Structural engineering software can significantly enhance your productivity, accuracy, and creativity, making your job much more manageable. As a structural engineer, your job requires vast skills and expertise to design safe and efficient structures. While traditional drafting methods still have a place in the industry, modern technology has opened up a world of opportunities for those in the field.
In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the essential software programs that you need to know as a structural engineer. From modeling and analysis to project management and collaboration, these tools will help you streamline your workflow and take your designs to the next level.
Structural Analysis Software
- SAP2000: Developed by Computers and Structures Inc. (CSI), SAP2000 is a widely used software offering advanced analysis capabilities for various structures. It includes features like nonlinear analysis, time-history analysis, and seismic analysis.
- ETABS: Another software developed by CSI, ETABS is known for efficiently handling complex models. It offers features like dynamic analysis, design optimization, and a wide range of material libraries.
- STAAD.Pro: Developed by Bentley Systems, STAAD.Pro is a popular software for designing and analyzing concrete, steel, and timber structures. It offers a user-friendly interface and comprehensive design and analysis tools.
- Robot Structural Analysis: Developed by Autodesk, Robot Structural Analysis is a versatile software offering advanced features like the nonlinear and dynamic analysis. It also includes design tools for steel structures and steel connections.
- ANSYS: ANSYS is a powerful software offering a wide range of structural and mechanical engineering analysis capabilities. It includes features like finite element analysis, fluid dynamics, and electromagnetics.
- SCIA is a comprehensive structural analysis software that offers a wide range of tools for designing and analyzing structures. Developed by SCIA, the software is known for its user-friendly interface and intuitive modeling capabilities.
Drafting/Detailing 3D Software
- Tekla Structures: Developed by Trimble, Tekla Structures is a widely used steel detailing and modeling software. It offers a range of tools for steel fabrication, including automated detailing capabilities and BIM integration.
- SDS/2: SDS/2 is a comprehensive software that offers detailed modeling and drafting capabilities for steel structures. It includes features like clash detection, and CNC fabrication integration, making it an ideal solution for steel fabricators.
- Advance Steel is a powerful drafting software for steel structures, developed by Autodesk. It offers a wide range of tools for steel detailing and fabrication. Advance Steel enables architects, engineers, and fabricators to create detailed and accurate models of steel structures.
- ProSteel is a drafting software for steel structures developed by Bentley Systems.
We personally prefer Tekla Structures for its user-friendly interface, smooth running, BIM and point cloud integration. Also, it has an option of adding extra tools through the use of macros. It is easy to learn and offers a variety of customizable templates.
Connection Design – IDEA StatiCa
For connection design, we recommend IDEA StatiCa. It is a powerful software for design and analysis of steel connections. Developed by IDEA RS, the software offers advanced tools for engineers and fabricators to design welded and bolted connections, perform detailed analysis, and optimize designs for safety and efficiency.
This software offers automatic code checks, including AISC, Eurocode, and CISC. This ensures the connections are safe and meet the required standards. It has stiffness, seismicity, and buckling reports. You can easily apply any loading for axial, shear, and moment connections.
IDEA StatiCa integrates with various BIM platforms, including Revit, Tekla Structures, and Advance Steel. This allows users to import models directly into IDEA StatiCa and perform detailed analysis and design within the same software environment.
The software includes advanced reporting and documentation tools, making sharing designs and analysis results easy. You can provide a clear design report for every critical steel member.
Hand Computations – MathCAD
MathCAD finds its value when you need to make a hand calculation for a single element. It is easy to collaborate with others as they can see the whole process step by step, and also the chance of error is reduced.
It is a software program that structural engineers commonly use to perform complex mathematical calculations and solve engineering problems.
MathCAD replaces hand calculations. It should get increasingly popular with the intention of going paperless. It allows you to produce a dynamic spreadsheet with complete control over your work that you can use repeatedly.
Developed by PTC, the software offers a range of features that make it an ideal tool for engineers, including:
- Natural math notation: MathCAD allows users to enter mathematical equations and expressions using natural math notation, doing reading and understanding complex calculations easier.
- Symbolic calculations: The software can perform symbolic calculations, allowing engineers to manipulate and solve equations without manually performing algebraic operations.
- Unit conversions: MathCAD includes built-in unit conversion capabilities, making it easy to convert between different units of measurement.
- Document management: MathCAD allows users to create and manage engineering documents that include calculations, text, and images. This can improve communication and collaboration among team members.
- Graphing and plotting: The software includes advanced graphing and plotting capabilities, making creating visual representations of data and analysis results easy.
Working With Data – Excel
We are all familiar with Excel, but most of us don’t use its full capacity or use it incorrectly. So How can structural engineers benefit from Excel capabilities?
Structural engineers can use Excel to create spreadsheets that can be customized to perform complex calculations, such as determining load-bearing capacities, designing structural elements, and analyzing building codes and regulations. Excel’s powerful features, such as macros, pivot tables, and data visualization tools, make it versatile for structural engineers to create models, analyze data, and communicate findings effectively. With its easy-to-use interface and a broad range of capabilities, Excel can be an essential tool for structural engineers to complete their work more efficiently and accurately. For Example:
- Calculations and analysis: Excel is an excellent tool for performing complex computations related to structural design and analysis.
- Data management: Excel can manage and organize data related to structural engineering projects. This includes project schedules, material lists, and cost estimates.
- Visualization: Excel’s charting and graphing tools can be used to create visual representations of data, such as load-displacement curves or stress-strain diagrams. These visualizations can help engineers better understand the behavior of structural elements.
- Code compliance: Excel can be used to create spreadsheets that can help engineers ensure compliance with building codes and regulations. These spreadsheets can be used to verify design calculations and document compliance with local codes and regulations.
- Design optimization: Excel can be used to create spreadsheets that can help optimize a structural design. For example, engineers can use Excel to perform sensitivity analyses to determine the effect of changing design parameters on the overall performance of the structure.
Parametric Design – Rhino with Grasshopper
Rhino with Grasshopper provides structural engineers with powerful tools for creating and analyzing complex geometric shapes and structures. These tools enable engineers to quickly create digital models of their designs and evaluate them for structural performance, stability, and other critical factors.
One of the key benefits of Rhino with Grasshopper is its ability to handle complex geometries and create intricate forms that are difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional design software. In addition, the software uses parametric modeling, which allows engineers to modify design parameters and instantly see the effect on the overall structure.
Another key benefit of Rhino with Grasshopper is its ability to interface with other design software tools and technologies. This allows engineers to seamlessly integrate their designs with different tools and technologies used in construction.
For example, you can link Rhino/Grasshopper and enable algorithmic modelling for Tekla Structures. The link is a set of Grasshopper components that can create and interact with objects live in Tekla Structures.
Programming Language – Python/C#
Programming languages are a game-changer for structural engineers. While Excel can do a lot of calculations, it can take way too long for Excel to run the analysis for big data. So when you need a big processing power Python is a perfect solution. Also, you can automate repetitive tasks. This can help to save time and reduce the potential for errors.
Python can also facilitate collaboration among structural engineers. For example, engineers can use Python to create scripts or modules that other engineers can share and reuse. This can improve collaboration and efficiency, allowing engineers to build on each other’s work and avoid duplicating efforts.
For Tekla Structures users, learning C# can be of great benefit.
You can strap C# onto Tekla Structures, as there is an API that you can program into C#.
With Tekla Open API in C#, engineers can customize the Tekla Structures software to suit their specific needs. For example, engineers can create custom plugins or extensions that add new functionality to the software or automate particular workflows. This can help to improve efficiency and streamline the design process.
You can learn more about Tekla Structures Open API on the official website.
Fun Tip: There is a plugin on GitHub that enables you to play the popular game Snakes in the Tekla Structures model view.
Choosing the right software depends on various factors, like the type of structure, complexity, and budget. Each of the software mentioned above programs has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s always a good idea to try a few options before deciding on the best one for your needs.