Engineering design at the Powerhouse Museum

Engineering Excellence Awards 2011 exhibition neon sign.

Established in 1919 The Institution of Engineers Australia, now known as Engineers Australia, is the national organisation that represents and promotes the interests of Australian engineers and the advancement of engineering in all disciplines.

The origin of a serious collaboration between the Powerhouse Museum and the Sydney Division of Engineers Australia, can be traced to 1994 when the museum approached the organisation to sponsor the restoration of the Julius Poole and Gibson Automatic Totalisator model that was kept in the collection. Engineers Australia agreed to sponsor the model’s restoration and so began the long association between the two institutions, most especially in regard to the annual Engineering Excellence Awards display. The first of these exhibitions, Simply the best: excellence in Australian engineering and design, took place in 1996.

The collaboration aims to raise the public’s perception of Australian engineers and their achievements, both nationally and internationally, and to provide direct access to corporations and individuals who can provide knowledge and advice on contemporary engineering and technological developments in Australia.

A small exhibition area on Level 4 has been allotted for the display. Most commonly five projects are selected and displayed. A large number of entries are submitted to the Sydney Division’s annual Engineering Excellence Award’s program. The displays are selected by the Museum, and are taken from those projects that have reached the stage of Award finalists. All entries have been judged by specialist engineering panels, drawn from industry, universities, and government and whose members have expertise in all the categories of the Awards program, including the disciplines of control systems and communication, software and embedded systems, Products, Manufacturing Facilities and Processes, Environment and Heritage, Research and Development Engineering for Regional Communities, and Education and Training.

The project selected by the judges to be the overall winner and of exceptional engineering merit is presented with the Bradfield Award, named after John Job Crew Bradfield (1867-1943), the Chief Engineer for the Metropolitan Railway Construction and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The exhibition runs for one year, from February to February. Many of the displays are created by the Museum – especially the interactive displays. The challenge and task is to present each display in an engaging way, and to interpret the difficult technical concepts of the engineer clearly to a diverse Museum audience.

The current display features five projects and forms the 2011 Engineering Excellence Awards exhibition. The displays and a brief description of them are: Flexgrid™, the Inner West Busway along Victoria Road, The Aboriginal Memorial Gallery, Floating Solar Array, and Engineers Without Borders.

The Bradfield Award winner for the 2011 Engineering Excellence Awards. The interactive map of Australia shows the capital cities connected by LED communication channel lights.

The Bradfield Award winner for the 2011 Engineering Excellence Awards. The interactive map of Australia shows the capital cities connected by LED communication channel lights.

Flexgrid, which won the 2011 Bradfield Award, was developed by Finisar Australia. It was placed in the software and embedded systems category. It is a program which allows telecom carriers to provide more flexible and efficient optical network services. The display features a prominent interactive map of Australia upon which are placed a number of events and natural disasters. The visitor selects an event, for example a rugby match in Brisbane or a natural disaster such as an earthquake in South Australia. When an event or disaster is activated by push button, a voice and LED lit alternative by-pass communication channel that the carrier or user can use is activated, so that their communication line remains clear and open during the natural disaster or an increased network communication load during a major event.

The Stage 1 extension to the National Gallery, Canberra, includes twelve new galleries dedicated to the display of Australian Indigenous Art. The Aboriginal Memorial Gallery is one of the new galleries and the challenge for the engineers, Steensen Varming, was to work with the Gallery’s conservators and architect to ensure that the close control of the internal environment and the protection of the highly sensitive collections on display are not damaged by the natural light and temperature variations that stream into and around the Memorial Gallery. The Museum made a model of The Aboriginal Memorial (1987-1988), which consists of a representative number of hollow log bone coffins. The meaning and symbolism indigenous people attach to these hollow logs and the environmental engineering that was developed for the display is captured in a remarkable interactive video presentation.

A scale model of the Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia. How each of the funeral poles are wrapped in air to maintain stable temperature and humidity is demonstrated by a 3D computer animation.

A scale model of the Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia. How each of the funeral poles are wrapped in air to maintain stable temperature and humidity is demonstrated by a 3D computer animation.

 

Visitors can activate a number of stories about the people of Tonlé Sap in Cambodia and the methods used by Engineers Without Borders to develop the bio-digester in their homes and the reasons for this system on this large floating village.

Visitors can activate a number of stories about the people of Tonlé Sap in Cambodia and the methods used by Engineers Without Borders to develop the bio-digester in their homes and the reasons for this system on this large floating village.

2011 has been nominated by the profession as the Year of Humanitarian Engineering, a year in which engineers have been recognised for their role in improving quality of life and disaster recovery in Australia and abroad. Working with Engineers Without Borders, an international development organisation that delivers a high quality humanitarian engineering education program to students and professional engineers, the Museum designed and developed a display that examines the work undertaken with the floating Tonlé Sap community in Cambodia to produce a floating toilet and bio-digester system that converts organic wastes into a nutrient rich liquid fertilizer and biogas – a renewable and affordable energy source that the community use for the production of electrical and heat energy for their everyday needs. The display is completely interactive. The visitor selects videos and commentaries on the cultural, social and engineering features of the project.

A large, background stereographic etched image shows the annual movement of the Sun across the sky at the location of these floating solar cells in New South Wales. The visitor can also activate four stories that provide information on the development of the project, the engineering, and the science behind floating solar cells on water.

A large, background stereographic etched image shows the annual movement of the Sun across the sky at the location of these floating solar cells in New South Wales. The visitor can also activate four stories that provide information on the development of the project, the engineering, and the science behind floating solar cells on water.

The Floating Solar Array project achieves generation of solar power while reducing the loss of water through evaporation. The project is particularly suited to rural and regional communities, where decentralized clean power generation and the conservation of irrigation water can be achieved without wasting valuable arable land. The display features a selectable interactive video with selections including interviews on the design and engineering of the solar arrays, the engineering ideals behind the project, how it works and the potential benefits to farming communities. An attractive large stereographic annual sun-movement projection for the location of the solar arrays in New South Wales is a dominant feature of the display.

A working model of the ‘Zipper’ on the western approach to the Iron-Cove Bridge. The model shows how the Zipper machine picks-up and slides the vehicle barrier from one lane to another, thus creating an additional traffic lane during peak-hour traffic in either direction to or from the bridge.

A working model of the ‘Zipper’ on the western approach to the Iron-Cove Bridge. The model shows how the Zipper machine picks-up and slides the vehicle barrier from one lane to another, thus creating an additional traffic lane during peak-hour traffic in either direction to or from the bridge.

Finally, a sophisticated working model, made by the Museum interactive’s team, of the Australian invention known colloquially as the ‘Zipper’ forms the centre of the Inner West Busway along Victoria Road display. This, initially controversial engineering project, implemented a new city-bound bus lane on the 3.5 kilometre section of Victoria Road between the Gladesville and Iron-Cove bridges, an incrementally launched bridge, and the ‘Zipper’ lane change management machine. The display has a working model of the Zipper where visitors can see how it provides a steady lane change for vehicles approaching the bridge in either  direction during peak hour traffic flows. Selectable interactive videos provide additional commentary on the various engineering and social aspects of the project, as well as the history of the development of the Australian invention at the heart of the project and display.