Project Practitioners > We've Come A Long Way

We've Come A Long Way

By Morley Selver, P.Eng IPMA B

Over the Christmas holidays my wife was bored so she decided to clean out a storage locker. I was sitting at my desk when she handed me my old slide rule from my university days. That got me thinking to how much has changed since I started in engineering and working on projects.

When I started university in 1969 I had to purchase the above noted slide rule. For doing calculations this was all there was. The case, 13" long, even had a belt loop so we carry it everywhere we went. Just think how cool that looked? By the time I got to final exams in 4th year the slide rule was out and calculators were in. I remember my first calculator cost me $25.00, only did the basic functions plus squares and square roots. Now you can get a free app that has a bunch of different calculators and hundreds of functions.

When I started working in facilities, walkie - talkies were the main form of communicating. Walkie-talkies are still around but not to the same extent as cell phones which is now the main form of communication. Even those have changed as they are smaller and have more features.

Some Places Are Hard To Get To

When I started to travel to facilities in the 80's we had to go by train to some of the remote locations as there were no commercial flights to nearby airports. This changed quite rapidly and within a few years flights were everywhere and train travel was gone. To one location, the guys had to take the red eye flight as that was all there was. It was the milk run that left at 11 pm and got there at 7 am. Once the jets started flying it was a 2 hour flight.

I remember my first commercial flight was on a Viscount which had 4 prop engines. Once everyone was boarded, they tried to start the engines but could't get one of the side engines going. So out come the mechanics. It took them a while to get the problem fixed, they closed the cowling, they fired up the engines and off we went. I'm sure everyone on the right side watched that engine for the whole flight. Now the jets carry 500+ passengers, we get on a jet, and don't think anything of it.

Ahhh, The Sweet Smell Of Ammonia!

When I worked in an engineering office we used to use drafting boards and made our drawings on mylar. I missed the age of ink drawings on mylar. If you look at some of your templates, if you still have them, you may notice little bumps on one side. This was to keep the template off the mylar so when you used ink, it would not run under the and ruin the drawing. We did our drawings on the mylar and took them to a print shop to be made into blue prints. There they ran the mylar through a ammonia machine that passed a light onto treated paper and out popped a blue print. Close to any engineering office was a small printing business that would print and fold the blue prints. That is all gone now as we just make a print off the computer. Some companies issue drawings on a CD and don't issue hard copies at all. Even Operations and Maintenance Manuals now come on CD's. No more big books.

"That's Not What I Asked For."

Before computers, one of the problems with blue prints was "That's not what I asked." People could not visualize nor understand what was on the drawing. As engineers, we could visualize what the end result would be. We would take our blue prints to the Owner, review it with them, get them to approve the design, construct it, then find out that it was not what they asked for. On larger projects, plastic models were built to check for interferences. In older facilities you may still find these on display. With computers and Autocad, we can check for interferences as we go and can use the models to walk stakeholders through to them what they are going to get. This was a great improvement that is being improved upon yearly. Now we can take the Autocad model and use a 3D printer to print the model of what we are proposing which is even better for explaining what you are trying to do. You can even print equipment with all their components and use them for training. 3D printing is used for making cars, buildings, and even body parts. Do you have one in your home or office?

Let's Make a Field Trip.

When doing a project in an existing facility the engineers have to know what is in their way in the field. If we were running new piping, we would send a couple of pipe designers to the site to do a field walk. They would determine where they wanted to run the pipe, make field measurements, review existing site drawings, all in an effort to make sure they didn't hit anything with the new pipe run. More often that not, they would get back to the office and find out they missed a measurement. This required another field visit or getting someone on site to get the measurement. These field trips were a costly exercise. Even these have changed through technology.

Let Me Take A Picture Of That

We were doing a project at a refinery in Alaska. There was another consultant working there on another project that had to tie into our piping. Our office was in the Pacific Northwest and the other consultant was from Minnesota. We were up there field measuring this and that while the other guy was doing laser scans of where he wanted to run his pipe. This was the first time I had seen the laser scan used.

The picture to the left is not a picture but a point cloud from a laser scan. A laser scanner is set up at a known point and millions of survey points are taken. This point cloud is then converted into AutoCad or another drafting program and lo and behold, it is to scale. So, now, we can send up one pipe designer and a laser operator, take the necessary scans, go back to a remote office, and all the field information is there to scale. In the picture we can measure the bolt sizes if need be. On one project we used this technology to determine how a piece of equipment was actually built. This is a great time and cost saving tool.

We've all been in the position of trying to determine an approximate length. Whether it's in the field where we pace off a distance and multiply the paces by 3 to get a foot estimate or counting ceiling tiles to determine the size of a room, we are always trying to determine distances. Well, now there is an app for your Smartphone that will do the same thing. The app EasyMeasure, once set up, will give you the approximate distance by taking a picture. What a time and cost saver when in the field scoping out a project.

The latest technology to watch for is the 3D camera. Intel RealSense Technology has developed the Snapshot Depth Camera, a 3D camera for a tablet. The Dell Venue 8 7000 comes with this 3D camera. With this camera, (launched on January 6, 2015), you can actually take measurements of objects in the picture. The literature says you can take a picture of a wall and the program will tell you the square footage of the wall. They also say you can take a picture of an object and send it directly to a 3D printer! Will this technology replace the laser scan for small items? Will this become the tool for designers doing field measurements?

These are just some of the things I have seen come and go. We live in very interesting times. Who knows what will the future bring?


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Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

I love this. What a great walk down memory lane. I vividly remember making blueprints for my first boss -- a self-employed architect who had a home office and one of those nifty little desktop machines for converting the mylar. Seems very unnecessary now, but at the time it was cutting edge tech!

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