Book Review on “Engineering Systems: meeting human needs in a complex technological world” by de Weck, Roos & Magee (2011), MIT Press

This book was published in 2011, and I purchased in 2013 for the preparation of CVL609, Civil Engineering Systems. I just read it second time, and I believe it deserves more reading.

https://www.amazon.ca/Engineering-Systems-Meeting-Complex-Technological/dp/0262529947

This books is revolutionary. Most of our teaching is still focusing on, at most, the epoch of complex systems. However, the authors warned us: The epoch of great inventions and artifacts has gone, and even the epoch of complex systems is phasing out. To equip our students with 21-century skills and techniques, we need to embrace the epoch of Engineering Systems, which I believe the words should be converted to a proper noun to highlight its major difference from traditional systems engineering.

In Chapter 2, the authors highlight five major characteristic of Engineering Systems:

  • Existence in the real world (i.e., physical systems)
  • Artificial (man-made vs. natural environment)
  • Dynamic properties (i.e., partially evolved and partially designed)
  • Hybrid state (mix of continuous and discrete states)
  • Some human control

The partially evolved and partially designed feature of Engineering Systems is a sharp observation that we rarely learn from other texts. A difficulty in dealing with urban infrastructure issues may be attributed to this dynamic property of urban infrastructure systems.

What really separates Engineering Systems from conventional large complex system is the interaction of the existing system and human activities. Highway transportation system is a typical example. Because of this, the subject of Engineering Systems calls for the study and application of not only mathematics and natural sciences, but also social sciences, economics, and management. With the advancement of Big Data, deep learning, and artificial intelligence, civil infrastructure systems are evolving to a complex artifact that is deeply interwoven with cyber, social, and technology complexities. Very soon, our civil engineering students will be asked to learn, beyond optimization and decision theory that we are currently learning at CVL609, more general systems methodologies such as graph and network theory, system dynamics, general economic equilibrium, among others that are currently mainly in researchers’ minds.

 

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A Recipe for MEng Students Hoping to Specialize in Infrastructure Management

Before you read on, please note that the blog articles published in rilcie.blog.ryerson.ca represent only Dr. Arnold Yuan’s personal view, and do represent neither the position of Ryerson University nor that of the Department of Civil Engineering. Dr. Yuan does not guarantee that all information provided is true and up to date. 

Currently the Civil Engineering Graduate Program has four fields[1], namely, environmental, geometric, structural, and transportation engineering.  The structural engineering field also includes materials, geotechnical engineering, and construction management.  Many do not understand, however, that there has been a burgeoning research and practice field called infrastructure management, or infrastructure asset management.  If you are currently an MEng student, or want to apply for MEng at Ryerson, below is a recipe for your Program of Study:

Core Courses

  • CV8102 Advanced Construction Management
  • CV8107 Infrastructure Asset Management
  • CV8311 Risk and Reliability for Eng
  • CV8505 GIS for Civil Engineering

General Elective Courses

  • CV8105 Contract Administration and Management
  • CV8501 Adv Geospatial Info Systems
  • CV8507 Satellite Remote Sensing of Urban Areas
  • MB8004 Acctng
  • MB8005 Finance
  • MB8006 Economics
  • MB8007 Principles of Management
  • MB8305 Organizational Dsgn and Theory
  • MB8715 Decision Models for Managers
  • MT8220 Advanced Project Management
  • PA8100 Public Administration & Governance
  • PA8206 Urban Governance
  • PA8207 Public Sector Financial Management
  • PL8103 Finance and Local Governance
  • PL8105 Planning for Sustainability
  • PL8309 Urban Investments

Specialized Elective Courses

Depending upon your background and/areas you wish to grow, you may choose

Building/Facilities/Structures Management:

  • CV8303 Renovation/Repair of Existing Structures
  • CV8306 Durability of Structures
  • AR8215 How Buildings Work
  • AR8220 Sustainable Ratings Systems
  • BL8101 Building Envelope Systems
  • BL8215 Building Envelope Restoration
  • BL8204 Building Performance Simulation/Modeling
  • BL8207 Building Performance Assessment
  • BL8214 Life Cycle Assessment
  • MB8506 Real Estate Finance

Transportation Systems Management:

  • CV8403 Transportation Planning
  • CV8405 Pavement Design and Management
  • CV8409 Urban Transport Systems
  • PL8315 Transportation Planning

Environmental Systems Management:

  • CV8205 Environmental Impact Assessment
  • CV8206 Water Resources System Analysis
  • CV8207 Waste Management
  • PL8317 Environmental Planning

For students who are dedicated to do research in infrastructure asset management, the following research-oriented courses can be considered:

  • CE8139 Probability, Stats. & Stochastic Processes
  • CE8140 Statistics for Engineering
  • CE8213 Advanced Numerical Methods
  • EE8103 Random Processes
  • EE8120 Applied Optimization Techniques
  • EE8301 Linear System Theory
  • ME8120 Introduction to Operations Research
  • ME8124 Multiple Participant/Objective Dec. Making
  • ME8127 Optimization Models
  • ME8128 Prob. Models in Operations Research
  • ME8131 Simulation of Industrial Systems
  • ME8132 Sequencing and Scheduling
  • ME8139 Mech. Engineering: Probability, Stats. & Stochastic Processes
  • ME8140 Simulation Theory & Methodology
  • ME8144 Advanced Reliability Modelling
  • MT8513 Intro to Operations Research
  • PA8101 Policy Analysis & Challenges
  • PA8202 Comparative Public Policy
  • PA8209 Changing Boundaries: The Third Sector

[1] http://www.ryerson.ca/graduate/programs/civil_engineering/ProgramInformation/

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Why do you study PhD?

Frequently, if not everyday, I receive emails inquiring position vacancy about MASc or PhD.  Some have very specific research targets, but a majority of them are mainly fishing emails, to which I rarely reply. 

Research position is always there, if you are good enough.  Seriously, if you are really good, even if I do not have research money right now, I will find research money for you.  So when you write, you need to tell me why you study PhD. 

By that, I do not mean to see only how you were inspired to do research.  You can mention it, but whether or not you are inspired can be told by how exactly you know the research problems you are interested in.  Therefore, instead of spending hundreds and hundreds of words explaining your childhood dream, it will fare better if you do a real adult’s talk, i.e., talk about the research questions you are interested in and how much you are prepared for it.  Some people would say, oh, I don’t know the questions; if I know, I don’t need your supervision.  This is a big misconception and let me explain to you why.

Have you heard this: Do not compute unless you know the answer?  Or similarly, do not do experiments unless you already have had a theory.  Analysis and research are the same.  We do not try blindly.  Similarly, if you do not have research questions in your head in advance, do not apply for PhD study.  

The reason is, research is all about passion.  If the research ideas do not come from yourself, but imposed by someone who is called a supervisor, chances are you would rarely enjoy it.  Even you can accomplish the job, it often takes you a long time to get the big picture.  Also, PhD study takes several years, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, and even longer.  It can be torturing.  If you do not like the research problem and have no passion on it, at a certain point of the program you may start to dislike the work at first, your supervisor the second, and yourself — hopefully not.

So, when you inquire about research position, explain the research questions to justify why you would like to do a PhD study.

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Why are structural grads uninterested in Risk and Reliability?

Some of the materials were first drafted in my LinedIn early on.  But the character limit of LinkedIn makes it only a place to show opinion and not a full argument.  Here is my relatively complete argument:

CV8311 Risk and Reliability for Engineers Fall 2016 was completed. The course project presentations were terrific. The presentation titles give you a glimpse of the coverage.

  1.  Generalized linear modeling in road safety
  2. Probabilistic life cycle costing for P3s
  3. Post-event risk analysis for Walkerton Disaster
  4. Project contingency management
  5. Stochastic deterioration modeling of water mains
  6. Resilience of downtown transportation network under major sport events
  7. Pile resistance model and LRFD
  8. Dam safety
  9. Vulnerability of electric transmission network under ice storms
  10. Criticality of transportation network
  11. Reliability of soil nail walls

A former colleague of mine commented that “nice to see that transportation is well represented,” and I returned, “Sadly structures are so under represented!” This triggered me this blog article.

Although Structures Researchers contributed one of the two reliability methods, called structural reliability methods, in reliability engineering, very sadly structural students at my school are not interested in taking this subject as one study of their urgent need.  This happened not only in this graduate course, but also in CVL609 Civil Engineering System where I usually spend at least three hours to discuss the structural reliability method.  They were not excited.  This is ironic, for safety is such a big concern for the profession.  Although, as the Professional Engineers Ontario states, public safety is the paramount issue of professional engineers in general,  safety is more important an issue in structural engineering than in almost any other engineering disciplines.  Thus, any serious structural engineers should take this question into a serious consideration. When I was an undergraduate students, my professor asked the class this question: given that there is no absolute safety, how safe is safe enough in design? It was that moment when I started to realize that research could be something for my career. 

The reason our students aren’t interested is, on my speculation, was that they are deeply duped by codified design. Many of them are paralyzed by the misconception that as long as they follow the code they are safe. They don’t bother to challenge the codes; they don’t bother to be challenged by real engineering problems where codes don’t apply.  Our students rarely asked why the load and resistance factors are taken value as they are specified in the design code.  They rarely think why those factors are different between the Building Code and Highway Bridge Design Code, even though they are designed the same concrete girders, one for an industrial plant and the other for a highway bridge.

Many structural engineers take the design factors for granted.  The don’t understand, or don’t bother to understand why the factors are taken as they are.  When situation changes, they can easily make mistake. One of my colleagues once was puzzled when supervising his graduate student how a resistance reduction factor can be greater than one!  He rushed to conclude that the student must have made some computational mistakes.  After several rounds of checks with both simulation and iterative methods, the poor student came to me for a ‘judgment’.

Many believe that the best structural engineers are those who know all the very details of the design codes and standards — Yes, a lot of our students are not even able to understand the clauses and apply them in practice.  They don’t understand that actually the best structural engineers are those who can challenge the codes and standards.  Structural engineering research, in essence, is to keep pushing the frontier.  In this regard, design codes and standards are indeed the real battle fields for structural engineering researchers.  Because of this, modern design codes and standards, unlike the Hammurabi Code, are often the result of compromises of different schools of thoughts.  I used to think that the design codes and standards are often a good starting point of research in structural engineering.  I should now adjust my thought to add that the design codes and standards must be the starting and ending point of any good research in structural engineering.

Broadly speaking, there are only three key battle fields in structural engineering: (1) new materials, components, and systems, (2) models and modeling, and (3) risk and reliability. While the first two are explicit and noisy, the risk and reliability battle field is often implicit and silent.

A few examples may help understand what I just said.  In seismic design of frame structures, a basic design philosophy is “strong columns, weak beams.”  The rationale of it is to ensure plastic hinges occur in beams before in columns.  If plastic hinges occur in columns at first, a storey-failure mechanism will form and the whole structure will easily collapse.  In addition, it is commonly agreed that beam hinges absorb more hysteric energy than column hinges do, because the former is subject to smaller or even negligible axial forces.   To achieve “strong columns, weak beams”, design standards often introduce an artificial moment magnification factor for columns.  Recall that in structural analysis, the bending moments at the ends of the column and beam in one joint must be in equilibrium.  The moment magnification factor creates an artificial equilibrium in the strength of the two members to ensure, in deterministic view, that plastic hinges will not form in columns before beam hinges are developed.  The design standards suggest a value for such a magnification factor.  Depending upon the standards, structural materials, and design earthquakes, this factor ranges from 1.1 to 1.3.  But question is, to what extent can this factor avoid a storey-failure mechanism?  Is it enough? More importantly, how do we develop our argument?  Similar issues apply to many other structural design philosophies such as ‘strong shear, weak bending’ and ‘strong shear wall, weak frame.’ 

Another situation where we have to go back the first principle of structural reliability is expansion, rehabilitation and retrofitting of existing structures that may or may not have been damaged by uses and external events.  Existing structures were designed as per outdated design codes and standards.  But expansion, rehabilitation and retrofitting need to satisfy the new codes and standards.  The incompatibility of reliability of old and new standards may pose additional challenges that can be solved with a solid understanding of the embedded reliability in the standards.

Risk and Reliability deals with the philosophy of engineering.  This is no simple subject. It requires not only a solid understanding in the subject matter — being it structures, transportation, environmental, geotechnical, construction and infrastructure management — but also probability, statistics, and optimization, which many engineers are weak.  It roots back to the very first principle of engineering: the tradeoff of safety and economy.  Of course, beyond economy, we can also add additional criteria such as sustainability and equity.  The drills of the first principle can really sharpen your mind and provide a great confidence in your future consulting services.  It is just like the study of elasticity.  Although rarely is this subject itself applied to solve real structural problems, without knowing it, you often do not feel comfortable in your finite element analyses — Or you do not even know you did not understand the results, which is even worse!

What really worries me is that if our students are so happy with knowing only how to follow codes and standards without knowing why the codes and standards were so developed, there is no ingenuity and innovation.  One colleague of mine told me that the reason he did not choose structures as his specialization when he was an undergrad was he dislike the codified design in structures.  I never had this impression when I studied my undergrad back China.  I thought this over, and compared with a couple of courses I have taken in Canada.  I tried to take a concrete design course, and a steel design course, both at graduate levels.  I could not stay there, because the instructors kept teaching how to apply the clauses while providing little explanation why the clauses were so specified.  You may argue the instructors may not the best ones; but I can ensure you they are the best ones in Canada.  I got a sense that the students in Canada were trained to follow the codes and standards while in China, at least in my university, we were taught to know how, why, and why not.  This is another irony because China in many outsiders’ view is a communist place where people are supposed to do whatever are told to do, and people in western societies are supposed to have more liberty in doing things. 

There are three levels of knowledge in engineering education: how, why, and why not. One thing I honestly dislike is the emphasis of the so-called ‘hands-on experience’. In my view, if your mind are not on, no matter how many hands are there, you can hardly build up your insights.  Innovations result from the curiosity of ‘why-not’.  For this, put your minds on!

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Infrastructure Observation 21Oct2015

Now that the Liberal wins a majority government, it is interesting to see how the other people see the opportunities and concerns.  I’ll try to jot down some notes for my readings, mainly of newspaper articles.

Why virtually every Canadian engineering and construction company is seeing a rise in its stock price

Tuesday (Oct. 20) witnessed an immediate positive market response of the infrastructure sector to the election result. Fengate CEO Lou Serafini states that “if the government is consistent about the delivery of infrastructure, you tend to attract better competition and better innovative solution.”  To maintain the momentum of P3s in Canada, it would be great if the new government can signal some clear message about the new government’s plan about P3.

The article reports that the Liberals promised during election campaign to increase federal infrastructure investment to $125 billion.  Some analysts speculate that the debt induced by the infrastructure expenditure may decrease policy flexibility in future.

The news also reports the recent acquisition of MMM Group by WSP.  Starting with  a building services consultancy in Surrey, UK in 1969, WSP (original name as William Sale Partnership) has grown to become a giant player in engineering consulting industry.  The recent significant merges/acquisitions include Genevar (2012), Parson Brinkerhoff (2014), SPL (2014).  With the acquisition of MMM Group, WSP becomes one of the largest engineering firms in the world.

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Research Positions in RILCIE Group

The RILCIE group keeps looking for high quality graduate students and researchers.  For the academic year of 2015-2016, the group has admitted three Phd students and one MASc student, and therefore, no more graduate students can be taken for the upcoming new year.  However, if you are a motivated graduated researchers looking for jobs to continue on your academic career path, or if you are interested in applying for graduate studies for Year 2016, you are most welcomed to contact Dr. Arnold Yuan to explore various opportunities.  For qualifications, please refer to this post.

 

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CV8107 Infrastructure Asset Management

Dr. Arnold Yuan is going to offer a new graduate course titled ‘Infrastructure Asset Management’ in Fall 2015.  The course materials will be delivered on the new learning and teaching system D2L, instead of Blackboard, which is being phased out at Ryerson.

In this course, we will discuss the framework, concepts, skills and methods used for infrastructure asset management. Topics to be discussed include system analysis, lifecycle costing, decision making under uncertainty, demand forecasting, performance measure and monitoring, inspection technologies, condition assessment, deterioration modeling and lifetime prediction, maintenance and rehabilitation optimization, prioritization and programming, innovative project delivery, and project and program management. Case studies and industrial guest lectures on designated asset classes (transportation and municipal water and wastewater infrastructure) will be introduced to enhance the integration of the topics.

The major references are:

About the Instructor

Joining Ryerson in 2008, Dr. Yuan is currently an associate professor working in the broad area he calls it risk-informed lifecycle infrastructure engineering, or rilcie. Research themes cover from engineering design to project management, from nuclear power plants to pavements, from building structures to sewers. Down to the fundamental research problems, Dr. Yuan is interested in understanding how we can better management deterioration in infrastructure systems. He was appointed in 2014 the founding Director of Ryerson Institute for Infrastructure Innovation.

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Group Update as of October 1, 2014

Well, it has been quite a while since last blogging. After a cool summer and a hectic September, it is the right time to briefly summarize what the RILCIE research group was doing.

First thing first, Dr. Arnold Yuan was appointed in May to be the founding Director of Ryerson Institute for Infrastructure Innovation, or RIII (r-triple-eye). The position officially started on July 1st, and it is a three-year term. Immediately he found himself much busier than before, consulting deans and colleagues, attending meetings and training workshops, making and receiving calls, and more recently receiving a couple of interviews. Consuming him a lot of time, this job turned out to be very exciting and challenging too.

RIII is a Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science (FEAS)-based research institute striving to provide a holistic solution to urban infrastructure issues. RIII promotes interdisciplinary, applied research on infrastructure-related issues, both hard (engineering and technology) and soft (management and policy). RIII seeks collaboration with industry, public agencies and municipalities. The first research project has been awarded and sponsored by PPP Canada, a Crown-owned company overseeing federal funds for public-private partnership infrastructure projects. We are developing a website for RIII. I hope we shall release it to the public very soon.

In June Arnold did something he had never thought he would do — he served as a Bedel for the June Convocation! If you do not know what a Bedel is, you are definitely not alone. Arnold agreed to do this service because he did not know what the full responsibility would be when he was asked to do so. Life is full of uncertainty, as Arnold always says. Arnold is not only a risk guy, but also a risky guy!

If you want to check his performance in the convocation, click here and drag the progress bar to 47:55. Ideally the innovation should run exactly one minute — Arnold practiced at home for a couple of hours and figured this out. On stage, he ran a little faster, but it sounds okay.

In September Arnold also attended two external events, both related to infrastructure. On September 4 he attended the OCSI Infrastructure Forum. OCSI stands for Ontario Coalition of Sustainable Infrastructure. The forum set up roundtable discussions about two fundamental issues: What is sustainable funding for infrastructure? And what is affordable level of service?  In the end the group identified a number of burning issues to address the public infrastructure issues. On the top of the list were:

  • The public’s appreciation of infrastructure crisis
  • Comprehensive planning tools
  • Clear and transparent decision making criteria
  • Governments’ zero tolerance on innovation

From September 16 to 17 Arnold attended the 8th Infrastructure Summit on the Future of Canada’s Infrastructure. As one of the two chairs of the Summit, Arnold made an opening speech for the second day in the early morning. He first did a little pitch on the need for research and innovation and then introduced Ryerson’s efforts under RIII.

Back to school, RILCIE group welcomed two new members: Jing (Aviva) Zhang, PhD program; and Md. Abdus Salam, MEng program. A group meeting was held on September 22. Each of the graduate students made a presentation on their research projects.

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How should you prepare for exams?

About six years ago, when I just first came to Ryerson, I observed one thing: too many Ryerson students were interested in only marks, not in knowledge and problem-solving skills.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see this has been changed much.  This has made me very uneasy whenever I stop to think of you folks’ future career.

I still wish to give you the last pitch on how to learn during the final exam period.  Raised in China where graders have learned to manage five or six exams in two or three consecutive days, I had a very simple trick for exam preparation.  I already shared this trick to a student coming to my office today.  That is, ……………… LYING ON YOUR BED!!!

I knew—-many of you are busy with preparing your cheat sheet.  For those, I would say, poor you!

Lying on your bed, ask yourself what have you learned and what you think you should have learned or you are expected to know.  For the last question, read the course outline again.  I bet many of you never know the importance of the course outline.  sigh…….!

If you understand the calendar description of the course, you already know the forest.  Now you need to walk through the 12 lectures, in your mind, one by one.  What are the key concepts, methods, techniques, …. Those are the big trunks you should know. Try your best to forget the details (the bushes and grasses).  The details lead you nowhere.

After this mind exercise, you will have known what you have known and what you need to read/practice a bit more.  Then you get up and study or ask.  If you would be able to do this lie-down-get-up exercise three times, you will excel, not only in the exam, but also in any jobs in future.

Of course, this method will apply for those who have regularly attended my lectures.  For those infrequent attender, I am sorry I cannot really help, although I wish I could.

Stay put and cool!

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(Risk, Reliability) vs. (Resilience, Sustainability)

A recent in-print in the Journal of Infrastructure Systems, ASCE, is entitled “Resilience and sustainability of the civil infrastructure: towards a unified approach” by two Lehigh professors (P. Bocchini and D. M. Frangopol) and two German researchers (T. Ummenhofer and his student T. Zinke).  The paper, in my opinion, made a major contribution to the research community of RILCIE.  I strongly recommend you to read this paper.

It is interesting that the duality between resilience and sustainability is very similar to that between risk and reliability.  I didn’t see they pointed out this.

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