Top 5 reasons why civil & structural engineers are shifting to cloud-based tools
Cloud is around us
If you were to explore construction industry trends in 2022, you would notice the trend of a more automated, mobile and fluent industry. So, have you caught up with the cloud-based movement yet?
The birth of the pandemic has opened the potential to work and access information from anywhere. Our favourite BIM Software, Project Management software, or your familiar Microsoft Suite are now available on the cloud. You may be expected not to send your Microsoft file through email soon, finally.
For engineering, the civil and structural engineering industry is dynamic and ever-changing. It has to adapt to a booming market, a delayed project, or a lull economy. That is where cloud-based software or platform engineering shines in the industry with its adaptability, but not all companies have adopted this method over traditional software and engineering calculation design methods.
So the question worth asking is: Why not move to cloud-based engineering?
Why move to cloud-based tools?
Faster and lighter engineering design
To understand the problem clearer, let’s compare traditional engineering methodologies and cloud-based engineering.
For example, in structural design, engineers have to abide by specific design codes. This decides the limits like the maximum and minimum thickness of a wall or the materials’ minimum strength.
Traditionally, to check if the designs abide by appropriate design codes, structural engineers will build a model on desktop software and simulate real-life conditions like earthquakes. They will adjust or redesign structures’ components if they have not complied with the building code. Hence, engineers must repeatedly do design checks with all building components. And they have to repeat the same design code checking for new projects! Doesn’t sound very time efficient.
Cloud engineering software makes the design process faster by automating repetitive components. Cloud companies usually design platforms that incorporate engineering calculators (by code or API), and the users only need to input the dimensions to check the design results. This, by far, will be much faster than continuing to manually iterate on your design model all the time.
An example of an online engineering platform is CalcTree. We will soon launch our engineering platform, powered by a growing respiratory of calculations from engineers around the world. Please join our waitlist to receive the latest updates.
The key to advanced technologies
Building information modelling (BIM) technology improves the efficiency of leading projects around the world. You may have heard of some unique and complex constructions, but they are impossible to build without BIM untangling their sophisticated nature.
For instance, the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Shanghai, home of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, consists of hundreds of curved steel structures to create its unique bird’s nest shape. The production and installation of those structures were so intertwined and highly sophisticated that Arup started to implement BIM, a highly new technique at the time, to solve its technical difficulties. This enormous application indicates the importance and potential of cloud-based software in the future.
In short, BIM allows users to generate computer renderings of buildings and utilities with different layers of engineering design, such as structural analysis, utility planning, and geotechnical designs. The model, which contains a huge amount of data, will be used on the cloud to share, making it easier to manage the model. This enables superior project analysis, prefabrication of parts or on-time updates and accurate quality control. Autodesk describes it as “an intelligent 3D model-based process to help professionals manage buildings and infrastructure.”
BIM can also open up several innovative possibilities in the industry that you might have heard of, such as:
- Modular Construction: Prefabrication is a prominent construction trend where every component of the building will be manufactured off-site. Hence, stronger quality control and more detailed modelling are required to ensure accurate instalment of the off-site components.
- Life Cycle Assessment: With a huge demand for carbon reduction from the industry, controlling the whole life cycle of a building will be a possibility in the future. You can find out more in CalcTree’s article about How smart engineering designs can reach a future without embodied carbon?
- Digital Twins: a higher level of BIM is a model continuously updated in real-time. Imagine if the model can identify the damage from the building in real-time without engineers redrawing the model. This is something that can only be achieved by internet cloud technology.
Engineering Project Management Software
This may sound obvious, but tools like Google Documents, Outlook and OneDrive are a part of the daily cloud-based tool lists that most engineers (and other industries) use. For the same reason that you like to see immediate updates from your teammate’s work in Google Documents, you would like to see the same dynamics and flexibility in project management applications. Hence, real-time tracking is in demand to manage hundreds of activities and deadlines in one project. People can:
- Log in and track what they're supposed to do and when.
- Record their progress on those tasks and add relevant details, such as notes regarding any changes.
- Track the whole project and manage the big picture.
These online collaborative applications are powerful tools in the budget, timeline, and people management for construction companies. Of course, their configuration is much more complex than a normal note-taking app, and there are requirements to consider when choosing the best project management software.
Unlimited storing capacity
For a typical building, engineers might need to render and store hundreds of technical drawings and modelling files on their computers. One 3D modelling file can range from 1 to 20 Gigabytes (GB)! A few rendering projects, and your laptop is out of capacity.
Imagine how time-consuming it is to compress every large file and email them to other engineering teams, clients and managers several times a day. So, cloud document storage saves you the hassle by directing any stakeholder to the original file with the “share” button. Currently, a lot of traditional modelling software is already moving onto cloud computing, such as AutoDesk’s BIM 360. Alongside is the emerging structural engineering platform like WeStatiX, which permits you to model straight on the cloud.
Cloud software can also offer incredible flexibility. When companies subscribe to various cloud services, they only need to sign up for the functions or cloud capacity that they need. If you need 1 TB per year, you can always upgrade to 2TB per year later. Hence, the cloud system can quickly adapt to the companies’ business growth, which is something that traditional desktop computing cannot do.
Cloud storage is also a central point of information and documents storage across the company. This eliminates the need for team members to continually check with each other for the latest version of a design model.
Easy accessibility - work wherever you go
Accessibility will be a game-changer for engineering operations. Engineers can design at home, manage projects in meetings and do site supervision early in the morning. Hence, the ability to access the work and data from anywhere, anytime and share it with everyone is a productivity booster, thanks to cloud-based tools.
Yes, software nowadays provides more and more flexibility in device access. Namely, AutoCAD mobile permits engineers to view and make edits on phone and access the same model on the laptop.
With cloud software, whether you are on-site, at your desk or away from the office, you can:
- Access and update project information
- Order supplies or request services
- Make design edits
- Review the technical model or information
- Track time and input timesheets
- Pay bills
- Collaborate with the team
Maximise team transparency and collaboration
A construction project can go through dozens of team designs and reviews and take months to finish for engineers. For example, it is only when structural engineers finish their structural load calculation that geotechnical engineers can start designing the foundation. Suppose the structural engineers want to make design changes. In that case, geotechnical engineers have to be notified and recheck their designs so that overall, the project, at least the foundation, is still making sense.
With documents and designs updated in real-time on the cloud platform, multiple stakeholders can efficiently review and evaluate changes. This will speed up the decision-making process without unnecessary back and forth. Now, the structural engineers can make fast changes, and all other teams can react to those changes immediately because everyone can see their work.
That transparency will reduce the risks of miscommunication, errors and delays in project management and, at the same time, increase productivity, team cohesion and efficient decision-making. It sounds like a dream team for engineers!
Why not move to cloud-based tools?
You must be convinced of the cloud's potential if you’ve reached this point. So why hasn’t it then been widely adopted in engineering companies? Basically, it involves data security. The online environment contains high risks of data loss or theft, especially when you are using the storage from a third party. Even big firms today are still having data security issues in their systems. The consequences of security issues are particularly prominent when it involves government infrastructure projects.
Also, you most likely have heard about the complaint in the online environment: service connection cut up due to weak internet or over capacity. To engineers, it is not as simple because the model needs real time updates, which means a glitch in the system can cause a decrease in productivity, especially with rendering heavy CAD files, which is a difficult task even for the most powerful PC. The online cloud might not be able to maintain that smooth functionality for the software all the time if there is no strong network supporting it.
Otherwise, the performance of the cloud software is to be questioned, as traditional computer software is usually configured to handle more complex and powerful tasks. You can easily compare how Microsoft Word in the browser has much fewer features than Microsoft Word on the device. The same with structural modelling software on cloud, we would be expected to have simpler features compared to traditional modelling software. Therefore, the risks of cloud software not meeting the demand of the structural complexity is something that not all firms can take.
Finally, many organisations benefit from the agility, scale, and pay-per-use billing that cloud services offer. But in an industry with embedded traditional software usage like engineering, transitioning to new software can change how the whole team designs and plans. Of course, that is why firms always carefully consider strategies and processes for cloud migration when the business is ready.
With the advancement of construction methodologies and the increased need for collaboration, cloud technologies are actually boosting the industry. CalcTree is proud to be a part of the technology advancement with our cloud engineering platform, which combines both project management and design aspects of engineers to permit even faster and lighter design.
What is CalcTree, we hear you say?
We’re a venture-backed ConstructionTech startup, soon to launch the world’s first multi-disciplinary calculation management platform. We help you ensure data, designs, and calculations are always in sync. Freeing you to spend more time creating innovative, sustainable, and modern designs.