Automation of steel connection modeling

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Today's engineering market is getting more competitive and price-sensitive. Structural engineers, designers and detailers face the challenge of how to deliver a perfect and safe project within very short deadlines and under the cost pressure.

To speed up the designing process and be more competitive, one of our customers, ENECA - engineering and consulting company from Belarus, bet on the right horse - automation of steel connection modeling. ENECA's Chief Design Engineer of the Steel Structures Department, Andrei Auchynnik, wrote an interesting blog post about the tool selection process. He uncovers the reasons why they choose IDEA StatiCa particularly and what are the benefits of the solution for their construction designers.  

We see a lot of similar patterns in the ENECA's decision process across the world, so we decided to share their experience and point of view on how and why they decided to use IDEA StatiCa for their designing process.  

With the approval of ENECA, we bring you the original post also on our pages.  


ENECA is an engineering and consulting company from Belarus. It has been providing professional multi-disciplinary services for new construction and modernization projects for more than 16 years. Working in the AEC sector, we develop feasibility studies, basic and detailed design, provide owner’s engineering services, as well as perform economic and environmental works. Our main sectors since the company was founded are energy, industry and commercial real estate. The specialists of ENECA also perform works in the field of residential buildings, renewables & environment, water sector, oil & gas industry.

ENECA deals with the design mainly for CIS (post-Soviet) countries and actively promotes itself on the EU-market. The aim of the Steel Structures Department is to implement projects fast, competently, and fit into any of their clients' requirements.

ENECA structural group is not specialized in any particular type of objects. For a developing company, which strives to solidify in the EU design sector for a long time, the selection of every next project depends on the market requirements.

What should engineers do to be competitive?

First, to maximum formalize the design process and automate routine activities. Further, examine these processes in detail. 

But, first of all, a few words about the start of Eneca's Steel Structures Department.

When establishing the Steel Structures Department in 2017, the following programs were selected as the working software: 

The main criterion is a mutual connection between the programs enabled by their connectors or BIM links.

The above-mentioned programs were selected by the practicing engineers, not by the executives, i. e the selected programs were thoroughly tested and worked indeed. 

Till then, the calculation of structural steel connections had been mostly carried out using Excel spreadsheets. The resulting list of joints we could use was limiting our opportunities at the very beginning of the projects which is not an advanced and forward-looking approach. Flexibility is one of the main goals for ENECA.

Why IDEA Statica in particular?

When selecting the software for the calculation of connections, IDEA Statica was the best program, which enabled us to extract the design combinations from the program for the static analysis. The joint work of Dlubal RFEM and IDEA Statica (BIM link) met our requirements to the fullest extent. We considered a quick training for specialists and short-term introduction into the current projects as significant advantages of IDEA Statica. User-friendly interface and intuitive control, visual display of the results, ability to classify the stiffness of the connection for the design scheme of the static analysis, easy preparation of the connection calculation report - all these criteria count in favor of IDEA Statica as it appears from the experience of ENECA engineers.

Due to the fact that connections may be made parametrically in IDEA Statica, it is possible to analyze the most frequently used connections in engineering practice within quite a short period. 

For example, let’s take a look at the simplest connection, component No. 43, which is a standard connection in Tekla Structures. 

This component is used almost in all our clients’ facilities as a joint connecting a secondary beam with the main beam in the mezzanines and inter-floor slabs.

The flights of the secondary beams are different, the loads all over the surface may be different, as well. An engineer is always up against the selection of the number of bolts and their degree, footplate and stiffener thicknesses, selection of welds - usual routine work with a huge range of possible solutions, and all this is compounded when several specialists work together. 

It is a common practice in ENECA that simple joints for fastening structural elements are selected by an engineer, who deals with modeling in Tekla Structures. Separate time expenditures for each part of work such as calculation, partial unification, and development of manufacturing drawings for a great number of assemblies resulted in the increase of time needed for the modeling process. Due to all these issues, the procedure needed urgent automation. 

Process formalization and workflow automation

The best example of design process formalization is the use of a typical series of connections for buildings and facilities designed in the CIS countries and well-known for any engineer working in this region. These are catalogs, where the connection properties may be selected in accordance with the specified criteria and support forces. A good old idea needs only updating.

In the 20th century, this work had been performed for a long period by a huge state funding design institute including a great number of specialists. How to carry out the work like this now using advanced tools and to the shortest deadline? A piece of cake.

Determine the selection of connection parameters using IDEA StatiCa, a lot of tools for the process automation may be found in Tekla Structures. After having determined the acceptable criteria according to plastic deformations, safety factors for bolts and welds, local stability factor for connection parts, let’s get down to the connection analysis.    

After analyzing the behavior of the joint together with the rolled beam catalog, the unification and optimization of the joint take place - optimal bolt class, weld dimensions and plate thicknesses.  

The results of the analysis for each particular joint are summarised into one text file.

A text file containing analysis results

Then, create a user component in Tekla Structures, the input information of which contains names and properties of the profiles to be connected as well as ultimate values determining support forces of the secondary beam. The connection between the profiles is formed on the basis of the text file generated earlier. 

Connection component work window in Tekla Structures:

Work window of connection component in Tekla Structures.

It takes 3-4 working days of one specialist to create one simple component. It’s a relatively short time period, but the result brings design to a higher level. Work convenience and speed of use bring joy further down the line.

Example of use for a real object:

Such work process optimization using IDEA Statica covers 90% of possible situations, the accomplished work will help you even in a nontypical case anyway.   

For example, a beam is used as a strut to decrease the design length of the main beam and it experiences only longitudinal forces. Getting back to the initial data of the calculation, then you may change the design combination and verify the connection.

Also, visual information may help - the bearing capacity of the joint calculated using IDEA Statica, which is displayed in the form of a combination of acceptable support forces for the connection. This information is not shown permanently, to display it use a switch, if necessary.   

Effects of automation on engineering value

Implementing new processes, software, and automation scheme above enables:

  • to accelerate the connection modeling process in Tekla Structures by approximately 40-50%;
  • to decrease the involvement of a highly-qualified engineer, who deals with the calculation of the connections in the project. Now, this specialist deals with the calculation of the nontypical (complex) connections only;  
  • to involve specialists in modeling connections in Tekla Structures, who have no extensive knowledge and experience in connection calculations. Now, this specialist should only know, how to extract the beam forces data from the static calculation model and, in an extreme case, insert these data into the design combination in IDEA Statica and redesign an already calculated connection. Erection procedure as well as bolt and weld connections settings are studied when designing and working on the object. 

This information won’t be new for experienced designers but it will be useful for those, who face a dilemma what software to choose and dip their toe into the design.  

All credits for images and content: Andrei Auchynnik, Eneca