Engineers reacting to Change

Engineers reacting to Change


Structural engineering design has been changing and developing since the first foundation was laid. While there have been many developments brought about by engineers, sometimes change is a result of the environment around us. Engineers must respond to the ever-changing world with new and innovative ideas. Here are a few ways ORB has adapted in the past year.

There have been shortages, both labor and materials, in the construction world since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. These shortages have changed how we design. One example of this is truss design. Back in 2017, a majority of our new truss design, especially for residential, was pre-engineered trusses. With this system, a pre-engineered truss company designs, builds, and delivers the trusses for the homeowners convenience. However, truss companies felt the pandemic  crunch same as every other industry. Some pre-engineered truss wait times were as high as 8 months! As such, ORB had to respond with alternatives. ORB started to do a large amount of conventional truss design. With this option, the trusses are built in field by the contractor. This option requires more design by ORB to ensure the trusses are structurally sound but still reasonable enough to be built by hand in a field rather than in a factory. ORB has increased our conventional truss design by 20% since the beginning of the pandemic.

Another change that resulted from labor and material shortages is alternative building products. With the price of lumber skyrocketing, homeowners turned to alternative materials to build their homes. ORB responded with our expertise in aerated autoclaved concrete (AAC). This special kind of block is mostly air and made of a mix of fine aggregates, cement, and an expansion agent. This material has a great insulation factor, is fire resistant, and very structurally sound. Unfortunately, it is not widely used in the United States. As such, many engineers are not familiar with its specifications and design methodology. ORB has been designing with AAC since the 1990s and is very familiar with the best engineering methods for building a home utilizing it. ORB has been asked increasingly to design with AAC over lumber.

A final change that ORB has adapted to is the increased acceptance of digitally signed plans. As building departments around the country had to close their doors and work from home, many of them implemented new policies allowing for plans and documents to be digitally signed. This special digital signature must be encrypted and verified by a third-party in order to be valid. This ensures the legitimacy of the signer and prevents fraud. ORB now functions almost exclusively with digital signatures due to their wide acceptance. While we still have our giant plotter that can print large blueprints, we love having the option to save trees and resources by keeping everything digital.

These are just some of the ways the changing world around us affects what we do as engineers. Engineering is a highly innovative field, as such we relish the opportunity to meet any new challenges head on.

More to come soon.