Flexibility for design


    When the first laptops were created in the 1980s as a portable alternative to home computers, original models such as the Osborne 1 were bulky, heavy, and largely impractical — a far cry from today’s convenient laptops. Similarly, cloud computing has developed significantly during the last decade to allow structural engineers to work on projects with complete flexibility.

    Cloud computing allows users to customize applications and access remotely stored data and services from any device with an internet connection. Those working in a data-intensive, project-based industry can benefit from using shared computing processing resources such as the cloud to shape and bring their ideas to life.

    This is particularly true for structural engineering, which has until recently experienced disparities between modern ways of working and more traditional approaches to software. As concepts such as remote working and collaborative projects become increasingly common in the industry, the limitations of traditional structural engineering software present challenges to engineers.

    The core challenge for engineers is that projects carried out within this sector involve collaboration between various people, often spread out across various locations, using a variety of systems. With project times varying from a few months to several years, not all companies or freelance engineers have the upfront capital expenditure to pay for software ahead of a project.

    The costs for licensing software can price out many small businesses and freelancers. This is mostly because engineers are required to purchase the software again when an updated version is released. Not purchasing new versions of software as a way of saving costs leaves your system vulnerable to cyber attacks, as seen with the WannaCry ransomware attack in May.

    With the cloud, software updates are automated so that you are using the latest version as soon as it is fully functional and rolled out by the software provider. Requiring no installation or plug-ins that often slow systems down, updates to the cloud are completed without interruption or downtime.

    Cloud software is a monthly subscription service that can be tailored to include the applications needed for your business, which is a model not conventionally used in structural engineering. Fortunately, structural engineering software providers such as SkyCiv are adopting this model to improve the effectiveness of software without pricing out growing businesses and project freelancers.

    For example, SkyCiv offers tools such as beam, truss, frame, and shaft calculators, as well as design check software that can be included in the subscription. This is with the added value of not having to commit vast sums of money to obtain the software or pay installation and ongoing maintenance costs.

    In addition to having the choice of a monthly plan for a fraction of the price of software licensing, companies can scale their systems up and down depending on computing needs. This eliminates the need for large investments in infrastructure that may only be needed on a temporary basis.

    Although the Osborne 1 was the first portable device that could bundle several software applications together, the weight of the device made it impractical. Just as technological developments have allowed laptops to now become a valuable ally to many workers, the development of cloud-based software can help structural engineers bring greater ease and flexibility to their design concepts.

    Sam Carigliano is CEO of structural engineering software specialist SkyCiv (https://skyciv.com).