This commentary is in response to (“Beach patrol sets up two new, safer guard towers,” The Daily News, March 5): These towers cost more than the traditional wooden towers in use.
Just like bread scraps attract sea gulls, this announcement attracted people who can never be pleased by anything a governmental agency does.
A repeated comment was that aluminum, Fiberglas and steel wouldn’t hold up in a marine environment. To the people who wrote those remarks, what do you think engineers do? I’m a retired, professionally licensed mechanical engineer and certified reliability engineer with 35 years of experience in the petroleum and automotive industries. One of the very first things I did on a design project was to decide what materials to use. These material choices for the towers makes sense.
All metals corrode, which forms an oxide layer that protects the base metal. That’s the chalky film that’s found on weathered aluminum. Fabricators either powder-coat or anodize aluminum to prevent corrosion and pitting. That’s what the manufacturer did on these towers.
The Daily News article said the towers contain steel. In fact, the manufacturer made the skids from stainless steel. Take a trip to any marine supply store, and you’ll find plenty of aluminum and Fiberglas. Take a trip to the Galveston docks, and you’ll see plenty of steel. The only wooden ship is a floating museum built in 1877.
In the article, beach patrol Chief Peter Davis stated the towers have a 20-year life. In all probability, he got that number from the manufacturer. In general, companies don’t dream up the life span of their products because it affects their warranties and reputation. This number is determined using a variety of methods based on published data, testing and experience. Assuming the park board follows the manufacturer’s recommendations for use and maintenance, it’s safe to assume a 20-year life.
These towers are safer and provide lifeguards with more flexibility to do their job. What’s more, they’re attractive. The extra money spent wrapping the towers helps promote tourism, which is the primary reason for the lifeguards in the first place, and it attracts advertisers. The park board hopes to pay back the towers in 15 years using sponsorships.
In conclusion, product design engineers don’t make arbitrary choices, such as material selection. Instead, they develop alternatives and make decisions based on the project requirements, which include functionality, cost, life span, etc.
It’s perfectly acceptable to question organizations like the park board or the manufacturer of the guard towers. Most of the engineers I know have strong opinions. However, these opinions need to be based on facts and an understanding of the issues involved in the decision.