Software for structural engineers: tools for every project stage

Structural engineers hold a special place in the construction industry. Creative, yet highly practical, these highly skilled team members move between the office and site. They lend their expertise to multiple projects and their decisions impact nearly every member of the construction team.

Structural engineer working with colleagues

The Institute of Structural Engineering explains the role of structural engineers as threefold: designer, safety expert and problem solver. Structural engineers are integral to ensuring that constructions are safe, structurally sound and can withstand the pressures from both human use and environmental forces. That includes understanding wind, rain and seismic influences. With such diverse and complex roles, it can be hard to manage the administrative side of the job. In particular, inspections, reports and communication with team members can take up valuable time. But next-generation engineering software is here to help, digitising paper-based plans and checklists, automating tasks and enabling streamlined collaboration with team members both on-site and in the office.

Structural engineers as designers

This first element of the structural engineer’s role is well-supported with software and there are a huge array of design tools out there, from AutoCAD and RISA general 3D design software to STAAD.Pro structural analysis and a variety of more niche and structure-specific software. BIM models are growing in popularity. Using 3D modelling software has become a must for Government projects and is increasingly being requested for private projects of all sizes.

The next step is bringing that model and accompanying 2D designs into a space where all team members can access it. This can often be more complicated and can involve manual workarounds and paper-based designs that quickly go out of date.

PlanRadar is a comprehensive digital documentation and project management software tool that enables the collaboration stage that follows design. PlanRadar has always supported digital blueprints, but now also supports BIM models, providing a single platform for all stakeholders to collaborate on tasks that stem from the design. Digital versions of the 2D design and BIM models can be uploaded and used as the framework for recording any defects or snags as construction workers complete the project. Inspections and audits can also flag issues in the design. Users can add these directly onto the blueprint for easy identification and resolution.

Structural engineers as safety experts

This facet of the structural engineer’s role is arguably one of the most important. Whether its an inspection of an existing building for reported structural issues or the assessment of a construction project, safety audits and inspections are a crucial part of the structural engineer’s day-to-day work. Safety inspections can be complex but the recording and actioning of the tasks should be as simple as possible.

PlanRadar is available as an app so users can access it through any mobile device for convenient logging on site. Predefined templates comply with building regulations requirements. They can also be customised to reflect the particular site irregularities and client needs. The custom form builder has drag-and-drop functionality so that new fields can be easily incorporated into the template. Users can save this new audit template for future use and easily adapted for future projects.

Once the audit is complete, it is automatically stored in the site project and backed up in the Cloud, ready for incorporation into site reports at handover. Most importantly, it’s easy to turn any issues found in the report into actions. The reporter can assign these to construction workers or specialists, along with deadlines for completion. A handy dashboard means that you can monitor all actions at the touch of a button. Automated logging also means that a site diary can easily be compiled at the end of every day.

Structural engineers as problem solvers

Structural engineers often need to solve unforseen problems. By bringing understanding of materials and their properties and the integral structure of buildings, structural engineers help to design sustainable structures that last longer, require less maintenance and have reduced environmental impact. A key part of creating these sustainable structures is communicating with other team members. Architects, designers, site managers and health and safety officers are just some of the colleagues that structural engineers will have daily contact with, and collaboration is key.

By enabling all team members to view a single-source-of-truth for the construction project and all of its parts, PlanRadar creates a truly collaborative environment. Construction teams, architects, health and safety teams and even facilities managers all access PlanRadar to manage projects. Users can manage audits completed by structural engineers and pass the resulting actions to construction teams within the system. They can log all defects, along with any voice or written notes and images, and attach them to their location on the digital plan. Construction teams can see the necessary actions on their smartphone. Push notifications also update the creator on the task’s progress towards completion.

Chat functionality allows team members to talk directly to answer questions and quickly resolve any issues. This can be done just as easily from the office or the site. For structural engineers who are constantly moving between sites and the office, systems that can be accessed ‘on the go’ are a must.

Signing off and handing over

The ultimate problem solution comes at project handover. With its easy templates and automatic data collation, PlanRadar makes reporting easy. Updates can be provided as the projects progress and collated for a comprehensive end-of-project report at the end, available in PDF or Excel format. As with audits, all reporting templates are fully customisable, for both content and brand. PlanRadar keeps all team members fully informed and gives users the option to track open issues. As a result, you won’t discover any nasty surprises at handover.

In conclusion, the structural engineer’s role is a complex one. As they navigate collaborations with multiple stakeholders and move between their creative and practical responsibilities, time management is a challenge. Next-generation engineering software, such as PlanRadar, is taking the strain out of administration. It provides the automation and easy access needed to keep projects on track and on budget. As a result, it allows structural engineers to get on with the value-added services that only they can offer.

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