A look behind the scenes with an engineer
28 January 2021
Jacob van Den Bosch (64) has been working at Strukton for 42 years. He is one of the four Strukton Infratechnieken engineers and enjoys coming to work every day.
My work is an endless puzzle: performing calculations and making drawings for bridges, viaducts, noise barriers, drillings, slide-in projects and jacking projects. For example, right now we are designing the replacements for the supports of a large bridge in the Province of Limburg. Everything the bridge must be able to withstand in terms of strength and deformation is set out in NEN standards. A bridge for heavy traffic must be strong enough to carry a load equivalent to two 200-tonne axle loads, while an office floor must be able to support 250 kilos per m2. In addition, we must take the environmental factors into account, such as wind. There are three wind regions in the Netherlands: directly along the coast, in the coastal provinces and in the country’s interior. A noise barrier in Alkmaar must be better able to withstand wind than the same barrier in Nijmegen.
We’d like the solution right now, please
So much for the theory. Actual practice sometimes proves to be intractable. Because the situation outside is sometimes different from what we think when we are figuring things out at our desk. For example, at one time we were asked to construct a stairway at the Amsterdam Amstel train station. We had problems with the required drilling. There appeared to be something belowground that we were unable to penetrate. That’s when they call me: ‘Jacob, things are going awry, we need your help.’ These calls often come at the end of the day and always require a solution NOW. Because otherwise you’ll have a crew standing around doing nothing the next morning. Sometimes I am able to solve such problems at my desk, but sometimes I need to go onsite to check out the situation for myself. We call that site engineering in our business. Generally, we succeed in solving such problems in half an hour, but occasionally things get very tense. Fortunately, we have never had a situation where we were unable to construct a civil work. We always get it done, although sometimes it takes a little bit more effort. But I like the adrenaline.
Sometimes I am able to solve such problems at my desk, but sometimes I need to go onsite to check out the situation for myself
From specification to performance
Another thing I enjoy about my work is its diversity. Our engineering department consists of four people: two designers and two structural engineers. I am one of the latter. Because we are such a small group, we are involved in everything: in almost all projects carried out by Strukton Infratechnieken, from beginning to end. This means that we interact with everyone involved in a project’s execution. And we engineer everything: wood, steel and concrete. Furthermore, Strukton Infratechnieken usually works on the somewhat smaller projects of short duration. In other words, you won’t be working on the engineering for one and the same project for six years, as you might working for a large engineering firm.
When I started working at Strukton 42 years ago, the customer would often give us the specification drawings, telling us this is what we want and this is how it should be done. In that case the nature of the work is highly operational. Nowadays we are far more likely to receive performance-oriented assignments: ensure that 500 cars per hour can cross the river at this location, subject to this set of conditions. It is then up to us to figure out if the best solution is a bridge, a tunnel or, in a manner of speaking, a ferry. I find that appealing; it’s much more of a challenge.
Drill in the ground
The central theme running through my career is Amsterdam Central Station. There has been much construction and renovation there over the course of the years and I was given the opportunity to contribute each time. The renovation of the vault heads and the old trusses, the bus platform along the IJ (a body of water and Amsterdam’s waterfront), the tunnels below the station, the false floors at the front: I made calculations and produced drawings for all of this. Whenever I am there, I always look around. What does it all look like? What has remained in place and what has been replaced? Oh yes, I remember, we had difficulty with that section over there. A good example of this – even though it is no longer visible – is a steel pile under the station. The wood piles under the station had to be removed to make way for the tunnel for the North-South Line. We drilled steel piles sixty metres into the ground to replace them. The drilling machine, a piece of equipment costing a few hundred thousand euros, was taken below ground, but refused to come back out near the first pile. So if future generations ever decide to renovate things again, they will come across that drilling machine deep in the ground.
Come work for us
Although I still very much enjoy doing my work, it’s about time for me to pass the baton to a successor. If you are an experienced engineer, and if, after reading these enthusiastic stories, you are interested in coming to work for us, you are wholeheartedly welcome.