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Why is the structural design process so manual, and how can we fix it?

The structural design process is simply a series of stages engineers follow to solve a problem. So shouldn't it be automated?

The structural design process in building design is poorly automated. This results in issues, not only in the design process, but also in the construction phase. There are four key reasons as to why the structural design process is so far behind. These all stem from the overall building design process. 

We outline the four key reasons as to why the structural design process is so manual - and how we can fix it.

1: The building design process is a multi-step process

articles1@2xThe RIBA Plan of Work 2017 lays out the stages of a building project as follows (and as illustrated above):

  • Stage 0: Strategic Definition
  • Stage 1: Preparation and Brief
  • Stage 2: Concept Design
  • Stage 3: Developed Design
  • Stage 4: Technical Design
  • Stage 5: Construction
  • Stage 6: Handover and Close Out
  • Stage 7: In Use

Stages 1-4 are the most closely connected with building design. Looking into each stage, you can see that every stage depends on the previous one:

image

This interdependence means errors and flaws can build up easily. If the Client said: "Let's change the building shape from a rhombicuboctahedron to dodecahedron", the whole process would have to start again from the beginning.

2: The building design process involves multiple roles

1_0026@2x

Here are the main roles involved in the scope of work:

  • Architectural Designer
  • Structural Engineer
  • MEP Engineer (Electrical, HVAC, Building Services)
  • Project Manager
  • Cost Consultant

It is hard to define the correct process for this ecosystem. Firstly, there are different processes and workflows for every type of building (architect-led, engineer-led). Secondly, their tasks often overlap across several disciplines. So, as a rule, we have collisions and errors.

This is a common problem for every field of work - and building design is no exception.

3: The building design process has different delivery systems

Group 2@2x

The two main building design delivery systems are:


  1. Design-Bid-Build
  2. Design-Build

Having two completely different systems seriously affects the building design process, as you have to know what you want from the outset. It is almost impossible for companies to change their delivery system quickly, so we cannot change strategy even if we realise that we need to.

To suddenly start issuing documentation to the construction site, when you never did before, would take a long time to put into practice. Therefore, the building design process must be flexible and adapt with time.

4: The building design process depends on the country of implementation

1_0026@2x-1This is why outsourcing is not common in the field of building design. Every country has its own building codes and cultural features.

There is no worldwide community for this aspect in the building design sphere. To give an example of this in action, it is the presence of such a community in IT that allows it to grow so quickly.

How can we fix the structural design process?

The way to fix the building design process - and therefore the structural design process - is to break down each process and automate each one individually.

Automation has been around in building design for a long time (e.g. CAD and CAE). But building design processes now need to be supported to a much more advanced level by IT infrastructure, from input to output.

Take a real example:

Imagine an architect-led design-build project. Roles involved in that process would include structural engineer, architectural designer and MEP engineer. We have some input data from the customer and the main goal is to get a developed design in the form of a BIM model.

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The design phase is simply the conversion of one data model to another.

Let’s say we have the architectural and MEP models and we want to design the structural part of the whole model. We can break down the structural engineering process into stages:

image-1

 

Every step should be automated. We can do so in five steps, which we break down in order of the diagram shown above:


  • We define the concrete model from the architectural model.
  • Using a geometric process, including structural concepts and features, we transform the concrete model to the analytical model.
  • The location of the building gives us environmental loads (wind, snow, thermal). The building type gives us live loads. The architectural model gives us dead loads. These loads, along with structural constraints, give us an accurate loads model. When we connect loads and analytical models, this gives us a design scheme.
  • That’s all we need for Finite Element Analysis (FEA), which gives us our actions model.
  • Finally, we have building codes. When we programme in the building codes, we get calculated structures. This enables us to add rebar into concrete structures - and we get the reinforced concrete model.

So, using BIM technology and working closely with IT infrastructure, we can automate the whole sphere of structural engineering.

The next step is to apply this to every stage of the building design process.

To see how Kreo Design automates the structural design process as outlined above, request a demonstration.

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