European structural design codes are finally set to become design standards across Europe from March next year. By Paul Thompson
Structural engineers are not renowned for their spontaneity, but even by their standards the 34-year lead in from declaration to delivery of harmonised pan-European structural design codes must rank as sluggish.
So industry finally stands on the cusp of a European structural design revolution. Or does it? Ask around the industry and you will find a raft of different reactions to their introduction from the celebratory equivalent of a structural engineer’s high five, through sigh of acceptance to a shrug of indifferent shoulders. The truth is like most new launches the Eurocodes will be a boon to some, a requirement for others and a hindrance to a few.
Such is the proliferation of design information covering each structural framing material and loading case that BSI British Standards has been compelled to write a guide to them. Covering design of each of the most common framing materials as well as a few materials and applications less commonly used in the UK the British Standards guide BSI Structural Eurocodes Companion leads designers through the major changes most likely to affect UK structural engineers.
Boost for innovation
But such is the lengthy introduction of these codes that there are no surprises for most engineers. Broadly speaking the Eurocodes will mean a change from the conservatism of British Standards allowing more flexible and innovative design. For many, particularly those focussed on the design of reinforced concrete structures, taking up the European challenge will mean major change. They will for example be able to design slimmer longer spanning sections which will take some of the wind out of the steel lobby’s sails. Traditionally steel has held the bragging rights for those longer, slimmer spans.
But it is more a worry over the economical effects that introduction will have rather than design lead fears that concern many. In today’s tightened market place the last thing hard pressed structural engineers need is the expense of paying up for Eurocode lead computer design packages and training. From one-man-band to international consulting engineer, costs for the new design codes soon add up and it’s a burden that all could do without.
“As far as working with them I don’t think it will make too much difference,” says South Yorkshire based structural engineer Ian Rawson, MD of Ian Rawson Structural Design, “The problem is the getting hold of all the new design packages. The cost for those will soon start adding up,” he says.
It is a cost that industry bodies are doing their best to help deflect. Not by funding the purchase of the latest package s but by making sure that help and guidance is out there for those that need it.
“We recognise that there is not a little investment in converting from the British Standards to the new Eurocodes but by publishing ‘how to’ guides and hosting free seminars across the country we are doing our best to help minimise that investment,” says Dr Andrew Minson, head of the Concrete Centre.
By ensuring the design equations within the new codes relate to those used in the old standards, Dr Minson hopes that any confusion when the European standards are unleashed will be minimised. But, he argues, ultimately there are design benefits that should be welcomed and many are yet to be recognised. “Designers will be able to recognise the equations within the codes; we have tried to make sure they are as compatible with the look of British Standards as possible. We think there are benefits that all codes are more compatible to one another but there will be more that become obvious in the long run,” he says.
To some, those benefits are yet to materialise. The steel lobby has been a loud and long advocate of the British Standards that cover the use of structural steel. According to industry body the British Constructional Steelwork Association, they are the strongest in Europe so, to coin a phrase, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.
It’s a notion strengthened by the realisation that most designers using structural steel, will not even have to use the Eurocodes for another five years anyway. “Once renewed and revised, the existing British Standards can be used for another five years before they need renewing anyway,” says BCSA director general Dr Derek Tordoff, “We have agreed that the existing British Standards for all construction materials can continue to be used under the Building Regulations Approved Document A. Designers can continue to use the old standards, which have many benefits, until 2015.”
In whichever camp the design foot lies, one thing is for certain. There may actually be an end to one of the longest sagas the construction industry has witnessed.