Structural Analysis with Scia

July 29, 2015 | Comments

Short for Scientific application, calling Scia a structural design program does not do it justice. It is a structural design system.


Scia is the lead product from Nemetschek Scia, a subsidiary of the Nemetscheck Group specializing in structural engineering software solutions. The Nemetschek Group is an AEC software holding company best known in the US for some of their other products, including ArchiCAD, Vectorworks and new acquisitions such as Bluebeam and MAXON. The company has more visibility in Europe and Asia. It has about 1,500 employees worldwide and would like to have more of a presence in the North American AEC market.

The Nemetschek Group acts like an umbrella firm but lets all the separate parts do their thing. There seems to be little concern about the integration of their products, unlike Bentley or Autodesk. Instead, they rely on fully implementing the open BIM philosophy to support interoperability. This lets each product do what it is best at without having to worry about what is happening with other products in the organization. A well-placed source at Bluebeam tells me that, other than providing access to more resources and markets, being part of the Nemetschek Group has changed virtually nothing.

Scia North America is trying to emphasize four main points as they attempt to move its product into the US and Canadian markets:

  1. Fast and efficient modeling
  2. Advanced analysis
  3. Multi-material design
  4. Automatic and coordinated documentation
  5. Interoperability and collaboration

The Specs

These are the minimum hardware specs to install Scia Engineer:

  • Intel Core2Duo or AMD equivalent (advised: Intel Core-i5 or AMD equivalent)
  • 2GB of RAM but 4GB or more of RAM is recommended
  • 256 MB of graphic memory, supporting OpenGL at a minimum resolution of 1280×800
  • 5GB of disk space
  • Any Windows operating system for XP 32 bit to Windows 8 32/64 bit with the latest service packs installed

Though other Nemetschek products are well known in the Macintosh world, Scia does not run natively on Mac OS X. You must use virtualization software. They recommend Parallels 7 or higher.

Scia ran very well on my test system,a Dell XPS 6700 running Windows 8.1 on an Intel Core i7-470 CPU at 3.4 GHz, 8GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 635.

The Install

After downloading the software from Scia (it took approximately 20 minutes to install, another 10 minutes to license, and then five minutes to install the quick starts tutorials), three icons appeared on my desktop (figure 2).

The licensing process seems a bit old fashioned. As far as I can tell, there are three ways to license this software. One is to use the FLEXnet License Administrator on a single PC. The other is to run FlexNet on a server and download the licenses as you need them. And finally there is also a version that runs with a USB dongle of some type. While dongles have basically disappeared in the US, I think they are still common in Europe. Scia told me that if you run it off of a server, you can share the licenses among your PCs on a first come, first serve basis. You can start with a few licenses and move up or down as your needs change.

Using Scia


When the Start Project box opens at startup, one can open an existing project, create a new one and conduct several basic operations such as checking for a software update or getting Web help (figure 3). In my case, I opened a project that I have been working on over the past few days (figure 4).


The Scia interface looks like modern CAD programs such as Vectorworks (figure 5).


The Scia project I opened to use as an example was one that was designing an AISC 360-05 steel frame building. It was part of a tutorial for an earlier version of Scia. I downloaded it from the Scia website and spent several evenings going over it.It took me about five or six hours to create the building in Scia, with much of that time spent getting used to and understanding the interface. Someone with a few Scia projects under his or her belt could probably design the same simple building in an hour or so. I set up the project information and codes for the project in the Project Data dialog (figure 6).

I had intended to use Scia to design a bridge, but Scia does not currently support the AASHTO bridge standards. I suppose I could have used European standards, but I have no experience with them. Hopefully Scia will add AASHTO standards in the future. Scia is working to crack the US building market since they support all the current US building standards.


After saving the basic project data, the next step was to select the initial elements (cross-sections) to be used in the design. It was easy to use the new cross-section dialog that allowed me to select elements (beams) from a list of shapes (figure 7).


After selecting a few shapes and adding them to the project library, it was time to start laying out the basic geometry of the frame, which involved selecting a frame type, assigning the basic dimensions and hitting the OK button a few times (figure 8).


I then situated the design plane and copied it to create the basic building outline. Once the basic frame was in place it was pretty easy to use the drawing tools to place the additional beams and bracing (figure 9).


I then defined haunches on the roof beams by filling out dialog boxes and selecting the proper element (figure 10).



With the frame now defined (figure 11), the next step was to define the supports and connections, again via a series of dialog boxes. The following screen captures demonstrate the highlights of my design session.












Final Thoughts

As I mentioned in the beginning, Scia should be considered a design environment rather than just another structural analysis program. It can handle just about any structural design analysis task with the added advantage of creating custom reports or documentation one needs about the design or project (figure 19). I was very impressed with the report writing capabilities. One shortcoming in most design programs is the lack of or limited types of reports they produce. Scia lets you pick and choose what you want to see and, more importantly, what you do not want seen in your reports and documentation.

After these examples, let’s see how Scia fared against the four bullets mentioned at the beginning of the article.

  • Fast and efficient modeling
    • Scia certainly is fast and efficient. I found Scia’s CAD-like interface very easy to work with and use. Like any CAD program, it can be intially confusing since you don’t know all the key-ins and short cuts, but they come to you very quickly as you use it.
  • Advanced analysis, multi-material design
    • This was something I didn’t get to test out due to time and experience constraints with the product.One of the demos I did look at was using Scia to do some gluelam wood design. It was very impressive, and with a recently renewed interest in tall wood buildings, Scia could become a very important design tool in this area.
  • Automatic and coordinated documentation
    • I only was able to use the report writer, which, as noted above, I found to be a fantastic tool.I would almost recommend the product for this feature alone.The other part of Scia that is highly touted in demos and on the Scia website is Open Checks (figure 20) and a stand alone program called Design Forms.Think of a “super engineering” version of Excel.I would say it is an easier to use and understand than any MathCAD type product.It deserves its own hand-on review.


  • Interoperability and collaboration
    • According to Scia and its documentation, it supports and works with the following impressive list of products and standards:
      • Full IFC 2 x 3 certification, and compatibilty with 150 different BIM packages
      • Rhino3D and Grasshopper
      • Autodesk Revit link 3.0, supports bi-directional support for Revit 2015
      • Tekla Structures; Scia can import and export the analysis model
      • Major standard formats such as XF/DWG, PDF,SDNFand VRML, to name a few

How Much?

Pricing starts at $3,028.67. Scia Engineer ships in three editions: Concept, Professional and Expert. As with most engineering software these days, the pricing gets complicated and is best discussed with product sales staff or representatives.


I found Scia to be a very powerful and relatively easy to use program. I think it would be a good addition to any structural engineering office, even if you are currently using another design system. Scia should complement your existing tools and would be relatively easy to bring into an existing workflow. But don’t take my word for it. Download a copy from the Scia website, install it and put it to work in your environment. I think you will be glad you did.

For more information, see the Scia website.


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