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Civil Structural Engineering BIM tools to master

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

There are hundreds of software that is used in the Building Design sector. Software is used for analysis, structural design, design of foundations, co-ordination, detailing and so on.

I will discuss the major software used in Building structural Design. Many training institutes offers training packages including necessary and unnecessary software. This article will also summarise the essential skillset an aspiring civil& structural engineer should possess. This will be a series of blogs.

However, will first discuss What is Building Information Modelling? (BIM) in this blog

Will try to explain BIM in a way that is useful to students of civil & structural engineering

To a civil & structural engineering professional, building structural design is bread & butter. So will focus and limit my writing to BIM in building design.

Many students of civil & structural engineering also get confused on which BIM tools are better to learn. Is it Revit or Tekla or which one to go for?

As the name suggests, Building Information Modelling means modelling the information that needs to build the building. Often you can consider this as a miniature soft copy of the real building.

You can use REVIT or TEKLA to achieve this. There are many other BIM tools aswell.

Many ask -Is it going to be 100% accurate and a replica of the real building. This depends on the user mostly. All the leading BIM tools are really good enough. REVIT is a market leader when it comes to Building sector. This is since it is one of the earliest BIM tools and is an Autodesk product. Which BIM tool to choose is mostly based on what you want to do most -If it is bar bending schedule preparation or GA drawings and so on.

To understand what is BIM or how BIM tools like REVIT has changed the consulting process can be understood if and only if you have a basic understanding of how offices work in a conventional CAD platform.

Let us assume a multi-disciplinary building project which involves an architect, structural consultant and a MEP services (Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing) consultant. Generally, after the client briefing, the architect produces the architectural plan. After the drawing is almost finalised the drawing will be passed on to other consultants. Structural engineers start producing the column layout and the beam layout. Same time the MEP engineers would start their service drawings showing plumbing lines, cut out requirement etc. These works are done mostly in different offices and hence co-ordination would not be on a daily basis. Architect or client also would have initiated some changes. There might be weekly meetings to co-ordinate. In many cases, it will be in these meetings that any change or clashes are detected or communicated. Clashes are like having a cut out in slab where you need a beam. This will result in abortive work. Loss of time for you or others or for all the stakeholders.

The main advantage of a BIM tool like Revit is that, different disciplines can interlink their models or work on a central file. This means that the co-ordination is real time. As some body revises or changes position of something, others get to know about this in real time. This allows us to pick up the phone and communicate earlier than in the conventional approach. This saves a lot of time as it avoids a lot of abortive work.

Another important aspect of Revit is its parametric behaviour. If you have a 3D model then producing any sectional drawing any where is very easy. In CAD platform, if you have a plan of a 10-floor building, you will have to again visualise and think to draw a section. If there is a change in plan, section has to be redrawn. If the beam size is revised, it has to be changed in plan, section, beam detail drawing and every where it is visible. This increases chances of errors and discrepancy. Plan showing one size and section showing another. This will not happen when you produce the drawings from a coordinated 3D model.

There are many other advantages – Quantification is easier as every thing can be modelled and schedules can be easily produced at a click of a button.

All the drawings can be saved in the same file. In CAD platform, each drawing is a separate file and hence needs to be saved carefully. The drawings might be sent to site and later revisions can occur. When you re issue drawings multiple times to site, there will be confusion on which is the latest drawing set. These all needs to be controlled effectively using revision numbers and saving carefully. You can miss to save or wrongly give a revision number and this can result in serious issues. These kinds of issues are ruled out when you use Revit. Revit will have all drawings in same file. Drawing in Revit is infact a view of the same and single 3D view that you have modelled.

There are many other advantages which can be better understood when you master revit

Before concluding, will write about another confusion generally students have. Will I learn Revit architecture, Revit structures or Revit MEP?

Infact this question was probably never asked when you learnt AutoCAD! AutoCAD can be used by Architects and engineers alike. If you are an architect you will draw plans showing the functional aspects and elevations and if you are an engineer you will draw the structural details. The functionalities that CAD has is same.

It is almost same in the case of REVIT. It is a single software. If an architect uses it, he will need more of architectural items in his model like walls, furniture, doors etc. If a MEP engineer uses it he will need more of AC equipment, ducts etc and if structural engineers use it, he will need more of beams and rebars etc. To avoid cluttering of tools, Revit has provided 3 different tabs for these 3 disciplines. So if you are a structural engineer you will be more using the structural tab to get items like beams and rebars which architect do not need. Same way an architect will use more of architectural tab where he gets doors and windows which we don’t need.

The basics of all the disciplines is same. But what you use and model differs. So this means that only an architect or who is trained well in architecture can learn or teach architecture. A CIVIL ENGINEER Should be learning Revit appreciating the structural aspects so he should be learning Revit structures covering all rebar detailing.

In most normal institutes they teach Revit Architecture software. This is since in India there are only a few major firms using Revit for structural modelling and RC detailing. So, Autodesk has prioritised producing more trainers in Architectural area. Only really good engineers who has worked in MNCs will be generally efficient in using Revit structures. So, choose your trainer wisely.

Revit Architecture is good if you want to learn architectural aspects and Revit structures is what you need to focus if you are a civil or structural engineer.

Here is the summary for you

  • BIM is a process and Revit is a tool to achieve BIM

  • BIM achieves co-ordination, Speedy drawing production with more accuracy

  • Quick quantification & RC detailing

  • Easy drawings and document control

  • A civil & structural engineer should learn the structural aspects including RC detailing

  • You should learn these from a practicing consultant to know the practical use, challenges and the industry practices. All Autodesk certified professionals need not be having practical experience. So more than certification go with a consultant for learning

  • Most of the leading consulting firms are replacing the conventional platform and working in REVIT achieving BIM. Revit has become an essential software for a civil engineer to learn.

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