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  • Bio: Roger Knipe is a Structural Engineer for Scott Wilson Group plc, a global integrated design and engineering consultancy for the built and natural environments.

Roger Knipe

When I tell people what I do, they sometimes look at me a little blankly. Not many people seem to really know what a structural engineer is! If you are one of those people, hopefully this article will give you an insight into who we are, what we do and why I enjoy it so much.

Structural engineers provide the structure which ‘holds up’ the buildings, bridges and infrastructure all around us. We work in teams with architects, civil engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers, quantity surveyors and other specialists to provide buildings which are functional, attractive, efficient and safe.

Starting out

My route to a career in structural engineering came about through an interest in buildings and a love of all things practical – I grew up on a farm and I’ve always been interested in how things work and how they’re put together. During my early teenage years I wanted to be an architect, but at A Level stage I decided that my strengths were more technical than artistic so I chose a degree in Structural Engineering with Architecture at Queen’s University, Belfast. This had a balance between the artistic and the technical, which suited me well.

During my time at university I was sponsored by a local firm of architects and consulting engineers, Ferguson McIlveen, and spent summers and my sandwich year working for them. This gave me great experience, not just in technical design work, but also the commercial and professional aspects of the industry, such as consultant’s fees, construction contracts and costs. I returned to Ferguson McIlveen in 2006 as a graduate, and shortly after this the firm was acquired by Scott Wilson, one of the larger international consulting firms.

Engineering in practice

Since embarking on my career in structural engineering, I have worked on a great variety of projects, predominantly hospital and industrial buildings. In the early stages I worked under more experienced engineers, producing design calculations and drawings. As my experience has increased I have moved to a position where I have responsibility for the design of all or part of a project and have a small team of younger engineers to help me. A more senior engineer checks my work and looks after contractual and commercial matters, with my assistance.

On a typical day I spend some time doing design calculations (often using computer programmes to analyse complex structures quickly) and some time coordinating design with other members of the design team. Often I would attend meetings with contractors to discuss progress, and clients to discuss their requirements for the structure. When contractors return their tenders for a project I would be involved in reviewing these to make sure that their proposals comply with our design and specification, and when a building is under construction I make regular site visits to inspect progress. It is always interesting to see the structure which I have designed taking shape on site – for some reason it’s never quite the same as you imagine it.

My current project is a large factory building for an aircraft component manufacturer in Belfast. I have been responsible for design of all the steelwork, which has to support the building under the usual loads of building services, wind and snow as well as carrying cranes, which will hang from the roof structure to move components around the factory. The roof will need to be built to very strict dimensions to ensure the cranes will work properly. The design of the building had to be completed very quickly to suit the client’s programme for commencing manufacture, so the process has been a little frantic at times but very enjoyable.

Getting qualified

I have recently attempted the Chartered Membership Examination of the Institution of Structural Engineers. This is every structural engineer’s goal as it is a very prestigious title and is an international passport to practice as a structural engineer. Results come out later this year – fingers crossed!

I am also involved in the Institution of Structural Engineers as chairman of the Young Members’ Panel. This panel exists to represent the views of younger members (particularly graduates and students) within the Institution and to promote the Institution and the profession of structural engineering to younger people. The panel is made up of young structural engineers from all over the UK, with corresponding members from other parts of the world.

What do I love about my job?

There are too many things to list. The satisfaction gained from seeing the structure which I designed, being erected on site is excellent – and it’s the result of a lot of teamwork which is also hugely rewarding. Working with a large team of people from different professions – architects, civil engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers and quantity surveyors – is sometimes a challenge but coordinating design between these disciplines is actually one of my favourite parts of the design process. I also enjoy building relationships with clients and building up an understanding of their objectives for their projects.

Would I recommend structural engineering as a career? Of course I would! The variety of work and the sense of achievement and teamwork make it a great career – very rewarding, very fulfilling.

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