The Biggest Challenges to Hinder Advances in Structural Engineering

Published on January 23, 2019 by Structural Innovations in Structural Engineering

Although there have been major advances in structural engineering over the past few decades, that does not mean that the industry has become any less challenging.  In fact, advances in structural engineering have made the industry even more complex due to companies having to keep up with technological innovations, and by finding ways to incorporate collegiate-level talent whose engineering educations differ from years past.

Some of the biggest challenges that today’s structural engineering companies face include:

  • Integrating company management software and design systems
  • Evolving engineering education at the university level
  • Completing projects in a more efficient manner
  • Collaborating with other engineering subsets like architectural engineers, civil engineers, geotechnical engineers, etc. in an effective way

So, how exactly do engineering firms plan to tackle these challenges, and use advances in structural engineering to their advantages?  The first steps that these structural engineering companies must take include examining their current design and management methods, and be receptive to change within the workplace.

Challenge 1: Integrating Company Management Software and Design Systems

Perhaps the most complex challenge that all different subgroups of the engineering industry face is the advent of new technology. Take for example, the evolution of CAD systems since their emergence in the 1980s.  These computer-aided design programs are some of the greatest advances in structural engineering, but they also pose the challenge of keeping structural engineers within firms up-to-date on new design features within these programs.

Along with new, upgraded CAD systems, there are also new computer programs that assist in managing performance metrics in engineering firms, and also store and share crucial information pertaining to customer projects.  Now, structural engineers are not only required to learn the ins and outs of their design software, but they must also learn how to operate intracompany management software within which drawings, job site information, notes, and the like can be uploaded and shared among every employee within the company.

Although these technological advances in structural engineering have the potential to make structural engineering firms more efficient throughout the design and fabricating processes in the long run, there are certain realities that engineering companies must face:  creating time throughout the workday for training, and encouraging employees to be receptive to new programs that change the way the workplace functions can oftentimes lead to stress and resistance.

Challenge 2: Evolving Education at the University Level

Another one of the biggest challenges that structural engineering companies face is finding a way to integrate new structural engineering practices with those from ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago. Oftentimes, structural engineering firms that have been around for years or decades with relatively good levels of client satisfaction and monetary success operate using the same systems that have worked for them over the years without upgrading, changing, or streamlining processes.

Now, once again considering the advent of technology, university students who are on track to becoming engineers are more than likely being educated about modern design and fabrication practices by using the most up-to-date industry software.  Then, once they graduate and attempt to find a job in a structural engineering firm, they may have to learn older technologies in order to successfully perform within the company that has not changed, streamlined, or upgraded their business practices.

On the other hand, the opposite scenario could be true.  Maybe the universities that these future structural engineers are attending have professors who are not up-to-date with the latest advances in structural engineering. If this is the case, when those structural engineering students go to find jobs at engineering firms that are using new, advanced technology, there is going to be a learning curve when it comes to operating within certain management and design software programs.

In order to solve this problem, colleges and universities must have structural engineers who are actively involved in the industry present within their curriculums.  Whether it is through seminars or hiring on professors whose credentials are up-to-date with current structural engineering practices, these post-secondary institutions must make every effort to keep their educational programs on track with the advances in structural engineering.

Challenge 3: Completing Projects in a More Efficient Manner

The third major challenge within the structural engineering field is finding a way to complete projects in a more efficient manner.  Although there have been many advances in structural engineering technology, there is certainly a need to for companies to integrate new software and computer programs that make engineering firms more efficient throughout the entirety of the design and fabrication processes.

For example, structural engineering firms have the ability to complete projects in a more efficient manner by communicating with one another via email, or by utilizing other intraoffice messaging and document delivery and sharing systems. Being able to access drawings along with notes from collaborating structural engineers within these software programs is crucial to project efficiency, and it also paves the way for creating new, innovative methods for completing high-quality design and fabrication jobs quickly.

Along with being able to access designs and messages from other structural engineers within a particular firm, another way that structural engineering companies can increase project efficiency is by eliminating unnecessary work for engineers. Are there documents pertaining to building regulations that need to be obtained, or extra project legwork that an administrative assistant could handle? If so, firms should hire support staff for their structural engineers so that they can perform their design and fabrication functions while delegating lower-priority responsibilities to an assistant.

Challenge 4: Collaborating with Other Types of Engineers

Even though technology allows everyone to communicate more easily these days, accurate communication of ideas between different engineering subsets still poses a significant challenge for the industry.  Structural engineers’ notes and explanations of drawings may be misunderstood when emailed or uploaded to an online drive while collaborating with mechanical, electrical, civil and geotechnical engineers as well as construction personnel – meaning that projects may have to be completed at a slower-than-desired pace.

Although there have been major advances in structural engineering and these other engineering groups, there is a lack of software uniformity that makes it a challenge to easily collaborate with other engineering companies of a different subset.  For example, if an architectural company and a structural engineering company used the same software program for designing buildings, bridges, and the like, it would expedite the design and fabrication process, and make collaborating with one another easier and more efficient.

Collaboration among different types of engineering companies is a crucial challenge to conquer. Everyone must be on the same page in order to correctly and efficiently complete projects.  When many engineers from their own distinct groups can easily come together without technological barriers to collaborate on projects, design and fabrication efficiency should drastically increase.