Structural engineering developed with the rise of ancient civilisations thousands of years ago. As the construction of buildings became bigger and more complex, the profession developed by necessity to support the growing structures and designs. As with many occupations, structural engineering has changed and developed with the ages, and as human knowledge has advanced, it has bought new ideas and technology that continue to evolve the industry. In the modern-day, technological advancements have propelled the industry into dazzling new heights resulting in feats of engineering that we once could have only dreamed of. Here we take a look at how the industry has evolved through the centuries and the new technology that is changing the future.
The History of Structural Engineering
The first recorded history of structural engineering comes from ancient Egypt, and by 26 BC the Egyptians had constructed the Great Pyramid of Giza. The structure has withstood the centuries, and until the 19th century, it was considered an unprecedented feat of architecture and design. Another civilisation to leave a lasting mark were the Romans who pioneered giant structures of masonry and concrete. Much is still standing today, and it is possible to see surviving examples of amphitheatres, aqueducts, defensive walls and extravagant gatehouses.
It was during the 17th century that scientific theories began to take shape. The likes of distinguished figures such as Robert Hooke, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton began outlining the science of the strength and elasticity of materials and the mathematics of understanding of the fundamental laws governing structures. Further developments around this time include Leonhard Euler’s mathematical methods which allowed structural engineers to model and analyse their structures.
The 19th and 20th centuries bought us the development that allowed for the construction of many engineering triumphs, including The Eiffel Tower, The Fourth Bridge and The Empire State Building. Advancements in steelworks and reinforced concrete helped to propel the progress.
During the late 20th century the advancement in powerful computers allowed for significant change in the way structures could be designed. Programmes detailing finite element analysis meant that structural engineers could accurately predict possible stresses in complex structures allowing for intricate structural and architectural design. One of the first building designs to use finite element analysis in a significant way was the roof of the Sydney Opera House during the 60s and 70s. As with many industries, computer technology is now ubiquitous in the world of structural engineering, and much software exists to help engineers plan and create structures.
What Lies in the Future of Structural Engineering Technology?
Whether it’s helping to choose materials or helping to boost productivity, the use of technology is propelling the industry to new heights.
The Use of Drones
Structural engineers now often use drones to take high-resolution aerial photos of a potential construction site to survey an area; they are particularly useful for sites where access is limited. The images captured can also be used to create digital models and take measurements.
The technology for 3D printing has advanced dramatically since its invention in the late ’80s. 3D printing can help structural engineers to create accurate design details and larger-scale commercial projects. Since 2018, several 3D printed pedestrian bridges have been designed and installed across the world, with impressive plans for more on the way.
As digital software becomes more sophisticated, it allows engineers to collect and analyse vast amounts of data. The data that has been collected is more reliable, accurate and can significantly improve efficiency.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Augmented reality tools can be used at the beginning of the design process to visualise how a structure will look in a chosen area. Using this type of technology at the early stages of the design process can help to identify potential problems or errors before the start of construction. Virtual reality can be used throughout the design and construction process. One of the key benefits of the technology for structural engineers is to be able to monitor and manage the project without being physically present.
As structural engineers and chartered surveyors in Cornwall, Martin Perry Associates provide expert property services to the South West of England. To learn more about the services we offer, head over to our page for more information. For further structural engineering news, explore the blog and take a look at our Top 5 Reasons to Become a Structural Engineer.