We Are Proud Supporters of the “Innovation Revolution”


We Are Proud Supporters of the “Innovation Revolution”

Are we going to be part of the innovation revolution occurring in the marketplace, or stuck in the mud of tradition?

As I mentioned in our May issue, I believe our industry is at a pivotal moment in its history with regard to the value of engineering and innovation. Everywhere I turn, the default position in the construction industry appears to be “Luddite” in orientation – do not change, do not innovate; doing something new and different is bad, it cannot possibly be safe, it is too risky and so forth.

This attitude begs the question, how in the world did we land a man on the moon if we had to eliminate all risk before designing and constructing the highly innovative rocket propulsion system and equipment necessary to accomplish the task? Someone had to say, “I think this is possible and a pretty darn cool concept,” and then go to work, leaving no stone unturned, to make it happen. Obviously, they had to do so using as much forethought, test data, knowledge, and facts available at the time, combined with engineering judgment, educated guesses and, ultimately, a great deal of risk taking. As everyone knows, the space program has yielded a significant return on that investment with life-changing product innovation and additional inventions that went well beyond those needed to get to the moon.

Innovation in the construction industry should be far more robust than in the space program, one would think, given that the risk of failure is so much less consequential (i.e., there are very few opportunities in the construction process that would create as dramatic a failure as an entire world’s population watching the Space Shuttle Challenger tragically explode upon take off, which I happened to watch in flight over Orlando on that fateful day).

Yet, in the small portion of the world I am surrounded by, the operative word is that you need someone’s blessing to innovate. Whose blessing did Leonardo da Vinci get? Whose blessing did Albert Einstein ask for? Did they need the government, university, association, some known expert or quasi-governmental group or accreditation agency to undertake innovative work? Why would they? Why should they? I suspect that da Vinci and Einstein believed they were professionals acting in a professional manner. They also understood they could be wrong. If they were wrong, they would acknowledge it, correct the error and move on with greater knowledge than before. Clearly, they also worked hard each day to try something new and make some measure of a positive difference while they lived.

Wikipedia provides the following perspective on engineering:

An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics, and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Engineers design materials, structures, and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety, and cost. The word engineer is derived from the Latin roots ingeniare (“to contrive, devise”) and ingenium (“cleverness”).

Engineers are grounded in applied sciences, and their work in research and development is distinct from the basic research focus of scientists.[2] The work of engineers forms the link between scientific discoveries and their subsequent applications to human needs and quality of life.[1]”

Here’s my point: ingenuity is at the core of the structural building component industry. In 1950, who would have thought that a metal connector plate pressed into wood would become the preeminent way to construct the roof over our heads, to say nothing of the floors we walk on and resistance of lateral loads in walls in the near future? Who would have thought that, more than 60 years later, there is no replacement/substitute for the truss plate that is more ingenious, economic, efficient and valuable?

We all have to remember that the entrepreneurs who started this industry faced a big challenge getting trusses accepted in the market. They were called every bad name in the book, and their products were considered cheap and flimsy. Many thought trusses looked like they wouldn’t work, and many more said things about truss designs that aren’t suitable for printing. Yet, there were a few who did not believe the opinions of others and persevered. They knew they would be maligned every step of the way, but that is the consequence of being an innovator. It is the path less traveled because there are many jobs that are so much easier and less risky.

I believe, fundamentally, that engineering is not very complicated. Everyone already employs engineering fundamentals if they use common sense in thinking through how a building reacts to loads. Here are the key engineering concepts from my vantage point:

  1. Loads are applied, and if one accurately knows how the load is flowing, it is not complicated to figure out a way to resist those loads safely.
  2. During testing, the SBC Research Institute (SBCRI) applies real loads to real buildings and measures the applied loads, the flow of load through the element being assessed, and the reaction load.
  3. SBCRI calibrates the engineering mechanics math to the load path findings. This is usually done through finite element engineering techniques that are taught in every university in the country.
  4. In the end, the findings are converted into design values using generally accepted engineering and appropriate factors of safety as published in applicable literature such as NDS, SDPWS, WFCM, ANSI/TPI 1 or the model building codes.

I am a strong believer in technical fairness and understanding equivalency to code performance (see Section 104 of the IBC/IRC and Section 1.3.2 of ANSI/TPI 1 as examples, although the concept is contained in virtually any set of building codes).

The challenge often is not with being technically correct;
it is overcoming the standard human response to fight change due primarily to it being unfamiliar, and as such, in some way bad. No innovation revolution ever started with the words no or bad.

So the question we all ought to ask ourselves every day is, “Are we going to be part of the innovation revolution occurring in the marketplace, or stuck in the mud of tradition?" If it is the former, while you are seeking to improve the human condition, expect to be hassled by the resistors who seek to crush your spirit. Know that we at team SBCA/SBCRI will not succumb to their efforts.