Structural engineers today work in a fast-moving international environment. The need to collaborate with multiple other disciplines from the AEC industry, often round the world, has never been greater. Engineers are expected to achieve even greater performance for their buildings, by cutting down on cost and embodied carbon – making the exploration of different design options essential. Finally, engineering companies need to turn around projects as fast as possible to stay competitive, making automation an attractive option.
One way structural engineers and engineering companies can stay ahead of the curve is to embrace cloud technology. They can harness it to enhance communication, run many sophisticated analyses quickly and automatically, and automate their processes to deliver better buildings in a shorter time.
What is the cloud?
It’s hard to exist in today’s world without hearing about the cloud, but what is it really, and what does it specifically mean for structural engineers? Wikipedia defines the cloud as “the on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage (cloud storage) and computing power, without direct active management by the user”.
In simple terms, the cloud is a way of accessing data, software and services via the internet. Whereas previously you needed to have that or that software on your computer, with the cloud, now all you need is a stable internet connection and the right cloud services provider.
For structural engineers specifically, this opens up a number of great benefits. Let’s take a look at those in turn, as well as discuss some tips for getting the most out of these technologies.
1. Remote Meetings
Remote meetings have shot to popularity in the last two years, due to the global pandemic. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and others all enable structural engineers to connect with colleagues across the globe. A particularly powerful aspect of remote meetings is the ability to share your screen. Engineers can now review structural design calculations and BIM models collaboratively by all viewing the same document or model simultaneously, wherever they are in the world.
TIP: One issue can arise with online meetings when a group of engineers are together in person in one room, and a number of others join remotely. This can have the effect of creating two meeting rooms within the one meeting – the in person meeting, and then the remote meeting room. It can be hard for remote attendees to really participate on the same level as their colleagues who are there in person. Avoid this problem with this simple rule for remote meetings: if one person is online, everyone is online.
2. File sharing and collaboration
Looking at the same model on screen during remote meetings is great, but what about working on those models collaboratively? With the cloud, long gone are the days of having to send a structural model to a colleague or outside party like an architect, wait for their revisions, and then have that model sent back to you. Many structural engineering software vendors support collaborative editing of models directly in the browser, leveraging the power of the cloud to make and share changes to the structural model in near-real time.
For those softwares that don’t support editing in the cloud, file storage providers make it easy to upload the model to a single location, which is accessible to many users. Changes can then be made through subsequent uploads, and the history of the model is easily tracked, allowing for reversion to earlier instances of the model, if a design decision is changed.
Finally these models can often be shared as ‘view-only’ making it easy to communicate the structural design to colleagues, collaborators and project stakeholders.
3. Web APIs
Few structural engineers will be familiar with web APIs – or even standard desktop APIs! “API” is short for “Application Programming Interface”, but in simple terms it means a way to tell structural analysis and design programs what to do, by writing some software code.
APIs open up the exciting possibility to automate parts of your structural analysis and design workflow. You can instruct your structural program to build a model, run analysis and design, and then report the results to you. This is especially effective for rapidly trying multiple structural schemes, or running repetitive designs.
Combine an API with the “access anywhere” philosophy of the cloud, and you have an incredibly powerful tool for running structural analysis and design, automatically, wherever you are in the world. A simple program can take data from your PC, send it to the cloud, and return structural analysis and design results back to you.
TIP: SkyCiv’s Structural Analysis & Design API is the first of its kind in the market today, bringing automation directly to structural engineers. Dedicated support for getting your solutions up and running makes it even easier to get started right away.
4. High Performance Computing
Structural Analysis is a mathematically intensive task, requiring a powerful PC to run it quickly. Way back when computers were first developed, they filled entire rooms. This changed in the 90s and 00s, with personal computers and desktop software becoming much more popular. Structural engineers picked up expensive PCs to get their analyses running quickly, or paid the price in time, waiting for big models to solve and give them answers.
In the last 20 years the advent and popularization of the internet has caused us to look back towards these huge rooms of computers and the computing power they offer. We just call these rooms full of computers ‘Servers’. Servers are where the cloud physically sits and where it runs. All this hardware opens up high performance computing to a wider audience, offering a great alternative to increasingly more powerful personal computers.
For structural engineers, this means they can rely on a lightweight (both physically and figuratively) personal computer, and leverage the cloud to run heavy structural analysis operations. Huge structural models with many members, plates, and loadcases/combinations can be run in the cloud, without requiring expensive hardware in the hands of the structural engineer. High performance computing can return results in seconds or minutes for models that previously would have run for hours on a personal computer.
Furthermore, many models can be run simultaneously. Where previously an engineer might need to spend several days or weeks building and analyzing multiple models, high performance computing in the cloud means they can build and analyze these models simultaneously. Structural engineers can get results faster, understand their project’s structural behavior better, and turn projects around more quickly.
The cloud offers many benefits to structural engineers, from communication and collaboration, to automation and rapid structural analyses. Engineers can leverage these technologies to design better, faster, and more in step with their colleagues in other AEC disciplines.
Companies like SkyCiv offer a suite of software tools that harness the power of the cloud. Entirely cloud based these companies software have sharing and versioning built in. Their Structural Analysis and Design API allows automation of structural workflows from any device, anywhere, and a team of experts is usually on hand to help you automate your structural workflows with the API. Finally, they are always actively developing their technology and leveraging the power of the cloud.
About the author:
UK/Europe API Engineer at skyciv.com
Dr. Gale is a skilled Software Engineer, with a PhD in Structural Engineering. Stuart is responsible for leading the charge across the UK and Europe, with special focus on the SkyCiv API. Stuart has a keen eye to improve structural engineering workflows, and strengths in C#/Fortran languages.
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