The steel construction sector has been using 3D design software for over 25 years and is well versed in the benefits and efficiencies it provides to construction programmes.
Today computer software is integral to the design, fabrication, erection and everyday operational processes at most steelwork contractors’ facilities.
“Steelwork contractors have been working with BIM long before the acronym was ever created. If BIM is creating a 3D model with intelligent data and allowing that information to be used elsewhere in the process then that has been available for over two decades.
“The key difference now is that other disciplines can also produce models of their parts of the project and with the use of collaboration platforms can federate these models, compare designs and communicate discrepancies effectively in the same environment,” says Trimble Solutions (UK) Structures Division Managing Director Richard Fletcher.Software use is interwoven into each stage of the steel fabrication process supporting activities such as internal knowledge and bid management, project planning, frame analysis, connection design, 3D modelling and BIM co-ordination.
In multi-storey buildings a structural engineer is usually responsible for the steel frame design, and once this is completed a steelwork contractor will then design the connections, prior to starting the fabrication process. However, for those single storey buildings that are procured on a design and build basis, the steelwork contractor designs both the frame and connections.
Software for the design of connections has been around for a long time and there is a large range of specialist solutions available to the steelwork contractor. The range and functionality of these packages is continually being upgraded.
“New structural analysis software is now able to link with construction modelling software, helping us to improve workflows and increase efficiency,” explains Caunton Engineering Director of Engineering and Innovation Robert Berry.
The use of computer software ensures that data created in the design phase of the project can then be used through further phases to the final sign off of the erected steel on site, ensuring essential process integration in the supply chain.
During the design phase, the structural steel will be modelled to fabrication levels of detail. Materials Resource Planning software then processes a bill of materials data from the model which is used for procurement of materials, manages data to drive automated cutting and fabrication machinery, plans logistics, as well as piece weights for crane planning. These technology advancements have allowed steelwork contractors to operate on a “just-in-time” basis.
Another important aspect of the steelwork design process is the analysis of other components that make up a steel-framed building such as composite floor slabs.
Software to carry out analysis of structural elements was one of the first used by the steel construction industry and consequently it has also been around for quite a while. During this time it has developed from rudimentary analysis to comprehensive analysis of very complex structures.
In more recent times the advent of BIM has further pushed the drive for better integration between analysis and construction modelling software packages.
BIM is about working collaboratively and bringing the supply chain together from day one to produce good designs with fully-coordinated construction interfaces by sharing data electronically. This then provides the building owner with the data to manage and maintain the asset over its lifetime.
On-site, actual progress of the steel erection can be captured and reported back using mobile services.
Looking to the future the next technological advance is likely to be the wider adoption of automatic assembly machines within the structural steel industry. Software providers know they need to be ready to be able to service this new way of manufacturing and are currently making advances in this field.
Sponsors Computer Software
Headline sponsor – Trimble Solutions (UK)