Engineering News (January 2018)

Government publishes report outlining £600bn infrastructure investment pipeline including plans to boost construction productivity

The government has produced a much needed new National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline report, outlining measures to help boost productivity and efficiency in the construction industry as well as investing in the new technologies in the sector. The amount of investment, that will be provided from both Public and Private sector investment totals £600 billion over the next 10 years, and is welcome news in light of the uncertainty in the sector with regards to Brexit.

The report states that the money will be used to invest in the skills, technologies and modern construction methods that will be able to meet future demands. Construction companies who are publicly welcoming the news include Mace who have calculated that there could be a potential annual productivity saving of up to £15 billion. The benefits of modern construction techniques are financial savings, improved environmental sustainability and huge reductions in time taken for construction. For instance, off-site fabrication can reduce waste by up to 90%, and speed up the process from design to end use times.

Some have warned that the government must ensure that the investment details and pledges in this report are not derailed by the final parts of the Brexit negotiations. The investments described in the report are in addition to the £170 million Construction Sector Deal, designed to boost productivity in the UK and the skill base of engineers, construction professionals and consultants.

AI helps to write Harry Potter with very strange results!

Harry Potter books, plays and the associated films, theme parks as well as vast quantities of merchandise have been a source of delight for decades or at least present in our Zeitgeist if you are not a ‘Potter-fan’. So where does Harry go from here? Botnik studios (a group of artists, writers and developers) created a new book using AI and the 7 Harry Potter books in the main series. They used the AI to analyse the existing Harry Potter books and then used an algorithmically constructed sentence programme to write ‘a further book’. It is a process similar to predictive text on our phones – which can often be surprising, alarming or down-right strange! The same could be said for parts of this book with sentences such as:

“Ron was standing there and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance. He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family”.

“Ron was going to be spiders”

“Harry tore his eyes from his head and threw them into the forest”

” If you two can’t clump happily, I’m going to get aggressive” confessed the reasonable Hermione”

In 1997, JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was released, called ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and was translated into 73 different languages. AI came up with the title for the ‘new’ book – ‘Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash’, which may sound better in another language! It is not yet known if the full version of the AI generated book will be available to customers at a later date. In some ways to die-hard Potter-fans, maybe it is better if it isn’t.

Lockheed Martin joins the AS2 supersonic jet project

The Aerospace and technology giant Lockheed Martin, have been enlisted to help with the development of the Aerion AS2 supersonic jet project. This civil aircraft is in the form of a 12 seater executive jet capable of speeds of up to MACH 1.4, and is being designed to travel between Europe and the US west coast. Lockheed Martin have assigned the 12-month development process to their ‘Skunk Works’ Advanced Development Programmes Team who will formulate the programme to take the aircraft through the engineering, certification and manufacturing processes.

This project is utilising the Skunk Works team’s experience in producing military aircraft and spy planes such as the U2 and the SR71 Blackbird. Lockheed Martin are taking up the collaboration mantle from Airbus who have provided essential design, development processes and expertise over the last two and a half years. Airbus worked with Aerion to design the aircraft ensuring an efficient laminar flow system over the wings, to reduce drag by as much as 20% and lower fuel consumption. Aerion are also working with GE Aviation on the AS2’s engine system consisting of 3 turbofan engines producing a total of 67-76 kN of thrust. The cutting edge technology also takes into account the placement of the engines, with one engine on the leading edge of each wing and the third in the tail.

This aircraft is the first civil supersonic aircraft since the now retired Concorde operated at maximum speeds of just over MACH 2.  But it is not the only civil supersonic aircraft project in progress, with Japan Airlines and Boom Supersonic working on a MACH 2.2 aircraft with a larger capacity, reportedly with plans to work with Virgin airlines at a later date, who already have an option to buy 10 of the new jets. The AS2 prototypes are due to be tested in late 2018/2019 with certification for use anticipated in 2021.

A third crossing for the Menai Straits? Public consultation opened

A public consultation has been opened to choose one of 4 possible options for a third crossing over the Menai Straits. The existing Grade 1 listed Menai Straits Bridge and the Britannia Bridge struggle with traffic congestion and a third crossing, coupled with improvements to the A55, has the potential to increase economic vibrancy and ease congestion in the area. The third crossing will also facilitate cyclists and pedestrians being able to cross the Menai Straits, either on the new bridge or on one of the existing bridges.

Construction of the chosen option (announced this summer) is anticipated to start in 2020, with the new crossing being operational within 4 years. The third crossing joining Anglesey and the mainland will cost an estimated £135 million (including some improvements to the A55). It is proposed that it will either be situated to the west or east of the Britannia bridge and, it is considered that the opening of the third crossing in 2022 will help ‘open up’ the area to economic investment whilst linking in with the construction of the new Wylfa Newydd £10 billion nuclear power station. The new station, with a capacity to generate 2700MW of electricity, on the land next to the former Magnox Wylfa power station, will create a considerable employment boost in the area.

The third crossing of the Menai Straits, whichever option is chosen by the public, will be part of the Welsh government’s commitment of £600 million worth of infrastructure improvements across North Wales.

The Ping An Finance tower in Shenzhen, China

Almost exactly a year on from the opening of the Ping An Finance Centre in Shenzhen, at the time the tallest office building in the world, the second tallest tower in China and the fourth tallest in the world, the building remains a testament to the design and construction teams.

The Ping An (Insurance) Group is one of the largest insurance companies in China and their brief for the architects and engineers was to build a tower that would be as unique as the Empire State Building and as elegant as the Chrysler building. Maybe this vision led them to the New York City based international companies, the architects chosen were Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, and the structural engineers were Thornton Tomasetti Inc, who started the design work in 2008.

The resulting tower comes in at 599 metres tall and has a beautiful almost Art Deco façade with diamond shaped structures and vertical panels reaching up to the sky, with mega columns visible through the buildings envelope and was built at a cost of $1.5 billion. The insurance company wanted a building that would celebrate its history and achievements, and is considered be a design forming a bridge between the past and present.

At night, the roof lights can be seen from miles away and the highly reflective 1,700 metric ton stainless steel façade of the building ensures that it is also striking during the day. The building is intelligent with many energy saving features such as an automated blind systems and sensors built into the core structures to ensure the building is monitored at all times.

The sensors in the structure will prove their worth as a monitoring tool, because one of the major challenges the design team had to overcome (as well as the lateral forces associated with towers) was that this central business district area of Shenzhen lies in a typhoon and seismic movement prone area. The original height of the building was to be 646 metres, then this was reduced to 660 metres. For aircraft flight and ‘natural’ reasons, the height was finally reduced to its final 599 metres. The substantial basement proved challenging, as the groundwater pressure was high and a triple walling system has been put into place to be able to withstand any external water pressure.

The cost effective and innovative design of the Ping An Finance Tower has many lessons that it can teach those who design tall buildings today.

Engineering News – December 2017

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