What is structure steel detailing process
Construction automation for structural engineers
What is design automation?
Design automation can have different meanings, but simply it is the process of automating the labor intensive parts of the structural engineering design process such as modeling, analysis, design, optimization or detailing. Automation in structural engineering is not a new concept. Engineers have been using computers to automate the analysis of a structure via FEM software packages for decades. But now, we're looking at automating even more components of the process.
It doesn’t necessarily mean the entire process will be automated without engineer touch, but it does mean that engineers will be able to leverage technology to perform the tedious and repetitive tasks to get more done. Instead of having to model the structure manually, the client / project manager can generate the model so that the engineer receives an already built structural analysis model, with exactly What you want.
The software industry is supporting this. We’ve seen a move towards API functionality in a few other AEC software packages (for instance Revit) and our very ownStrukturanalyse & Design API, aimed towards helping the industry achieve design automation.
A simple example - Automating Modeling
For this example, we will be making use of an existing customer who has automated part of the design of platforms and substructures. The structures are quite similar, but require a quick turnaround time for the client. MonkeyToe’s solution was to build modeling / loading platform for their sales and project managers to use. This meant that the structural engineer could get an almost complete structural model of what the customer wanted - speeding up their preliminary design process by 90%!
Without realizing it, the sales manager is able to do a lot more work for Monkey Toe by building the analytical structure exactly the way the client wants it. Now, when it gets to the engineer, they can spend much less time, actually creating the model and more on refining the design, reducing the cost and finalizing the deliverables.
What is open to design automation?
The example above gives a good look at how we can empower the project manager and even the client to remove the modeling and pre-design process. With the right technology, these parties can create a structural model themselves and give the structural engineer an analytical model, whatever they want. From there, the structural engineer can focus on fine-tuning the model and improving the design to reduce costs for the customer. Any changes that come through will be automatic, allowing the engineer to always have the latest model.
Another example is the use of software like Grasshopper and Dynamo. These packages allow engineers to model more complex structures, do a form search, and even automate the rebar detailing process.
Analysis + design checks
Consider another of our Structural Engineering API clients; a well known design consultant based in Sydney, Australia. They were tasked with designing 100+ catenary cable structures. For an engineer to sit there and manually model 100+ of these (not to mention all of the client changes that resulted in a 12 month project) would have taken months. Instead, you've written a script to iterate through and model, save, and parse all of these structures with the push of a button. The models were created and saved in the SkyCiv file manager, so the engineer can open the file at any time to review the model and results in SkyCiv Structural 3D.
There is plenty of room to automate the analysis and interpretation of the results; especially for repeatable structures.
Civil engineers are unfortunately very time-consuming. With customers wanting packages that are released earlier and later, engineers don't have much time to experiment and try different designs. With the right technology, engineers should be able to automatically test hundreds or even thousands of alternative designs to find the best fit. This is an area of design automation that is probably a few years away, but is still on the horizon. Hopefully this will lead to more efficient, sustainable, and inexpensive designs.
Where to start
The good news is you’re probably already doing it! Think of that Excel sheet or VBA script that is currently saving you tens of hours a week - that's design automation. Now let's expand that out to the rest of the structural engineering workflow:
Here we're looking at automating the preliminary design part of the process. The one where the project isn't won yet, where the job is uncertain, the design is changing and the client changes their mind half way though. Say we build a simple solution that captures the clients wants and automatically generates the model, applies the loads and runs some preliminary pass / check calculations. You’ve just shifted that part of the work to the client and given the answer they want in a matter of minutes. In doing this, you get the user:
- Faster, exceptional servicefor your client
- Time to focus onimproving designs to be more cost-efficient
- Larger profit marginson the same revenue and work being done.
- Once tested, this solutionreduces the risk of human error
- A scalable solutionto win more projects
Design automation is something we shouldn't fear, but rather it's something we should embrace. Technology like this helps us design faster, more efficiently and with less risk - all while maintaining our profit margins. I’d love to speak to you if you have any questions on how design automation can potentially help your firms so feel free to connect onLinkedIn or contact unstoday to learn more about our API and how we’re helping companies design smarter.
CEO and Co-Founder of SkyCiv
BEng (civil), BCom
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