Are structural engineers using the finite elements too much or too little?
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The finite element method (“FEM”) has been around for quite some time. It enables engineers and designers from various industries to model and analyze something that needs to be created – a gearbox, a drone or a building. FEM also allows taking different perspectives such as structural analysis, heat transfer, fluid flow, etc.
Back in the 90s, the pioneers of using FEM in daily practice were the structural engineers. This underlined a big shift from paper-and-pencil engineering to computer-aided modeling of structures. Several FEA-based software for structural analysis were created around that time and they have represented the benchmark tool since then. Surprisingly, with not that much of a development.
So who pushed the usage of FEM since the 90s? Mechanical, aviation and other engineers took up the challenge and transformed their industries by better and better applications of FEM in a variety of processes across the whole design and production cycle. Structural engineering got left behind.
In 2009, a group of structural engineer enthusiasts with coding background decide to change that and founded IDEA StatiCa. Together with top technical universities, they have since been developing new FEM approaches to enhance structural design capabilities in daily engineering practice.
How is this relevant to work of structural engineers?
Bolts, welds, end plates, base plates, stiffeners, ribs, cleats, bolts with welded fin plates, beam to column connection, beam web to beam flange connection, gusset plates for bracings... These are only a few types of steel connections in the midst of many different types of connection elements. Structural engineer responsible a new building has to proof that, according to valid construction standards, these are safe and constructible. Approaches in current software tools for connection design are simplified, based on analytical approach. As a result, structural engineers have to come up with workarounds and estimations and are left with a question: “How can different steel connections be made both accurately and effectively, and at the same time, comply with national codes?”
Steel connection design – reinvented!
IDEA StatiCa Connection has come up with the most disruptive technology that the structural engineering world has seen for many years. The new CBFEM method that is based on, has changed forever the way we design steel structural joints and allows the engineers to design easily and safely even the most complex joint.
Together with two top technical universities, we created a new method for analysis and check of steel joints of general shapes and loading. It is called Component-Based Finite element model (CBFEM), and it is a combination of two well-known and trusted methods used by engineers all around the world – finite element method and component method. After 5 years of primary research and theoretical preparations, the first version of the application was coded in 24 months and released in May 2014.
IDEA StatiCa Connection can design all types of welded or bolted connections, base plates, footing and anchoring. It provides precise checks, results of strength, stiffness and buckling analysis of a steel joint. Bolts, welds and concrete blocks are checked according to the code.
What is the impact real/life projects?
Design and code-check using advanced FEM modelling in IDEA StatiCa is already reshaping the landscape of more than 70 countries around the world while driving the overall productivity of the constrsction process. A great example is a well-known project in the midlands - the Midland Metropolitan Hospital (currently under construction). The design team of NOVUM Structures has been using IDEA StatiCa to design its steel connections.
The connection is part of an interior steel structure, and has an unusual offset arrangement for the cross bracing that was an architectural requirement. The bracings are actually MacAlloy tension bars and were modeled as solid bars and double fin plates to simulate the geometry of the MacAlloys end forks. The three beams are connected with the column through stubs, while the cross-shaped plate that connects the tension bars is welded to the column with a CHS section. Ambitious concept, design and realization does not have to be impossible.
Is the development done? What is next?
Our motto is “Calculate yesterday’s estimates”. The mathematical models can never replace the reality but we can get closer and closer to it by appropriate modeling. Yesterday’s estimates can always be replaced by something better. We understand structural analysis of steel and concrete details and that is what we will do. Timber is coming too. There is a lot to calculate and it is right about time that structural engineering retakes its pioneering position!