4.1 Advancing knowledge

Over the centuries, engineers have faced and solved a huge number of problems of one sort or another. Each time a problem is solved, knowledge is advanced, something usually gets written down, and so today we have a wealth of experience to draw on. Equally, problem-solving techniques have also been developed and evolved through use and refinement, which is rather handy. Not only do we have some idea of existing solutions to similar problems, but we also have an indication of how to go
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3 Needs and problems

The last section has established that engineering is about satisfying needs. In fact, with so many needs, it's a wonder that not everyone is an engineer! So, now that we have talked about both needs and problems, the logical progression is to examine the relationship between them.

Take the water example as being a fundamental need. We can state it thus:

This village needs a supply of clean water. <
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2 Where does the need arise?

There is a rather obvious question that has to be raised at some point, so we may as well get it over with now: Why do we present ourselves with all these problems? After all, life would be easier without them and we could all go off and do jobs that don't involve them. Do we really need to know everything about the universe? Or to send people into space, at significant cost and human risk? Do we really need to send sound and pictures through space? Do we really need to communicate with peopl
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1.2 Innovation by context

The word ‘innovate’ simply means ‘make new’. We have chosen in this unit to narrow the meaning of this term to be more or less synonymous with ‘invention’. I would argue that innovation by context is as much a process as a result. By that, I'm using the term to mean something more like ‘creativity’; and it's creativity that lies at the heart of all engineering. More than anything else in our professional lives, we engineers are excited by the prospect of being responsible for
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Learning outcomes

After studying this unit you should be able to:

  • View solutions as belonging to particular categories, broadly classified as:

  • innovation by context

  • innovation by practice

  • routine.

  • See how external factors affect engineering projects, and appreciate the range of engineering involved in meeting the basic needs of our society.

  • Recognise and apply a range of problem-solving techniques fr
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Acknowledgements

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Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following for permission to reproduce material:


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6.3 Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge failure

Such over-design could not be sustained for long and bridge designers gradually pared back their margins of safety. There is elegance and economy in having the lightest structure compatible with function. But history has a habit of repeating itself.

In 1940 a new suspension bridge with a central span of 2800 feet was built over the Tacoma Narrows in the United States. It was soon noticed the bridge deck was prone to oscillate in certain winds. The vertical amplitude of the oscillations
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Myths persist

Many myths still surround the Tay Bridge disaster, the most pervasive being it was brought down by wind action alone. Rothery's report (see Paper 3) should dispel that particular myth, in addition to the numerous examples shown in this unit of the way the structure had deteriorated by the time of the storm in late 1879.

Click 'View document' below to open Paper 3 (35 pages, 39 MB).

5.13 Conclusion of the BoT enquiry

The BoT enquiry issued two reports at the end of the enquiry, one authored by the chair, Mr Rothery, the other by the two other assessors. The Rothery report is Paper 3, linked below. They agreed about most of the issues in contention, as follows (Paper 3, page 47 of report).

  1. There is no evidence to show that there has been any movement or settlement in the foundations of the pier
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5.9 Mechanical tests by David Kirkaldy

In order to determine which of the several parts of the joint were weakest, and gain some idea of the scatter in strength, David Kirkaldy was employed by Henry Law to test various samples he had collected from the bases of the fallen piers. David Kirkaldy had a good reputation for accurate and rigorous mechanical testing of materials using a large tensometer he had designed and built in London (see Input 9, linked below).

Click 'View document' below to open Input 9


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Bridge oscillations

Testimony was taken from the many workers employed during construction and painting of the structure just after completion. Their evidence was more compelling, especially from painters working at the top of the high girders piers during passage of trains, as well as during windy weather. They were painting the cast iron of the piers during the summer of 1879. In the main, they reported feeling strong sideways as well as vertical motion:

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4.8 Photographs showing the detail: standing pier 28

The final part of the survey deals with the two standing piers connected to the lower girders left after the high girders section fell during the disaster. The whole of pier 28 is shown in Figure 34, and two close-ups of the columns are shown in Figures Author(s): The Open University

3.3 Description of the bridge

An outline plan of the bridge shows the main piers on which the bridge was laid (Figure 10). To allow shipping to pass up the Tay to Perth, a height of about 88 feet was required between the bridge girders and the high water mark in the middle of the firth. On the south bank, at Wormit, the land rose steeply t
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2.2 Transportation disasters

Movement of people and goods was one of the main outcomes of the industrial revolution in Britain in the late-eighteenth century, starting with canals, which were displaced gradually by railways. Industrialisation came through innovation in manufacture, especially the development of mass-produced materials such as cast-iron. While the material had been known and used since the Elizabethan period, it could only be made in small quantities by smelting iron ore with charcoal.

The Darby fam
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1.2 Earthquakes and volcanoes

The disasters that first come to mind are those where the earth itself changes in an unpredictable and sudden way:

  • earthquakes

  • volcanic eruptions

  • tidal waves

These natural phenomena are now known to be interconnected: earthquakes result from vast plates of the earth's crust meeting and moving against one another. Volcanic explosions, such as Krakatoa (1883) and Mount St Helens (1980) are also manifestations
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2.5 Review

The title of this unit could have been Juggling with complexity: searching for system. This title seemed to capture something essential about the unit. Juggling is a rich metaphor and will be used explicitly in Part 3. But it also carries the idea of a skill that needs to be practised and that might seem incredibly awkward to begin with. You may find this idea helpful as you review your work in Part 1. Juggling is also a skill that, once practised, becomes second nature. This too may b
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5.14.2 Reverse osmosis

This technique, explained in Section 3.8.1, is rapidly becoming a major means of desalination, with research producing membranes with lower operating pressures (and hence lower operating costs). Originally a pressure of 14 × 106 Pa was needed to separate pure water from sea water but with newer membranes only half this pressure is required. Reverse osmosis membranes operate at ambient temperature, in contrast to multistage flash distillation, and this lower temperature minimises s
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Introduction

This unit is from our archive and it is an adapted extract from Environmental Control and Public Health (T210) which is no longer in presentation. If you wish to study formally at The Open University, you may wish to explore the courses we offer in this curriculum area.

With
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3.3.3 Reassembling the parts

As the wreckage was pulled from the river it was examined and identified, and any failures of the metal components were recognised and tagged. This was a mammoth task, given that virtually the whole bridge had fallen into the water, including all the road decks, trusses, chains and hangers, eye bars and the two towers. The parts were then reassembled and all the failed or fractured components photographed and catalogued. Over 90 per cent of the bridge components were collected together and re
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2.6 Corrosion in stressed products – stress corrosion cracking (SCC)

If a stress exists in a product exposed to a corrosive environment, the rate of corrosion can then increase and be extremely localised, such as at the tip of a growing crack. Furthermore, some specific chemicals are so aggressive that corrosion will occur at relatively low stress levels, such as those created during manufacture, for example. The residual stress in a component can then be enough to trigger crack growth and failure.


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