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Needed: Engineers with fabric expertise

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Locating engineers with expertise in fabric structures can be challenging. “You rarely find people who know fabric,” says Martin Brown of FabriTec Structures. “You normally pick up bright engineers that want to work hard and train them.” For companies looking for consulting engineers, Craig Huntington of Huntington Design Associates suggests researching who is doing fabric structures by looking on the Internet and talking with architects and contractors.

“It’s important to know how fabric works with the environment and the codes within an area,” says the Fabric Structures Association’s Beth Hungiville. “Engineers who are members of FSA are knowledgeable about fabric.” In October, FSA launched a new website that includes a list of these engineers.

One reason it’s difficult to find engineers with such expertise is that they don’t come out of college with the necessary skill set. “There is not a school in the country that gives much of any education in fabric,” Huntington says. “It’s really derived from experience and working with a consultant with expertise.”

“[Engineers] want to work with materials that they know,” says Boyd Ramsey of GSE Lining Technology. “They are taught in school about concrete, soil, sand, stone.” The Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) has asked civil engineering textbook authors to integrate geosynthetic applications into the appropriate chapters. They have agreed to make additions in future editions, says GMA managing director Andrew Aho. “We are looking forward to the new editions. In the meantime, we partner with other organizations to teach engineers about geosynthetics applications.”

“Some universities offer geosynthetics as a particular, unique class,” Ramsey says, mentioning Drexel University; University of Illinois; California State University, Sacramento; University of Washington; and Auburn University.

“We, as an association, are looking at building educational modules to offer to universities to teach [engineering of fabric structures],” Hungiville says. At the annual IFAI Expo in September 2009, FSA offered a workshop on how to get started with fabric structures.

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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