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Posted by Geoff Weisenberger on April 7, 2008 at 10:51 AM.
There is a very intersting contrast between Erik Nelson’s article
“The Progression of the Structural Engineer” (March, p. 93) and Xing
Cai’s article “Quality Assurance of Structural Engineering Design” in
the March 2008 issue of STRUCTURE magazine.
Nelson’s article describes a slow, unmentored, hit-or-miss—and
therefore error-prone—learning process, while Cai’s article recommends
the use of checklists to ensure quality and avoid errors of omission.
I repeatedly learned the value of checklists in junior high school
shop class, boy scouting, and the U.S. Navy. Engineering schools focus
on teaching basic principles, but there is no reason that they cannot
also strongly advise their students to obtain or prepare a checklist
before designing anything.
I worked briefly as a non-structural civil engineering designer at
the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) before commencing a career in
research. ORNL had an excellent system for accomplishing good design. A
program engineer followed the job from concept through construction,
preparing—jointly with the customer and the designer—a checklist of
criteria that the design should meet. This was the beginning of the
designer’s checklist. Organized, high-quality work was not left to
chance. Checklists contain cumulative corporate knowledge and
experience, and can effectively guide a young engineer to recognize the
needed knowledge that he/she did not acquire in school. Hit-or-miss,
sink-or-swim learning is archaic and should be a thing of the past.
- John Merkle