Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Great lives

It’s the week after National Women in Engineering Day (#NWED2016) and the results of our exclusive poll on the most inspiring women engineers you voted for are being counted. This week, CIBSE Press Officer Matt Snowden takes a look at some information about some of the most popular entries nominees.

We’ve had a phenomenal response to our poll, and we’re thrilled that so many people have been inspired by women past and present who have blazed trails in the engineering industry. What has been particularly interesting to see is the sheer variety of engineers suggested, with over 20 separate individuals receiving votes, showing that women engineers occupy a greater place in the public consciousness than we often realise.

We’ve had a look at your responses, and here are some of the top choices (in no particular order). Watch this space, because soon we'll be announcing the engineers past and present in full who have inspired you most. We're also dedicating our second podcast to women in engineering, and the issues affecting their careers!

Dame Caroline Haslett
Having transferred from secretarial work at the Cochran Boiler Company to works during the First World War, she trained as an engineer on-the-job having been moved to their Scottish Office thanks to her skill as a manager. From there, she designed transatlantic shipping boilers and became an expert electrical engineer, wiring up her own flat in London.

A maid operates an early electric vacuum cleaner
She began advising the Government on the education of women, and was invited to join as organising secretary to the new Women in Engineering Society. Thanks to her work, the Society soon spread its ideas around the world to the USA and Russia, and Dame Caroline continued her work with women and with electricity – meeting famous figures including Einstein and Henry Ford to espouse her views.

As an engineer, she promoted the disciple as a means to make the lives of women in the home easier by spreading electricity far and wide to power lights and labour saving devices. She also strongly believed in electricity as a means to promote safety, particularly with regards to lighting in poorly lit factories.

Ada Lovelace
Often regarded as the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace ‘The enchantress of number’ is most famous for her work with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine, but her contribution to science extended beyond her work on the first mechanical computer.

As a lifelong devotee of science and the scientific method, Ada was ahead of her time in analysing the effect that computers could have on our lives in the future, when her colleagues focused only on the technical abilities of the machine itself. A controversial figure in her time, this included running up thousands of pounds in gambling debts while trying to develop a mathematical model for betting.

A prototype Analytical Engine © Bruno Barral
As a woman she was ahead of her time, mixing and corresponding with some of the finest minds of her day, and is today rightly memorialised in countless buildings, awards, educational institutions and even one of the Crossrail tunnel boring machines under London. Her views on computing began our conversation on the place of technology in society one hundred and fifty years before the present day, when it is changing the way we think, work and communicate.

An economics graduate from Hull, Amy Johnson seemed like an unlikely aviation pioneer, but she had the skill and determination to turn a hobby into a career against the odds in a male dominated industry.

Taking her first flight at the age of 23, she gained an “immense belief in the future of flying”, and began taking lessons at her own expense. Leaving a promising career in a London solicitor’s office behind, she took a job as an aircraft mechanic after gaining her pilot’s license and passed her exam to become the UK’s first woman ground engineer.

Amy with her plane 'Jason' in India on her flight to Australia
© Dabbler
Unable to make a living as a commercial pilot, Amy’s determination to fly saw her complete ever more daring feats of aviation – becoming the first woman to fly to Australia, breaking the record UK to Cape Town time held by her husband and flying from Britain to America in one hop, flying a custom designed plane with massive fuel tanks.

Turning her attention towards the war effort, her passion claimed her life in 1941 when she was accidentally shot down by friendly fire while undertaking a mission for the Air Transport Auxiliary. Amy used her skill as an engineer to achieve the unthinkable throughout her life, and displayed great dedication to her love of flying.

Emily Warren Roebling
In one of the greatest stories in engineering history, Emily Roebling took on one of the greatest engineering challenges of the 19th century and oversaw the construction of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge based on her self-taught education in engineering.

Building the longest suspension bridge in the world over a busy river with banks frequently covered in a layer of frozen mud proved backbreaking work, which claimed the health of Emily’s father-in-law, the original chief engineer of the project. Her husband also succumbed to illness while working in the cassions under the massive towers, which were pumped with compressed air to stop the mud flowing in.

The Brooklyn Bridge under construction between 1872 and 1887
Facing financial problems and the collapse of the project, Emily began helping her paralyzed husband in running the construction. At first as a messenger and then as an advisor, Emily started studying topics in civil engineering - maths, strength of materials, stress analysis, and cable construction. From a woman who had never studied engineering in her life, she became the project’s unofficial chief engineer, and ended up heading construction on the first steel cable suspension bridge for 11 years  – a ‘wonder of the industrial world’.

Such was the public gratitude for her work that she was named in its opening ceremony, and became the first person to cross it when it opened in 1883.

Friday, 17 June 2016

And now for something completely different...

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers is launching its very first podcast, titled #Build2Perform and focused on discussing the latest events and ideas around building performance in the built environment. To introduce the first in a monthly series this week’s blog is by Matt Snowden, CIBSE Press and PR Executive, and co-host of the new show.

We at CIBSE are always looking for ways to bring you new and exciting content on building performance, and this week we’re proud to announce the first edition of our new #Build2Perform Podcast. My colleague Sara Kassam, Head of Sustainability Development at CIBSE, and I will be bringing you a new episode every month, with discussion on the latest news and views in building performance.

Alongside the podcast, we will also be publishing and accompanying blog (this month it's below the podcast!) that will contain more information on the topics discussed as well as links and images to help you learn more. The Podcast will be published in the first week of every month on this very blog, so make sure to keep an eye out for future editions. You’ll also be able to find it via Twitter by following the @CIBSE account, and by searching #Build2Perform.

Speaking of which, we’re always happy to hear your thoughts on anything you hear – from the podcast itself to the issues discussed. If you’d like to get involved in the discussion, or just think your friends deserve a dose of building performance chat in their lives, tweets and re-tweets using the hashtag #Build2Perform are most welcome!

NEW: You can now listen to and download the podcast directly from the iTunes library. Just open up iTunes and search #Build2Perform

Green Sky Thinking
In this first podcast we talked mostly about Green Sky Thinking Week, an event that ran from 25-29 April and was organised by Open City, a London-based architecture education organisation. Listed below are some of the concepts discussed, and where you can go to find out more:

Friday, 10 June 2016

The digital engineer

Bored with BIM? For all the potential that the technology holds, it's something that industry professionals are finding hard to get excited about. CIBSE BIM Consultant Carl Collins writes for us this week about how we can fall back in love with data.

Be honest: How many people do you know that are actually excited about BIM these days? It is trumpeted every day in trade media as the solution to just about everything in its many forms, and the possibilities are undeniably exciting. So why is it that, on your average project, the BIM aspect is about as inspiring as doing your tax return? It has an image of rules and regulations, compliance and guidelines. An annoying box to be ticked.

Somewhere along the line BIM got institutionalised – it ditched the jeans and t-shirt and put on a grey suit. It stopped being inspiring and became just another tool in the box for meeting project requirements, and staying the right side of the law. But it wasn’t always this way.

It might be a relatively new phrase, but we’ve been digital engineers for a long time. When I started in mechanical engineering, I was a draughtsman – the big desks and long rulers that are almost museum pieces today were commonplace, and computers were few and far between. It was the sort of thing you invited visitors to your office to come and look at, like a new baby or a car.

Ok, maybe not QUITE that long...
Back then, we were using simple CAD applications on computers that were little more than virtual drawing boards – these were the ancestors of the modern 3D BIM models we know today, but far more important was what else we were doing. For the first time we were using computers to interpret and store information for us, to help eliminate errors and to automate certain processes. That’s when BIM truly started, and when the digital engineer was born.

And that’s the really exciting part of BIM that I want us to re-capture – the massive iceberg under the surface that represents the most valuable part of BIM: The way we capture, organise and deploy data. It’s not just an expensive add-on to a project, it’s more like a way of working that permeates everything we do. Part of what I’ll be doing at CIBSE is training people to think differently about BIM in order to use it better by using it more creatively.

The best thing about BIM is its freedom, rather than its constraints. At the end of the day it’s just data, and it’s how that data is organised that determines what it does – so it’s really up to you to use your imagination, and apply the technology in novel ways to solve a problem. If that sounds simple, it’s because it is. Fundamentally, it’s no different to what engineers have always done: solving problems by doing creative things with the tools available. So we’re all digital engineers, but we need to embrace this role to make the most of its potential.

Engineers have always solved problems with innovation, like Atelier Ten's
2014 Building Performance Award winning 'Gardens by the Bay' 
But why is this relevant now? We’ve been using BIM for years, and using computers in this way for decades – but the more recent rise of ‘smart’ technology which embeds sensors in just about everything is revolutionising the types and quality of data that we can collect. At the recent IFS Digital Britain event, the Chairman of the HM Gov Construction BIM Task Group Mark Bew gave the NHS as an example: If we can make people healthier by making the buildings they use better, we can save the NHS billions every year just in money they’ve not had to spend. Similarly, the cheapest way of saving energy is not to generate more clean power, but to ensure that this electricity is never needed in the first place through more efficient buildings.

The future of IT, circa 1992
This sort of whole-life thinking will be the bread and butter of BIM level 3, and will enable a future full of data-enabled collaborative working on projects that will maximise the use of the supply chain’s capability to deliver value to clients. It will allow us to create better performance-based project briefs with the means to prove compliance, and it will allow an unprecedented level of real-time control over a building’s assets.

Building services engineers are pretty unique as a profession because they can claim ownership of one of the biggest shares of data afforded by new smart technology – that produced by buildings and everything in them. It’s comparable in scope to that first wave of computers that dropped into engineers’ offices and changed our jobs forever. The opportunity is there, but it requires us to think more creatively about BIM and what it means if we are to grasp it.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Finding inspiration

As part of National Women in Engineering Day 2016, organised by the Women's Engineering Society, CIBSE has organised a brand new survey to determine who you think is the most inspiring women engineer in history, and who inspires you today. Matt Snowden, CIBSE PR and Communications Executive, explains more.


CIBSE is an institution for everyone who is passionate about building services engineering and the good it does in society, and we’re firmly of the opinion that the more people we can encourage into our exciting, ground-breaking, life-saving industry, the better. A big part of what we do is to spread the public benefit of building services engineering and to do that to the best of our ability without engaging more than half the population is an unachievable task.

Women engineers are still a minority in the engineering industry
That’s why we’re so excited by the work of a fellow engineering organisation – the Women’s Engineering Society – and their big event: National Women in Engineering Day. They describe it as an “International awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry”, and it’s certainly making a splash. With over 500 events across the country last year, as well as the involvement of Prime Minister David Cameron and the Prince of Wales, trending on Twitter worldwide and discussed on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme, it’s doing a great deal to raise women in engineering in the public consciousness.

It’s not just up to professional organisations to make a difference, though. To truly change the experience for women in engineering, it requires the participation of everyone involved in the industry. In order to help raise awareness and highlight the fantastic work of women engineers now and throughout history, we’re asking you to nominate your greatest inspirations of today and yesteryear.

Female engineers have been behind some of the most awe-inspiring achievements in human history, but often their contributions are overlooked. There are also thousands of brilliant, dedicated women working in engineering right at this moment – at the top of their game, blazing trails and showing young women starting out just what is possible with a career in engineering.

Between now and National Women in Engineering Day, we’re looking for your views on the most inspiring women engineers in history and now, via our online poll. Click the link below to access it, fill it in, and we’ll announce the results on National Women in Engineering Day on 23 June..