Interoperability: structural engineering

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Structural design and engineering is an integral part of both AutodeskÝs and BentleyÝs BIM philosphy, but how effective are the two CAD giants, and the industry as a whole, in dealing with the issue of interoperability?

Question: The AEC software industry continues to push forward BIM (Building Information Modelling), but the fact remains that interoperability is still a major obstacle to achieving a smooth and efficient workflow between architectural, structural and building services design disciplines. Open standards such as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) and CIS/2 are addressing these problems, but how effective are they at streamlining workflows in the structural engineering sector in particular and is the reality that 2D CAD file formats and hard copy drawings are here to stay?

Pete Baxter, Sales Director Autodesk Building Solutions

First, itÝs important to remember that BIM is not a file format or data schema. The standards discussed here, such as IFCs or CIS/2 are mechanisms for moving data from one software application to another but are not themselves building information models. The co-ordinated, consistent and reliable information delivered by BIM, however, is the foundation for the value these standards deliver. Having established this, I should mention that our partner Robobat created a CIS/2 export plug-in last year which is available for free download. Autodesk is continuing to work with Robobat on additional plug-ins to support industry standards.

Structural engineering is an essential part to Building Information Modelling (BIM), but there is still much to do to in order to optimise data flow between structural analysis, design, and documentation solutions.

Revit Architecture 2008 provides IFC export and import based on the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI ± of which Autodesk is a founding member) IFC 2×3 data exchange standard. Revit Structure supports the same IFCs with some additions to account for the structural systems objects in this application.

However, on the most basic level, the enhanced visualisation provided by a 3D model enables more effective communication between designers, consultants and sub-contractors. By removing the human variable of interpreting 2D documents into a 3D product, many misinterpretations are avoided and conflicts are recognised immediately.

As BIM methodologies advance, the use of the building information in other phases of the building lifecycle present themselves in cost and materials estimating, construction phasing, maintenance and operation. Having been the first to introduce BIM to the industry, Autodesk remains committed to providing the right tools, such as the Revit Platform, to enable its adoption.

Our experience, via our many customers who are using BIM, is that it enhances productivity for all of the building team members. It also ensures better decision-making, production of high-quality construction documents, performance predictions, cost-estimating and construction planning and, eventually, for managing and operating the facility.

But, to answer the last part of the question about 2D formats, we are also convinced that there will also always be those who prefer to work with 2D and are committed to AutoCAD and DWG files.


However, current pressures on the industry to show huge improvements in efficiency and quality mean that only a radical solution will suffice. We continue to believe that this solution is BIM.

Huw Roberts, Global Marketing Director Bentley Systems

The building industry is certainly more fully utilising Building Information Modelling (BIM) methodologies and the enabling software solutions. As this trend continues to build momentum the importance of supporting the integration of information across the workflow and across the project team becomes ever more apparent. Conversely any obstacles to integrating these tools and information sources become even more frustrating as the values of integration become more apparent. 2D CAD and hard copy drawings will certainly be a major component of the process for years to come ± however these are now best considered as the output of the process, reports from the design process, rather than the primary editing environment.


BentleyÝs structural solutions team is finding that some engineers do find that keeping up with new technology such as BIM can be overwhelming if the firm does not have a well considered technology plan. In addition, structural engineers are continually being asked to do more for their clients while at the same time facing a shortage of labour both in available engineers and CAD technicians. They are focused first and foremost on the production work that needs to occur every day.

The first step these firms can take to address these issues is to provide interoperability within their own structural engineering office by utilising integrated analysis, design, and documentation solutions that fit with the structural engineerÝs workflow. For example, modelling, analysing, designing and creating 2D drawings all from a single coordinated model is a huge time saver. This approach eliminates manual transfer of structural information from one program to another, drastically reduces the time required for coordinating design and construction documents and significantly reduces errors and duplication of effort. Perhaps the most immediately apparent benefit is that using integrated solutions allows engineers to easily keep up with the constant changes during the life of a project.

The second step firms can take is to ensure they engage with a reliable support team. The typical structural engineerÝs office may not have dedicated peers or technical staff available in-house to turn to for help. When questions arise and helpful answers are provided quickly, this saves engineersÝ time.

Finally, in addition to the internal benefits of the integrated office, firms should demand flexibility for interoperability with the technology solutions used by other disciplines. This allows them to provide a better level of service through enhanced coordination and comprehensive deliverables to clients and other consultants.

Ultimately, structural engineers should expect to work within their current workflow, with minimal re-entry of information for optimum productivity.

BentleyÝs structural team includes the RAM, STAAD, and ProSteel applications as well as BentleyÝs BIM solutions, serving small and large engineering companies. Bentley has more structural engineers on staff than any other software company, and provides the largest and most comprehensive portfolio of structural analysis, design documentation and detailing applications in the world. With these key players on your structural team you can win with greater collaboration, fewer errors, and improved business.