In 2012, Graitec’s AutoCAD-based structural steel detailing software, Advance Steel, was made available as a standalone application. For 2013, the developer has turned its attention to workflow and productivity
Graitec’s Advance Steel is one of the most mature steel fabrication modelling and detailing tools on the market. Its roots date back to the 1990s and there are currently over 10,000 licenses in use.
The software is all about ease of modelling and efficiency, with experienced users able to knock up a basic fabrication model in a matter of minutes. It features a vast library of intelligent, object-based steel elements. Parametric macros are used to accelerate the connection design, automatically adding nuts, bolts, welds and plates to the model, and checking against Euro codes.
Graitec describes Advance Steel as a structural Building Information Modelling (BIM) solution, but this is very much in the traditional sense of the ubiquitous three-letter acronym.
While other vendors like Tekla are looking to extend their BIM tools to cover the entire building process from conceptual design to fabrication, erection and construction management, Advance Steel is still very much focused on the essence of steel fabrication. It is all about getting the deliverables out in the fastest time possible — GA and fabrication drawings, Bill of Materials (BOMs) and Numerical Control (NC) data.
AEC Magazine last looked at Advance Steel in the summer of 2012. This was a big release for Graitec, as it marked the introduction of a standalone version, using the DWG engine from the Open Design Alliance (ODA). Prior to 2012 the product ran solely inside AutoCAD. Now users are given both options with full compatibility.
The response from customers has been good, says Graitec. For some it has meant no longer having to maintain an expensive AutoCAD license. For others it has freed up their AutoCAD licenses for other users or tasks. Either way there has been a big impact on the total cost of ownership.
Having done a major re-write last year, the 2013 release is about improving user productivity. Graitec has focused on four main areas — user interface, raw performance, modelling enhancements and drawing issue and re-issue.
The first thing you notice about Advance Steel 2013 is the new start page, which is splashed across the screen when the application launches. In addition to recent projects, which are presented with detailed thumbnail views, users are given ready access to a whole range of learning resources, including video tutorials, FAQs and the Advance Steel forum. There is also up to date links to new service packs and hotfixes, which can be downloaded at the click of a button.
In terms of the ribbon interface, not much has changed, with 90% of the core functionality still accessible from the home tab, with other tabs drilling down into more advanced commands.
The floating tool palette, from which many of the model manipulation commands are found, however, has undergone a fairly substantial transformation. It is now much more graphical than before, with bigger icons used to help highlight some of the subtleties between the different commands. Some of the icons are also animated, so in addition to tool tips, users can get a rich graphical explanation as to what the command does.
Graitec has placed a big emphasis on performance and 64-bit support means there are now no limitations on model size, providing the workstation has enough system memory.
The graphics engine has also been optimised, so panning and zooming around large models is much smoother and more responsive. Graitec reckons it is even faster than AutoCAD’s 3D engine at handling large models, but it does lack some of the advanced real time rendering modes, such as x-ray.
There are some new structural steel specific viewing modes, and weld symbols and system lines (akin to a centreline) can now be seen in shaded mode. Previously these were only visible in wireframe mode, meaning users had to toggle between the two modes to attain a balance of detail and model clarity.
In addition to other general speed improvements, the document manager is now significantly quicker. Drawing production has also been optimised, with claims of being up to 25% faster than the 2012 release.
The 2012 release introduced the concept of master and slave joints to give users greater control over identical joints within a model. Make a change to the master and the slave(s) will automatically update. This has now been enhanced in 2013 and it is possible to create multiple slaves in a single operation.
Any one slave can also be turned into a master at the click of a button, making it much easier to make global edits. In the past the user had to manually locate the master, either visually or through a property search, which could be time consuming.
One of the headline features for 2013 is the complete overhaul of custom connections. Previously, the creation of custom connections was labour intensive and the resulting connection lacked ‘object intelligence’ so any subsequent edits were manual.
Custom connections can now be compiled from a series of so-called ‘bricks’, which the user combines to create a fully parametric ‘intelligent’ connection. Advance Steel includes a whole load of ‘bricks’ — some examples include ‘plate along beam flange’, ‘bolts on beam’, ‘plate on plate edge’ and ‘outside stiffener’. Each has its own animated icon shown in the floating tool palette, which makes it easy to understand the subtle differences between them.
The interesting thing about custom connections is that most users probably will not ever need to use them. Graitec is pretty confident that the 180-odd standard connections it holds in its connection vault, many of which can be adapted for multiple purposes, cover most, if not all, bases.
With this in mind, one might ask, why has Graitec bothered creating a custom connection capability if it is not really needed?
The answer most likely comes down to marketing than technical necessity. As many other steel fabrication software tools rely on custom connections, potential new customers may have dismissed Advance Steel out of hand because it lacked this feature. Custom connections are there now if users want them.
Another area that has undergone a major revamp is cold rolled joints. There are about 30 new joints in total, ranging from purlins, eaves, trimmers and anti-sag systems. Users can configure these connections to suit some of the more obscure manufacturers and not just the main ones, which Advance Steel already covers in some depth.
In the 2012 release, Graitec enhanced Advance Steel’s anchor modelling tool. In the 2013 release, it now includes the ability to define countersunk holes and inserted plate washers.
Finally, users can now use any polygon line to cut out a shape from beams and plates, even from complex curved plates.
Drawings continue to play an essential role in steel fabrication workflows so it is good to see that Graitec is not ignoring this area in favour of developing more headline grabbing modelling features.
In addition to the aforementioned boost in raw performance, Graitec has also spent a lot of time refining the way in which drawings are referenced and produced.
Drawings can now be accessed directly from the 3D modelling environment, which can save a huge amount of time when looking for documents. It used to be a case of navigating through the document manager — and this is still the primary method of accessing drawings — but users can now also right click on any component and directly access part or assembly details. Of course, this is provided only if the drawings have been created already. If the drawings are out of date, then the user will be warned.
As an aside to this, this same functionality is available in the free to download Advance Steel Viewer. This could become a very handy tool for a workshop manager or even for downstream use on site. Right clicking on any component also gives direct access to its many properties.
Elsewhere, Graitec has completely re-vamped the way it produces drawings, refining the drawing styles so less manual editing is required post production — and hence less re-editing should a model change and all the drawings need updating.
Additional information can be automatically added to the title block, including user attributes, model role, quantity, object type, and file name.
Custom clip lines can now be added to steel details. This small, but important, update helps bring clarity to the detail. Previously it could be confusing as to what was and was not actual steel.
One of the most interesting enhancements for drawings is the introduction of intelligent manual dimensions, which works on both GAs and workshop drawings. With Advance Steel the majority of dimensions are added automatically to drawings as they are produced, but there is sometimes a need to supplement these with manual dimensions. The downside is, if the 3D model is updated and a new drawing issued, all the manual dimensions have to be re-done.
Graitec is looking to circumvent this problem by enabling users to add manual dimensions that get updated in an intelligent way. Using the ‘Preferred for Manual Dimensions’ steel object snap command dimensions will automatically be updated if some elements of the dimension chain get moved or deleted.
We have not investigated this feature in depth, but imagine it is only effective if there are small edits made to a design, and not wholesale changes.
At a time when other steel fabrication tools are spreading their BIM wings, Graitec is very much focusing on what it does best — modelling, re-modelling, and getting out drawings in the fastest time possible, the bread and butter of steel fabrication.
With the introduction of its standalone DWG-based software, Advance Steel 2012 was certainly Graitec’s headline grabbing release of recent years.
The 2013 version looks to move things forward by placing a big emphasis on productivity.
While the performance improvements will no doubt be welcomed with open arms, it is the workflow enhancements that will arguably have the biggest impact — particularly when it comes to minimising the amount of manual re-work required on re-issued drawings.