Apr 15, 1999 10:01 AM
>From the Office
of Dennis S. Wish, PE
Editor - SEAINT Online
I've been fortunate to be in a position to reivew software for SEAINT as
editor of SEAINT Online. It has been my position that reviewes of software
which rely upon press releases or cursory use, do not do the reader nor the
software justice. Therefore, I strive to place every software that I review
into practice. The obvious downside is that I have a new learning curve for
each piece of software I review. I try and keep my clients from paying the
price by spending a great deal of time after work getting familar with the
software. The upside is that I learn more rapidly than most and can spot a
softwares strengths and weaknesses much faster than most.
FEM and CAD program pose the most difficulty in reviewing simply because of
the number of "bells and whistle's" added. I am currently working with STRAP
for a review that has been delayed twice. I use RISA2D for most of my
projects because of the programs simplicity, accuracy and the fact (as Chris
Wright indicated) that I have used it for years and feel comfortable with it.
I have also used Avansee' and found it an easy program to learn, well suited
for most types of FEM projects (although mine tend to be simple 2D
requirments) and as accurate as the competition.
STRAP is loaded with features. The graphics and shear power of the program
makes my small practice seem inadequate for such a giant of a program. I
certainly would not have wanted to be the one to create some of their sample
problems like the domed stadium roof, which is a wonder to play with. I have
not worked with it long enough to finalize my opinions, but it is a program
rich in capabilites. It does require getting comfortable with the menu
heirarchy which I think most people will be able to accomplish within a short
Research Engineers has been both a leader in FEM programs and a supporter of
Online advertising for a long time. If there are any RE people out there, I
apologize for not thanking them sooner. Research Engineers products are
considered some of the best in the industry. I have not had the pleasure to
review them and probably am not the right person to review a product this
rich in features (as is STRAP and RISA3D). I am impressed with the graphic
capabilities of each of these programs as well as the complexity of the
models and the ease of input once the basic program is learned.
I think one useful piece of information that can sway a user is the quality
of the technical support that a company offers. I try to approach tech
support anonimously, although with smaller companies this is impossible.
Although Advansee' is a good program, tech support is difficult to reach
being outside the US. They were, however, willing to improve their program
based upon comments they received from this list some months ago.
Bruce Bates has always been helpful and his manuals are some of the best
written. STRAP's tech support will literally handhold you through the
tutorials if need be and are excellent in returning emails and calls. These
are not the only good programs out there so don't simply take this as a
You need to search out the level of software that meets your needs without
breaking your bank. Next, obtain a number of sample or demo packages -
preferably those with restricted number of nodes and put them through the
paces. Try for packages that will not restrict printing since you want to see
the output. Outside of accuracy, the most important thing to me is how easy
the output is to understand. Can the input be easily identified and the
results summarized in an easy to follow fashion?
>From there it is a matter of finding one that you are comfortable with and
you have to spend the time to find the one that's right for you.
This makes the discussion of CAD software easier because the same advice
holds. There are a ton of good CAD softwares in the $500.00 range. There are
a few that hold the majority of the market. AutoCad is not likely to go out
of business in a few years. Visual Cadd has come and gone and come and gone
and now come again. IMSI who now owns VC is a stable company with a vast
product line. The future of any software is never written in stone and VC has
a small but devoted following. If IMSI is interested in more than absorbing
users into their stable of TurboCad products then VC has a chance. Viso is
also a large and stable company with good visions on the integration of
Intellicad, Visio technical and other products. Imagineer is another CAD
package owned by a solid company. The software has a lot of productivity
features built in that make it a desireable to new and advanced users.
The one thing that "most" of the $500.00 packages do not have is full 3-D
support. I state it that way because MiniCad is a strong contender in this
range that has as many bells and whistles as AutoCad has. The downsize is
that MiniCad is an object oriented drawing package and requires a learning to
draw different from the vector based packages like Autocad.
SEAINT Online will be doing a CAD special at the end of '99. We are in the
process of receiving product to review and will be devoting the next six
months in comparing features and productivity. Sorry I can't do better than
this. I did receive the Viso Technical and Intellicad (Sold as the Design
Suite) today and will be installing them over the weekend. I would also be
interested in hearing from those of you how use these products.
Again, look at the demos or limited versions. See which one is the easiest
for you to use. Here are a couple of tips that should help.
1. If you are a novice cad user - look for a basic low cost package that is
DWG compatible. Search out the ones that seem to be as close to having a
similar command structure as AutoCad or Autocad LT. The reason is that you
can do 90% of your drafting by learning about ten basic commands. Once you
master these you can start to understand the more difficult areas of cad such
as text, scaling and blocks etc.
2. If you do not draw in 3D (as the majority of us don't) avoid spending the
money and stick to a good 2D package. Bells and Whistles may make a program
seem desireable but the more features the more you have to learn or the more
3. Find a software that reads and writes to DWG file format. This way you can
move up to the more extensive package after you learn the basics without
sacrificing the work that you have already done.
4. Follow all of the tips above about choosing a good tech support and strong
Hope this helps.
Dennis S. Wish, PE
Editor - SEAINT Online
publication of the Structural Engineers Association
of Southern California (SEAOSC)
SEAOSC Office - seaosc(--nospam--at)aol.com