Andrew Wachtel speaks to us in Season 2, Episode 6
Andrew originally dreamed of being a pilot in the RAAF. However due to poor eye sight, he chose to become an engineer.
quite rewarding, actually being able to work with different designers from different countries all around the world
He has had an extensive engineering careering, working on construction of Australia’s first concrete gravity oil platform as a site engineer.
Worked on Australia’s first 1st $1 billion construction program , Boyne Island Aluminium Smelter
However Andrew’s real career highlight was working as an Expat in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai building some of the tallest and most complex highrise buildings, ie Pentominium Tower which commenced in 2010 as 515m high tower in Dubai Marina, and the World One Project in Mumbai.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 2 Episode 6.
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Andrew WachtelTranscribed by https://otter.ai
Mel De Gioia 0:25
Hi, welcome to season two, Episode Six of Engineering Heroes, a podcast that presents the engineers that are shaping our society and battling our challenging issues. My name is Mel
and I’m Dom. The podcasts resident engineer. Our guest tonight has truly lived engineering, from oil platforms to aluminium smelters to world’s tallest towers from Outback Queensland to Dubai to Mumbai From million projects to billion projects
Mel De Gioia 0:53
and from his first role to his current role he has been concerned with including safety in engineering design. Globally, several thousand people die on building site. Has society improved much over the last few decades? Our guest suggests that engineers should be included from the very beginning so that they can provide advice on safe design and add true value to the overall product.
Tonight we’re speaking with Andrew Wachtel. Andrew is a civil engineer who works with the Queensland Government Department of Transport and Main Roads.
Mel De Gioia 1:26
But Andrew’s dream job as a child wasn’t to become an engineer. He is a self proclaimed adrenaline junkie who wanted to join the Defence Force go to add four and become an Air Force pilot. It’s funny how life happens while you’re making other plans.
I went for my driver’s licence unfortunately failed my eye test. so I thought I would maybe try civil engineering because I really enjoy building things at home, whether it’s woodwork or anything building things round the house with my father and that, so. Really happy with the choice that I did make.
Mel De Gioia 2:01
So where did you do your uni degree?
I actually went to Wollongong University. So I was going to do my first year in Canberra. And unfortunately, they stopped that course. So I actually end up doing it at Wollongong University and really a great course because very, very practical course
Mel De Gioia 2:20
Yeah. Yeah, Dom talks about it be
they used to call it BHP University or something along those lines
a lot of friends asked me, you know, why didn’t I go to University of NSW or, you know, UTS and that. It was actually sort of the feedback. And you know, a lot of people said you know, it was a very practical course, which was important for me, because I’m a very practical person. While you know, theory is important. Everything looks great on a drawing, but when you actually have to build it they’re all the talent you’ll have.
Mel De Gioia 2:50
What was your first role when you left uni?
It my first role was actually a site engineer on the construction of Australia’s first concrete gravity offshore oil platforms with Transfields in Fort Kembla. So you know, dry dock, exactly the same spot where they cast the Sydney Harbour tunnel units. So we built the bottom sections of the oil platform in a dry dock and then flooded that with water and then loaded these all platforms around the corner to a specially made wharf and then actually constructed the remaining part of the the oil platform. So that was a really challenging project for a number of years.
Mel De Gioia 3:30
What does a site engineer do?
So essentially, my my role on that particular project was assisting foreman and the superintendent, the other engineers with the construction of the project with a number of slip forming operations on site, we had pre cast and reef slab we were actually pouring concrete while this offshore platform was actually floating. So that was, that was quite interesting.
And I kind of mess with your head. When it’s just, it’s kind of weird when you see those sorts of things going on.
And and that was a really rewarding project, it was great working with like minded people, and ESSO had an extremely strong focus on safety. They had a number of people on site, do a daily, just walking around, you know, checking on things, and the industry was actually moving to a safer work environment, like we had to get all the steel fixers to actually wear safety gloves, safety glasses. So how do you actually explain as a young 20 year old engineere to a large pollination person to actually put safety gloves on when they’re actually carrying a Y-40 you know, reinforcing bar and you know and then their safety glasses are actually fogging up. So it was actually really character building I found on that project.
Mel De Gioia 4:49
That’s a nice way of putting it I think
because it would have been so new, and I know even my brother, he used to work on building sites in trades. And he was saying it’s become it’s now become, if I knew then what I know now where we take it for granted now. But back then it was almost as though, I’m not gonna put that stuff on like what are you, crazy, and know people are now seeing just what a massive difference it has in relation to taking those precautions.
Oh, no, definitely. It’s, um, there’s a lot of different things on that particular project. I really enjoyed that job. It was just a really good project to start off on
How long did it run for
approximately three years. So
Mel De Gioia 5:34
really great forming ground, then starting off, so where are you at now?
So now I’m actually working for the Queensland Government, and working in a role in road safety, and road operations, looking after the road network in Queensland, and also part of my role, also is reconstruction on various projects, upgrades of the right infrastructure network in in sort of Western Queensland.
Mel De Gioia 6:03
So from there to now How long has it been roughly
25 years I’ve been in the industry. So okay, you know, it’s interesting when I went for different jobs, recruiters have sort of asked me, you’ve done a few for a few different things. But it’s actually been interesting because it actually provides you with an exposure to different industries and that so it was quite rewarding actually starting in building an oil platform with ESSO and it was amazing, sort of the safety that ESSO actually put on the contractors with regard to safety and that and then sort of moving on to an aluminium smelter with with Comalco. So, as a young engineer, in my early 20s, it is really good to actually get that exposure in the 1990s. About how you can actually work safely. And that was really, really good for my career. I think that’s really important time all engineers are actually exposed to some of these projects or whatever it is where there is a strong emphasis on safety, making sure that we actually do things smarter, safer. So
Mel De Gioia 7:11
because you were saying your first job, you dealt a lot with safety, and on your current job as well. Your I think you said the safety officer, are you seeing that there’s been a lot of advancement in those 25 years.
In some industry, there’s been a lot of advancements, but a lot of other industry’s we actually haven’t seen any productivity improvements, we’re still finding that a lot of people are actually sort of injuring themselves. So part of my role now is to raise safety. And I’ve actually just recently completed a road safety auditors course. So we’re looking at, you know, how we can improve the infrastructure in our roads. So you know, we can reduce road toll, because you know, road toll is still you know, is incredibly too high, and lot of the state governments and the territories are looking at a zero road toll. So obviously, we need to work to that. Because people say, Well, how are we going to get to zero? Well, we just need to take those baby steps of one step at a time and build that capability amongst all the people and change people’s mindsets, and make people accountable for their actions.
Mel De Gioia 8:25
Hi, there, this is Mel, I just wanted to let you know that you should probably put on your to do list to visit our website, that’s www.engineeringheroes.com.au. I’m working to build a few ways you can show your support and love for our show. And the work that we are doing. We’ve got a little book club started up on the side, if there’s a book you’d like to see there, let me know and I’ll be sure to add it. I’ll also be launching a T shirt store soon. So be sure to bookmark the website so you don’t miss out. If you want to stay up to date on what is going on in engineering heroes world, sign up to our newsletter, it’s on our website, that address again is www.engineeringheroes.com.au – go sign up and help us spread the news about the amazing work the world’s engineers are actually doing. Now, back to Andrew, since the beginning, he has been considering safety within engineering,
So you were talking before about safety. Is that something that you see as a hot topic in the industry at the moment?
Yeah, I think it is I am there was some statistics from AusTrade. It’s about construction projects in Australia and still, you know, over 75% of projects that are either delivered late or over budget. And we’re sort of still killing several thousands of people each year. And that so
Mel De Gioia 9:41
is that global?
Yeah, that’s global. And, and it’s just sort of one of those things, are we actually smarter in 2019, that we were back in the 1980s and 1990s. And I sort of talk to a lot of people in different industries and projects and that people seem to believe that safety actually costs money, I actually think it doesn’t, it’s just a matter of being able to build that mindset with people that safety is actually something that everyone’s responsible for, and trying to build that capability of people being able to think outside the box, and not associate safety with money and that. And that’s something that I actually really enjoy, because I actually like to do things differently. And people says all that’s going to cost you extra money will actually say, well, it’s actually saving me money. That’s why I’m actually doing it differently in that. So a lot of it’s a better mindset of people. And you know, there’s people out there that, you know, looking at, you know, how people think, you know, and how we can actually build bank into people like, over the years, I’ve tried to get people to adopt, you know, different construction processes, and they just refuse to do it. And what I think is really important, a lot of organisations is really to make sure you get that change management and support people and help people to actually make that change.
Mel De Gioia 11:06
So where are we at, at the moment with safety in the construction?
I think what’s what’s important is for engineers, and designers to actually really work together in the early stages of feasibility on projects, to ensure that we implement some Value Engineering in projects, so we can actually keep the costs down on projects. So one of the big things that .. just say, for example, on some projects over in the Middle East and Dubai, we had some complex structural cores on buildings. And we’re actually able to work with some large structural design companies, and advise them from a constructability point of view, and a safety point of view how we can actually change some of the elements of the building, to allow the building to actually be constructed in a safe manner for the workers and actually, also to be constructed at a reduced timeline, by changing some of the designs, by implementing some technology with regard to hanging screens on the on the side of the building that actually allowed the installation of the wall cladding, as for example, the jump form system is actually climbing up the building. So for example, when they build projects in Australia, they actually fit the building out, as the jump form is climbing up the building. Over in the Middle East, actually, what they should do is construct the entire building. So it’s just a big core, and then they go back and they install all different sort of hanging baskets off the top of the building to actually complete all the facades. So it’s obviously sometimes, you know, maybe doubling or tripling the time for the construction of the project. So that was quite good, and quite rewarding actually being able to, to work with with different designers from you know, different countries all around the world, some Australian people, American people to actually provide them with some solutions that will make you know, the design a lot safer for the construction of the people.
Did they take on the changes quite readily? Or was it a case of you gotta sell it to them? Because it was going to save time or be cheaper? Or did they? Did they think of it as, Yes, that’s far safer therefore, let’s go with that? Or was it – It’s going to be cheaper? Let’s go with that.
Yeah, I think there’s this whole is mindset about, it’s all about cost, but they don’t actually look at the True Cross the project, because in their mind is they’re just used to constructing a particular project in a certain way. But when they, when they given different ideas, they feel a bit uncomfortable, but if you can work through with them. And what was really good is actually using computer aided design, and 3d models to actually show a lot of this. So you’ve got a lot of people who have maybe a non engineering people are making some of these financial decisions. So it gives them a bit of a different point of view. So you could spend a number of weeks/months on a proposal. And what was interesting a lot of the times is that they’ll just scroll to the back page and look at the number and say nope.
But they wouldn’t look at the Value Engineering that you can actually put in to achieve that number. So it was actually it was quite rewarding, quite challenging. Because obviously a lot of people think differently about different different things.
Mel De Gioia 14:43
I’m keen to know you’ve said it twice. Now, Value Engineering. What is that precisely.
Yeah it’s that sliding doors moment I suppose as well where you kind of wish you could run two projects side by side and say, Okay, we’re not going to use the safety procedures that you should do on that building. And we are on this one, and you can show them that something going wrong has such a massive effect on the cost and the time and the budgets. And it’s almost as though the when they’re cutting corners you’re just taking the world’s biggest risk not only on the project, but also with people’s lives, and it doesn’t pay off, it’s hard to get people’s heads around that fact that they need to think of it more than lines of if you don’t do it, this is what could potentially happen. And this is going to have a massive effect on the the overall job
So Value Engineering is actually looking at a particular project, whether it’s as a particular part of a particular project, where you’ve got a specialised contractor who specialises in a particular area, and they can actually provide some engineering input, how the design can actually be changed to improve the overall project. So whether you do some Value Engineering, with regards to the civil part of the project, which will also benefit the mechanical, electrical and different components of the building. There was a Value Engineering completed on one of the high rise buildings in in Abu Dhabi, we showed a contractor how they could actually install a lot of the mechanical electrical equipment as the jump form was actually climbing. And this contractor wasn’t aware of it. And it actually was able to reduce the price of the mechanical electrical installation works quite significantly. So when they put everything together, they realised that there was benefit to the overall project. But again, it’s just, I suppose it’s very difficult because people are used to complete projects in certain ways, then when you try and find alternatives they don’t find it comfortable.
Mel De Gioia 16:52
So it is interesting. So you you’re saying that you look at a design, and then you consider Is this the most effective way to build it, but also is is there, this is a very unsafe way of building it is there might be a better way of building it that will ensure safety for the construction workers and things like that, do you find it difficult to sell changes, such as those for safety reasons,
it’s difficult, one of the ways that actually works really well is if it’s actually driven down from senior management, different organisations, if you can get engagement, senior management, the different organisations whether it’s the structural design of the project, manager for the client, and all the various other associated parties, and if it can be driven from the top down, it’s a lot more successful. If you’re trying to drive from the bottom up, it is very, very difficult. Because you don’t really have that support and engagement, you know, from the various people.
Mel De Gioia 17:58
And are you finding things like technology and being able to model this is plant like what Dom was just saying this is one way of doing it. And this is a better way of doing it. Is there technology out there to support those sort of modelling?
Yes there is in in a number of industries, you know, there’s the computer aided design and the modelling that actually, you know, allows, you know, for projects to be completed a lot quicker, because there’s a lot less rework as you can actually see things, if there’s going to be potential issues.
Mel De Gioia 18:34
And so what are the next steps then for this kind of Value Engineering? What is what’s the future going to look like?
I think the future is being able to adopt productivity improvements within our workforce. Obviously, we do have an ageing workforce, you know, with, as an engineer, I might work with, you know, three or four or five different generations of engineers, and then we all think differently, and we’re all different generations and that. So it’s just a matter of all of us working together and adopting this technology. So there’s certain technology that I’m actually afraid of, for matter if you know, us all working together to achieve the common common goal.
It’s funny that you talking about working across the generations, because you were in a meeting and you sort of go wow, you know, I think I’m young. And then you look around the table and go, I’m probably the oldest person sitting at the tablen now. when did that happen? It’s great dealing and working with people across a whole range, because you get that all the new ideas from the younger engineers coming through. But then you get the the sort of sage advice from the older entities who’ve been there and done that before a million times. But what would you say to people just starting out in engineering?
I’d encourage people to make sure that they tried a number of different projects and try and concentrate actually going out on site, what we actually find is a lot of engineers like to stay in the big capital cities, there’s so many opportunities outside the capital cities, a number of projects, we’ve actually got a lot more responsibility to actually learn a lot more, because what I’m finding is a lot of engineers are actually in a big team, and they don’t actually get the opportunity to actually grow. Because they’re just following one step after another. And I sort of really find this because I actually work as an assessor. For Professionals Australia, people are trying to actually get their RP Eng aqualifications, so they can be a registered professional engineer in Queensland. And it’s interesting listening to different engineers. And you sort of gauge the people that, you know, working on big projects, sometimes they don’t really get that exposure. So to really encourage the young engineers to get out, there are so many projects all around Australia, in all the different parts of Australia, there’s so much to learn on those particular projects.
Mel De Gioia 21:10
So just to wrap up, what’s a piece of engineering that impresses you?
I think piece of engineering that impresses me is the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s, like, if I had the opportunity of being in charge of building that project, I think we’d really, really struggled today, but it’s a quite impressive, sort of an engineering structure and you look back at you know, the early 1900s when they actually constructed that project and if I joggle to visit Sydney and say that sort of amazing structure.
It’s funny that you should mention that one as well because in the paper today, there was an article about some of the other bridges that were submitted as part of the … so when I they were pitching for what the bridge should be, you just see some of them and you go nope, and they had actually rendered them as well so that you can see what they would have looked like and there were some fairly wild designs in regards to it was a bridge that that was basically connected three different parts of the harbour together and then some very very boring designs too so
Mel De Gioia 22:19
this was not original design like it was that one that was built in England that’s the identical to the Harbour Bridge, but smaller. Was that first or second.
That was done after the bridge. Okay, cool. I couldn’t be wrong, I need to do some fact checking on that one. But I’m pretty sure the Harbour Bridge came first and then the Oh, by the same designer Yeah.
Just to finish up, do you have an engineer that you admire?
He may not be an engineer, but Andrew Carnegie who’s sort of worked between 1835 and I think 1990. He was an American industrialist like a business business magnate, sort of worked in the steel industry and sort of just just reading sort of some of Dale Carnegie’s books who’s not related to to Andrew Carnegie and it’s just quite amazing you know, how that man sort of was able to change that the steel industry you know, over the years and that sort of really look up to to that particular person because I think you know, he did so much work that you know, we’re benefiting from you know, today right around the world.
Mel De Gioia 23:32
I haven’t heard of Andrew Carnigie, I’ll have to look him up. Have you heard of it?
i have heard of him.
Mel De Gioia 23:37
Okay. Dom’s looking at me going why.. how could you not know that person.
Mel De Gioia 23:45
Thank you so much for joining us tonight. It’s been really wonderful to hear your stories
Yeah, thanks for that. It’s been great.
Thanks very much, Mel and Dom. Look, thank you for all the work that you’re doing in the industry and that, it’s quite amazing just to listen to all those podcasts last year. The different stories and that, and it’s quite interesting to see, you know, all the different stories that we do have, and everyone’s got a story and we all learn from each other. So no, thank you for all the time and effort that you put in for our industry
Mel De Gioia 24:16
Yeah we’ve been loving every minute of it, more than happy to do it.
Mel De Gioia 24:21
And thank you for tuning in to another episode of engineering heroes. If you want to know more about our podcast, your best port of call is to go to our website. That’s www.engineeringheroes.com.au. Take some time checking out what we have going on over there. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen, I hope you really enjoyed today’s show. And please go and tell someone, spread the news with your fellow engineers. We look forward to you joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.