With his long and varied history at JB Barry, Liam Prendiville has tremendous perspective to offer.
Liam shares thoughts on some of his most captivating projects – ranging from decade-long roadway efforts, to public transit extensions, to cutting-edge wastewater treatment facilities. He also looks at the growing demand for environmental sustainability, a trend Liam believes will profoundly impact every sector and offer a wealth of opportunities for engineers to chase creative, innovative solutions!
Looking back on his years with JB Barry elicits understandable pride and Liam is equally excited for the horizon ahead, which includes all manner of civil, environmental, structural and transportation challenges.
We wrap up with a wish list for Dublin infrastructure and a shout-out to Engineers Ireland for sponsoring a paper Liam co-authored about the exciting possibilities open to engineers interested in pursuing the international market, as he did in the 1990s with tremendous results.
Listen below or on your podcast player!
Topics we discussed include:
- Experiences navigating projects in Bosnia, Latvia, the Gaza Strip and elsewhere.
- The Ringsend Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade Project.
- How the M8 Cashel to Mitchelstown roadway project offered new ways of managing the project process, engaging in the pre-planning stage with contractors, maximising contract negotiation and optimising communications in a way that has since been replicated.
- Why centralised, Dublin-centric transportation planning has to be expanded to include more byways that support regional travel and economies.
- The current and primary focus of JB Barry design and project management
- The journey from senior engineer into the executive ranks.
- Opportunities for engineers to provide solutions to a number of large political, economic, environmental and social impacts.
- Why Liam believes Ireland’s fortunes are very bright, with a strong economy at the tip of the spear and exciting new ways of conceiving things like housing.
Liam is a Chartered Engineer with over 35 years’ experience. He specialises in Transportation and Traffic Engineering. For almost two decades, he has been at the helm of JB Barry and Partners, one of Ireland’s leading Consulting Engineers. They offer a wide variety of services in the Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Structural Engineering, Transportation Engineering and Safety & Health sectors and have completed numerous successful projects in each area.
“The construction of motorways is a very small element of the carbon impact. The real impact is on yourself and myself driving around in diesel or petrol cars. You can see that the move towards electric cars has taken hold. It's certainly there.”
“Using the same footprint and the same size of site, we can treat a 60% or 70% greater volume of wastewater. Now that's using innovation to drive great results!”
“The environmental issues and climate action demand is really going to create a very exciting opportunity for engineers. It's all going to have to be engineered!”
Looking for ways to explore or advance a career in the field of engineering? Visit Engineers Ireland to learn more about the many programmes and resources on offer.
For your convenience, here is a 90% accurate automated transcript of the podcast.
Dusty Rhodes 0:03
Right now on Amplified the Engineers Journal Podcast, we're about to meet the managing director of JB Berry and partners, Liam Prendiville.
Liam Prendiville 0:10
An engineer is somebody who sees a problem and their instinct is to look forward as this is the problem, how are we going to resolve it? How do we move forward?
Dusty Rhodes 0:40
My name is Dusty Rhodes and you're welcome to Amplified the Engineers Journal podcast, where we speak with our community of creative professionals across the country about how engineers are delivering sustainable solutions for society, both now and in the future. Today, we're chatting with a man who has seen many changes in the industry over the past few decades, and is looking ahead to the future and planning for what's next as well. From JB Barry and partners, one of Ireland's leading Consulting Engineers and Civil Environmental, structural and transportation engineering. It's a pleasure to welcome managing director Liam Prendiville. How're you doing
Liam Prendiville 1:14
I'm are doing great Dusty. Thank you very much for inviting me to do this podcast.
Dusty Rhodes 1:18
You've enjoyed a very long and successful career with JB Barry, looking back at your time now. And I was managing director but looking back at your time when you were kind of very hands on as a senior engineer. Were there any particular projects or problems that you solved that kind of still give you satisfaction to this day?
Liam Prendiville 1:37
Dusty, we spend our time solving problems that at the time seem very big, but they aren't drift into history. And they're all resolved. I suppose if I was to pick a project or period, I worked overseas for a number of years in the late 90s. And when the road program kicked off in the early 2000s, we got involved in the main inter urban motorway projects with the NRA. And we did some very interesting and innovative projects, both in terms of the projects themselves, and in the way that they were formulated and contracted. If I was to pick one project, I'd say Cashel to Mitchelstown Motorway was an innovative project.
Dusty Rhodes 2:16
What was the problem there?
Liam Prendiville 2:18
I suppose if there's anything unusual about that particular stretch of road is that it runs very close to the Galtee mountains. And that generates a drainage issue, because you get run off quite quickly off very steep slopes, and you have to be able to deal with that, you have to design for that. But the really innovative thing on the Cashel to Mitchelstownscheme was that it was developed as an early contractor involvement type scheme, which has a slightly different procurement method that was used in the past or is used since it takes the confrontational aspect to some degree out of the contractual relationship between the contractor and the client.
Dusty Rhodes 2:55
Okay, and how had it been done before?
Liam Prendiville 2:57
Previously, schemes were designed up to a certain level of specimen design. And it's issued out to four or five contractors to tender it post getting planning from an Bord Pleanala. Historically, the lowest paid one got the job and they were contracted, and then you moved from there. So that's fine. And it's a well used method. But in early contractor involvement, you involve the contractor earlier at the pre planning stage, so they have input in the planning stage. So you get more constructibility built into your design. And the contractual arrangement is on a cost plus basis. So you don't get that confrontation, financial confrontation.
Dusty Rhodes 3:45
It doesn't run that way anymore?
Liam Prendiville 3:49
No, that early contractor involvement process was used on Cashel to Mitchelstown. And it may have been used on one or two other projects. But the process reverted and back to design and build form of contracts for roads and other forms of contracts. The new government form of contract was introduced in 2007/2008. And that was put into use POST Cashel to Mitchelstown
Dusty Rhodes 4:15
So then thinking about Cashel to Mitchelstown, what were the constraints, what were the physical constraints that you had to work with?
Liam Prendiville 4:21
Well, the physical constraints are relatively repetitive unrolled schemes at the time, and I suppose, I think if you look at the broader picture at the time, we were developing hundreds of kilometers of motorway over a period of 10 years. So all the requirements in terms of people and plant and equipment, were all there and were used on an ongoing basis. And all the all the skills of design and construction were well practiced. And that's a very efficient way of rolling projects often reduces the risk, because all the risks have been met on previous counts, tracks and they've been ironed out. So you got to flow and that's why the NRA, they really did a very good job in developing their project management processes. And in the achievement of building the motorways, the main inter Urban's in the period from 2000 to 2010. That was a fantastic achievement.
Dusty Rhodes 5:18
Do you think it's right though for Ireland as a country with the transport the way it's set up that all of these motorways tend to just converge on the capital?
Liam Prendiville 5:26
Absolutely not. It's stage one of a multistage development of the island. You know, you have to look at Limerick, which would get you to Galway, Waterford, Cork, Waterford to Limerick. But if you look at the map of Ireland, there's very few links missing. Obviously, there's projects to link Dublin to Derry. And there's an A five project in Northern Ireland linked to an end to project here in in the Republic, which will open up Donegal, you'd have achieved a lot if you put those missing links into place Dusty, I think and the great thing I would focus on about motorways, and we'll probably come to it later. But motorways allow our buses to run at high frequency and at predictable timetables. It's now very feasible and very practical to get a bus from Dublin to cork or Dublin to Galway. And that's really supported by the motorway network.
Dusty Rhodes 6:28
Do you think then that that's more efficient than trains?
Liam Prendiville 6:32
I think it is. It's more practical than trains but they're not. They're not exclusive for one, one doesn't compete necessarily with the other. If you look at the train network in Europe, where trains travel 300 kilometers an hour now that, that's a step too far for us, possibly. But if you could certainly travel 200 kilometers an hour, and Dublin to Cork would then be you know, a little over an hour on a train that would be attractive. So there is absolutely a future for trains. But the motorway network is there and the buses are running out and they're getting a lot of passengers
Dusty Rhodes 7:11
We're seeing a crossover as well in society at the moment there and it's specifically to do with motorways and and road transport in that we're going from petrol and diesel engines to electric engines, how do you think that's going to affect transport overall?
Liam Prendiville 7:25
It'll be a big win for transport. Without a doubt. The fact that you know 95% of the carbon emissions in transport is from the operation of the scheme, the construction of motorways is a very small element of the carbon impact, the real impact is on yourself and myself driving around in diesel or petrol cars. You can see that the move towards electric cars has has taken hold. It's certainly there. I know that people who are looking who are in the market for a new car, or certainly looking at electric cars. And I think one of the keys to that, and I think we've discussed this before, is your ability to have a charging point in your home. I think leaving home with the expectation of finding a charging point someplace else is just, it's unnerving.
Dusty Rhodes 8:21
Yes and no. I'm sure with the early petrol cars, it was unnerving. Leaving home when there were no petrol stations. So maybe we're going through the same thing. But you're right in that when you're looking at planning. I mean, for houses, it's not so bad, because you've got to drive by and Ireland is very much a housing kind of a country. But in the last 20 years, we've become more and more reliant on apartment blocks and apartment buildings. Not so easy. If you own an electric car. Is there any kind of retrograde works that can be done there do you think are what way should we be thinking?
Liam Prendiville 8:57
Oh, absolutely. And certainly, all future apartment blocks. The expectation would be that all these parking spaces would have a charging point. I think that's a given. Retrofitting them costly, I'm not too sure. I'm not too sure.
Dusty Rhodes 9:16
Let me talk about your own personal career Liam. What will you experience from because you were very successful as an engineer and a senior senior engineer, and now you're the managing director? How did you go from from working on the shop floor as it were to running the shell?
Liam Prendiville 9:32
I suppose the career path was that JB Barry started in 1959 as a water consultant, very brave thing to do to set up a design business in 1959. The country was a very, very poor place in 1959. It was before TJ vinegar and Lamar started making the country look externally rather than internally. So we moved into structures allied to the water industry, and then we worked overseas for a while I worked myself in the 90s He's in Bosnia and Latvian Albania, worked in Gaza for a while. And in Beirut. And I must say that that working abroad, dusty taught me a lot. You're in a different environment. Yeah. We chased work in Bosnia in the early 90s. And I had no compunction to bring the Minister for this, or the Minister for that, which is something I would never have done in Ireland, because there's a structure and there's a hierarchy. And there's things you do and things you don't do. So I learned a lot there. And when the road program started in 2000, that we formed a relationship with a UK firm called Halcrow. And we changed the rules, Martin, and that's where I sort of moved from being involved in projects to chasing work in a new sector. So that was the start of the move, maybe from being completely involved in projects to getting involved in the, in the marketing.
Dusty Rhodes 10:51
And was that something that came from somebody above? Who saw potential in you to be able to say, Graham, we want to take one of our best engineers here, and we want him to get him in on the on the pre planning stage with a potential client about what could be done? Or was it something where you said to yourself, you know, I think I would rather be out talking to people and to get them working with JB and to get new projects in for the firm. You know,
Liam Prendiville 11:14
all of these things, there's a lot of a lot of luck and a lot of false steps. And it's very hard to post analyze it. And it depends who writes the history, as you know, I might write it one way, and other people might see it completely differently. Well, actually, what happened, I suppose is that working overseas, we actually spent time looking for work as well as doing it. So that gave me exposure to that overseas work came to an abrupt halt because one of our partners struggled financially. And we were no longer involved in that. And it coincided with the starting of the main entrance, carbon road network. And it was quite clear that they needed, they needed more people involved, they're going possibly from spending 200 million a year on the road program to spending in 2007, they spent 1.8 billion, so you can't increase the spend without it involved involving more and more people. So there was opportunity there, the market was growing, I knew a couple of people in the market. And the guys running the company at the time, were happy to let me chase it the load, we spent a lot of time chasing the market.
Dusty Rhodes 12:23
And at one stage did you say to yourself, I think I could offer a lot as the managing director of this firm, and I could bring the firm certain places and improve it. And did you make it your mission to say, I would like that job?
Liam Prendiville 12:36
Absolutely not no. I go back to what I said previously, I commend those 50 people like it's more like it's more like a family than a corporation. And a lot of our competitors, dusty are large global companies. We have companies here in Ireland that have a presence all over the world. Some of them have employee levels of 7080 90 100,000 people worldwide. So they run a very corporate affair they have, you know, they have very identified structures, whereas 90% of our work is in Ireland. And as a result, the scale of our operation moves with the cycle of expenditure in Ireland. And it's looks as if it's a 10 year cycle, I'm afraid.
Dusty Rhodes 13:25
Speaking of the work that you're involved in, you're involved in a lot of disciplines. Is there is there any one that you're particularly busy with the water
Liam Prendiville 13:33
design element and project management in the water space, which is water supply, wastewater collection and treatment, stormwater and flooding, that's remained a constant throughout the history of the company, and that's still very vibrant. And areas what has changed in the market is water there. They're actually using, funnily enough, some ECI project early contractor involvement projects going back to Capitol two meters down. So So that's very vibrant, and consistent. The transportation sector this changes within that we're still have a lot of highways work, but there's a big move towards active travel and public transport, which is, you know, supporting the climate change agenda and society is changing its direction on transport. I mean, there's absolutely no doubt about that. And the younger generations will change it even more rapidly. And I suppose energy is probably the exciting thing at the moment if you were to look at it you know, the generation distribution and use use of energy has to be the most exciting thing that's going on at the moment with
Dusty Rhodes 14:42
the water it must be disappointed when you're in volved in large projects and working in large projects because what is usually hidden away and most people don't see it, you know, when you're out kind of talking to people what would you love to scream at them to go this is the project I did
Liam Prendiville 15:00
think sometimes I think sometimes dusty, you just have to accept that you're doing a good job and get some satisfaction from that.
Dusty Rhodes 15:06
I know Come on, I give you an opportunity now to to blow your trumpet. Tell me one that you Oh, well,
Liam Prendiville 15:11
okay. Okay, if you want to? Yes, please, we're at the moment, I mean, we've done a large number of wastewater treatment plants. At the moment, we're involved in the rings and the upgrade of the rings and wastewater treatment plant, which is the water treatment plant for the dump the greater Dublin area. So we're increasing the capacity of that plant dramatically. And that's an ongoing process it's going to go on for it has been going on and will go on for a total of maybe 10 or 12 years. It's an existing operating plant that's treating a large percentage of the wastewater from the Dublin area. And we've teamed up with other companies, one of them brings a specialist treatment process with it, which means that using the same footprint using the same size of site, we can treat 60 or 70%, greater volume of wastewater. Now that's using innovation, to drive great results,
Dusty Rhodes 16:09
keeping yourself up to speed actually on changing technology and everything and processes, as you say abroad. And things that are happening, how do you keep yourself up to date and stay current with the latest engineering trends?
Liam Prendiville 16:22
Well, I suppose one of the things we've always done from a very early age stage in the company is we've we've formed joint ventures with international companies as required. And with people with either, if we need additional resources, it's one type of partner we need. And if it's a particular expertise in an area, it's another. So the example will be royal haskoning DHV, who have brought the process to earnings, and we have a relationship with them, we have a joint venture with them. When we entered the roads market, it was the Halcro group from the UK, because they had they had expertise in the roads market, they also had capacity. So we had local knowledge and good reputation here. It's a small island here. You know, if you have a good reputation, it travels from one sector to another, as you know, I'd love to
Dusty Rhodes 17:16
ask you, what is lineup for JB berry over the next couple of years? Is that something you talk about? Or is it top secret?
Liam Prendiville 17:23
No, no, it's very clear. To me, I mean, it's been in the news for the last week. But it's been top of the agenda for a while, there's been a lot of factors impacting on our business and on society at large, like Brexit, Brexit has created a changed environment. COVID obviously has a very significant impact on the way we think, created an environment where a lot of change that might not have been possible is now possible, maybe there's material supply disruption driven, possibly by the war war in Eastern Europe, there's other factors in there maybe as well as a lot of political change in Ireland, and there's going to be more political change. But the environmental issues and climate action demands is really going to create a very exciting opportunity for engineers, it's all going to have to be engineered the provision of electricity, the distribution of electricity, the reduction of carbon emissions in all the sectors mean, you can see the political wrangling over whether it was 20% or 30%, for agriculture, and the impact on transport as transport is in there in a big way. And we're doing a lot of work there already, but it's only going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.
Dusty Rhodes 18:35
Well, let me ask you, then I'm sure you see that movie Back to the Future. They filmed it in the 80s. But they were imagining what life would be like in 2020 or something like that. Alright, and they actually got a lot of stuff, right? The big screen TV and there are there are so many other things recite I can't remember order. But I remember watching the movie like only recently kind of gone. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. So in your own mind looking 20 years ahead, what is it going to look like?
Liam Prendiville 19:02
Wow, that's a really good question, isn't it? It's the only way I can imagine is by going back 20 years, and looking at what I thought Ireland would be like in 2020. And, you know, Did I did I see electric cars on the road? And the uptake of those? I didn't? Absolutely not. Did I see the absolute conversion of everybody to the reality of climate change? I didn't see that. So looking forward 20 years. Obviously, there'll be bumps on the road. But certainly, on this island. I think it's a fantastic place to live. I think we have a novel lot of things going for us. Being an island has a lot of advantages that keeps you out of the way of a lot of things. Our climate, our climate is better than you could dream for. I think, even though I suppose it gives us the opportunity to complain about the rain as well, which we like to do. We like to have something to complain about. But and also, like if you look at the growth in, in wealth in the country, which in itself probably doesn't actually make people happier. But that's well beyond engineering. But like, if you take the tax taken in 1980, when I started in Ireland was 3 billion a year, and now it's heading for at, you know, we're a wealthy country. We don't have great historical wealth. We have, we have a vibrant economy. So I think the future for Ireland is dramatically, I think, 20 years time, I think it could be very positive.
Dusty Rhodes 20:38
We have a housing shortage at the moment, do you think that Irish minds are going to change about how we look at housing? Because traditionally, I think it's going back to the famine, okay. Because people didn't own their own houses, and they've could have been thrown off the land. And it's been in the psyche, since I must own my own home, and it must be a home. Whereas that's changing lately, do you think we're going to get to a stage where people will think about more communal ways of living, possibly with ways where they don't actually own the roof over their head, but they do have tenancy rights?
Liam Prendiville 21:14
Yeah, it's a very, very interesting question. And I think you've hit the nail on the head with the tenancy rights thing, possibly. You know, there are other models over ours, and you go back to our history, and you're right, our history drives our thought process. We'd like to own our own house, it gives us a security, it does make society stable as well, maybe. But the French model, if you wanted to go go there, a lot of people have lifetime tenancies in, in apartments. And that's another model. I think, as generations move, you get change in people's approach, I have no doubt that we can change people's approach, we have a private client business, which is probably 20% of what we do, we probably at any one time have between seven and 8000 residential units, at various stages of development from pre planning to in planning to construction. And we're not a big player in that market. There are much, much bigger players here. So there are a lot of residential units being developed, get those to the construction, some of the challenges I mentioned earlier, supply of materials. Inflation, may impact on the development of those. But I think you're right a model of model of ownership is probably the biggest element of it. Now you're after drifted me a long way from engineering. Now let's go back to put blocks on blocks at exactly,
Dusty Rhodes 22:45
I was just thinking join the conversation too much. Actually, I kind of was gonna go back to transport because we spoke about the motorways puts specifically in Dublin, because it's a growing city they're talking about and they have been talking about a long time about extending the Dart and then the tram out to the airport. Is there anything when you look at that particular city that you think I've got a good idea for that or what's missing,
Liam Prendiville 23:13
I think they're on a good journey, I think, a good good bit down the road, I think the phone the folders, probably the key to public transport. For me anyway. Because you can see, you get access immediately to where public transport is. And if the boss is going to be at your stop in five minutes, you can see it. And that changes the game completely for me, you know. So the frequency of buses now. I'm fortunate enough, I live close to the M 11. Quality bus corridor we did work on on that bus corridor 20 years ago. And bus frequency is so high that you just rock up at the bus stop and get the next bus get into town just as fast are faster than I can drive it. So I think everyone will convert to public transport. Now. There are weak spots, maybe in the network. But there's a lot of work being done out of the box connects. And obviously the loose is a success story. We're doing a nice project on the loose actually. We're working on an extension from bluebridge to Thingol. And that will bring you up to the 50 on the green line. Obviously, the Metro is a big project that's that's out there as well.
Dusty Rhodes 24:26
How's that Lewis project going? Because you're going through some very highly populated areas. That's
Liam Prendiville 24:31
it's gone really well. Yeah, it's called fantastically T IO drunk driving the project. We have a team in conjunction with a company called Aegis. We're a French rail company. And the project is what we now call a BIM project. Okay, so, BIM is going from ink ink and paper was in the 80s and 80s and moving towards computers plotters. And five years time, we won't even mention the fact that it's been but if it is an interesting development of design, because you can actually see, you can see conflicts are a preliminary design stage rather than a detailed design stage of much more information much earlier on. So it should improve cost efficiency on construction? Or will, whether it's a higher level of design at an earlier stage,
Dusty Rhodes 25:26
are you using an existing rail track that is going out towards Fingal? Or do you have to create a new one? A new one? Is that a big headache?
Liam Prendiville 25:38
It's challenging. Yeah, it's a challenge. But I suppose a lot of schemes that were involved in certainly linear schemes, like road schemes or public transport schemes, once you're on a new route, you're interacting with a lot of stakeholders, you're impacting on a lot of people's property, and we have a relationship with our own property with private property. It goes back to what you discussed earlier. We have a lot of strong property rights. I'm not arguing against that.
Dusty Rhodes 26:05
What was that that'd be for somebody else to worry about.
Liam Prendiville 26:07
But it's all about, it's all about bringing a project through the process. You know, I suppose if there was a challenge, in the process at the moment is probably getting planning can be can be a challenge, the planning process is challenged. But again, it's a process. Yeah, you just have to go through and get there. Let me ask you about engineers,
Dusty Rhodes 26:30
Ireland, because it's a great organization, that it's not companies that are that make up the organization, its people. And it's interesting to me to see that even people have the highest levels of business in the country, our members. I'm just wondering, what's one of the most useful things that you personally have gotten out of being with engineers Ireland.
Liam Prendiville 26:54
Years ago, I would have been involved as I said earlier in some of the international work, and we did some work in in Bosnia. And engineers Ireland invited me to do a paper which I did in conjunction with guys from the SBI. And that drove me in a certain direction as well. It's not something that I would naturally hold my hand up for back in 1990. Odd. But that opened up an avenue for me in describing what we were doing, the benefits of market return, informing other people of the potential for us to sell things overseas.
Dusty Rhodes 27:31
Liam Prendiville. Thank you so much for taking time to chat with us today on the podcast.
Liam Prendiville 27:36
docilely. Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.
Dusty Rhodes 27:38
If you'd like to find out more about what we spoke about on the podcast today, you'll find notes and link details in the show notes or description area of the podcast in the podcast player right now. Of course, you'll find more information and advanced episodes on our website at engineers Ireland Dudley. Our engineers at journal amplified podcast is produced by dust pod.io for engineers ireland? If you'd like more episodes, just click the Follow button on your podcast player so you get access to all of our past and future shows automatically. Until next time from myself Dusty Rhodes, thank you so much for listening.
Unknown Speaker 28:13