Professional Engineers Day
August 3, 2021
In honor of Professional Engineers Day, we’d like to highlight Corey Maynard, Engineer – Civil, to share a story about an impactful moment that made him proud to be an engineer while solving an unusual problem for a client.
By: Corey Maynard, Engineer – Civil
It was a dark and stormy night when the project manager for a city project I was working on decided to do a walkthrough and address some unforeseen drainage issues. And when better to look at drainage than in the middle of a thunderstorm? Nevertheless, I grabbed my poncho and umbrella and drove to the site, which was located above a river on a steep man-made slope.
Unrelated to my current assignment, I noticed at the bottom of the slope were several floating docks running parallel to the shoreline. The docks were attached to large columns anchored into the bedrock allowing the docks to move up and down with the rise and fall of the water. There were gangways attached to the shore that laid perpendicular to and on top of these docks. As the water level rose the docks would rise and the gangways would adjust, rotating about a hinge at the shore. While watching the city’s public works department workers pull the gangways up to a vertical position with attached cables and secure them in place, I asked the director of public works standing next to me why they would do this during thunderstorm after hours. She explained that when the water level reached a certain level, several of the gangways would slip off the docks and fall under them. The city had already replaced two gangways and to prevent further damage, workers would raise the gangways when heavy rain was forecasted.
I could not understand how this issue was overlooked in the design with knowledge of the frequent river flooding that can rise over 15 feet within a short period of time. The director of public works explained how they had considered other ideas but lifting the gangways was easy and inexpensive. I did not push the issue as I was there on different matters, but it bothered me for the next week. I knew there had to be a better way that did not require city workers to lift these 20-40-foot-long gangways every time it rained.
I obsessed over this situation in my free time. I brainstormed and developed some solutions, but they all required redesign or replacement of large components, so they weren’t practical. Finally, it hit me! A float could attach to the bottom of the gangway. After some calculations and scaled drawings, I figured that the gangway would fall off the dock at around 11 feet of rise. If the float was always in the water supporting the gangway, it could lead to several other issues, so I determined that placing the float so that it would begin to lift the gangway just before the water level got to the point of drop off would allow everything to function as normal but would save it from falling below the dock. This seemed doable, and relatively cost effective. I had figured out a viable solution. But my job wasn’t finished; I needed to design it.
Following my revelation, I called the company that built the docks to get more information and I went back to the site to gather field measurements so that I could draw it in CAD. After about 15 hours working on this pet project, I had a polished masterpiece: an excel spreadsheet. It accounted for every variable I could think of from the force of the river flow on the float and the effects that would have on the gangway’s anchor bolts, the angle the gangway encounters the water, to if it would cause trash to collect. Soon I had produced an exact representation of what would happen on each gangway as the water rose and fell.
Once I completed a concise and detailed description of my design, a cost estimate, and a materials list (including hardware), I proudly shared my proposal to the director of public works. She didn’t understand my concern about it, so I explained I did it for fun to help the city and I wasn’t looking to be paid. She laughed and called me a “nerd” in jest, a characteristic I have learned to pride myself on, and said she would review my proposal.
After not hearing from the director in months, she called me to say they were going to try my idea on one of the gangways, jokingly saying that I would receive a bill in the mail if the idea failed. I was excited to see my plan in action and that the city was willing to try it. Suddenly I was worried; what if it didn’t work? Other than my math I had no proof that it would work, but I remembered a saying from one of my professors, “the math doesn’t lie”. The whole experience made me realize the gravity of being an engineer and the responsibility that comes along with it. All the course work, sleepless nights and cramming for exams had given me the skills and confidence to solve real world problems. This is what engineers do: “We listen. We solve”. I took pride in the fact that someone was willing to put their trust in me to vet one of my ideas.
The city ordered the float and installed it per my recommendations. The next week I measured and took pictures of the gangway to verify it was in the right place and that the float was the correct size. And then I went home to wait.
It has been almost 2 years, and I’m still waiting on a flood…
At Ulteig, we want to thank Corey Maynard and all our professional engineers. Professional Engineers Day is not only a celebration of their work and professionalism, it’s also a moment to recognize the value and critical role that engineers have played and will continue to play in the future in building our nation’s infrastructure (transportation, power, renewables, water and much more).