Initially Joyce got into engineering just to prove a point.
Growing up she was very good in the STEM subjects and was one of those kids that would take the family’s video recorder apart and be able to put it back together. She loved solving problems and making things that are complicated… well, simple.
When it came time to select a university course, Joyce’s family were pressuring her to go into a traditional female field – such as finance or business. But at the very last minute Joyce did a sneaky, swapped the forms and put in for engineering because she wanted to prove the point that she could do as good a job as any guy.
I never regretted that, I think I enjoy myself
Extra discussions during the episode
Future: Younger engineers are very innovative, creative and incredibly tech savvy.
Older engineers like myself, we have the experience.. But they have the tech savviness that actually combines it to create a very good recipe for creativity and innovations.
Advice: Don’t be afraid to ask why. And advice for the older engineer – work with younger engineers, the benefits might surprise you.
Don’t be afraid of challenging the status quo
Ancient Egyptian civilisation
the precision in their construction that they actually manage without all the technology that we have currently
Antoni Gaudi – Architect, builder, engineer, all in one.
Probably the forefathers of biomimicry in terms of buildings. Mimicking the way nature behaves and translating that back into a building a structure.
Joyce has been delivering complex and challenging projects across Australia, United Kingdom and Singapore for over 20 years as a chartered professional engineer, in collaboration with renown international architects like Zaha Hadid and Lord Norman Foster.
She implements innovative and economical solutions to project challenges and is passionate in pushing the boundaries of modular technologies.
With her experience and expertise in Systemised Technology, Joyceis currently leading the AECOM modular initiatives working closely with digital disruptors to integrate technologies from Industry 4.0 with established lean methodologies in the construction prefabrication space.
Joyce is an Adjunct Industry Fellow with Swinburne University and an Industry Technical Advisor to Melbourne University CAMP.H initiative. She is also on the board of directors for PrefabAUS, a hub advocating prefabrication in Australia.
Joyce is speaking at the Australasian Structural Engineering Conference, 11 – 13 Nov 2020
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 4 Episode 23
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Joyce Ferng
Joyce: [00:00:00] obviously it didn’t go down too well with my Asian parents, we had a bit of a fight and, if only I think about now they’ve come around to it. Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. Pretty much. So that’s how I ended up doing engineering and I never regretted that. I think I enjoy myself.
[00:00:21] Mel & Dom: [00:00:21] So besides the rebellion, was there something you could have picked? Anything? What made you pick engineering? did you know much about it?
[00:00:30]Joyce: [00:00:30] I think I liked something that I can create and built and I can see it. So there was the option of going into like maybe electrical engineering, you know, you can’t, you can’t see all the electricity that’s going through the cables, you know, and the other stuff like chemistry, I’m not into chemistry. Atoms and the molecules doesn’t speak to me, but buildings does, you know, it’s, it’s amazing. And it’s a testament of what you do, your creativity is there for a long, long, long time.
[00:01:01] Mel & Dom: [00:01:01] After you finished your course. Do you remember what your first project was?
[00:01:06]Joyce: [00:01:06] my first project was actually in Singapore. I did my university in Singapore and uh, during that time it wasn’t that much of a training. They don’t like got you to the process. They just, okay, here’s a project let’s get going. You know, you studied for years in the university, you know what you need to do.
[00:01:24] So get going. So the first thing I had to do was to witness a piling test. We were actually building a school and the design was actually pretty much done and it was all, site works. And you’re fresh out of uni and you go to the site and you’re supposed to witness a piling test. What is a piling test?
[00:01:45] I have no idea.
[00:01:47] Mel & Dom: [00:01:47] I’m thinking this while you’re talking about it.
[00:01:50] Joyce: [00:01:50] Yeah, exactly. So I had to ask all my seniors, you know, what am I supposed to be looking at? You know, what am I supposed to check? I have no idea. So in a way I was kind of thrown into the deep end. and it is either you sink or you swim. So, you know, you had to learn things very, very fast. So having done the site first and then do the design, kind of makes sense because you actually see how things are being done on site and then where you actually do your design work, you can actually make it a lot more efficient rather than you designing and putting in rebars and designing how much stuff, but it actually went onsite.
[00:02:24] You actually can’t physically fit it. So I had kind of the reverse kind of training. So I had the site experience first and then the design expense if you call it.
[00:02:34] Mel & Dom: [00:02:34] Oh, wow. I just, I just loved the trial by fire. It seems to be a common theme with a lot of people.
[00:02:40] And I love the fact that. You got that side experience early in your career as well. I’m assuming it gave you a much better understanding. Once you went back into the design
[00:02:48] Joyce: [00:02:48] the design side. Yeah. Correct.
[00:02:51]Mel & Dom: [00:02:51] It’s all well and good when you draw it on paper and you go, that’ll be great. but then when the guys on site, you know, you’ve got,
[00:03:02] yeah. And that way, even in our side of things where you’re doing ducts in buildings and the people on site looking at it going that’s all well and good, but they don’t make feedings that allow me to get things in and out of that duct, like you’ve drawn it. So it’s nice to know how it all goes together, but at the beginning.
[00:03:17]Joyce: [00:03:17] Yeah, although it was pretty tough, I mean being onsite and in Singapore is a really, really hot and humid. So being onsite is pretty tough. Yeah.
[00:03:29] Mel & Dom: [00:03:29] So what made you decide to leave Singapore and come to Australia?
[00:03:32] Joyce: [00:03:32] Oh I landed in 2012. And I was in Perth, I landed in Perth actually, and it was a huge difference. Had a bit of a, a shock cultural shock or, yeah, probably work environment shock but I love it because I ended up doing a lot of mining works up in the Pilbara. So and that’s where my interest in modular and prefabrication came about. You know, I was thinking of ways of actually using prefabrication as a way of construction and the way of application. So instead of thinking of the dongas just for temporary accommodation and just there for the miners, the quality is poor.
[00:04:12] We can actually use that kind of methodology to build in our traditiona l construction, the high rises so we can employ this sort of methods. So after a couple of years in Perth, I ended up in Melbourne because AECOM where I’m working right now. They were looking for someone to lead this particular initiative, prefabrication initiative or what we call offsite manufacturing.
[00:04:36] So it kind of gels well with my passion now, and I strongly believe this is where the industry will be heading.
[00:04:42] Mel & Dom: [00:04:42] It’s a very exciting area to be in. Yeah, definitely. it’s an emerging area. it’s one of those areas that just seems to be really forging ahead in regards to the work that you’re doing.
Joyce: [00:04:59] we are doing things very antiquatedly , were not progressive. And we tend to accept it as well. And change is inevitable.
[00:05:12] You know, we’re talking about sustainability, movement. We’re talking about so many other things that’s coming online , like a different shift in skillset of people, the generations. The new generation of engineers are completely different from where I come from, and we’re not actually catering for that.
[00:05:31] So we need to do things very, very differently.A change in the whole concept of how we design things and how we construct things. So I think that’s something that we need to address. We need to build things that are more resilient and more sustainable and we need to be future focused rather than solving problems for today, but actually creating a lot of problems for the future.
[00:05:56] So I can give you a classic example,
[00:05:58]Mel & Dom: [00:05:58] Yeah. Yeah, I
[00:05:59] Joyce: [00:05:59] when you look at, we talk about sustainability. So the response is yes, we use renewables. We have wind turbines which are sprouting the countryside with wind turbines, but do we ever consider what we do with the end of life of this particular product?
[00:06:18] Now we have lots and lots of wind turbines now coming to the end of their lifespan. And what do we do with them? We can’t recycle them. They are very, very strong and they’re as big as a Boeing wing, 747 Boeing wing. So what do you do with that? You actually bury them. You bury them as landfill. Yes. And in US right, they’ve just decommission a whole wind farm.
[00:06:42]per year we are burying eight thousand wind turbines. And this is going to go on for the next four years, just to clear that whole wind farm. So we are not solving the problem. We are pushing the problem to the future. I think this is something that we seriously as engineers, we need to address.
[00:07:03] We need to look at things very, very differently. The solution that we have needs to have a life span, way beyond what we can foresee right now.We shouldn’t be pressured into coming up with a solution that will create more problems in the future.
[00:07:18]Mel & Dom: [00:07:18] Absolutely. That is the scary part of it as well, because we do need to move towards renewables, but people seem to forget that there’s waste associated with everything. So it’s really a case of it’s lovely that we can get this power From wind, but if you’re going to end up with a massive problem at the other end of the life of the product, then is it really just, is it really saving the environment or are we just postponing it for a later day?
[00:07:45] Well, and that’s been the problem with innovation all through time is that it’s a solution for now, but it’s a problem for future.
[00:07:53] so I was going to ask as well, in regards to moving on from antiquated ideals and processes.
[00:07:59] Is it something that you find in having practiced engineering in other countries? Do you find that there’s other countries that are more forward thinking in relation to this? Or is it across the board where we’re still using the same techniques, no matter where we are?
[00:08:13] Joyce: [00:08:13] Yeah. Funny, you should ask that. I think Australia, unfortunately we are a lot more backward. I think a lot of things that we are actually doing are maybe about 10, 15 years behind. So things that actually learned in the UK, we are only just discovering over here. I think in each country, the development , it’s slightly different in some sort of level in terms of the advancement. you know, Like renewables, and designing a building, say for example, that is air tight. That is energy efficient. Now in UK, we’ve been using double glazing, triple glazing installation, and that’s been specified across for, for many, many years for decades now. Whereas over here, Melbourne is pretty cold and I’m sure Sydney, you know, during winter as well. It has his days. We still using single glaze windows when we’re not even talking about type of glazing.
[00:09:06] And in Europe, it’s talking about triple glaze already. Still we are very behind in terms of technology that we’re using. And also we are behind in adopting change. We are very traditional. you know, I still get things like Joyce, I’ve been doing this for 40 years, you know? you know, when I go to site and say, Oh, maybe we can do it this way.
[00:09:28] I get that, I’ve been doing this for 40 years Joyce. Yeah.
[00:09:31]Mel & Dom: [00:09:31] And it’s, it’s funny how we, we only ever seem to react to the things that bother us most, cause there’s a story that my father always used to tell in regards to one of his friends who was Swedish and he moved to Australia and he used to always say, the winters in Sydney are the coldest he’s ever experienced.
[00:09:48] And we used to. Just said to me, well, my father has said, well, what are you talking about? And then he’d say the buildings in Sweden are designed for the cold. So you make sure that they’re warm, they’re designed in order to give you efficient heating, whereas in Sydney, all we care about is summer. When winter comes around, we just sort of, we do whatever it takes, but we have, yeah, that’s funny.
[00:10:10] We have these amazingly inefficient homes, but all we care about is whether or not they are air conditioned for the summer. So I think you need to consider all of the applications and what’s going on across the board. Not just that one problem that crops up.
[00:10:25]Joyce: [00:10:25] Yeah, I think it’s a holistic solution or what we call, I like to call it an integrated solution. And although I know I’m in the structural stream or engineering discipline, I like to think of a way we deliver a building. It’s not just about the structure. It’s about the functionality of the whole building.
[00:10:43] So we talk about the acoustics. We talk about the fire compliances. Everything, the energy efficiency of things and also the building, all the materials within that building. We’ll need to look at how we can bring it from cradle to cradle, not cradle to grave.
[00:11:04] Mel & Dom: [00:11:04] A rebirth
[00:11:04] Joyce: [00:11:04] yes, correct.
[00:11:05] We need to adopt materials that we can pull apart and recycle the parts. You know, we can break it down to other components that we can reuse them. Rather than just using them, and then that’s it. we park it aside and then it goes into the landfill.
[00:11:20] there’s a lot of opportunity especially now with COVID. when we come out from the other side there’s a real opportunity. You know, the government is pumping a lot of money into the infrastructure. I think this is a time to embrace the change that is going to come and utilize all this to build a better, resilient future.
[00:11:40] Mel & Dom: [00:11:40] So, with Australia lagging behind in regards to this renewable area, are there some solutions that we can potentially look at locally in order to bring us forward?
[00:11:52] Joyce: [00:11:52] I think most definitely. You know, the other countries, they have new creative ideas and they’ve called it healing problems. So we can learn from that. And we can kind of like that skip across that, to the next level. So there are seriously a lot of opportunities and to be honest, Australians are very, very creative. You know, I work a lot with the universities as well, and the ideas that is generated, it’s actually very applicable. It’s just that the industry needs to be brave enough, and the government needs to come into the picture as well in collaboration to push this forward.
[00:12:26] So the, there are signs and there are trends that’s showing that this trend is happening. For example, the federal government is actually pumping money into creating a hub, a prefabrication hub, for this to happen. So utilizing this as a mechanism to pull researchers in the industry, as well as the government backing to actually create that sort of innovative solution for the future.
[00:12:51] Mel & Dom: [00:12:51] Do you think the frame work is in place to support the movement? if we don’t have the processes in place to constantly renew and reinvent and revigor the the policies and the system we’ll only fall behind again.
[00:13:07]Joyce: [00:13:07] yeah, the infrastructure is very important. And I can give you a classic example of Singapore. Obviously we know that Singapore is very restrictive, the government controls a lot of things. So they were very, very adamant that they wanted to use prefabrication in the construction industry. And they actually change a lot of logistics policy just to suit that.
[00:13:28] So for example, the road requirements, the width, the load that the truck can carry, they actually changed that to adopt it. And to give the contractors or the builders incentive to actually build with modular construction. So it is not that they have to pay a premium in terms of cost just to use this new methodology, but the government actually provides incentives to match that. So they’re not out of pocket. So by creating this sort of environment where something that’s new, becomes a norm, then you don’t need to do anything else. By default, everyone will be just following in line and developing that.
[00:14:06] So it is very important that the government comes to the table, and drive this as well. So there must be a road map between industry, government and the academics coming together to drive this.
[00:14:18]Mel & Dom: [00:14:18] Yeah, it needs to have all parties involved in ensuring that Australia becomes innovative, instead of just in theory, but actually in practice. So what are your thoughts on the future of engineering? Do you think Australia will get there?
[00:14:34]Joyce: [00:14:35] I believe so. you know, When we work with a lot of engineers that’s coming into our organization. They are very creative. They are very innovative and they are very, very tech savvy as well. So they do things a lot quicker, a lot more efficient in terms of now we’re using all this computer modeling that is digital age.
[00:14:55]so with the kind of the older engineers like myself, we have the experience, but they have the tech savviness that actually combines it to create a very good recipe for creativity and innovations.
[00:15:08]Mel & Dom: [00:15:08] So what would you say to entities that are coming into that future?
[00:15:11]Joyce: [00:15:11] don’t be afraid of challenging the status quo. I think that would be my, my statement to them, you know, always ask why we are doing what we’re doing. always think about a better way of doing it. be creative, you know, thinking outside the box. Basically coming up with ways of doing things differently or better.
[00:15:33] Mel & Dom: [00:15:33] Push those boundaries is what I’m hearing.
[00:15:36] Joyce: [00:15:36] Yes, yes, yes.
[00:15:38] Mel & Dom: [00:15:38] Oh, I can just imagine a teenager coming out of you. Well, they wouldn’t be tainted a young 20 year old coming up to me. He’s like, no, no, I’m just doing this. It’s like, just get back in here. I’ve been doing this.
[00:15:51] You gotta be careful about that one. Don’t we.
[00:15:54] Joyce: [00:15:54] Yes. I do enjoy because at the end of the day, right. when you sit down with them and you have this brainstorming session, you do actually learn a lot of things because they see things from a very, very different perspective. And because you’re all in jaded, you know, you see things in a different way.
[00:16:10]it kind of freshens up your way of thinking.
[00:16:13] Mel & Dom: [00:16:13] It’s true because it’s great to feed off their energy like it. And I know we’ve had some engineers who I’ve worked with and who were kind of just starting out in their careers. And so they haven’t become jaded yet, they’re so enthused about their career. And it’s great because it gives you a little bit of it. Yeah.
[00:16:32] Yeah. It is. It’s a great industry. So it gives you a bit more vitality and, um, and refreshing view for
[00:16:40] Joyce: [00:16:40] It kinda, it kinda reminds you of who you were, you know, when you first started out, you
[00:16:44] Mel & Dom: [00:16:44] Yeah,
[00:16:45]Joyce: [00:16:45] so inspired to do so many things.
[00:16:49] Mel & Dom: [00:16:49] I love this. So now moved on to advice for the old dinosaurs out there. It’s like surrounding yourself with the young people,
[00:16:59] covering all the ranges of a target market.
[00:17:02] Just to wrap up, what’s the piece of engineering that has inspired or impressed you?
[00:17:10]Joyce: [00:17:10] I kind of liked the all buildings. and, uh, I think one of the civilization that actually impresses me is the Egyptian civilization. And the precision in their construction that they actually manage without all the technology that we have currently. I think that’s, that’s pretty amazing.
[00:17:29]my favorite one would be the Abu Simble temple. So it is a temple that is somewhere near Aswan and it is carved out from a mountain side, you know, four big statues of about 30 meters high. And the beauty of it is that they actually managed to calculate the alignment of the sun, shining through the entrance, into the heart of the mountains, 50 meters inside to a specific spot twice a year.
[00:17:58] That kind of precision. I, it still staggers me in my mind how they actually get that. And this whole, whole temple was actually relocated. It was actually carved out in the 1960s because they wanted to flood that whole area to create a dam. So they had to carve the whole piece up and then lifted it about 60 over meters high and 200 meters back away from the river.
[00:18:24] And they couldn’t get back that alignment because it’s completely off now. And even with that technology that we have right now, right. They couldn’t get it. Yeah, it’s off.
[00:18:36] Mel & Dom: [00:18:36] That’s amazing, isn’t it? Yeah. The tools and the techniques they had at that time. And they still managed to take us to school really.
[00:18:45] Joyce: [00:18:45] Yup.
[00:18:46]Mel & Dom: [00:18:46] And just to finish up, is there an engineer that you admire?
[00:18:49]Joyce: [00:18:49] I love Antoni Gaudi. He’s not an engineer. He is an architect. Although I classify him as an engineer and a builder as well. So his most famous work was the La Sagrada Família, in Barcelona, yes. In Barcelona. the concepts that he has was actually very advanced for his time, I believe. as an architect, you know normally you you’re. You’re very concerned about the aesthetic of it, but he is also very concerned about the functionality and how it is actually going to be built the practicality of things. So he actually mimic the whole structure to nature. So this is a very, I would say it’s probably the forefathers of biomimicry in terms of buildings. Mimicking the way nature behaves and translating that back into a building a structure.
[00:19:40] So like how a skeleton works or how a tree trunk works. So he’s done this whole concept of continually arch actions that he used to build the whole La Sagrada Família. So yeah, I’m still very in awe, you know, and it was lucky enough to actually visit some of his buildings in Spain. And that was mind blowing .
[00:20:01] Mel & Dom: [00:20:01] Were they as good in person as they are in photos and such.
[00:20:05]Joyce: [00:20:05] Yeah, they’re still completing it after, well, about a hundred years now and a hundred years too, which is, it shows right, how complex it is and to be able to conceive that the whole thing in his mind. Architect, builder, engineer, all in one, I think that’s full on.
[00:20:23]Mel & Dom: [00:20:24] thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a fabulous conversation. Thanks for speaking with us.
[00:20:30] Joyce: [00:20:30] Yeah, thanks, Mel and Dom for having me.
I’d like to thank everyone for listening to another great episode of Engineering Heroes as we present the new dawn of engineering challenges for Engineers Australia. your hosts have been Melanie and Dominic De Gioia. You can view this episode show notes or learn more from our podcast by visiting our website, www.EngineeringHeroes.com.au
If you enjoyed today’s show, all we ask you to do is go and tell someone, tell lots of people either in personal or write review, it’s that easy to show your support for engineers everywhere. We look forward to you joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.