't use it on a regular basis.  By the 1990s of course we had many choices to choice from in computer software to do the calculations for us.  As with all professions it is just a matter of keeping up with the changes in the profession and new knowledge that comes along to be successful.  

    Marvin Ruppelt, SE

    Marvin Ruppelt P.E., M.ASCE
    Ace Engineering
    Payson AZ

  • 10.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 05:48 PM
    I've been working since 1979.  The biggest code and requirement changes I've seen (all these are positive improvements in requirements) :
    - Clean water requirements strengthened, including cleaning all water before it leaves construction sites
    - Greater emphasis on storm water flow effects on natural channels, more storm water detention and treatment is required.
    - Preservation of lower quality wetlands is required
    - Complete and complex investigation of archaeological and historical sites 
    - Dust control is required and enforced
    - Track out  elimination is required and enforced 
    - Structure shading impact is now evaluated 
    - Noise level limits coming from construction and permanent installations are in codes and enforced. 
    - Finite element design enables the most efficient designs, same with computational fluid dynamics. 

    Technology changes 
    - Major improvements with base mapping, drawing management, document management .  It takes about the same time to set up a plan sheet on CAD and ink, but changes and copying on CAD is at light speed. 
    - Much easier to find needed information - codes, standards, phone numbers, material catalogs, standard practices, just about everything 
    - Schedule and project management advancements through technology have enable us to develop detailed work plans.  Can track budgets and expenses on a daily basis, can determine earned value, can know the "cost at completion" at all times.  
    - Easier to write reports
    - Improved communication, can communicate with almost anyone in the world.  Multiple ways to communication.  

    The down sides of the changes:
    - Since more can be done with technology, more is expected and required.  This has increased overall cost of projects.
    - Too much email. We still need to respect the time of others.  We need to ask - is it important for this person to know this information now?  can it wait until the project update or the update report? 

    What changes are still needed:
    - More emphasis on resiliency.  Development of and funding of maintenance plans for all new installations/projects. 
    - More emphasis on low environmental footprint of projects. 

    Just some of my thoughts - 
    Susan Everett 

    Susan Everett P.E., M.ASCE
    Design Manager
    Seattle WA

  • 11.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 05:50 PM
      |   view attached

    Having served in the Army during the tail end of the Korean Conflict, I returned to College and graduated with a BS in Engineering in 1960.  At that time I was working for my father's Civil Engineering firm that specialized in property survey's, land subdivision, and site design.  In fact, I had worked for his firm since I was big enough to hang on to a the tail end of a 300' chain under a 30 lb. pull.  In the field, the tools of the trade were a 20" Berger transit with tripod, a telescoping leveling rod, and a bag containing wooden stakes, chains of 100, 200, and 300' lengths (both add and cut)), a spring tensioner for the chains, red, yellow, and blue crayons, a star drill, 3 lb. hammer, lead slugs, copper tags, PK nails, tins and assorted other stuff.  The crew usually consisted of a chief, who ran the transit and kept notes and gave orders, a head chainman, and a rodman (often times me).  Personal tools included a 16 oz. plumb bob, chain tongs,

    However, at the time I graduated, I had been promoted to an office position where I had my own drafting table.  Here, the tools of the trade included drafting instruments for inking linens, triangles, french curve, t-square, erasing shield, a hand-full of lead pencils from HB to 6H and maybe a drafting machine or an electric eraser if you were lucky.  India inked linen drawings were required for subdivision maps, records of survey and any other drawing that would be considered a permanent legal record.  Although any draftsman was expected to be able to use ink on linen, oftentimes a particular person in an organization would have outstanding skills in this endeavor and would become the go to person for inking assignments.  Making corrections or changes to inked drawings was especially challenging.  It took great care to get a clean erasure without rubbing a hole in the linen.

    When graphic solutions or different design ideas were to be explored, drafting tissue was the answer.  The tissue was overlaid on the base drawing and the unchanging information could be traced onto the tissue.  The new design or idea could then be developed on the tissue.  This could be repeated as many times as necessary with the final idea then being traced back onto the basic drawing.

    Calculations were accomplished by slide rule (I preferred the circular Picket and Eckle), a hand crank or electric Marchant rotary calculator, a book of logarithms and, if fortunate, a book of trigonometric logs (this saved the step of having to calculate the trig function before looking up the log). Areas were commonly measured by the use of a planimeter, as when calculating earth moving volumees.  Cross sections were drawn based on original and finished elevation contours, the areas of the cross sections were measured and volumes calculated by multiplying average end areas by the length between sections.  Pre printed forms were often used for this and other common computational tasks like closing surveys

    Eventually, I left my father's firm and went to work for the local municipal water department in order to broaden my experience sufficiently to gain my PE license.  Here, a mark of seniority was issuance of an electric erasing machine.  Later, possession of an HP35 became a badge of distinction.  As various hand calculators became more affordable, the chief requirement was that they had to be able to calculate square root.  I was instrumental in getting the department to subscribe to GE's time sharing computing service, and we all marveled at the teletype's ability to print at 10 characters per second.  I was convinced that time sharing computing would be all that the department would require, until I was introduced to Visi Calc on an Apple computer (my first experience with a spread sheet).  That led to the eventual termination of the time sharing contract as the department started acquiring PC's.  I retired as head of the department in 1993, at which time PC's, were common place but Auto Cad had not yet become prevalent.

    I recall an experience in college of having to solve an indeterminate structural problem using a Bendix computer that was about 2.5' wide, 3' deep and 6' tall.  Input was by punched tape.  I don't recall how many tapes I punched until I got one that was error free.  With that accomplished, the machine  finally gave me a solution.  My expectation was that computers would never catch on!  How times have changed.

    Willard Bangham P.E., M.ASCE
    Resource Conslt
    Palm Desert CA


    Times Change.docx   9 KB 1 version

  • 12.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 07:46 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 03-15-2021 07:45 PM
    Willard, you brought back memories. Before I started in 1973, colleagues told of hand drafting in the old building without air conditioning in downtown hot and humid Houston. The drafters worked on paper with a lead holder and had to wear sleeves over their arms to keep from sweating on the paper. 

    As we moved into the computer age, we also had a Control Data Corp Timeshare contract where we submitted punch cards to run STARDYNE structural analysis on Towers and Poles. I had to review the charges and we typically ran $1000 to $5000 per month in mid 1970 dollars. One month we went over $50,000 on some big FE problem doing short circuit force analysis on a Substation rigid bus. We had a line printer on another floor that printed on 132 character wide tractor feed green and white striped paper and we went through boxes of the stuff.

    Lately, management balks at buying a workstation class Laptop with a Xeon chip. My last desktop workstation was a HP Z800 with twin Xeon chips that cost over $11,000 not including monitors and that was 8 years ago.

    George Watson P.E., M.ASCE
    CenterPoint Energy
    Houston TX

  • 13.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-15-2021 07:42 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 03-15-2021 07:42 PM
    When I first designed a state highway, I was given about 35 field note books that had all the information needed to design a state highway, size the storm water piping, and calculate all quantities for bids. Every bit of that was done by me on a old mechanical calculator and slide rule. The note books only had elevation shoots and turns. Topo was offset from centerline of anything that could be put on paper. (even a herd of cows one time). We were engineers, we had a full understanding of what was needed on a project. We had rock bores on offsets out to 200 feet. Drew the cross sections every 100 feet, plotted the rock, calculated the amount of rock and soil for cuts and fill, using the expansion factors or shrinkage, depending on the strata. When we sent a project out, all 7 miles had a balance for cut with expansion and fills with shrinkage. All plan sheets had the stopping site distance shown and for curves and hills. Drawings were done with ink on paper. You could only erase a spot once. Oh, I past my EIT, and then started going to night school for a few years. PE in several states and we didn't take a multiple choice test to become a professional engineer. We answer 4 complex design problems in the morning and four in the afternoon. We did get to have a pocket calculator, batter powered. 

    I have been an expert witness numerous times and loved it when the expert on the other side was  a PHD. The problems were usually plans that wouldn't build a projects. My clients never lost. Now over fifty years later, working and having fun on government construction projects, and having lots of young engineers as friends. Most are really sharp young people

    Is there a difference, yep. The advantage guys like me have today, is when a computer program throws out a bad answer, we know what it should be and catch it before the problem gets out the door. We use the computer to check out quick judgement not to give us the answer. When I became a contractor years later, I could look at a set of plans and know if there was a bust. It's a shame the owner pays for the change orders. 
    Another 20 years and the white hairs like me will be gone, and so will be a lot of fun times driving by a project that I could say "I designed and built that"  Robert A Hinton, P.E.

    Robert Hinton, P.E- Life Member ASCE

  • 14.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-17-2021 06:58 PM

    Thanks for the question Daniel.

    I note you are connected with Brooklyn, NY*.

    To validate being a remnant of the "More senior engineer" squad, I was a field asst. to the project office of Slattery Construction [~~1964~~]  who had the contract to construct the viaduct on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Bridge. The parabolic-shaped columns supporting the roadway above varied from 110 ft. down to 43 ft.

    What has changed of significance is the expected relationship between upper management and the workforce. While that used to be the "Workforce served the upper management" to now the "System of management is there to support the workforce."

    Stay Healthy!



    *This makes you a "Long Islander!"


    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 15.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-22-2021 11:13 PM
    I graduated in 1974 from the University of Washington and went to work for Boeing. The only "computers" around were massive main-frames that took up the equivalent of two floors of an office building. My group (airport engineering) managed to acquire a table-top, machine language, programmable Wang calculator with four card-readers. We somehow made it work. When I took my P.E. exam, no calculators were allowed - only slide rules. One of my favorite stories is that when I was recruited into the airport group (I was originally hired into a structural engineering group) was that to get into the airport group a candidate was supposed to be able to speak / read a foreign language. I had to tell the hiring manager that I had no foreign language skills - so I was turned away. About a month later I got a call from the manager. I told him I still didn't speak any foreign languages. He then asked if I was fluent in Fortran (!) - that's the skill that got me the job (which I made a career out of).

    Edward Gervais P.E., F.ASCE
    Technical Fellow
    Seattle WA

  • 16.  RE: How Has Engineering Changed Over the Years

    Posted 03-23-2021 12:58 PM
    I graduated in 1986 but we still did not have an elaborate Autocad system and lotus 123 was still the common spreadsheet we used, along with fortran and supersap. Slow slow slow.
    I purchased a farm outside of Alamo, Ga that had been owned by Ed Roberts (father of the personal computer). Bill Gates and Paul Allen worked for him and developed Microsoft while working for him up North. When they left to start Microsoft, he sold his business and moved to the family farm in Ga to start a farming career, he also started Georgia Computers in a barn on the property. This is out in the middle of the boondocks. I really mean nooo-where. When I visited the property I noticed a large phone pedestal outside the house that had a 300 pair phone cable in it. In the house was phone jacks all over the house, and the barn had a bench all the way around with phone jacks about 10' apart. He built computers in the barn until he decided to become a family doctor in the next town. He was know as the 6 million dollar farmer. Computer systems and farming does not mix. You can be the smartest person in the world but it does not equate to farming. Stay in your lane.

    Keith Dean A.M.ASCE
    Stevens and Layton Inc
    Fort Myers FL