IStructE Core Objective 2.3 – Materials


Where the previous objective (2.2 – Analysis and Design) is focused more on the theoretical side of engineering design, this objective is concerned with the practical aspects. Structural engineering is a practical career, and the bending moment diagram can only get you so far. This objective is asking you to demonstrate for instance: “why did you choose steel for this structure rather than concrete, given that both materials can resist the forces applied?

The four main materials in the structural engineer's arsenal are:

  • Steel,
  • Concrete,
  • Masonry and
  • Timber.

The examiner will ideally see evidence of your working with all four materials. However they state that whilst you need to demonstrate ability in at least two of the materials, for the others you can get away with knowledge of the properties and the practical considerations involved in working with them. It is possible to be a specialist in other less common materials such as aluminium and glass, but you are still expected to have ability level competence in two of the four above.

Demonstrating Competence

A good way to demonstrate your ability in a material is to have worked on the design of a project in that material through all the stages of design, from scheme design through to detailed design and specification. At the scheme design stage, ideally you will have done a comparison study, considering two different options for a project, that may have involved different combinations of materials. You can then talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and explain why the preferred material was chosen.

At the detailed design stage you then get a chance to demonstrate that you understand the practical considerations of designing with that material – for example steel connection design or concrete reinforcement detailing. You also should have a chance to write the specification for the material, as this will cover a lot of the practical aspects regarding selecting the correct grade, corrosion and fire protection, durability etc.

It may be relevant to mention training courses that you have attended and record these in your CPD, but these will not be enough to demonstrate your ability to work independently and supervise others.

An excellent way to demonstrate your level of competence is to have given an internal presentation to your colleagues that may have covered a particular aspect of a material, for example, ‘The availability of different timber sizes, grades and species in the UK  market' or ‘Specifying the correct steel subgrade'.

What to say in your final report:

  • Which materials you have the best ability in (at least two)
  • How you have shared this knowledge with others
  • Describe the scope of your experience in each material (which project stages it covers)
  • Give example projects and describe what impact the project had on the material selection, and what impact the chosen material had on the project

What to put in your portfolio:

  • Scheme design comparison study between two materials
  • Details from a project showing how the material was used to its strengths

Reading List:


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