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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:
- http://yakpol.net/ Combination shareware and freeware spreadsheets.
- http://www.seaoc.org/software.html Various freeware download listing maintained by The Structural Engineers Association Of California.
- http://www.grapesoftware.mb.ca/index.html Evaluation copy is free, continued use requires payment.
- http://www.elpla.com/elpla_en/download.htm Trial versions only, geotechnical analysis and design.
- http://www.fabsec.co.uk/free_fbeam.asp Beam analysis, trial versions.
- http://frame3dd.sourceforge.net/ Open source structural analysis software for static and dynamic analysis of 2D and 3D frames and trusses.
- http://www.ecf.utoronto.ca/~bentz/mhome.shtml Reinforced concrete panel analysis.
- http://opensees.berkeley.edu/index.php Software framework for developing applications to simulate the performance of structural and geotechnical systems subjected to earthquakes. Requires registration.
- http://www.lisa-fet.com/index.htm Free trial version, low cost full version finite analysis software.
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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.