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By Jeffrey Heimgartner, January 29, 2013
After I was approached to write about GRAITEC's Advance Steel software, I visited the GRAITEC Web site to request a 30-day trial version. Shortly thereafter, I received an email from the GRAITEC team informing me that my request was being processed. The email provided links to product videos, brochures, training documents, and other information to review in the meantime.
Right away, my eye was caught by the second paragraph in the Advance Steel brochure. It read, "With a short learning curve, inexperienced users can easily create, manage, and modify complex 3D models and all associated drawings with incomparable productivity." I decided to put the statement to the test. My goal would be to design steel framework for a small production facility, and then add production equipment along with product takeaway conveyors for visualization purposes.
While waiting for my evaluation confirmation, I searched the GRAITEC site and other Web sources for more information and tutorials. While I found many demos, I discovered few actual tutorials. The one I did find on the GRAITEC site was helpful to a point, because it included four pages of recommended practices.
I decided to start with a one-on-one GoToMeeting session over the Web. It gave me an introductory look at the software and how it operated. After this, I went through the GRAITEC-supplied tutorial to help hone what I had learned through GoToMeeting.
Upon receiving the confirmation email from GRAITEC, I was given a user name, password, and link with instructions to start my download. While it did take a rather long time to install the software, the process was straightforward and went off without a hitch.
After launching the software, I was given two choices: choice one was to run Advance Steel as a standalone application; choice two was to run Advance Steel on AutoCAD. I opted for the first choice, because I was curious about its user interface. As the program started up, I found that the layout and functionality were similar to AutoCAD. I was greeted with the familiar-looking Quick Access toolbar, ribbon and Tool pallet interfaces; it was fairly easy to locate and use the basic commands and functions. Then, it was time to start my test.
|Figure 1: Advance Steel user interface|
I decided to start my test project by laying out the building grid for my imaginary production facility. From the Objects Panel on the Home tab, I clicked the Building Grid Icon. I was asked to define two diagonal points for my grid. I picked 0,0 as my origin and 75',100' as the second point to define the exterior border of the building grid.
Based on my input, Advance Steel automatically set up the grid and gave me my desired column grid spacing of 25' x 50' (see figure 2). Later, I was able to double click on the x or y axis of the grid to activate the Building Grid dialogue box, which gave me control over all aspects of the grid, including the number of bays, the spacing between them, and how to display the grid.
|Figure 2: Laying out the building grid|
Once the building grid was in place, it was time for me to add structural framing components. I chose to go with a gable frame structure, though GRAITEC provides a choice of any number of preset beam, column, and wall configurations.
From the ribbon, I went to the Extended Modeling panel on the Home tab, and then chose the Portal/Gable Frame icon. I picked the two front-end points of my building grid as the base points, and then indicated the desired height. A dialog box automatically opened that allowed me to change the overall height, eave height, and/or roof slope. The same dialog box changes other properties of frames, such as layout, positions, and types of beams and columns. For my frame, I set a total height of 30' and an eve height of 20'.
From here it was time to clean up my structural frame and add the appropriate connections. To make this task easier, I switched to a 2D view. I found switching views was as easy as picking the desired view from Viewpoints panel on the Home tab. Besides switching between 2D and 3D views, Advance Steel can easily change how the model geometry is shown through the Visual Styles panel: wireframe, hidden, and realistic 3D styles. I did notice, however, that functions slowed some at times while using the 3D visual style, and so I kept the wireframe views, which worked well.
As you can see in figure 3, the beams and columns that were inserted automatically had overlapping ends. In looking through the command choices available, I stumbled across Quick Cut and Quick Connection. I decided to try applying the Quick Cut command to the entire assembly. I was surprised at how quickly it automatically fit and cut the structural members contained in my frame design.
I then used the Quick Connection command on the column-to-beam connections. Advance Steel automatically created the connection complete with appropriate clip angles and bolts.
|Figure 3: Top to bottom: before and after using the Quick Cut (top) and Quick Connection (bottom) commands|
For the beam-to-beam connections at the top of the frame, I wanted to have a little more control the input. I decided to use the Connection Vault, which is accessed from the Extended Modeling panel on the Home tab. Clicking the Connection Vault icon brings up the corresponding dialog box, which lists the many predefined connection styles that come loaded in the vault (see figure 4). Advance Steel also allows me to create my own connection templates to use for custom projects.
|Figure 4: View of the Connection Vault|
For this connection, I used an apex haunch (located within the Beam End To End category). After I initiated the appropriate connection command, the software asked me to click on the first and second beams. An Attention window popped up, however, informing me that I did not have any user-defined templates set up, and so it was going to use the default connection settings. That was alright by me. I clicked OK, and the connection was created; the Connection dialog box popped up immediately, allowing me to change any aspect of the connection. To get a realistic look at my connection, I used the Visual Styles panel to switch from the 2D wireframe view back to a 3D view.
I created the column base plates and anchors in the same way.
Copying the base plate and its anchors was as easy as selecting the Create By Template icon on the Joint Utilities panel (located on the Extended Modeling tab). I selected what to copy, where to copy it from, and where to copy it to. Copying the completed frame down the length of the building grid was just as easy utilizing the Copy command from the Advanced Modify Tool palette.
Next, I added the support structure for a storage mezzanine at the rear of the building, again using the selections available within the Beams panel on the Objects tab. My first try at adding stairs was a little difficult. After some trial and error, I was able to set the stairs in the desired location. Adding the handrail for the edge of the mezzanine and the stair run was extremely simple (see figure 5). The software provided me with different options, such as stringers, treads, and landings.
|Figure 5: The building frame with its mezzanine support structure|
To populate the production floor in the facility, I chose a combination of standard 3D blocks that my firm uses internally and some vendor-supplied 3D blocks I got from the Internet. The Insert Block command in Advance Steel functions just like the one in AutoCAD, and worked fairly seamlessly for both sources of blocks. Once the blocks were inserted into the building model, the standard Move and Copy commands allowed me to place the equipment exactly where I wanted it all (see figure 6).
|Figure 6: Production equipment and racking added to the building|
Now that the building frame was complete and the production equipment was in place, it was time for me to run the numbering procedure. This identifies all the beams, plates, and parts while taking into account identical parts that should have the same number.
After the design and numbering of my model was complete, the final step was to create the appropriate drawings for plotting. From the Document Creation panel on the Home tab, I chose Quick Documents, and View Category, set my file path, and then clicked OK. By choosing the Document Manager icon from the Document Creation panel, I was able to preview and plot my final drawings (see figure 7). My test project was complete.
|Figure 7: Document manager for previewing drawings before plotting|
In writing this review, I was evaluating the statement GRAITEC made: "With a short learning curve, inexperienced users can easily create, manage and modify complex 3D models and all associated drawings with incomparable productivity." I would have to say that they are close.
Overall, I found it fairly simple to set up the initial building structure and components, I think most would agree that my model is not that complex; I wouldn't say it was easy from start to finish. Getting the building grid and the frame set up were the easiest parts; this also happens to be what the bulk of the GRAITEC tutorial covered. Beyond this, I experienced a lot of fumbling around, trying out things until I got them to work.
I see the power and potential of the software. I am confident that with more time and resources my Advance Steel skills would become much more productive. I leave you with some brief bullet points on the software's pros and cons:
|Jeffrey Heimgartner has over 20 years of industry experience. He manages Advanced Technical Services for CapStone's CAD division. He has a bachelor's degree in Industrial Technology with an emphasis in CAD from Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska. More...|