How Computer Simulation Can Power Innovation

This week’s post was written by Frank Ding, Engineering Analysis & Technical Computing Manager at Simpson Strong-Tie. 

Computer-simulated product testing is being used increasingly in modern engineering and manufacturing because it provides a low-risk, time- and cost-efficient means of modeling system performance using a wide array of variables before a physical prototype has been created. The following Blog post outlines some of the uses and advantages of integrating this technology into the product development process.

The role of test simulation in product design might not be the general focus of the Structural Engineering Blog. However, you may have noticed that computer simulation plots have been cited in a few previous postings. Nowadays, it’s rare to talk about product development without mentioning computer simulation at some point. The aim of this post is to give you a better sense of how test simulation can benefit product development and innovation.

Simpson Strong-Tie is a manufacturing company specializing in structural product solutions. Product innovation has been key to the company’s success ever since the production of the first joist hanger in 1956 by the company founder, Barclay Simpson. And with increasing competition and market pressure, product innovation becomes ever more critical to the company’s bottom line.

The ultimate goal of product development is to produce the best design as efficiently as possible. At Simpson, physics-based computer numerical modeling and simulation already form a key tool in our design process. Research published by the Aberdeen Group in 2014 reported that best-in-class companies were leading the way in utilizing simulation software to arm their employees with the insight needed to develop and optimize today’s products.

Finite element analysis (FEA) tools have been an essential component of any engineer’s toolbox for years. The ability to create a virtual prototype or realistic representative model of a part or assembly before physical prototyping offers companies a much faster product development path than was previously possible. Most of the time, simulation is used early in the design cycle to investigate a set of predetermined candidate designs — in which it has proven to be a more efficient method than running physical tests alone for isolating the best design. At other times, simulation is used alongside physical validation tests to determine whether the design meets specifications and to explore potential failure modes.
How can simulation power innovation?

When Thomas Edison was asked about finding success amidst failure, he stated, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

With computer simulation, one can evaluate many design concepts in a shorter time than one can with physical prototyping. A virtual test workflow drastically reduces the design, prototype and test cycle that are required in a typical product innovation process. For example, a typical concrete product development cycle involves a long process of concrete pouring, curing and producing physical prototypes. The physical design iteration cycle could take months, whereas a simulation design cycle may take only a couple of weeks.

Another key part of the virtual design process is to try out many variations of design parameters in “what if” scenarios once the computer simulation model is validated and designers have the confidence to use simulation results to guide design decisions. With more and more affordable, high-performance computing power available from cloud or onsite servers, more complex simulations can be performed at a given time. As a result, a faster cycle of virtual trials speeds up the entire product innovation process. In many cases, hundreds of design concepts are virtually tested before physical prototyping begins.

Besides improving the speed of development and cutting costs, simulation also helps improve product quality. For example, the global and detailed aspects of product performance can be identified and measured easily using simulation. The insight gained from simulation can be used to troubleshoot product failure and optimize the design.

Simulation enables us to develop new products in a virtual environment built on real-world data with much lower cost or risk. Simulation is already an essential part of the innovation process. Simulation is powering modern manufacturing innovation. We will see this trend accelerate further in the future.

My Engineering Adventures with Build Change

This week’s post was written by James P. Mwangi, Ph.D., P.E., S.E. – our first annual Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow with Build Change. 

Let me start by wishing everyone a happy holiday season.

My fellowship activities started in July 2017. I spent two weeks in New Jersey getting oriented to the Build Change organization and engineering activities around the world. I then spent two days in Pleasanton getting to meet the engineering team and getting updated on Simpson Strong-Tie products and the team leaders.

In August, I headed to my first assignment in Indonesia. My tasks were:

  • Work with the Build Change technical team in Indonesia to review the school building design guidelines and make recommendations to the government on their adherence to the design codes.
  • Prepare construction documents for a retrofit of a typical five-classroom school building.
  • Visit school sites and select a school building that is a typical candidate for retrofitting whose retrofit scheme can be replicated at other school sites.
  • Work with the Better Building Materials team to find out ways to make quality clay bricks economically.
  • Provide mentorship (in capacity building) to the engineering team.

The first thing I had to do was to translate the documents to be reviewed from Bahasa Indonesia (a language I had never heard spoken before) to English – Thanks to Google document translator! I was based in Padang, West Sumatra. I am used to long flights from California, but getting to Padang (+14 hour time difference) was very long. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world (after China, India and USA), comprising more than 17,000 islands of which only 6,000 are inhabited.

My team accomplished the following during the two months I was in Indonesia:

  1. Reviewed and provided comments on the Ministry of Education’s School Construction Guidelines for both new and existing buildings and included sketches, details, supporting calculations, etc.
  2. Reviewed and provided comments on the National Disaster Risk Management Agency’s School Design Guidelines.
  3. Reviewed the Minister of Public Works No. 45 / PRT / M /2007’s Technical Guidelines for the Development of Buildings.
  4. Reviewed the National Standardization Agency (SNI) Planning Procedures for the Earthquake Resistance of Buildings and Non-Building Structures in order to ascertain that the SNI’s school building design requirements are incorporated in the design guidelines of items 1–3 above.
  5. Provided a Report of Build Change comments and suggestions, with explanations, on the Ministry of Education’s School Construction Guidelines for both new and existing buildings and the National Disaster Risk Management Agency’s School Design Guidelines.
  6. Provided construction documents, materials list and cost estimate for a typical example new school building. This was a prototype classroom building that incorporated the comments from the reviewed school building design guidelines.
  7. Provided construction documents, calculations, bill of quantities and cost estimate for the retrofit of the five-classroom building in SD42 school.
  8. Visited and selected a possible school for the next retrofit project. The schools visited were the ones with highest need (most vulnerable, have most students, representative of most common school buildings). Fundraising efforts are underway to finance the retrofit of the selected representative school building.
  9. Went to the field with the Better Building Materials team and visited the clay brick making and firing kilns. Suggested possible changes in the kilns and alternative fuels (from firewood) to make better-quality bricks and make the process more environmentally friendly, more sustainable and more economical.
  10. Conducted hands-on brick wall sample construction activity for the Build Change technical team to illustrate quality mortar mix and the correct mortar thickness for both bed and head joints.
  11. Moderated technical team presentations given to the communities and made suggestions on how to improve the technical content of those presentations.

The climate in Padang was humid, hot and rainy almost every day I was there. I was amazed by how friendly the people were, even though I could not communicate with them directly (very few speak English). If you think you can handle spicy food, you have not tasted Padang food. Most of the food is served cold, but everyone sweats a lot as they eat. I was also lucky to have time to visit historical Minag chief’s palace and enjoy great snorkeling in one of the private islands.

James with school children

James with school children

James with school children

James with school principal

Poor wall construction method

Poor wall construction detail and use of smooth rebar

James making clay bricks

Brick kiln

Brick kiln

Inside brick kiln collecting samples for testing

Sample brick-wall building

James at Minag Chief’s palace

James at Cubadak Island

My second country and current assignment is Colombia. I arrived here in mid-October, having spent two weeks in California after Indonesia. I spent one week in Bogota, and now I am in Medellin, which is going to be my base for the next few months. The food here is not very different from what I get in my home town of Paso Robles, California. The climate in Medellin is pleasant and sightly warmer than in Bogota, which is at a much higher elevation. In both Bogota and Medellin, more than 80% of the respective city populations live in informal housing. These are homes built with low-quality materials, are not engineered and follow no building design or construction guidelines. The informal housing sector is mostly located in very steep mountain slopes and the homes are constructed over time, sometimes reaching four or five stories using unreinforced masonry clay tile blocks.

I have embarked on the following activities:

  1. Review and comment on Build Change’s Manual of Evaluation and Seismic Strengthening for Vulnerability Reduction in Housing. This manual has been approved by the building departments in Bogota and Medellin for evaluating existing informal housing and as a guide to retrofitting vulnerable buildings and reducing their damage in future earthquakes.
  2. Coordinate with three universities (two in Bogota and one in Medellin) on full-scale testing of the wall systems used in the informal housing in order to get correct design parameters to use in the Build Change manual update. The walls will be tested for in-plane and out-of-plane (shake table) load conditions. Different wall conditions such as plaster on one or both sides, plaster with wire mesh on one or both sides, etc., will also be tested. Nonlinear building analysis will be carried out using results from the tests in order to access the effectiveness of incremental retrofit schemes such as only adding a ring beam, only providing plaster on one side, etc.
  3. Help with the training of building professionals (civil engineers, architects, project managers) from the Medellin Social Institute for Housing and Habitat (ISVIMED) on how to implement the Build Change Manual both in the classroom and in the field as a form of capacity building in the two cities.

The work has started, and it keeps us very busy. But I have also had a chance to get out of the city and scale all 747 steps of the 650-foot-tall Piedra del Peñol, “Rock,” in Guatapé, located 50 miles east of Medellin.

James at Julio Garavito University, Bogota

James at Julio EAFIT University, Medellin

Urban housing in Bogota

Urban housing in Medellin

James on his way to the “Rock”

James at the “Rock”

If you’re curious, don’t hesitate to contact me at james@buildchange.org before my Fellowship year ends to find out what part of the world I’m in at the time.

Simplify Access to Your Drawings with the Simpson Strong-Tie AutoCAD® Plugin

This week’s post was written by Carolyn O’Hearn, Software and App Marketing Manager at Simpson Strong-Tie.

Accessing engineering drawings, determining whether you have the right ones and loading them into AutoCAD can seem like an exhausting endeavor. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an application that does everything you need in one package? An application that will also save you time, on both retrieval and installation, and give you access to additional applications? Simpson Strong-Tie has developed a new tool that can take care of all these needs.

Figure 1. Simpson Strong-Tie AutoCAD Plugin — Drawing Finder.

We want to make it easier for you to retrieve your drawings without using up valuable design time switching applications. We’ve made substantial improvements to our AutoCAD tools by creating a plugin that now integrates the familiar functionality of our Drawing Finder into our legacy AutoCAD Menu so you can now download drawings, and store only the drawings you need, without ever leaving AutoCAD.

From the menu, the Downloaded drawings area allows you to quickly view all the drawings that you’ve previously downloaded. (See Figure 2.) We’ve also built in a feature that will allow you to customize our drawings and save them to this area as well.

Figure 2. Simpson Strong-Tie AutoCAD Plugin — Menu.

Need to use some other Simpson software in your design? Click the Other applications button in the menu to be taken to our Software and Web Applications page on our website.

The AutoCAD Plugin also solves installation problems you may have experienced with the AutoCAD Menu. We understood it was a time-consuming process to download all of our drawings and that the installation wasn’t as easy as we would like it to be. We’ve eliminated that barrier by building a plugin that connects you directly to the Drawing Finder from inside of AutoCAD with an installer that works the way you would expect. This allows you to download only those drawings that are applicable to the design you are working on. And every drawing you download is automatically stored for quick reference later. With these features combined, your design process is now streamlined!

One more benefit of the AutoCAD Plugin is our ability to add or change drawings in Drawing Finder and update them dynamically on both the tool and our website immediately. You no longer have to install and update a new version with every change. And if you ever run into an issue or need to request additional drawings from the website, you can now use our Help button on the tool to send a request directly to the support team for this specific application.

AutoCAD LT does not support the installation of plugins, therefore our Plugin cannot be installed in LT versions of AutoCAD. However, the content available in our browser based Drawing Finder is the exact same as in the plugin.

Start experiencing our new AutoCAD Plugin today at https://www.strongtie.com/drawing/autocad-drawing-menu. to experience the ease of use and faster designing process we now offer.

If you have questions, please use this simple form to send the team your input.

Turkeys and Gratitude

This week’s post was written by Kari Martin, Marketing Communications Content Manager at Simpson Strong-Tie. 

There are a couple of turkeys that like to hang out around our home office in Pleasanton and, no, I’m not referring to any of my colleagues — we actually have a gang of wild turkeys that comes up from the creek behind the office. Almost every day, these colorful birds feel safe enough to stroll onto the office walkway pecking for food outside our office windows and doors. It’s surprising to me that these beautiful creatures could be so fearless (or is it simply naïve?), especially around Thanksgiving time. Their presence reminds me that being fearless is important, because nothing new would ever be discovered if we were too afraid to venture outside our comfort zones.

The beauty and strangeness of the turkeys also remind me to be thankful, because everything we have in life is ultimately a gift. Their consistent return to our office is a gentle reminder as I walk into work to give thanks to you, our readers, our customers and our partners every day. Thank you!

We hope you enjoy the holiday with your family and friends. We’ll be back with another post next week.

A New Way to See Whether FRP Is Right for Your Project

This week’s post was written by Griff Shapack, FRP Design Engineer at Simpson Strong-Tie. 

Specifying our Composite Strengthening Systems™ (CSS) is unlike choosing any other product we offer. In light of the unique variables involved with selecting and using fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) solutions, we encourage you to leverage our expertise to help with your FRP strengthening designs. To get started, we first need to determine whether FRP is right for your project. The fastest way to do that is for you to fill out our Design Questionnaire. Our new Excel-based questionnaire collects your project information and helps you use the existing capacity check to evaluate whether or not FRP is suitable for your project per the requirements of ACI 562-16 Section 5.5.2. After the feasibility study, the questionnaire creates input sheets specifically for your project.

Getting Started

Step 1

Open the FRP Design Questionnaire spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel. If a yellow warning appears at the top of the sheet, click “Enable Content” to ensure that the workbook will function properly. You will start on the worksheet tab named “Main”. “Main” will be the only worksheet tab when you begin, but more worksheet tabs will be created as you use the spreadsheet.

Step 2

Enter the project information and your contact information in Section 1 of the worksheet. The contact information should be for the Designer that you would like Simpson Strong-Tie to work with for this project’s FRP design. See Figure 1.

Step 3

Enter the FRP strengthening information in Section 2 of the worksheet. If the application will require an existing capacity check, an input form requesting the information needed for the check will appear in Section 3 of the worksheet.

Figure 1. Project information and FRP strengthening information.

Step 4                                                                                                                        

For members that support gravity loads, an existing capacity check must be performed to verify that FRP strengthening is suitable before a design can be generated. For these members, the spreadsheet will generate a check table for you in Section 3 of the worksheet. Enter the number of members to be checked and the dead load (D), live load (L) and snow load (S) for each member. Use consistent units for the input. See Figure 2. The spreadsheet will calculate the demand-to-capacity ratio (DCR) for each member. The ratio must be less than or equal to 1.0.

  1. A result of “OK” means the existing capacity check is passed. Proceed to Step 5 below.
  2. A result of “NG” (no good) means the existing capacity check is failed and FRP strengthening is not likely to be suitable. However, consider contacting Simpson Strong-Tie about your design condition to ensure that this is the case.

Figure 2. Existing capacity check.

Step 5

You are now ready to create an element input worksheet for those members that passed the existing capacity check. Click “FRP Questionnaire” from the Excel menu bar. Then click the “Input Sheet” button in the ribbon bar. See Figure 3.

Figure 3. “Input Sheet” button.

This will create an element input worksheet as a new worksheet tab. See Figure 4.

Figure 4. Element input worksheet.

Enter the number of elements to be checked and fill in the design information for each member. The “No. of elements” cell features a drop-down menu with the numbers 1–5, but any number can be typed into the cell. (Each member should have passed the existing capacity check in Step 4.) See Figure 5.   

Figure 5. Element input worksheet.

Step 6

If you would like to add different member types that need to be strengthened, click “Another Type of Strengthening” button in the ribbon bar. See Figure 6. This will create a new “Main” worksheet. Repeat the steps above, until all strengthening types and member data have been entered.

Figure 6. “Another Type of Strengthening” button.

 Step 7

When you have finished inputting all required data, save the spreadsheet file and email it to css@strongtie.com. You should expect confirmation of receipt from us within one business day.

From there, if FRP is a viable option, you can decide to utilize our no-cost, no-obligation design services. Our team will design a unique solution specifying the most cost-effective CSS products that address your particular needs. The design calculations, drawings, notes and specifications are prepared by Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Services and can then be incorporated into the design documents that you submit to the building official.

Don’t know which FRP solution is the right one for you? We do. Give our new Design Questionnaire a try, and let us be your partner during the project design phase. Our new Excel-based questionnaire collects your project information and helps you use the existing capacity check to evaluate whether or not FRP is suitable for your project per the requirements of ACI 562-16 Section 5.5.2 or AASHTO FRP Guide Spec Section 1.4.4. After the feasibility study, the questionnaire creates input sheets specifically for your project. For projects in Canada designed per the requirements of CSA S806 or CSA S6, please use our fillable PDF questionnaire to collect your information.

Learn more at strongtie.com/products/rps/css/frp-engineering-design.

Learn more: Webinar – Introducing Fabric-Reinforced Cementitious Matrix (FRCM)

In this free webinar we dive into some very important considerations including the latest industry standards, material properties and key governing limits when designing with FRCM.

Continuing education credits will be offered for this webinar.
Participants can earn one professional development hour (PDH) or 0.1 continuing education unit (CEU).