Nemetschek Scia’s new tool is intended to make engineering design more transparent. Greg Corke met with CEO Jean-Pierre Rammant to find out more.
Scia Engineer from Nemetschek Scia is somewhat unique in the world of structural engineering software. It combines modelling, analysis, code design and detailing in a single environment. This is in contrast to traditional structural analysis applications, which focus purely on analysis, or structural BIM tools, like Autodesk Revit, which link to third-party analysis software.
With Scia Engineer two models are developed in tandem — a structural model, which includes the physical representation of the structure, and an analytical model, which contains all the information required for calculations and design. According to Nemetschek Scia this allows the engineer to ‘master’ the analysis model, while using IFCs or direct links to BIM authoring tools to keep in tune with architects and detailers. Nemetschek Scia refers to this integrated approach as True Analysis.
The software is capable of performing static, dynamic, stability, non-linear and other special types of analysis. The results from these studies can then be used directly for design and checks according to the relevant technical building standards.
Despite the ability to feed these results directly into British, Euro and other design codes, recent research by the Belgian company has shown that many leading engineering and multi-disciplinary firms still rely on spreadsheets and Excel macros to do these types of checks.
According to CEO, Jean-Pierre Rammant, this workflow, which often involves manual input or import/export, can be inefficient and prone to errors. “In a BIM workflow, it is asking for trouble because you have revisions and you have changes and you cannot really manage that,” he told AEC Magazine.
Nemetschek Scia’s research showed one of the main reasons firms prefer Excel is because of the control it gives them and the fact that the process is so transparent.
“Even if we, as a software supplier, deliver those design routines, embedded in the software, they [engineers] don’t use them — for the simple reason they are black boxes, they don’t trust them,” says Mr Rammant.
“For a straight building an experienced engineer will know how much reinforcement there should be — she or he doesn’t even have to do any calculations — but if it gets curved and more complex, she or he starts to ask himself questions.”
Scia Engineer 2013: interoperability
Scia Engineer is big on interoperability. It was the first structural BIM tool to be awarded IFC 2×3 “Version 2.0” certification meaning it can collaborate with a wide range of IFC-enabled BIM tools, including Archicad and Vectorworks.
It has roundtrip engineering with Nemetschek Allplan for both geometry and reinforcement and direct links with Revit Structure, Tekla Structures and ETABS.
The Nemetschek Scia Revit link is based on the physical model, but more recently UK reseller CADS has used the Revit API to develop a plug in that links Revit’s analytical model to Scia Engineer.
The CADS Revit Scia Engineer link (pictured) enables the bi-directional exchange of members, loads and supports.
According to the developer, it supports levels, members, slabs, loads, (point, line, area and wind) and load combinations, support conditions and end releases.
Data within the analytical model, such as unique member names and releases, node numbers etc, are also exchanged. According to CADS, this enables the analysis model to be kept as data rich as possible during the roundtrip process.
Nemetschek Scia is looking to change this perception by making the design process more transparent inside Scia Engineer 2013, which was released in September. A new scripting tool called Scia Design Forms enables users to write their own routines to perform external design checks and deliver clear technical and graphical reports. Calculation sheets can be run standalone or, for maximum benefit to the engineering workflow, linked to the Scia Engineer 2013 model.
“We make them [Scia Design Forms] such that all of the formula is visible so you can follow it step by step; everything is explained,” says Mr Rammant. “It’s kind of a MathCAD, but it’s made by ourselves and dedicated to engineering. You see all the formula, the integrations, the references, everything is there and of course you can make a report.”
Scia Design Forms is intended to be flexible and can be used for the design of steel, concrete, connections, foundations, composites and many others. According to Mr Rammant, it can include anything that is detailed where there are analytical, relatively simple, algorithms, common in most design routines.
The software consists of three parts: a ‘User’ application for calculating the formulas and generating reports; a ‘Builder’ application for creating new forms and adapting others; and the Design Forms (Calculation sheets) themselves.
A number of standard Design Forms are included with the software such as for static, loading, concrete, steel, timber, masonry and geotechnics. More will come in 2014 and Mr Rammant explains that part of the work has been already been done, as it has been hard coded inside Scia Engineer. “Now it’s a case of redoing it in an open form,” he says.
For the development of more complex Design Forms Nemetschek Scia is working with universities and third party consultants. In the UK, Scia Engineer reseller, CADS (cads.co.uk), is working on composites. Others currently in production include timber connections, steel connections, and advanced statics analysis, all of which will be made available in Nemetschek Scia’s web shop.
Of course, a key driver of Scia Design Forms is its open approach. Users can create their own design forms or adapt existing ones. According to Mr Rammant, while Design Forms will likely be created by more advanced users, programming skills are not needed. It is sufficient to type formulas and text and the program evaluates which data is input and which is output.
Nemetschek Scia acknowledges that many engineering firms have already invested time and money developing Excel Macros so it allows Excel worksheets to be imported and converted into a basic design form. The company is also working on a community server where users can share their forms with others.
Mr Rammant believes the beauty of Scia Design Forms is the ease with which engineers can use them. “S/he just needs to type her/his formula and link ‘this, this and this’ with her/his model data and it’s finished,” he says. “S/he can call out his own design check and it will be automatically incorporated, or s/he can stop and say ‘I want to do it my way’ and s/he can check it step-by-step.”
The engineering workflow
Nemetschek Scia has always acknowledged the importance of information exchange in BIM workflows. It was the first structural BIM tool to be awarded IFC 2×3 V2 Certification and has strong direct links to Revit, Tekla Structures and other BIM applications.
Scia Design Forms is all about streamlining the flow of information between design and analysis, as Mr Rammant concludes. “BIM, well it’s modelling, but this is the last part of BIM — the ‘I’ is often forgotten. We have to take care of the information that is linked to the model. And that information for engineers is code design, it’s checking, it’s designing the actual details.
“[By using Design Forms] design iteration is quicker and more transparent, so we’re closing the gap to, let’s say, a more fluent and much better workflow.”
2013 Nemetschek Structural User Contest: Buildings category winner
SICA — Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (Marseille, France)
The MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations), the vision of architect Rudy Ricciotti, is located on the J4 jetty in Marseille.
The jury was fascinated by the innovative use of advanced ultra high performance fibre-reinforced concrete (UHPFRC) for nearly all the main construction elements including a 130m footbridge, which links the structure with the Saint Jean fort.
Scia Engineer was used for the 3D static and dynamic analysis of the MuCEM, plus the design of the tree-like columns, which took into account the real non-linear stress-strain behaviour of UHPFRC.
2013 Nemetschek Structural User Contest: Prize for Fabrication and Execution
AECOM — Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 (London, UK)
The 2013 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion was designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. AECOM carried out the structural design from concept in January 2013 to completion June 2013.
The complex nature of the structure meant that a three dimensional analysis model was essential as the structure relies on all 27,000 members for global stability.
From the outset of the project the design concept was conveyed using 3D models, as the structure has very little meaning when expressed as two dimensional sections.
The architectural scheme was modelled up using Rhino and bespoke scripts were used to transfer the geometry to Scia Engineer.
Fundamental to the success was the ability to make this a complete round trip process, allowing rapid design development with the architect and iteration of the design to a final solution, which embodied the architect’s dream as well as functioning structurally.
The 3D model was also shared with the fabricator allowing integration with its computer aided manufacturing processes, as well as better visualisation of the structure and optimisation of the size of the fabrication modules for delivery to site and erection within the short construction period on site.
Structural design drawings were produced in Autodesk Revit. The geometry was transferred to Revit using the Revit-Scia Engineer link.
2013 Nemetschek Structural User Contest: Special “Open BIM” Jury Prize winner
Grontmij Nederland BV (NL) — New Energy Institute (Wuhan, China)
The main building in China’s Wuhan New Energy Institute is inspired by nature: the calas lily flower, which symbolises purity,hope and greatness.
The organic shape of the building threw up some challenges though. Originally modelled by the designer and architect in SketchUp, the Scia Engineer model was then based on the SketchUp model and sent to Revit to create the final architectural model. This however resulted in some hiccups.
Grontmij, a leading engineering consultancy, discovered that the hiccups were linked to the advanced way complex shapes can be modelled in Scia Engineer. To solve this, the company turned the process around by first building the model in Revit, based on the SketchUp model, and then sending it to Scia Engineer.