Scia Engineer Review
By: John Evans
Scia was founded in Belgium in 1974, and has acquired 20,000 customers – making it Europe’s largest vendor of structural engineering software. Shortly after going global in 2006, it was acquired by Germany’s software developer Nemetschek AG, best known in Europe for its architectural software, Allplan. Since then, the company has obtained a share of the American market after acquiring Vectorworks and ArchiCAD. However, Nemetschek is still not a familiar name in the America as it has chosen to rely on its product brands.
Now, Nemetschek has added Scia Engineer to their list of acquisitions.
Figure 1: Scia Engineer Splash Screen
Scia Engineer is a complex, full featured structural analysis and design solution that offers structural analysis and full structure modeling (see figure 1). It has a host of import capabilities so that BIM models can be used from various software packages. Additionally, Scia Engineer maintains round trip capabilities with certain products, including Autodesk Revit.
The application does a structural analysis using 2D representations of structures, typical of many structural analysis applications. Unlike similar programs, however, Scia Engineer performs first, second, and third order analysis, and applies FEA meshing automatically. Users don’t build a mesh each time there’s a change to the design.
Entities common to the industry include beams, trusses, and plate elements. The 2D representation is understood by the software, and an algorithm takes into account cross sectional shapes, materials, and thicknesses to perform the calculations. The 2D approach results in a very fast response time on complex structures.
Another interesting facet to Scia Engineer is that it stores all data in a single file. It maintains the structural model and the analytical model as two separate processes that are joined in the same file. Each edit to the Scia Engineer design produces changes to both the 3D structural model and its analytical counterpart simultaneously. This lets users evaluate designs and make changes through the analysis environment; the changes are propagated in the structural model automatically, eliminating the risk of synchronization errors.
I reviewed various aspects of Scia Engineer including ground-up design and template generated structures. I used some of the structural steel libraries and evaluated its process for importing architect’s models using OpenBIM. I’ll touch on the highlights from my experience.
My initial impression of the Scia Engineer interface was a bit overwhelming. After a couple of discussions Scia’s support staff and some research on my part, I began to feel comfortable attacking the application. My background, however, did not prepare me for the complexity of the software. It is loaded, to say the least! Compared to a FEA plug in for SolidWorks, for example, there are many more interface elements.
With that said, I recommend the great Scia Engineer tutorials. They offer a nice online interactive learning environment that really helped me get up and running. Interestingly, I didn’t need the software in order to go through the tutorials productively. The online learning environment duplicates the Scia Engineer’s interface, and had me interact with it, making each change with tips and instructions along the way. I cannot recommend this enough for new users, for I was able to create a new structure, modify the components, add loads and interpret the results with ease.
Layout and interface
The user interface of Scia Engineer is arranged with the standard layout (see figure 2):
- Toolbars (tons of toolbars)
- Graphics window
- Properties dialog with query filter
- Tool browser dialog
- Status bar
- Command line
Generally speaking, everything needed for any particular workflow is either in a toolbar, or directed by the tool browser. I didn’t use the menus for very many workflows. Various phases of work are performed using the tool browser, which populates itself with tools related to the current workflow. This made it easy for me as a new user, to remember where I was in each process. Additionally, new toolbars specific to the workflow are introduced at the bottom of the graphics window, which disappeared after I exited the workflow. A simple glance at the tools that were up on the tool browser helped me stay on track with the process. Returning back to the default environment was as easy as picking a button.
Figure 2: The Scia Engineer Interface
Another notable feature is the method Scia Engineer uses to orient views. Standard isometric views are available on the toolbar, and three sliders orbit the X and Y axis and zoom in or out.
The model data is divided by user-defined layers, allowing me to turn on and off the display of things like structural data, imported features, and so on with a CAD methodology that’s understood universally. View options include 2D and 3D members, as well as shaded and non-shaded displays (available at the push of a button), examples of which can be seen in the images below.
Library and Template Files
Scia Engineer has an extensive structure library. Various predefined cross section shapes are available, including common steel, concrete, and bridge specific uses. Additionally, users can create their own cross sections using a set of tools purposed for the task.
Steel and concrete materials common to the building industry are predefined in the materials dialog, and a full featured materials editor allows users to define their own (see figure 3).
Figure 3: The Materials Dialog
The predefined structural steel cross section library seem endless (see figure 4). The shapes provided are based on industry standards, and so all standards shapes are available from the library. The interface allows users to pick the members needed for any particular project, and then load them into the current design selection. This makes the design process easier.
The Scia Engineer interface is filtered by settings contained in the design project dialog. It allows users to include and exclude everything from tools, processes, and materials in order to removed unnecessary tools and stream line their design workflow.
Figure 4: The Cross Section Selection window
Project settings along with view, toolbar, graphics window setup, file contents, design parameters and cross-section members, etc. can be stored in a Scia Engineer template file that can be used to jump start the design process.
Modeling and Catalog Blocks
A number of templates and wizards are available to kick start projects with minimal effort. I was able to start with steel haunches using basic 2D layout parameters that I developed into a single section. I used multicopy to add four more section to my layout.
This was made possible with the benefit of Scia Engineer’s Catalog Blocks, which offer typical sections of steel and concrete as pre-joined assemblies. They are selected in a graphical catalog that allows parametric input prior to placing the block into the design. Once the block is inserted, it can be copied as needed. The multiple-copy option creates an array using the selected objects, and offers a wonderful option: connect selected nodes with new beams (see figure 5). This option is wonderful in that once the copy is completed, Scia Engineer asks me to specify the connection member, and then applies it automatically.
Figure 5: Using multicopy to complete the structure. Notice the Connect selected nodes with new beams option
Whether you want to use the blocks or design your entire structure manually, there is a very complete design suite that includes 1D and 2D modes of operation. It allows you to add frame members however you like.
To add some perspective on how easy this is for a beginner, the results in the images below took me two minutes and five minutes to develop, respectively, including the bracing members (see figure 6). It doesn’t take that long to become productive once I learned where everything is.
Figure 6: Wizard generated haunches and Block generated parametric designs, developed very quickly in Scia Engineer
Importing Model Data
Scia Engineer offers great round trip data sharing with Revit Structure. It can take the analytical model from Revit Structure, develop the structural and analysis models for review and ship the analytical updates back to the Revit Structure model. Scia Engineer also has direct links to Allplan, Tekla Structures, Prosteel, and ETABS.
Many architects, engineers, and contractors, however, use other software. Scia Engineer is the only structural design program to offer certified support IFC, or OpenBIM. (There are about 150 IFC BIM programs that support IFC; see http://www.buildingsmart-tech.org/implementation/implementations.) OpenBIM transport is a great way to import structures from other software. The OpenBIM standard stores architectural model data in the file, which Scia Engineer interprets along with the model.
Other import capabilities are the DWG and DXF file formats, as well as exporting to 3D PDF, SDNF, VRML, Excel, and Word. Objects including simple linework and 3D solids can be selected from the graphics window to generate new structure data.
Selection filters select beams, columns, slabs and so on, and specify which structural members should be used by Scia Engineer (see figure 7). The properties filter query worked wonderfully, allowing me to select all members by a specific property, and then replace them with the structural members I desired. Three selection operations and the structure members were added for analysis.
Another well designed feature is the node alignment tool. Often, imported model components have start and end nodes that are not exactly at the same point in space. This function allowed me to realign the connecting nodes from selected members in a semi-automated process. In other software packages, this would have taken considerably more time, but in Scia it took only minutes using the selection filter and the realignment tool. It is an impressive and intelligent solution.
Figure 7: Convert tools create ‘Scia Engineer’ beams and columns from selected solids
While I spent a good amount of time learning as much as I could about how the design workflows are performed and what can be accomplished with the software, it would take me quite a bit more time to master every aspect of Scia Engineer. It offers every type of loading and analysis capability that I can think of.
So, I decided to dedicate some study time to concrete design modules. I easily added reinforcements based on standards, and add and modify reinforcement design, as needed. Tools and warnings guided my design, such as graphical and tabular quantitative and qualitative reports.
Figure 8: Single cross-section concrete beam review
Beam design included an easy to use station and cross section dialog that allowed me to step through the member stations, and then look at the results to determine where improvements were needed (see figure 8).
Reinforcements are grouped together as related to longitudal and stirrup design (see figure 9). Selectable tags are automatically leadered to each group making it easier to select and edit as needed.
Figure 9: Member reinforcement design
Figure 10: The Reinforcement editor dialog
Single and combination loads are available in Scia Engineer, and can be applied in a variety of methods. Dead and live loads, as well as wind and roof loading are available (see figure 11). Vibration and siesmic loadings were available but not attempted. Some wizard tools are available to make the process of applying loads much faster, though all loads can be placed manually or in combination, as needed.
Figure 11: Internal forces on beams in entire structure
The array of analysis tools are off the chart. Reports of every aspect of loading can be viewed as graphical and tabular results. Everything from individual members for specific design aspects to the entire structure can be evaluated (see figure 12).
Figure 12: Individual beam member stress
Furthermore, while I needed to work through some tutorials to understand how forces are applied and reviewed, it didn’t take me long before I could alter the loading characteristics and perform more specific analyses (see figure 13).
Figure 13: Overall structure deflection under live and dead loads
Drawing tools are available to add dimensional and some textual detailing. These tools are insufficient for most large scale construction plans, but do offer enough to prepare review documents. That said, some firms that deal with smaller commercial developments have used the tools to develop their plans successfully.
Drawings are produced from cross section planes that are easy to apply (see figure 14). Each plane is treated as an object, allowing users to select it as need and then apply margin offsets, scale, and so on. Planes are then as a viewport of sorts.
The drawing manager allows users to apply named cross section views to border sheets set up in the template, which of course can be customized as desired.
Figure 14: Simple, almost automated drawing
Scia Engineer is a full featured structural engineering tool, capable of handling almost any design and analysis needed. The company has been in the business of structural engineering for a long time – and it shows.
My favorite part of Scia Engineer is definitely the reporting and how the information, both graphical and tabular, is distributed throughout the workflow. If your focus is on the design, then results show up within the overall design in the graphics window when the focus shifts to the design of an individual beam, then the results are populated within the beam design tool and often in the graphics window where the results could be reviewed in the context of the entire design.
My least favorite portion was the drawing module. While it is easy to generate additional drawing sections on the structure, once in the drawing environment, however, those ‘tools for every need’ seem to fade away. Because most companies have other drafting needs as well, the lack of drafting capabilities is really not much of a problem. My guess is Scia developers have had few customer requests for this module.
The Drawing Environment is designed to give engineers an automatic way to create general arrangements or engineering overview drawings that are linked to the model. It is rare that a structural analysis program is capable of creating dimensionally accurate views from the model, or have a page layout environment to arrange them. The drawings can be exported from Scia Engineer to other CAD programs for further embellishment.
Based on the examples I reviewed, I don’t think there is a structure you could not design and analyze with this software. Scia Engineer offers structural engineers a lot of functionality in one program. Its ability to integrate this capability in a single design environment creates a sharp learning curve, but once beyond it, Scia Engineer provides a lot of value, especially with its bi-directional BIM link to other software.
About the Author
John Evans has 30 years experience in the aerospace design, engineering and fabrication, as well as 18 years with MEP and civil engineering. He is certified with AutoCAD Civil 3D and Inventor.