Tag Archives: engineering

Virtually Necessary

July 15, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Virtual reality has worked its way into daily life at some Omaha-area architecture/engineering firms.

Also known as VR, virtual reality is a computer-generated reality viewed through a headset that situates small video screens about an inch from each eye, yielding a three-dimensional effect. 

“You’re completely blocking out the real world and making the virtual world basically what you see,” says Nathan Novak, a systems administrator with Leo A Daly Co.

Novak says his firm mainly uses VR for client presentations. Previously, presentations were accomplished using drawings.

“Everything would be flat—two-dimensional—just lines everywhere,” Novak says. That method made it difficult for clients to visualize projects.

A few years ago, Leo A Daly began using a building information modeling (BIM) program called Revit to produce three-dimensional representations of drawings.

“Instead of just lines, you place walls, and then you can place textures on the walls,” Novak says. “So now you can actually see that there’s a wall here, and the wall is going to be blue. You can see that there’s a door here, and you can see what the door material is made out of.”

BIM programs such as Revit help perform “clash detection”—ferreting out design problems prior to construction. 

“Once construction starts, any sort of change is much more expensive,” Novak says.

Creating a VR environment from a Revit model requires an additional step.

Raj Prasad, chief technology officer for HDR, says his firm uses Revit and similar tools to build 3-D models, then takes that information into products such as Unity (a gaming engine), Unreal Engine, or HTML5.

“Some combination of those is what we use to take the model that’s generated from Revit to create the VR experience,” Prasad says.

In many industries, VR is a prototyping tool, and that’s also true in architecture and engineering.

“The way we say it is, ‘We’d like to have our clients experience the end results before actually building it,” Prasad says. 

He says VR is catching on rapidly. “We are pretty actively leveraging virtual reality on our projects, in different phases.” Among those projects are bridges, transit centers, and hospitals.

Novak says Leo A Daly has used virtual reality for pumphouse designs, water pumps, and piping, among other projects.

“As long as we can build it within Revit, we can bring it over into virtual reality,” he says. “And we’re trying to expand it out even further into some of the other applications outside of Revit.”

VR also can be used in the quality assurance [QA] process.

“Did we model everything properly? Is there something that’s a mistake that we have to come back and fix?” Novak says. “The QA can be toward the end, but really we QA as we go.”

Making it easy for customers to experience VR environments is another factor that firms consider.

“You don’t have to be in an office to have a virtual reality experience. There’s ways you can experience that in anybody’s office, and that’s really the philosophy that we’ve adopted,” Prasad says. “We want to make sure that, if a client desires it and wants it, we can take it to them versus having them always having to come to us.”

One option HDR has used is to provide clients with a Google Cardboard—a simple cardboard frame with lenses that can be used with a mobile phone to experience VR.  

“I’ll call that the lower-end VR experience,” Prasad says.

Raj Prasad

Among higher-end headsets are the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, both of which have been used by Omaha-area firms.

Though use of VR is growing, it has limitations.

“At this point, it doesn’t replace using your computer and Revit and that sort of thing to do our modeling,” Novak says. “I believe that’s something that will be coming in a few years, but it’s not possible yet.

He says that, although available headsets are high definition, their resolution isn’t enough to replace computer monitors.

“When you look through the headset at the display, most people are going to notice that you can actually see the individual pixels. That’s called the ‘screen-door effect,’” he says. The effect makes text  very difficult to read.

“I think we’re still a few years away from being able to switch from coming in, and sitting down at a desk, and looking at monitors all day to coming in, and putting on a headset, and going into VR, and doing your work,” Novak says. 

Does Novak think the use of VR will increase over time?

“Absolutely.”

What does Prasad see as the future of VR?  “The best way to answer that, is, think Star Trek or Star Wars.”

Prasad noted that when Star Trek appeared in the mid-1960s, its technology seemed far-fetched. 

“People were like, ‘This stuff is hundreds of years down the road.’ And here we are,” he says. “This is reality.”

Within the next five to 10 years, he foresees VR being used in all project phases, and as a way to keep workers safer by accomplishing some hazardous tasks virtually, such as bridge inspection.

“If I’m looking out 10 [years] and then beyond, I would say we’re going down the path of holographs and holograms,” Prasad says. “Imagine, if you will, that you take a VR experience and send it directly to a 3-D printer.”

Examples could include a bridge pylon or a wall in a water treatment plant.

“Once the client and the chief engineer approve it, that goes to a 3-D printer. Now you’re taking modular development that—kind of like a Lego, almost—you can pull it all together. And hallelujah, you’ve got a bridge or a water-treatment plant.”

“The future, as you can imagine, it’s awesome,” Prasad says. “It’s fun, it’s wickedly cool.”


Visit hdrinc.com and leoadaly.com for more information.

This article was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B.

Nathan Novak

Reach for the Stars

May 25, 2017 by

College has become increasingly expensive. A semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha now costs more than $3,000, leaving many parents—and students—wondering how to increase their ROI on college expenditure.

One of the best ways is to go into a profession that relies on science, technology, education, or mathematical knowledge.

Young people with a bachelor’s degree and with three or fewer years of experience in their field earn less than $40,000, according to a study conducted last year by Forbes, but those in STEM occupations can earn much more. One of the highest paid STEM positions, a petroleum engineer, can earn more than $85,000 with only three years’ experience and a bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, those lucrative loan-repayment-worthy STEM professions are underrepresented by minority and women employees. Stereotypes persist, discouraging possible candidates based on the misconception that STEM fields of study are “hard” or “boring” or “unwelcoming.”

Neal Grandgenett, the Dr. George and Sally Haddix Community Chair of STEM Education at UNO, says it’s not hard to break those stereotypes. Engaging students in camps or extracurricular activities can be effective in establishing an interest in these fields.

“I think it’s critical that parents give kids the ability to get into some of these fun camps,” Grandgenett says. “There’s fun things like rocketry and robotics. They’d be better off doing that than getting kids into more traditional math camps.”

Part of the problem, Grandgenett says, is that the camp titles do not reflect experiences that are seen as great resume-builders. Parents who want to accelerate their students in their studies may actually benefit from allowing their student(s) to delve deeper into a subject.

“Parents may gravitate away from something like “The Science of Zombies,” because it doesn’t sound useful, but it might have practical applications,” Grandgenett says. “They might talk about disease transmission and how to prevent it. The title of the camp may not be reflective of how applicable to the STEM fields it really is.”

Even throughout the school year, Grandgenett says, there are a lot of ways that students can become interested in these fields. One way is to attend speaking engagements that are open to the public. Omaha Performing Arts, for example, showcases “National Geographic Live,” in which noted researchers, writers, and photographers spend an evening discussing their adventures. These guest speakers can make STEM subjects sound exciting.

As well as being fun, Connie O’Brien, director of the Aim for the Stars summer math and science camps at UNO, says making sure boys and girls are given an equal chance to succeed in these areas is essential.

O’Brien says, “In the last 10-15 years, we have caught on to the fact that we need to teach in ways that catch [girls’] brains. When we give kids a rocket to build, for example, boys will pull out one item, then another, then start putting the two pieces together. Girls take out all the pieces and make a picture in their minds, then assemble the project.”

Women make up 73 percent of all employees in the social and life sciences, such as psychology and biology, but make up less than 30 percent of employees in many of the physical sciences, such as engineering.

“I was expected to get a college degree in nursing or teaching,” O’Brien says. “That didn’t work for me.”

It didn’t work for Allison Sambol, either. Sambol is an environmental scientist at Felsburg Holt & Ullevig, and a prime example of using a college degree to dive into a STEM career.

“I am a geographer. I went to college and I took all general studies, and my geography course was my favorite,” Sambol says. “When I graduated, I was looking for jobs; I looked for anything that had consulting in the title.”

Eventually, Sambol realized that her work decisions affected many aspects of people’s lives, and she began to see the benefits to sticking with environmental science.

“On a day-to-day basis, I’m researching physical settings,” Sambol explains. “What’s around it? What type of things might affect building it? Does it contain contaminated soil or groundwater? Wetlands, do they need to be mitigated? Are there permits that needs to be maintained?”

Being in a STEM-based career, however, does not mean that she researches alone all day.

“Part of my job is in development,” Sambol says. “Working with my clients, developing relationships, and determining communities’ problems, and how people can solve those problems.”

The possibilities for a student who becomes interested in STEM subjects are limitless. Those working with computers, specifically, are much needed in Omaha and nationwide.

“The number of computer science positions is far outpacing the number of graduates we will have in those careers,” Grandgenett says. “One in five positions in computer science will not be filled due to not having the people with the skills.”

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

 

From the Editor

May 24, 2017 by

I’m the first to admit that I’m not the most feminine of women. Yet I have one ritual that falls into the “girly” category—I love polishing my nails. My favorite polish brands cost about $3 to $5 and include a component that is made right here in Omaha.

NAGL Manufacturing creates the bottle brushes for nearly all major polish brands. Their work includes custom designs for Essie and Christian Louboutin, among others.

Design. It’s all around us, and it’s the theme of this issue.

Did you notice the Wienermobile roll through the Old Market on April 24? This now-classic car features an intriguing design—all based around a hot dog theme.

Omaha is a great place for architects and engineers to live, but many new graduates already knew that. Oftentimes, UNL and UNO graduates choose the quality of life that can be found here over larger cities and jobs with higher salaries.

Other graduates leave Omaha and return with big ideas. Nate Miller worked in Los Angeles and for a New York City firm. He now runs his own Omaha-based company, Proving Ground.

Check out Fair Deal Marketplace in North Omaha when you have a chance. The new shopping area is home to several micro businesses—and the entire structure was made from shipping containers.

Omaha is home to a lot of great design.

Daisy Hutzell-Rodman is the managing editor of B2B, a publication of Omaha Magazine LTD. She can be reached at daisy@omahamagazine.com.

This letter was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

A Conversation with Nancy Pridal

May 15, 2017 by

Scott Anderson: What are the biggest changes that the engineering industry will face in the future?

Nancy Pridal: Understanding the implications of tomorrow’s technology on how we do business today is a bit of an unknown. We have to resist the “success as usual” syndrome and continue exploring opportunities in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the internet of things, etc.

Scott Anderson: Can you give me an example?

Nancy Pridal: The distinction between who addresses infrastructure needs are becoming blurred. Tech firms like Amazon, Verizon, Google, and Apple are all jumping into infrastructure issues, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities. They’re actively seeking solutions. These were historically led by engineers. As an industry, we need to be at the table. Understanding and participating in these conversations at the highest level is critical now.

Scott Anderson: So, what is the impact that the engineering industry is experiencing today?

Nancy Pridal: At an educational level, engineering schools are reassessing core curriculum that hasn’t dramatically changed since the ’50s. Current pedagogy is being examined to produce the engineers we need for the future.

Another big issue for the industry is attracting diversity to STEM. While the field of engineering is continually expanding and can provide abundant opportunities for women and minorities in technical and leadership roles, these groups are still greatly underrepresented. The main reason women leave engineering is company culture, so it’s critical that we understand the impact of culture on women in the industry.

To engage youth in our community, Lamp Rynearson has taken a lead role in advocating for the ACE Mentor Program, which encourages high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction. It’s essential for the engineering industry to align its culture and policies so it attracts and develops a diverse group of professionals who will add the most value in this exciting future.

Scott Anderson: Are there any signs of the future impacting the present state of engineering?

Nancy Pridal: From a construction standpoint, we have seen an increase in “stringless paving” that has changed what we provide for construction administration and staking services. Drones and other new technology are already becoming go-to technologies in our field. 

Scott Anderson: So, if engineers are not involved in surveying and other traditional engineering tasks, what roles will they play?

Nancy Pridal: Lamp Rynearson is leading this discussion with peer firms now, to ensure that as a company and as an industry we are keeping pace, if not leading the way, toward future advances in our field. The key for us is to remain nimble and open-minded to anticipate the future needs of the communities we serve.

We must be continuous questioners and continuous learners to serve the continually changing needs of our communities. As engineers, it’s who we are. There’s a book called A Whole New Engineer by David Goldberg and Mark Somerville, which forecasts what it’s going to take for the engineer of the future to advance the places where we live and work.

Nancy Pridal, Lamp Rynearson & Associates senior vice president, is a civil engineer strategist with widespread project and client management, strategic planning, leadership development, and geographic expansion experience. With offices in Nebraska, Colorado, and the Kansas City area, Lamp Rynearson claims a varied and extensive list of civil engineering, landscape architecture, and survey services.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.