20 Years of Computational Geotechnics with PLAXIS

With gratitude, we celebrate Prof. Harry Tan Siew Ann’s retirement

It is said all big things often have small beginnings. On 25 September 2020, Honorary Fellow Prof. Harry Tan Siew Ann delivered the NUS Woh Hup Distinguished Lecture with the title “Modeling in Geotechnical Practice (Virtual Dream becoming Reality)”. The lecture was a culmination of 40 years of experience as an educator and engineer. Prof. Harry Tan (Harry to his peers) also served on the Scientific Network committee for the PLAXIS code development, training and applications since 2002.

Post Indian Plaxis Advanced Course, Chennai, 2007. Professor Harry Tan posing at Shore Temple, near Chennai in Tamil Nadu
Figure 1. Post Indian Plaxis Advanced Course, Chennai, 2007. Professor Harry Tan posing at Shore Temple, near Chennai in Tamil Nadu

For his sustained contributions to the geotechnical engineering profession, in research, education and improving the standard of geotechnical practice and region he was awarded the “Outstanding Geotechnical Engineer of the Year Award” by the Geotechnical Engineering Society Singapore in 2018. In 2020, this year, Prof. Harry Tan retired from teaching and his NUS Woh Hup Distinguished Lecture marks this important milestone.

PLAXIS is now recognized as the golden standard for computational geotechnics, but back in the late 90’s the application of geotechnical finite element modelling and analyses in the practicing industry was in its infancy and in some sectors, unheard of. In Asia in particular, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand, the desire to use PLAXIS finite element programs to solve some of the most complex soil-structure interaction problems for the construction of underground metros and infrastructures got stronger in early 2000. In Asia Pacific our success story in many ways was due to the contribution of one educator and prominent engineer, Prof Harry Tan Siew Ann.

In 1999, Prof. Harry Tan initiated research key programs in NUS. Starting from a small group of PhD and MSc research scholars they used PLAXIS (back then PLAXIS Version 6.2) to solve and elucidate complex geotechnical problems. They were taught to solve real-world engineering problems which benefit and have direct applications in the geotechnical industry. His PhD students were taught to refrain from secluding themselves in their ivory towers. A passionate teacher and prominent speaker with an ethos that good computational geotechnics begins with good geomechanics and more. For many of his students, they owe our their success to his teachings, tutelage and friendship.

In 2003, he initiated and organized the first Asian Advanced Computational Geotechnics course in Singapore. The second was held in Phuket Island, Thailand and thereafter, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Bangkok and more. In collaboration with PLAXIS he led and organized close to 50 courses in Asia and worldwide. The first Indian PLAXIS Advanced Computational Geotechnics course was held in 2007, in collaboration with Indian Institute of Technology Madras. In this course the giants of Computational Geotechnics, Emeritus Professors Pieter Vermeer, K. Rajagopal and Harry Tan lead the course. This was an important course as it paved the way for us and 13 years on, this course is still in-demand and has become one of the key technical annual events for the geotechnical fraternity in India. This advanced course is now led by Emeritus Profs. K. Rajagopal and Helmut Schweiger.

from left to right Prof.  K. Rajagopal, Prof. Pieter Vermeer, Prof. Harry Tan at the Second Asian PLAXIS Advanced Course on Computational Geotechnics, 2006
Figure 2. From left to right: Prof. K. Rajagopal, Prof. Pieter Vermeer, Prof. Harry Tan at the Second Asian PLAXIS Advanced Course on Computational Geotechnics, 2006

The Nicoll Highway Tunnel collapse in 2004 in Singapore changed the way we taught computational geomechanics. His involvement as “Expert Witness Team” comprising four international experts in the Committee of Inquiry for the city state brought in important changes and understanding on this subject. The Undrained Methods of A, B and C are now important fundamentals which all competent geotechnical modelers must appreciate and understand.

We, the members of the Geotechnical team from Bentley Systems thank him for the 20 years of very illustrious computational geotechnics with PLAXIS. He had championed and uphold our vision, and his contributions are an important key to the success of PLAXIS and us.

Allow us to share one of his well-known words which many of us have heard in those two decades:

“PLAXIS is like a Ferrari (or Lamborghini depending on which course you are taking), ensure that you strive to better your knowledge on the fundamentals of geomechanics and the art of geotechnical engineering. You need to be a competent driver to drive it because it is really a very powerful car!”

Thank you, Professor Harry Tan Siew Ann for 20 years of excitement. Looking forward to the many more illustrious years with you!

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