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GRAITEC Advance Steel: Connections & Joints

By James I. Finkel, January 8, 2013

GRAITEC’s Advance Steel program is not a design tool. It expects that users construct their steel framework in suitable CAD environments, and then perform the joint construction in Advance Steel. That said, GRAITEC provides a number of design checking tools; it includes FEA (finite element analysis), and the resultant shear values can be applied to joints. This serves as a design check to ensure that the joint’s shear loads are not exceeded.

GRAITEC provides three versions of the Advance Steel software:

The tools work within AutoCAD (and since release 2012, also without AutoCAD), the command grammar and syntax ensure that the learning curve is rapid. Standard architectural parts terminology is used throughout.

There are a number of paths to import data into Advance Steel. There is a bi-directional Revit path, and the output paths are equally well defined.

I could easily generate part-level drawings to enable my fabricator to prepare the members for either the bolted or welded joints. Cut lengths and parts list are just some of the lists that can be generated. And for the inevitable changes, there is a document manager that flags when a sketch in the project has been changed so any design changes can be flowed through the project.

Background to Advance Steel

Going briefly into the corporate history, GRAITEC in its early years followed a typical path by first creating a set of utilities for working with steel design. These tools built and attached steel railings, stairs, ladders, and plate work within AutoCAD. Over the years, GRAITEC acquired other design firms, and added functions to their software to arrive at today’s offerings.

Inside Advance Steel, each object is constructed like a small building. For example, a ladder is like a short steel wall. The rungs have a given shape (taken from the common parts library). They are attached at a specified distance apart to a set of channels (another part type/size). The connections are all welded (with the parts cut to fit). The entire assembly is then attached to the main structure. The parts list is generated along with sufficient instructions to allow the fabrication shop to make the object.

Prior to my review of the software, I requested the assistance of GRAITEC technician Benoit Lalonde of the Quebec, Canada office. He created an infeasible model with a full array of joints: beam-beam, beam-column, column with four beams of unequal sizes, plate work, column-to-concrete footers, and beam-to-wall connections. This showed the power of the software to handle even unusual design requests from engineers and architects.

Input Methods
Figure 1: The extensive country list shows compatibility with the various designs in the US and around the world

There are several modeling options in Advance Steel: use the built-in CAD tools; import the model from AutoCAD; or import the model from BIM using the bi-directional import/export function. The parts library includes both country-specific and international shapes, such as W and S beams as well as other shapes, plates, and connectors (see figure 1).

Independent of geometry creation, the Joint Tools perform the following steps for bolted joints:

Similar functions are available for welded joints.

Output Options

Once the analysis is done, I could generate reports. In addition to the usual text-based formats, I can also export to Excel and other live formats.

With respect to drawing generation, I can issue a full suite of the project detail drawings with a series of semi-automated procedures. Not quite point-and-click, the tool suite includes auto numbering and includes the generation of all detail drawings required by typical fabrication shops. Details are created for all joints as defined within the software.

One of the many preferences settings menus allows me to customize the drawings for local standards, as seen in figure 2 showing the Joint Standards and Configuration dialog boxes.


Figure 2: Dialog boxes for customizing standards to local requirement

The program is well designed to handle special cases. In figure 4, the joints shown include connections for a wide range of shapes, from W beams to channels. Note the trims on the channel/W-beam connection. While this may not be a desirable joint in practice, it shows the versatility of the program in handling a number of different connection types attached a single group of members.

While figure 3 shows just bolted joints, you can easily specify welded and or welded and bolted joints using either default or template options.

Figure 3: Connections can be specified as bolted joints, welds, and bolts and welds

I can select from a wide range of possible joints using the Connection Vault, as shown in figure 4. Joints can be country-specific and are fully customizable.

Figure 4: Selecting joints, which can be customized

Further options allow me to create joints individually or by template. As experienced users know, template joints help simplify analysis, speed up fabrication, reduce costs, and speed the approval process. Bulk operations can easily enforce design standards. Again, standard AutoCAD syntax is used to select the members and apply the joints.

Operation

Advance Steel is a serious tool for large scale projects. While the tool-based joints make basic connections, the power of the tools is in their ability to customize joints. User-defined templates can be configured to enhance the capabilities of the default joints.

For example, in one model a joint was modified with insufficient number of bolts, which indicated checking failure. In this case, the defaults were overwritten (see figure 5). Applying the same type of logic, I could define a template for an earthquake zone by over-specifying the number of bolts required.




Figure 5: Checking the stresses at joints

While the allowable stresses are checked for all joints, the software is not explicitly an FEA tool. That said, stresses derived from the FEA tools in the GRAITEC suite can be applied to individual joints over and above the quick checks. There are auto-create tools for detailing on the individual steel components so the fabrication shop can create the desired beams to my specifications.

As for outputs, most common forms and formats are available: plain text, Word documents, XML, Excel spreadsheets, and so on (see figure 6). All the necessary tools to create the requisite suites of site drawings and BOMs are quickly created along with the part numbering.

Figure 6: Generating reports in Excel from drawings

A recently added feature allows users to define a new range of steel shapes. The feature is shown in figure 7 was created by joining a rectangular opening with a circle and assigning a thickness to the steel plate. The same capability can be applied to creating a solid between two splines or two curves.

Figure 7: Creating new shapes in Advance Steel
Installation

I obtained the software by downloading it from the GRAITEC Website. This was instructive as it showed me the amount of thought that GRAITEC put into the software and the Website. For me, seeing this well-constructed site was comforting.

The 4.4 GB download and installation went smoothly, if a bit time consuming. Here are the steps I went through:

  1. Register at the Web site to obtain permission by email to download the software. (I chose the Trial version.) I found this to be the usual relatively painless email authentication method.
  2. Download the loader.
  3. Download the software. (I selected the “Write a DVD option,” because I like to have a physical copy of my software.
  4. Write the ISO files to a DVD disc, which took about 20 minutes.
  5. Install from the DVD. (Additional software not provided in the DVD ISO download was picked up through the Web, which took about 45 minutes. To indicate movement, a suite of sample images scrolling past as the progress bar. A nice touch was the rotating gear that indicated the software had not frozen!)
  6. Fire up the software, and register it.

(GRAITEC told me that Advance Steel 2013 has a new way to install software: it is an online install process that is designed to be faster, taking an average of 15-20 minutes for a full install, depending on the speed of your internet connection.)

All in all, the installation was a reassuring experience. The scrolling images tied directly to the capabilities of the program, and the wide range of projects included were stadiums, a bus/tram station, resorts, office space, a bank, and other sports venues. The facilities were not just square structures but showed flowing curves, such as with the ski slope and the curved pillars in the tram station.

The only minor hitch I experienced was an install message that indicated a possible database problem. A chat with a company representative confirmed that this error was not fatal, but a result of Microsoft setting the threshold for error flags low; this has been corrected for the 2013 version.

In the Website’s support area, a 35-page manual provides a walk-through of some of the major features and capabilities. Though the manual is title “Metric,” the features are applicable to all country-specific features.

Conclusion

GRAITEC Advance Steel provides a full-featured structural steel design system. Starting from an AutoCAD model, Revit, or working within the CAD supplied within the software users have a wide array of tools for joint construction with point and click for individual or multiple joints. The software has an equally wide array of output formats and features.

Outputs are both drawings and text, including PDF, spreadsheet, and BOM. In addition to default parameters, users have access to templates to apply specific joints or joint sets as desired. While not an analysis tool, design checking is provided to ensure compliance with standard design specifications. Users can select from a wide range of country-based codes. Premium level software supports multiple simultaneous users on a server and the joint design option.

This flexible software handles a wide range of steel design situations.

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About the Author

Jim Finkel is a mechanical engineer with considerable FEA experience. He has written extensively for CAE magazine and Machine Design. He has worked in Bentley and ANSYS. More…

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