written by Rawad Assaf, Ph.D. Eng.
Structural and civil engineering are the oldest forms of engineering. As buildings became bigger and more complex, the profession became more advanced, enabling the construction of complicated and sustainable structures.
Basic structural engineering shifted in the 1970s due to the rise of finite element analysis (FEA/FEM) based computing. FEA/FEM software allows structural engineers to accurately predict internal forces, deformations and stresses in complex structures.
Structural engineering is now seeing tremendous developments in the fields of information technology, computational methods, visualization technologies, and artificial intelligence. These innovations and new approaches are providing more efficient, lower cost designs and sustainable construction. Following are 5 ways structural engineering will shift in the next 5 years.
1. Building Information Modeling (BIM)
Although the construction industry uses design programs to model complex geometry, perform advanced structural analysis and schedule construction planning, the field is relatively poorly connected through trades, majors and platforms. BIM processes improve computational methods and control processes and increase collaboration on construction projects, which is game-changing in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. BIM will drive the evolution of this industry into the future.
The benefits of adopting BIM are:
- simplification and acceleration of work,
- organization of information throughout the lifecycle of the building,
- improved cooperation of professions,
- data exchange among software tools and platforms,
- elimination of errors in design and transparency in construction costs,
- support for clash detection and problem-solving during design,
- ability to study alternatives on one model to obtain optimized construction solutions.
GRAITEC Advance Design is an FEA/FEM Structural Analysis solution dedicated to structural engineers operating in a BIM environment. To learn more about Advance Design, contact Graitec Group today.
2. Cloud Based Collaboration/Cloud Computing
Cloud computing differs from the classic client-server model by providing applications from a server that are executed and managed by a client’s web browser. No installed client version of an application is required. This centralization gives cloud service providers control over versions of software and applications, eliminating the need for version upgrades or license management by individual clients. Compared to traditional techniques, cloud computing is more flexible, mobile, highly automative, and cost-effective.
A cloud-based platform for structural analysis software provides a flexible and well-equipped environment for engineers to use high performance computing. Another benefit the cloud offers is web APIs (Application Programming Interface): a way to tell structural analysis and design programs what to do by writing software code.
Combining an API with the cloud “anywhere access” model is a powerful tool for running structural analysis and design automatically, wherever you are located. A program can take data from your PC, send it to the cloud, and return structural analysis and design results back to you.
3. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL) are relatively new techniques capable of providing engineers with affordable automated solutions compared to traditional manual methods.
AI is a computational method that attempts to simulate human cognition capability to solve engineering problems. ML uses computer algorithms for automatic improvement through experience, developing computer programs that can access data and using them to auto-learn. ML in construction can improve safety, productivity and quality. We may find many interesting approaches using AI in the structural engineering field.
4. Performance-Based Design in Seismic, Wind and Fire
Performance-based design (PBD) is the design methodology of the future. The concept starts with the end goal as primary (i.e., the performance level). Then analysis, simulation and testing are used to demonstrate that a structure will meet that performance level.
The focus of building codes and norms is on perspective design for safe buildings and life-safety performance. There are strict requirements on structural design (materials, strength and detailing). This strict prescriptive approach does not allow structural engineers to take varying design paths to attain code-level performance, nor does it distinguish among higher levels of performance.
PBD is an approach to obtain:
- Buildings that perform better than the prescriptively designed ones.
- Buildings that don’t meet code but can be shown to be equivalent to prescriptively-designed buildings.
PBD is not an answer for every building, but for the right projects—complex, tall, iconic, or important—PBD is the right solution.
Concerning seismic design, this approach allows the design team to work together to determine the appropriate levels of ground motion and performance objectives for the building and the non-structural components to meet the client’s expectations.
PBD has been extensively applied to the seismic loads and seismic design of structures. Attempts are being made to extend this methodology for wind loading as well. PBD for fire is in its infancy stage.
5. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, has increased recently in: engineering, construction, image and video, rescue, military, medical, delivery, hidden area exploration, miscellaneous domains monitoring, wireless communication, and aerial surveillance.
The construction industry can take advantage of these revolutionary technologies in practical ways: pre-planning, detailed survey and mapping of job sites, construction process monitoring, post-build checks, sales, and marketing. For example, surveyors can use drones as a real-time tool to monitor the progress of the site. Contractors can use the data acquired from drones to track progress and prepare an as-built record.
More recently, 3D scanning of a construction site can be used to build a 3D model using photogrammetry techniques. The “drone model” can be converted to a BIM model, and therefore to an FEM model, and analyzed after adding corresponding loading.
Fully automated, this technology can significantly reduce time and costs compared to traditional construction monitoring and reporting procedures.
The impact of changing technologies is evident in the modern techniques and devices improving structural modeling, design and results. Structural engineers can embrace modern computing techniques and devices, not only to provide answers to problems, but also to keep pace with the booming development around us.