I have built a few custom computers for structural engineering, and I haven’t found much about this topic on the web (actually I haven’t found anything). So, I posted this video on YouTube about my latest project and explained what I did. I cover how I set up my computer to run Finite Element Analysis software, and Autodesk Revit and AutoCAD. I hope you find this helpful.
This project involved the conversion of a large warehouse to a movie studio. It had large expanses, but the owner wanted more clear space for the floor, so two columns were removed. This was a rather difficult undertaking, we explored a few different ideas, and the best idea in terms of construction and cost was to erect large beams under the existing girder trusses to provide the support. Here’s photos of what we did:
The column has been removed and the beam is ready to erect
Close up view of the temporary support we designed.
Lifting the beam into place.
We also had to provide much larger foundations
The beams and new columns are in place. The remaining tasks are to install blocking, lateral bracing, and remove the temporary supports.
Here’s some pictures taken by the client for the shipping container house in New Haven, CT. This house was built from six containers, and features a more traditional architecture for the front. This project was built by Marengo Structures, and the designer was Christian Salvati. We worked closely with him to produce the structural design, and the intent of the project was to build an attractive house at an affordable price. The house was built on a vacant lot in an older neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut. The builder wanted to make the house fit well into the architecture of the neighborhood, which consisted of houses built in the 1920’s. To make a container house do this, you have to cover the containers up to a certain extent, which was done in the front of the structure. Please see the video to get the best feel for scope and intent of the Project:
The front is being furred out to allow a more traditional siding to be placed over it.
The house is finally starting to take shape!
The Final Product
The final product is above.
The video below provides a very good explanation of the house and shows some interesting views of it while it was under construction:
This is one of my more recent projects, the architect was dencity Design in Atlanta. It’s a very difficult house – look at the cantilevers:
3d Structure of Residence In Decatur, GA
This kind of strucutre is difficult to engineer because you have to visualize a very complex 3 shape from a 2 drawing. To make things easier, the Architect, Staffan Svenson, sent me a rendering done in Google Sketchup so I could visualize what was happening. I then built a 3 model in RAM Elements software to cover all the different forces we would encounter. The problem you get is not only vertical forces in a complex structure as this, but the wind action. How do you brace it? I used fixed connections to the foundations, which required me to spend time engineering anchor plates, anchor bolts, and very large foundations. I could do this by hand (and I have) would be very time consuming, and you run the chance of what I call “calculation fatigue” – you do so many calculations you get blind to the errors due to simple mental fatigue.
Here’s a view of the rendering from RAM Elements:
Rendering From Structural Design Program – RAM Elements
Working this way, I was able to model all of the effects of the structure – note how I put in concrete walls in the basement and OSB (Oriented Strand Board) walls on the first and second floors. All of this could factor into the design. Once the structural calculations are done, it’s time to do what the illustrious professors I had as an undergraduate didn’t think was important, but is actually critical – translate it into a drawing that can be understood and constructed. This is a pet peeve of mine, I run into engineers that can’t seem to understand how to develop their ideas into drawings. In such case you may as not have any ideas.
I personally had two choices for drawing this, well I guess three:
1. I could send the drawing out to a CAD service with hand sketches of what I wanted. We could go back and forth for a week or so until I got what I wanted. Maybe two weeks. Well, really four weeks.
2. I could draw it myself in AutoCAD – there is another type of fatigue you encounter when drawing. After working so hard to do the calculations, now you are drawing all these boring details, and repetitious joists, and then trying to make it all work. I could do this drawing in about 40 man hours.
3. Draw the drawing in Softplan, and use exported details from RAM Elements for the connections, foundations, and baseplates. RAM Exports details in DXF (Drawing Exchange format), so it’s easy to import into Softplan. Softplan generates drawings in 3d from your floor plans, and automates a lot of stuff like drawing columns, foundations, walls, and joists. The beauty is you can have a 3d model that constantly updates as you create your drawing. That way you can catch things you might overlook. I was able to make sure I had load bearing walls stacking to the floor, and that I had foundations placed properly under all walls. Also I was able to show the Architect, Staffan, what I was trying to do. To do this, I shared the model over GoToMeeting with Staffan, and he did point out a few changes I needed to do. I modifed the drawing, showed the model to Staffan again on GoToMeeting, and finished it. It worked out really well.
As you can see, I chose Option 3 above. My father was an engineer also, and he generally did his own drawings. He could draw well and very fast, and he said the time it took to explain his ideas to a draftsman (women weren’t in the business in his day), he could the same drawing several times over. I have the same issue. I can’t hand draw like my father could, I never had to put the time into it to learn the skill like he had. However, I’ve taken a lot of courses on AutoCAD, and I think I’m pretty good at drawing on the computer. I’m also pretty fast, so like my father, it’s not worth it for me to use a CAD person. I do use my son on many jobs because we’ve worked together enough he knows what I want, but some jobs like this I really feel like only I could do right.
Anyway, the design of this project worked out pretty well. The next stage is construction. I hope to intimately involved in the construction. My contract requires the client to contact me for a minimum of two site visits. I also explained to the builder that I want to go over everything with him to make sure there are no misunderstandings. The builder told me he has a great steel supplier, and he understands how critical this structure is. I have great hopes for this job, the key to making any job work is close communications between all parties.
This project was an older retail store that was built in the 1950’s, and had been modified a number of times. We had to analyze the floor system to determine if it was capable of handling the increased loads from the floor displays, which meant we had to do extensive measuring in order to model the building (no drawings were available). We also did design work on the fascia of the building, some of the modifications over the years were rather ill advised.
Here’s a project I’m working on right now, a hotel in Florida. It’s a 4 story hotel, and we are building the upper stories out of modules made from Cold Formed Steel. I drew the structural concept in Softplan and showed it to the client today through GoToMeeting. This can save a lot of trouble when doing a design, because I am able to make sure I am on the right trace with what I am trying to accomplish, and instead of handing the client 2d drawings to decipher, we were able to look at this 3d model and rotate it as needed to see how I plan on doing the structure. It worked very well. Additionally, this kind of modeling helps us avoid errors and figure how we’ll run wiring, piping, and HVAC:
Multi Story Rendering of Hotel
This concept was approved by my client, and the next step is to put these together in the hotel. Right now this is looking absurdly simple, since “all” I have to do is design the walls and framing on the first floor and the stair wells. Softplan automates a lot of the drafting I have to do, such as the foundations, walls, and so on. I’m hoping this will speed up the process, I’ll update this post as the design continues. I have only recently started designing in 3d with Softplan, and I’ve seen my drafting time drop to less than half the time I spent before.
One of the issues as a business owner, or any kind of manager is how you delegate the work. If you try to do everything yourself, you limit the amount of work that can be done. Also, there are people that can work for you that can do the jobs better than you can. The flip side of this is if you hire the wrong person that person can do tremendous damage. You may spend more time trying to supervise people than you would if you just did the work yourself. For a business (government agency for that matter) employees cost money, and can drag funds away from other areas where they are needed.
My personal theory is that technology can be used as somewhat of a replacement for delegating to a person. Coming out of several years of recession and the collapse of my former primary market (housing), cash is not available for hiring someone. However, for me to spend hours on AutoCAD drawing is not productive either – I have to use a much lower billing rater, and it takes me away from doing more productive things. The compromise is technology, in this case I am automating by using Softplan to do the heavy lifting for me. It’s not the perfect solution, but it is a good solution and a way to move forward.