The Nuances of Multi-Disciplinary Engineering

Like a clock with its many different moving parts, so is the world of engineering. By now you know more about civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering, each with its own subdisciplines. Most engineering projects, especially big ones like skyscrapers, bridges, or power stations, require a harmonious interplay of these distinct disciplines. This collaborative process, akin to the synchronised workings of a clock, is known as multi-disciplinary engineering. And it’s definitely somewhat of an art, more than a science.


Lithon’s multi-disciplinary expert, Richard Laborn, has over twenty years of experience managing multi-disciplinary teams. We asked Richard for some insights into this nuanced field. 


What is Multi-Disciplinary Engineering?

Multi-disciplinary engineering typically comes into play on large-scale projects requiring layers of work across different engineering domains. This encompasses many projects in the built environment, explains Richard. An airport, for example, requires civil engineers to design the runways, structural engineers to build the hangar and terminals, electrical engineers to light the runways and ensure smooth communication and mechanical engineers to craft the powerful aeroplane engines and run the air conditioning systems. Other multi-disciplinary projects include mines, fuel stations, housing developments, hospitals, fire stations, and more. What they all have in common is a requirement for collective expertise and collaboration.


A Collaborative Process

Multi-disciplinary engineering is a group effort that requires careful coordination and effective project management. Typically, a more experienced engineer will oversee and coordinate all the disciplines on a project. At Lithon we’re fortunate to have Richard’s decades of expertise. Although he has a civil engineering background, he applies his knowledge of all engineering disciplines when managing the team. A large chunk of the role involves project management, and, Richard explains that he has to constantly keep on top of budgets and schedules. He’s also in close communication with each sub-discipline’s manager on the project. These managers and their teams draft the details behind the scenes. On extremely large projects you might even have a whole office of hundreds of people working only on the mechanical portion of the project. With so many unique perspectives, regular check-in meetings are essential to maintain alignment and progress.


Challenges and Solutions

It’s the job of a coordinating / lead engineer to understand how the subdisciplines fit together and to run the technical coordination. This can be very challenging. Back to our clock analogy – all the parts need to work in unison to make the project work. If something technical gets changed, it may affect something else. For example, a change in the structure of the building might affect the electrics and mechanics. The lead engineer sees the bigger picture and how these different parts are affected. This is also why it’s so important to visually model the project in detail beforehand. When you get on-site and everything is one-to-one in scale, it’s much much harder to change things, says Richard. Regular check-ins ensure everyone is on board with progress and changes as they happen.


But what happens if, in the end, things don’t fit? Richard explains that with experience, you get to know what questions to ask from the beginning. It’s also very important to have systems in place to do quality checks and pick up mistakes as you go along. Mistakes can be costly and they can have huge ripple effects if not picked up early. 


The Funny Side of Multi-Disciplinary Engineering

It’s not all work and no play among multi-disciplinary engineering teams. Richard is constantly amused by how the different engineering disciplines have different jargon and acronyms for different things. Sometimes you get them together in a room and it’s like everyone is speaking a different language! As the coordinating engineer, it’s his job to ‘translate’ the jargon so that everyone understands. Knowledge across disciplines, gained over years, becomes valuable in these situations.


Working Smarter, Together 

At Lithon, our extensive experience in multi-disciplinary engineering equips us to handle large and complex projects with ease. We want to help you see your visions realised, and working together collaboratively is in our DNA. Get in touch with our expert team to discuss your next venture,