Author: R. Bartek (BuroHappold)
1 March 2016
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R. Bartek (BuroHappold)
This article considers some of the factors affecting choice of software, such as technical criteria, usabilityand interoperability, and describes a selection tool developed by BuroHappold Engineering to enablethe firm’s project teams to make an appropriate choice of software when embarking on a new project.
The design of structures using computer software is prevalent throughout the industry. It provides quick analysis of structures that can be readily incorporated into Building Information Modelling (BIM) systems such as Revit. However, while the use of such software is essential in the present-day design office, it should be recognised that hand calculations and sketches are an important part of an engineer’s toolbox in establishing a “feel” for the structure that they are designing. Without an engineer’s inherent understanding of what a structure can and should be doing, which is generally established through years of training and experience, it is quite possible for design and analysis software to produce serious errors that would otherwise be easily caught by the use of common sense and hand calculations. This article aims to provide a “good practice” summary for engineers in the early stages of their career, while also serving as a reminder for those with more experience.
Not so long ago, a journalist asked me an interesting question: “Do you believe the work of the structural engineer can ever be replaced by artificial intelligence”. I think she was somewhat taken aback when I answered “Yes”. But before the esteemed readership of this magazine floods Verulam with missives of indignation, let me explain that I qualified my answer; I postulated that while almost all the technical work undertaken by structural engineers at every level could, in theory, be overtaken by artificial intelligence (and that it would be highly complacent of us as a profession to assume our more “left brained” tendencies were irreplaceable) the art of the structural engineer would always remain. Which begs the question, as structural engineers, what do we really mean by design? When I was at university over 30 years ago, much of our course work was taken up learning the hard, number-crunching ways of analysing structures, while “design” lessons generally involved practising the use of codes and standards to select and detail structural elements. For the 21st-century structural engineer, these are processes which can now be almost entirely automated. Our real value comes in understanding when and how to apply the increasingly complex tools at our disposal to deliver value and creativity to our clients and stakeholders. So in this special issue of The Structural Engineer, we set out to describe how far our profession has come, and where it might be going, in the development of digital design tools, and what this might mean for structural engineers of the future.
All the articles published in the March 2016 issue.