How data brings constructability into your structural engineering work
When was the last time you stopped to think about how the work of your structural engineers could be improved? And what their impact on the whole construction process is?
The keys to better engineering output are data accuracy and a smooth transition to Building Information Modeling. With these critical elements in place, structural engineers can enhance collaboration with project stakeholders – including architects, fabricators, and contractors – to execute a flawless construction project.
For most people running businesses – in any industry – operational improvement is constantly in the back of their minds. But decision-makers are often so focused on sales and on getting existing projects out the door, that we fail to spend enough time looking at the methodologies, processes, and technology that can vastly improve the bottom line.
This article explores how analysis automation can streamline design and boost structural engineering productivity to enable companies to re-engineer their in-house operations. A truly constructible process – which helps drive a digital transformation in the way construction works – can begin at the early structural design stage. An open approach from this stage enables more reliable re-use of design intent data, faster exploration of options, and quicker delivery of accurate data to clients and contractors.
Adopting a Building Information Modeling (BIM) process that drives improvement can start by using trusted software that automatically performs the analysis and calculations. This is valuable information that helps with making more educated decisions.
When you trust the initial data, you can use it to design and build with confidence. Early use of data also enables the creation of various deliverables, including critical drawings for the different stages of the construction process and even a model that’s a true digital twin of the final construction.
True constructability eliminates chaos in a construction project
In a traditional construction process, preconstruction and even on-site work often start before engineering is 100% complete. This will probably always be the case, as project owners want to move as fast as possible. Real estate is more expensive than time, so it’s important to quickly get underway and "out of the ground". Project specs also change when material costs suddenly rise – as has been happening even more in 2022 – so the ability to be flexible is a must.
Structural-engineering firms are familiar with this scenario, but it does cause them pain!
It’s common that engineering offices work on a project basis, receiving a fee for the design work. However, in most construction projects, changes are inevitable, so to remain profitable, there should be a balance between the received fee and the time the designer uses to execute the job. Recalculating and redesigning take time, tying your engineers up for longer than planned and preventing them from moving on to the next project you have in the pipeline.
Being in control and equipped to manage and respond effectively is essential, as you don't want to let the customer down.
Fortunately, there is an antidote to this scenario: the use of accurate data.
The terms “BIM” and “constructability” have been in our industry lexicon for some time, but realizing what they promise is not always the case. People often think constructability is just about creating a 3D model — but it’s much more than that.
Creating a truly constructible model is about including all relevant available data as an essential part of the process – right from the start. The only way to ensure constructability is to work with accurate data from the very early stage of the design process. This way, constructability begins before a truly constructible model is created.
Fortunately, more and more tools for analysis and design are already available, facilitating structural designers' work. Instead of using traditional methods and dealing with multiple spreadsheet updates, this BIM analysis and design software enables structural designers to work in a more automated, accurate, and change-friendly way. In many cases, the tools allow the simulation of the physical outcome at this early stage already.
Structural engineers can help to optimize the whole construction process
In its essence, creating drawings and building a digital model follows the same process that structural engineers and detailers have used for decades. The difference lies in how BIM models can speed up the process, automatically recognize interdependencies between elements, and easily make recalculations when information changes. In other words, BIM provides you with the accuracy, automation, and speed that facilitate the work from all the way from design to onsite execution.
As a structural engineer, you might start calculating supports, lateral forces, and other significant data to guarantee that the building is safe and follows construction standards. You may suggest the elements and material options for safe and accurate construction, and even design various scenarios. This includes valuable estimations and more sustainable construction options.
The whole design process is very data-rich, but much of the information is traditionally scattered across various documents. The risk of losing or using the wrong information is high, as happens when your tools are the wrong ones for the job!
It’s also difficult to track and manage changes if the documents are dispersed. By using accurate, automated, and efficient methods from early phases – such as design and analysis – you can guarantee that the data will be trustworthy for your and other stakeholders’ work. Trusted data means fewer requests for information, freeing you from additional extra work that could come up.
Making the switch to a constructible process to truly impact the construction project
Implementing a truly constructible process goes beyond the structural engineer's impact on the design and analysis process. It allows you to optimize how any part of a construction project develops. By using BIM software as early as possible, you can help to create a constructible 3D model containing all the information needed to complete a project successfully.
With data accuracy from the design and analysis phases, and by integrating the information around a model, you can positively impact the entire construction cycle – from optimizing supply-chain and off-site fabrication, to planning deliveries and identifying on-site clashes before they become a problem.
In summary, implementing a truly constructible process enables engineering offices to add value to their clients and contractors. This is because it enables a contractor to be confident not only that a tender is correct, but also that there will not be unwelcome surprises along the way.
Constructible data enables smoother handovers too, and the formation of project partnerships that deliver value for everyone. It essentially puts efficiency and certainty back into the hands of those who are most at risk when things start to go wrong on site.
Visit our solution pages to learn more about how we can help with your next steps of the constructible process.