AEC projects are quickly evolving both in size and complexity, while workflows and both physical and digital processes have stagnated, making it almost impossible for design teams to develop, validate and deliver new designs with increasing efficiency. Meanwhile, technology is evolving quickly, and current software solutions used today, while once state-of-the-art, are now struggling to keep up with the increase in average project complexity and the shifting objectives within the industry. With tools unfit for the job, what results are projects rife with data fragmentation and tedious and time-consuming processes required to translate information from one software to another.

In this article, we'll explore the importance of civil engineering calculation software, how it's different from normal software, and how it drastically improves design and construction efficiency today. We'll also explore how, given the current state of software and the radical changes the sector is going through, CalcTree provides a better path forward.

civil engineering calculation software

Importance of engineering calculation software

Let's take a closer look at what engineering-specific software enables engineers to do and why it's so important.

Financial factors often drive the outcomes of projects these days, and companies take great steps to invest in their products and processes to ensure key outcomes are met. In the engineering and construction space, knowledge is an important asset. It is gained from the buildings and structures that companies deliver, comprising plans, assumptions, reports, designs, and data. When managed well, these assets set up projects for success, hasten solution development and fuel innovation. An asset that is often overlooked is calculation management. Calculations often become the basis of design decisions as projects charge forward, so the implications that stem from managing calculations poorly can be catastrophic. So, calculation software is vital for an organization to manage its knowledge from start to finish as it helps to preserve assumptions, insights and details needed for current and future work, thereby enriching the final outcome and future processes. It also does a lot more, like:

Increases standardization:

Engineers often find themselves redoing similar calculations repeatedly, and the bulk of the time spent is working through variations. The software can capture calculations and all variations so that they can be saved and reused. Time is saved, and a repository of logic, calculations and knowledge is merged onto a software platform. Allowing for repeated use of calculation assets more broadly across an organization without hurting quality.

Leads to better integration:

The best calculation software can integrate with other vital tools in engineering design. Seamlessly integrating calculations and design logic with 2D and 3D models, digital twins or even generative design software. Thereby allowing it to automate designs and monitor changes but also deliver more consistent end-to-end insights. Having these integrations means all knowledge can be codified into algorithms that simulate how a project will look and perform. Participants in a project can work with ease, confidence and flexibility across tool sets, preferences and jurisdictions. 

Improves documentation:

Without calculation software, what would managing calculations look like? Well, you'd find them spread across spreadsheets, whiteboards, notepads and most frighteningly, inside an engineer's head. Synthesizing all the necessary information into a digital software platform streamlines the design process, increases visibility, minimizes the risks of losing assumptions, insights and IP, simplifies quality assurance and allows for more effective design decisions.

Helps track validation and auditing:

In construction, even a small mistake can have huge consequences, and detecting them, let alone preventing them, is hard, especially in the early phases of a project. Not to mention all the tedious rework required to fix them once errors have been identified. Calculation software allows for regular automated tracking and validation of designs to detect errors and changes. Providing an audit trail of the design process and thereby giving greater confidence to teams when making design decisions and issuing deliverables.

Saves time:

Calculation software saves time across all stages of product or project development. Engineers can save time on any rework by not having to update information and calculations manually and by preventing mistakes and oversights. Integrating calculation software with other digital tools also saves substantial time by seamlessly automating data flow between programs. Time is also saved in future endeavors as all the information, data and calculations captured in one project can feed into the design of the next. 

How engineering calculation software is different

In most cases, engineering software is made to solve problems and perform operations related to very niche use cases. From adapting to new design specifications and construction requirements to incorporating all data, capabilities, and assets necessary for design, construction and operation, engineering software and digital platforms deal with data across the entire lifecycle of a construction project. As well as geometric and spatial relationships, software aligns with all strategic goals of a construction company by connecting supply chains, fiscal parameters, and sustainability outcomes. Unique and diverse stakeholders are brought into the mix, from engineers, designers, architects, fabricators, and material vendors, all engaging in one way or another in a digital ecosystem.

Organizations have also recognised the need to accurately capture engineering calculations in context with CAD tools and other engineering software since they are vital for all stages of product development. Here are the four main types of software that are used to streamline project performance and development:

Analysis software

Analysis tools typically run calculations and simulations over a design proposed by a user. They can be anything from a 3D Structural analysis program to a computational fluid dynamics simulation engine. Analysis softwares provide users with performance data about a design, depending on the context; this might be loading values, deflection levels or system demand metrics for a given design.

structure analysis software
STAAD.Pro Analysis Software (The Structural Engineer)    

Depending on the analysis being performed, the complexity and power of the underlying computational engine also vary quite a lot. As a result, analysis software is typically built and used in very niche use cases by smaller amounts of users. This can result in expensive pricing and high barriers to entry for your average user.

Design software

While analysis software tools run computations and simulations over a design to provide performance data, they don't necessarily tell the user if a particular design meets a certain standard. A standard might be a building code, jurisdictional regulation, or internal benchmark. With just an analysis tool, the onus is still on the designer to adjust the design to meet those requirements. This is no easy task, and that's where design software comes in. Design software can take performance data from an analysis tool (entered automatically or manually) and then performs checks against requirements; it can then suggest design alterations to the designer, who can make adjustments and re-run an analysis if required. 

Incorporating international codes and building standard specifications, design softwares can design and analyse small-scale to complex systems under various conditions. Users can generate different design options, integrate design components and produce design documentation. 

structure load calculation
Generating all of the structural, load and design data using SPACEGASS (Spacegass)    

In many cases, design and analysis software is combined into one. This is ideal as it minimises the manual work required for designers to transfer data between programs. However, designers must ensure that a system set up for analysis is similarly ready for design in any program.

Often, engineers rely on Excel to create and verify their own custom design tools. From project tracking to simple calculations, Excel is a very common tool used in civil engineering. The reason why Excel is still so ubiquitous goes beyond its flexibility and the ability to store many different data sets. Off-the-shelf tools often don’t perform certain checks required in Civil applications. Another reason is uncertainty. The perception of high risk and a lack of trust in new tools and digital capabilities often means that engineers would stick to what they know, limiting the value that innovation and new tools can provide to the profession.

When analysis and design programs are separate for a particular use case, software like calculation management platforms can help automate the routing of data between the two.


Drawing/Drafting/BIM software

Once analysed and designed, a key part of engineering is communicating a design to third parties. Drafting and modelling in varying sectors (like automotive, manufacturing, construction etc.) is an entire career path in itself! So unsurprisingly, given the complexity of this work, there are many dedicated 2D and 3D modelling software. 


BIM rendering of London Blackfriars station redevelopment (Parametric Architecture)    

The most common are CAD and Revit, however, many niche sectors have their own dedicated tools. These tools' main job is to visualise project data and designs, making them ready for fabrication and/or construction. These softwares are typically graphically intense and rely heavily on GUIs to allow users to build drawings and models from design information provided. These softwares typically do not play nice with analysis and design software, leaving design teams to manually communicate information to drafters, who manually draw designs in these software.

As you can see, engineering software is very niche, depending on the design requirements as well as some big players like Autodesk, CSI and Trimble, the market for engineering software is littered with small-scale software designed specifically for a task. As a result, engineers and designers may work across and wrangle data between various software tools on a typical project.

This is why calculation management platforms like CalcTree, and open-source geometry-based coding libraries like IFC.js and Speckle are so valuable. They let engineers and teams keep working with tools they trust and need to do a specific task while helping to automate the tedious manual tasks that are prone to human error and costly mistakes.

Benefits of using CalcTree

At CalcTree, we believe that the considerable amounts of engineering software options and the massive variation in the digital skills of engineers are starting to work against the improvements engineering design has reaped from technological advancements. As mentioned above, the number of tools engineers work across on any project makes it very hard to reduce errors and drive productivity through automation.

Having so many variables, combined with the increasing complexity of projects and team structures, is starting to drive data fragmentation. This, in turn, ostracises individuals and teams with varying skill sets and is holding back individual software packages from delivering on their promise. It hinders people from getting work done faster and reduces an organisation's ability to reap the benefits of standardisation and agglomeration of engineering knowledge.

We've built CalcTree, the world's first calculation management platform. This new design tool category aims to enrich the usability of more niche point solution software by acting as a 'switchboard' for technical design projects. It's packaged in a modern, no-code, cloud-based user experience that anyone can use. Thereby providing users with immense power to better manage the data that underpins calculations and designs without needing a software engineering degree!

Information exchange and workflows are often inefficient and fragmented; there is poor visibility and high uncertainty. At CalcTree, these issues are the crux of what we are trying to improve, and at CalcTree, this means:


Getting work done faster 

Information is digitized and codified; workflows are connected and efficient.

Reducing errors 

Automating calculations and intuitive derivations

Better efficiency 

Enhanced communication, visibility and certainty

Driving productivity 

Managing and leveraging calculations and data consistently and accurately. 

Standardising Engineering Knowledge

Codifying codes of practice, standards, expert and proprietorial knowledge

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