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Low Cost Software for Structural Engineering Design

written by: John Moehring • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 4/26/2010

Tedious hand calculations and slide rules for structural engineering design and analysis has given way to a plethora of low cost or even free structural engineering design software. A few example links are listed for convenience.

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    The Evolution of Structural Engineering Design Software

    It wasn’t too long ago that structural engineering design calculations were performed on paper, with support from that ancient device called the slide rule. Static models ruled, and dynamic response models were limited at best. When mainframe computers were commercially available, software programming advances were developed primarily to speed up the computational processes. Electronic calculators arrived and also began to make significant contributions, and the writing was on the wall for the venerable slide rule. Then, in the early 1960’s, a newer modeling process called finite element analysis became encoded into NASTRAN software, and in the mid 1970’s started to become widely available on mainframe computers. This analysis complemented the more traditional static and dynamic models also being incorporated at the time into structural engineering software. Structural engineering students began to obtain access to unprecedented engineering design software, but only at the price of school tuition. Structural engineers could utilize these engineering programs if their employers had the resources to obtain the expensive computers, software, and technical expertise to install and maintain them.

    The development of the personal computer drove another round of developmental structural engineering software, and as the pc became more and more capable the software evolved as well. Today, incredibly powerful (compared to the last century) engineering analysis software is available at little or no cost to the user. While not as capable as commercial versions, free structural engineering design software modules can take on formerly unprecedented analysis and design tasks using personal computers no larger than the “ancient" desk top electronic calculators of the 1960’s.

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    Sources of Low Cost or Free Structural Engineering Design Software

    Following are a few of the many freely available programs that can be utilized for structural engineering design and analysis. By no means a comprehensive list, and no claims, representations, warranties, or guarantees for fitness of use are made here; the usual admonitions re viruses, personal information disclosure, etc. when downloading programs from the internet do apply. “Free" may apply for a limited time, or to trial and evaluation versions only:

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    About The Author:

    John Moehring is a practicing Engineering Technologist in civil, geological, biological, and electrical engineering fields. And one of these days he may actually get it right.

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