How Heavy Are Your Calculations?

Designing my first building was truly a learning experience. I remember one event in particular when I determined the required thickness for a steel column base plate. That day I wrote “1.5-inch thk. min.” on my calc pad and months later while out walking the job, I got to see that 1.5-inch thick plate in the flesh. Let me tell you, it was much thicker and heavier in-person than on my calc pad. This eye-opening experience – the realization that what you’re designing isn’t just a word or a number, but rather a physical object with width, height, length and weight – is something every structural engineer goes through early in their career. Designing something on paper doesn’t convey those physical properties very well.

Although there is no replacement for hands-on experience, technology has certainly come a long way in bridging the gap. Building Information Modeling (BIM) has grown significantly and is pushing to become the industry standard. It allows all parties involved to generate a 3D virtual model with objects drawn to scale and precisely placed. By collaborating and designing within a digital environment, multiple groups like contractors, builders, and structural engineers can coordinate project changes on the fly and head off any potential conflict.

Engineers commonly use 2D and 3D analysis software such as ETABS®STAAD.Pro or RISA, to model, design, and export structural components’ actual dimensions to commonly used BIM software, like Revit®Simpson Strong-Tie provides a number of 2D component details and 3D model families for Revit, allowing for accurate representation of each connector, Strong Frame® moment frame or ATS run within the building model. This type of visual representation provides users with an immediate sense of scale and understanding of how it will look and fit within the structure. It’s as close to the real thing as you’ll get.

That’s all fine and dandy for large commercial and multi-family residential projects with big budgets and complicated structural, mechanical and electrical systems, but what about single-family residential and smaller budget projects where a full building model might be cost prohibitive or simply unnecessary? Engineers may still use one of the analysis programs mentioned earlier, but may only model one particular frame or wall within the building. For simpler beam or column calculations, Excel spreadsheets and programs like Enercalc and CFS can provide quick solutions, but without an accurate visual representation.

Simpson Strong-Tie has developed several free stand-alone and web-based programs that help designers translate from calculation to physical product. The Anchor Designer™ Software has a visual interface that automatically updates when the user changes anchor configuration, base plate size or footing dimensions. The Strong Frame® Selector can provide an ordinary or special moment frame design in minutes, then export the design to AutoCAD® and generate an accurate elevation with the click of a button.

Paul mentioned in an earlier blog post how not that long ago he upgraded one of his PCs to a whopping 8 megabytes of RAM. With many computers now coming with 8 gigabytes out of the box, the hardware to run these resource-intensive programs is readily available. As technology continues to evolve, I see BIM and similar software becoming the benchmark for all types of design. When design software can convey tangible properties in a process that was formerly very intangible, it becomes an invaluable tool, especially to structural engineers just starting out.

What tools or software do you use to help convey your design’s physical properties?

*Please note*

Upcoming Web Seminar – Frame of Reference: Steel Moment Frames Explained S.K. Ghosh Associates, Inc. is offering a seminar April 22, 2014 from 9:00 am to 11:30 am PST. The seminar will address design and detailing requirements for ordinary and special moment frames designed per the 2012 International Building Code. The presenter is Simpson Strong-Tie Southwest Branch Engineer Damon Ho, M.S., P.E. Details about the seminar and complete speaker biography can be found here.

Is Designing with Wood Easy?

In college, I spent some of my free time either attending seminars or reading about high profile structural engineering projects. These projects tend to be noteworthy due to their massive scale or their use of innovative construction technologies (often both). Taipei 101 is 508 meters tall, and used to be the tallest building in the world. The Burj Khalifa has surpassed it as not only the tallest building in the world, but as the tallest manmade structure at 828 meters.

 I never thought I would design the world’s tallest buildings, but I did think it would be cool to work on some mid-rises. I never did. My design firm didn’t do that type of work – which looking back, was a good thing for me. We worked on a lot of everything, including commercial, industrial, multi-family and mixed-used projects. The variety of projects meant designing with all the major building materials, including concrete, steel, masonry, and wood. Reviewing my project portfolio and thinking about what was really satisfying to work on, the projects that stand out most were wood-framed.

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2012 Autodesk University

Autodesk University is an annual conference focused on keeping the design community up to date on the latest innovations, trends and technologies in design, drafting and visualization. Last year, Autodesk University was held in Las Vegas the week after Thanksgiving. Sadly, events always seem to conspire to prevent me from going to Vegas, but Simpson Strong-Tie was well represented by Frank Ding, our Engineering Analysis & Technical Computing Manager.

Frank received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Manufacturing Engineering from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and has a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from Washington State University. Frank joined Simpson Strong-Tie in 2004 to head up our Finite Element Modeling efforts. Frank now manages all of our technical computing efforts, which includes keeping up with the latest developments that can assist us in our R&D efforts. So with introductions complete, I’ll let Frank tell you about his Autodesk University experience:

It was an exciting time attending my first Autodesk University in 2012. I have been to so many technical conferences during my professional career, but this one was quite different in scale, and the sheer size of it just blew me away. There were more than 8,000 attendees from 102 countries, more than 750 classes offered, and 163 exhibitors. I was impressed by the organization of such a large event, along with the online and mobile apps provided to help attendees manage their conference schedules.

My past impression of Autodesk was only limited to AutoCAD for 2D modeling. Now it has more than 40 SKU’s of different design software for use in the architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, media and entertainment industries.

Highlights of the conference, from my perspective, include:

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Testing – Then & Now

“One test result is worth one thousand expert opinions.”

Wernher von Braun

While reviewing some of our first catalogs, I was curious about the testing we did on those iconic products that launched our company. I found a test report from December 20, 1957 on crinkled yellow paper with a short description: U-29 Download Test. The signature from the independent testing agency was a little faded, and the data was typed by hand in a table. But I was thrilled to discover that our 1957 customers received exactly the same thing as our modern-day customers – the confidence in knowing that our allowable loads are supported by physical testing.

There simply is no substitute for a physical test.

Continue Reading

Testing – Then & Now

“One test result is worth one thousand expert opinions.”

Wernher von Braun

While reviewing some of our first catalogs, I was curious about the testing we did on those iconic products that launched our company. I found a test report from December 20, 1957 on crinkled yellow paper with a short description: U-29 Download Test. The signature from the independent testing agency was a little faded, and the data was typed by hand in a table. But I was thrilled to discover that our 1957 customers received exactly the same thing as our modern-day customers – the confidence in knowing that our allowable loads are supported by physical testing.
There simply is no substitute for a physical test.
Continue Reading