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February 2020

30 Years of Engineering Australia and Asia

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When you meet Peter Madsen, you can’t help but be impressed by his wealth of experience and knowledge of engineering built up over a career that celebrates a significant milestone in 2019, 30 years in business.

Formed in 1989 as M.O. and based in Brisbane, over 1300 completed projects have seen Madsen Giersing undertake major works across Australia, PNG, Malaysia, SE Asia and Africa for clients in the resources, energy, marine, transport and infrastructure sectors.

We caught up with Peter to find out a little bit more about the last 30 years of leading Madsen Giersing and his thoughts on engineering.

What was the first project Madsen Giersing was engaged to design?

Our first project was working on the Canning Bridge in Western Australia. Located at the narrowest part of the Canning River, the bridge carries traffic across a 100m+ span, and we were engaged in supporting the major bridge upgrade by engineering temporary works.

It was a fantastic project and set the foundations for what we do at Madsen Giersing, enabling us to start building a reputation for our engineering, our ability to design and implement complex works and to come up with solutions that extend the life of essential infrastructure.

Across your 1300 projects, what has been your favourite one to work on?

Dampier Bulk Liquids Berth in Western Australia. It is my favourite project for several reasons, firstly because I love the challenge of working in a marine environment.

Secondly, it was a very complex project. The facility consists of a 500m long approach that connects the shore to the loading platform with four berthing and four mooring dolphins, allowing for vessels of up to 65,000 DW to use the facility.

We were engaged to provide the detailed design and technical support services for the Design & Construct contract, and as a result, were heavily involved in every aspect of the project, including developing the construction methodology.

When we are at the heart of engineering solutions and bringing our expertise, we do our best work.

In your 30 years of operation, what changes have excited you the most?

Technology. We can do far more with technology now than we could do in the past. From aerial surveys with drones, through to designing everything in as many as 4D dimensions, we have more power and information at our fingertips than ever before. So much so that we can potentially drown in information, indeed on a recent project, we were inundated with so much data that it was time-consuming and challenging to sort the meaningful from the meaningless.

But, it is a double-edged sword, and part of me worries that we are using technology too much and that is taking away our ability to think laterally and to problem solve. We are all engineers because in our hearts we love solving problems. To be a good engineer, solving problems in the most effective and efficient way is what we strive to do and judgment has to prevail over analytics.  I think it is essential that we remember that, and allowing technology to be used to support what we do, not to drive what we do.

What advice would you pass on to someone starting their career in engineering?

Never lose your interest in how things work, why they work, and how they can be improved. The curiosity that made you want to be an engineer is something that you should prize and allow to flourish whenever you can.

So stay up to date through professional development, take opportunities to learn, and play an active part in your industry.

What I always ask the young engineers when they do design analysis is that every time they make an assumption, keep an open mind and have the ability to see the problem from another angle and you may have to change your mind.

What is the biggest project Madsen Giersing has worked on?

The Lekir Bulk Terminal, a huge project for us in Malaysia. Located around 300km north of Kuala Lumpur the project was a new facility to supply 8 million tonnes of coal each year to the 2,100mw TNB Janamanjung power plant.

The project was significant in terms of scale and also in terms of designing innovative solutions. Engaged by Leighton Contractors to provide the detailed design and technical support for the project we were responsible for the 2,028m long approach trestle linking the wharf to the shore.

Consisting of three import conveyors, a single roadway and berthing for tugs, the trestle is a significant structure and one that we had to futureproof so that additional capacity could be added at a later date.

We also developed the design solution for the 540m long unloading wharf and mooring dolphin complete with two grab ship unloaders and associated conveyors.

The project was complex with lots of interconnected elements. And that takes a lot of planning, considerable attention to detail and a focus on efficiency so that construction could be undertaken rapidly and safely. During construction, a 12m span was completed each week.

To do this, we had to take a holistic view of the project and to immerse ourselves within the project team and put everything we could into our designs to ensure and support the delivery of the facility.

This meant trying to innovate where possible through the use of pre-cast elements to avoid falsework and formwork, with the additional benefit being faster to construct. At the same time, we were able to design a way to support the fender that avoided the need for berthing dolphins under the wharf structure.

Using pre-cast precast concrete panels linked into the wharf deck with circular hollow struts we were able to transfer the fender reaction back to the middle of the wharf, where the raker piles were located and able to support the load.

Can you give us an example of an industry myth?

That temporary works are temporary!  If designed and engineered well, temporary works should be able to be used across multiple projects. Just because something is temporary on one site, doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be disposed of at the end of the project, particularly if you are a firm that specialises in a particular type of project.

When you design something and it’s cut up at the end of a project – heart-breaking.

What is ahead for Madsen Giersing in the next 30 years?

With a little luck and a lot of hard work, even more interesting projects to work on will be ahead.

For me, I will always be involved, but Lasse will be the driving force behind the organisation, and I’ve every confidence that he will take Madsen Giersing to a new level while upholding the standards we have built over the last 30 years.

I am proud of the fact that Madsen Giersing is a family business with four members of the family part of the company.

Meet The Team – Aidan Gallagher

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Aidan joined Madsen Giersing in 2016 as a structural design engineer. Since joining Madsen Giersing, Aidan has been involved in the design of permanent and temporary works including pontoons, bridges, temporary berthing structures, temporary jetties, access platforms and other various marine structures.

We caught up with Aidan to find a little more about what he enjoys most about engineering.

Why did you become an engineer?

When I was eight years old, my family decided to sail around the world. As you can imagine, it was the trip of a lifetime and there were sights to see in every port; however, it was marine structures that I became fascinated with.

I can remember sailing into Singapore harbour and being amazed by the scale of the yacht club and the boats moored there. But the real highlight of the trip was the Panama Canal. At that age, I was in awe of the size of the project, the genius of the idea to join two oceans across the narrowest point of a continent and how miserable and dangerous the concept of rounding Cape Horn was.

Instead, we sailed through a human-made channel, perhaps the most fantastic part of which was the monkeys. They learned that boats scared away the alligators and crocodiles and took full advantage of a passing ship to swim across from one side of the channel to the other before the predators returned.

What do you love about engineering?

I enjoy the variety of projects I work on, but most of all I like heading out to site and seeing a project come to life. There is a real tangibility and sense of achievement when you see a structure that you have designed take shape and become real.

I like to think that as engineers, we leave a positive mark on society through our work.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on an industrial subdivision in Redbank Plains designing the stormwater infrastructure and drainage. It’s a very challenging area and project as it is subject to flooding and a key factor in our design will be the need to ensure water doesn’t pool and cause issues with settlement and earth movement.

What has been your greatest professional achievement to date?

It’s early days still. Watch this space.

What’s the best project you have worked on?

I’m currently working on a rail heritage project where we are attempting to reinforce 150+ years old cast iron piers that hold up railway bridges on the mainline along the state’s east coast. It is a challenging project because the piers are heritage listed; therefore any engineering solution cannot fundamentally alter the look of the structures.

We are hard at work identifying weak points in the piers, such as bolted joints and testing their capacity and the strengthening solutions that we have developed. Testing is done at the University of Queensland using old bridges that were decommissioned, allowing us to test existing capability and capacity when we have added potential solutions.

Our solution involves a reinforced concrete and FRP wrap around the cast iron concrete-filled piers, which doesn’t destroy the look of the piers and complies with the heritage guidelines. Essentially we have engineered a strong, yet thin second skin for the outer of the pier.

There is also something rewarding about helping to preserve Queensland’s engineering heritage and ensuring its longevity.

What’s the most useful thing you’ve learned throughout your career?

The value you get from being on-site. You cannot be an engineer and never leave the office.

Seeing a project in context and experiencing the location and users at first hand is invaluable to the design process and gives you so much more information and knowledge than even the best briefing.

What would your last meal be?

Italian or Japanese – too hard to decide….but maybe a good lasagne.

What is the last movie you watched or series you binged?

I don’t have a lot of time to watch TV or movies, but I like a good mob film – The Godfather, The Departed and Goodfellas would be three of my favourites.

Who’s the greatest engineer of all time and why?

I remember learning about Squire Whipple and the amazingly named Triple Whipple Truss at uni and it has always stuck with me; has any other engineer managed to create such an amazingly named structure?

The Laughery Creek Bridge in America was the only bridge built with this design. It’d be great to see the bridge, or maybe even work on it, one day.

What excites you about the future of our industry?

Artificial Intelligence, it can speed up design and trial concepts, potentially opening up whole new methods of design. For example, we could use AI to complement Finite Element Analysis and create unique shapes that are highly efficient and can be tested virtually across thousands of variants.

We use rectangles, squares, arches and circles because they are easy to make and design, AI could open up a whole new world of shapes that could transform design.

What would be your dream project to work on from history?

The Panama Canal is the obvious choice, not sure I would have liked site visits with the safety and yellow fever, but it would have been amazing to connect the Atlantic and Pacific, creating humanity’s greatest shortcut.

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring engineer?

Learn to code. I am currently learning to code in R because you can take everything a lot further when you can code. From automation to a deeper level of design, you can make the process more detailed and faster when you can code your own systems and processes to suit your needs.

Nirmani Jayasundara Profile

Madsen Giersing Adds Structural Engineer to Growing Team

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Madsen Giersing is delighted to welcome Nirmani Jayasundara to the team in the role of Structural Engineer. Nirmani has been working with us for the last six months while she completed a PhD in Structural Engineering at QUT and will be a vital asset on our major marine projects in Australia and South-East Asia.

Originally from Sri Lanka, Nirmani moved to Australia in 2016 to further her studies and build on her B.Sc in Engineering from the University of Runhuna and is passionate about structural engineering.

“I’ve always been inspired by structures and love being able to see projects go from design to completion and ongoing use. Like many engineers, I get a real thrill from being able to say that I had a hand in designing a major piece of infrastructure.”

Nirmani is currently designing vital structural elements of Port of Brisbane’s Port North Common User Berth and Yarrabah Jetty in Cairns.

“I am deligted to have finished my studies and to embark on my career with Madsen Giersing. It is a fantastic opportunity to be able to work on major projects and to have access to a supportive culture and team who are keen to share their experience and knowledge.”

Operations Manager, Lasse Madsen, welcomed Nirmani to the team “Nirmani is an exceptional young engineer with a passion for design and natural enthusiasm that will drive her career forward and support our clients’ projects. The whole of the team is delighted to have her on board, and we look forward to working with Nirmani on major projects for years to come.”

Outside of Madsen Giersing, you are likely to bump into Nirmani as she fulfills her passion for exploring Australia’s diverse geography and connecting with the people and places that make her new home a special place to live.