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Re: How are Subscription Costs for Engineering Software and CAD affecting your bottom line?

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       Very good posting.  Thank you for taking the time to do it.


H. Daryl Richardson

----- Original Message ----- From: "Conrad Harrison" <sch.tectonic(--nospam--at)>
To: <seaint(--nospam--at)>
Sent: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 1:39 AM
Subject: RE: How are Subscription Costs for Engineering Software and CAD affecting your bottom line?


My view is that a computer is just an alternative to a pencil and paper: I
want it to do what I want to do. Acad LT 2000 is just fine for the drafting activity, and MS Excel for calculations, with MS Word for reports. Then all
can be automated and integrated using VBA, Acad LT doesn't support COM
automation, but it does have script files (*.scr), these can be generated by
VBA. Most AutoLISP routines simply generate script command language in any
case (command ...). So unless have to interrogate and extract data from an
object LISP is not really required, even then may be possible to find a way
using attribute extract for some things.

By using Excel I determine the presentation of the calculations, and the
inputs and outputs. If lucky can be a step ahead of code changes, making use
of new research and impending code changes ahead of time. Also I cannot
automatically generate graphs, tables, or iterative solutions using
off-the-shelf engineering software. And engineering software companies are
not suppliers they are competition: why finance them to write more user
friendly software which enables builders and drafters? And if you use their
software then your clients also know what software to use. The preference
should be that builders, architects, look to you for assistance not
software. So I consider it better to stick to general purpose tools.

It is not necessary to keep upgrading. I get building designers to save
drawings in older formats. Here in SA most of those that keep Acad up to
date would be lucky if they could use the full capabilities of Autosketch.

As for codes of practice the building code of Australia (BCA) is revised
each and every year. The codes it references however are revised at 5 to 10
year intervals. Plus there are interim periods where old and revised codes
are acceptable. So currently our earthquake code has been revised, but only
the residential volume of the BCA makes the new code mandatory this year,
other buildings can be designed to the older code until May next year. If
there are problems further time may be permitted when the BCA is revised.
For the most part however, engineers don't use or need the BCA: the
Australian standards it references are fairly obvious. Engineers simply
revise the standards they use not the 1000 or more standards referenced by
the BCA.

It seems that in the US there is a push away from using an apparently single
reference like UBC:1997, with IBC referring to dependent
codes/specifications like ASCE7-05, AISC, AISI, NDS etc... The change over
may be expensive if need all material codes at once, but that unlikely and
the codes obtained on an as needs basis: though that may be one year. Those codes however likely to be revised at longer intervals than the IBC, further
the changes which do occur should only have minor impact on the way things
are done. Here the last major change was the change over from permissible
stress design to limit state: I think limit state finally became the only
method in 2000. In terms of steelwork, those who complained mainly used safe load tables, and didn't do calculations direct to the code, once limit state design capacity tables were released, there was more acceptance. For those
doing calculations the difference was minor.

I don't see engineering libraries or specialised engineering software as a
productivity tool or competitive advantage. Enercalc may be a good program,
but look at the debate that occurred on the listserver about the delays of
the update to the new codes. Then there are debates about people checking
such software to see if it gives the right answers. If create own software
don't get such delays, and for me the best way to check off-the-shelf
software is to set up the calculations in Excel. I have frame analysis
software, but Kleinlogel formulae once setup in Excel are way faster:
calculate dimension & geometry, load actions, action-effects and check
member and connection design. Frame analysis software can only determine
action-effects and check members.

I have a rough policy: first time do with pencil and paper, second time copy
and improve on format of first instance, third time setup in Excel, and
fourth time put in an iterative loop and determine limitations of available
sections and produce design-curves and tables. The latter once printed out
removes need for computer, and gets answers far faster. Not everything suits
such approach and some things need individual calculation.

From my viewpoint I have more time than money: if I offer a service I can do
it with pencil and paper, I look to the computer to do it faster. Using
simple tools I build my own elementary BIM system, it is not as if the
commercial systems actually have a common file format: and they need to
export data to other file formats for interfacing with machine tools and
other specialist software.

I have no intention of upgrading elementary tools. I changed from Quattro
Pro to Excel 97 because I wanted VBA capability. We only use Excel 2003
because it came with new computers. What I look for in software is increased levels of integration, performing more and more in the one package attached to a 3D graphical model: but I want it to do things my way, not the software
developers way. So the software has to have an automation interface which
allows me to do my job, my way: unless the software offers a better
approach. Mostly however I find the reports from commercial software to be
scrap paper: too much unnecessary information. Further 3D models tend to be
a waste of time generating and analysing: there as to be added value
inputting all the additional information.

Put simply there are better ways to increase productivity and develop
competitive advantage than buying off-the-shelf engineering software. For
example light weight cold-formed steel structures when everyone else is
using commercial software for heavy hot-rolled steel, or using design
capacity tables. Cannot take a forklift truck or crane through an existing
house to install heavy beam: lightweight manual handling is better. More
detailed drawings making the builder aware of problems, before he gets into
trouble on site.

As for productivity: use less paper, less ink, and do less photocopying by
producing more concise calculation reports. Don't waste time repeating
calculations you already know the answer for. Loads are standardised, load
combinations are standardised, and structural sections and fasteners are
standardised, and structural form is relatively limited. So find ways to
present required information to approving authority, in the most compact
form possible. Allowing more time to spend dealing with real and unqiue
problems of the current job: which in turn will probably become common place

Your productivity also goes hand in hand with that of the builders.
Unwarranted variety creeping in across designs, not only increases
fabrication costs but also the cost of design and evaluation of suitability.
By keeping as much as possible the same between projects, and knowing the
limitations of suitability, time can be saved with assessment and detailing,
and as I said more time is available to deal with the unique features and
find improved solutions.

In a market economy you always have to be adapting to changes in the
business environment, noting everything you do changes that environment and therefore you have to adapt to the changes you yourself have induced as well
as those induced by others.

If you help your clients add value to what they supply, then they attract
more work, and thus more work flows onto you.

And from another perspective a CNC flexible machining centre is the
inappropriate tool for machining and threading bolts. Flexible has more than
one meaning, the least desirable is that the machine flexes: tighter
tolerance bolts can be made faster and more reliably with simpler purpose
made machines. And still another perspective: assembly lines are slow to
adapt to new products compared to manufacturing cells. The assembly line is fine for satisfying initial demand/need as Ford did for cars, but eventually
needs to be replaced by a system better suited to adapting to more
customised needs to satisfy replacement level demand.

The same goes with engineering software. Off-the-shelf software just makes
the user like everyone else: buying the software may give you a head start
in the first instance, but in the long term likely to fall behind. Make your own tools and you will adapt faster in the long term, but be behind at start
up. It is all a matter of assessing the risks, and making the choices,
business is a great experiment carried out in the real world: it often has
unexpected and undesirable results.

My point is don't look to somebody else to supply the tools which have an
impact on your bottom line. That is if you purchased software to improve
your bottom line, then any cost increases to maintaining that software will
have an impact on your bottom line. As an engineer your skills should be
having an impact on your bottom line: and such should achieve far greater
benefits than somebody else's program.

Of course in developing Multi-Lat you probably don't want this viewpoint:
you prefer people to buy/use your product. After all selling Multi-Lat or
other software gets one engineering team's perspective on design applied to many projects across the country and across the world: used on projects they
wouldn't otherwise generate income from.

Thus software development can be an extension of the engineering services
provided, which is why software suppliers are competitors not suppliers.

Whilst software with a programmable interface is updated by users way ahead
of the developers, and by third parties, so upgrades only of real value if
the developers have tweaked something beyond the reach of users and the
programmable interface. New users are dwindling, and existing users choosing
to upgrade are also dwindling, and entirely different products and
approaches are available at much lower prices. The simple approach to
reduced product sales is to increase upgrade pricing in an attempt to
maintain expected income. It will in the main lead to further reduction in
sales. Continuous improvement is a nonsense philosophy; a business needs to
be capable of adapting. Products have limited lifecycles and the suppliers
need to have new products to come online as demand for traditional products
tapers off. The software developers need to produce more user friendly
software, more customised to the needs of the users, or more flexible
software more capable of being customised by the user. Drafters, builders,
and building designers, fabricators, construction contractors and building
owners represent a far bigger market than architects and engineers.

Should not forget that engineering is a means to an end: and should never
become an end in itself. The compliant you have about codes of practice and
software, are similar to complaints held by builders: why do they need an

Engineering exists to assist turn concept into reality safely. The division of labour between architect, engineer, drafter, and builder generates risk.
Software which both constrains and enables the builder helps minimise the
risk. For example software can simply flag problems requiring solution by an
engineer, or for the builder or owner to adopt another approach compatible
with the model supported by the software. Better for a builder to remove a
beam in software and have floor fall on their head, rather than remove real
beam. Software can push planning, and design into areas where it wasn't
otherwise carried out. At the same time however, such software also
decreases the demand for engineering services direct from engineers
operating elsewhere. For example contractors may use ArchiCAD for material
take-off even though receive paper drawings. Whilst department stores use
the same software for store layout and walk through. These users fuel a
demand for architects to be using such software at design time. But these
other users, dealing with existing are greater in number than designers
dealing with new. These alternative applications can also be taken more
slowly, than the main intended application of design of new. In turn these
new users will push more features into the software, such as evaluation of
proposal through engineering calculation. But hidden in the background, the technical details of the calculations are irrelevant to the user: they just
need to know whether their proposal does or does not work.

And a word of warning things tend to grow exponentially. So each new
software product introduced into the market, will spawn a variety of
alternative competing forms, and each of those in turn will spawn more
forms. Each decreasing the demand for architects and engineers, and the
demand for the original product forms. Which by the way architects and
engineers are manufactured artificial products. Just as a gas mantel fitter
can be replaced by a machine churning out electric light bulbs/globes: so
too can the engineer be replaced by a machine. Thinking you cannot be
replaced won't stop it from happening.

In a market driven economy every business is a higher more complex form of
life, a highly specialised species with its own niche food supply: its
market. To be an engineer is just to be one off many: little value. If an
engineer is required then any will do. Only when Dennis Wish is the solution to the problem, is your business of value in its own right. But then sale of
such business will result in it loosing its main value.

The industrial food chain is massive and complex, analysing the interactions
in such network to determine which pathways have the most flow would be
interesting but difficult. Especially determining whether pushing prices up
or down will generate more flow in a given direction. Higher prices can
increase sales if value and quality is apparent. The cost of quality has to be appropriate to the needs of the individual. Often engineers perception of
quality is an unrealistic ideal, beyond the reach of ordinary people.

My advice is to apply your critical eye for timber design to your own
business, and you will probably find a multitude of simple things you can do
to eliminate unnecessary cost, improve quality, and add value, which also
adds value to your client's products, which in turn increases their sales
with flow on to yourself. The end-users want buildings, not documents, what
the builder does is therefore more important than what engineers and
architects do. The engineer's task is to assist the process of turning
dreams into reality. Think more about how you can assist the builder, than
keeping building officials happy.

I should think your experience, and knowing the answers, is more value to
your clients than any software you may or may not use.

But that's just my disorderly perspective.

Conrad Harrison
B.Tech (mfg & mech), MIIE, gradTIEAust
South Australia

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