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Accuracy, speed, and enhanced collaboration: The structural engineers' joys of using 3D modeling

3D models let structural engineers import the architect’s plans and use them as a starting point for their work.

In the engineering world, accuracy, speed, and smooth collaboration are key to success. 3D modeling tools offer clear benefits in all of these areas, which are also reflected in the projects' profitability. 

While 2D drawings are still the deliverables expected in structural design projects, 3D models are gaining more popularity. With 3D modeling tools, engineers can easily import the architect’s plans and use them as a starting point for their work. Already from this point, they will benefit from using all the tool features and automation capabilities.

3D models also offer engineers a more attractive and understandable way to show their work to their clients. If “a picture is worth a thousand words,” 3D models are a lifelike representation of the planned structures, and as such, they provide lots of detail and accurate information. This accuracy and clear representation level is the most effective way to communicate the main building idea among the different stakeholders, even as early as at the scheme stage. 

For these reasons, many construction industry actors have learned to appreciate, utilize, and even expect 3D models over the past few years. 

Here is how a Structural Engineer can benefit from using 3D modeling:

  1. Increased speed and accuracy

A remarkable benefit of 3D tools is their ability to save significant time in the structural engineers’ work. Thanks to automation, they can avoid manually performing repetitive actions and prevent human errors. Features such as automatic columns, beam schedules, and the capability to create fast and accurate rebar schedules not only save time but also are presented unambiguously to the model viewer. This facilitates understanding the model and the plan, including the actual situation and what is happening next. 

Another massive time-saving action is the ability to derive drawings directly from the model. A decade ago, drawing production was an enormous part of the engineers’ job. It took a very long time and nerves to create drawings and recreate those when changes were made. Now, creating drawings from the model is quick and easy. And what is even a better benefit is that an engineer can be sure that the drawings are up-to-date with the latest revisions. Any change made to the 3D model is automatically reflected in all related drawings. 

  1. Boosting profitability

Time is a valuable resource. In an engineering office, the more effective use of time directly relates to the company’s profitability. Reducing the time it takes to complete a job can make a huge difference to the bottom line, since the engineering companies’ fees have decreased, from 4-5% in early 2000, to about 1% or even less nowadays. *

The decline in fees is significant but offset by the growing number of structures being built. However, to earn the same as before, engineering companies need to do more. Fortunately, technology helps the engineers to keep up with the fast pace in the industry. Besides, 3D tools are getting better and more feature-rich, and they have also become more affordable. Whereas in the old days, only big consultancies could afford to use advanced technology, now smaller businesses can also do so.

  1. Effective online collaboration

The benefits of using 3D modeling at the engineering office reverberate around their own office work but also across the entire construction process. As structural engineers' job is in the middle of the construction value chain and affects many different parties, collaboration plays a vital role. The more data that flows between the engineering office and the other players in the construction process, the more smoothly and efficiently the project will run. 

With that being said, It is beneficial to use a 3D modeling software that can openly "talk" to the tools that different team members, partners, and stakeholders use to do their job. For instance, the structural engineer needs to import the architect’s plans to create his/her own design work and later use a tool to export the design and send it to the rebar detailers.

The engineers can also benefit from using online collaboration platforms to pull together all the models and drawings made by different parties. From the engineering office to concrete contractors, all the construction project stakeholders can access the live 3D model. Everyone in the project can easily share their inputs, and review and comment on designs, drawings, and documents in real-time. Changes can be marked up and relayed back to the respective designer immediately for a quick response.

These collaboration platforms connect people across companies, professions, time zones, and geographical distances to achieve the same goal – to run a construction project successfully and efficiently, reducing rework, misunderstanding, and costly delays on site.

  1. 3D model is a visual representation of the building 

In terms of planning and testing ideas, civil engineering is very different from other fields of engineering. For instance, a mechanical engineer can do a prototype of the designed product, put a sensor on it, test it, and adjust it based on the test results. But in construction, when the building is ready, you cannot go back to the process and make changes. 

3D modeling is a way to bridge the gap between the vision and the finished building by showing virtually – but very accurately – what the structures will be like. In a very data-rich way, 3D models provide a transparent representation of the upcoming building and its parts. This visualization tool helps engineers and the entire construction team noticing the building details, creating various construction scenarios, and discussing a different alternative to solve challenges. 


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