Helping the user, automating the routine...
Ease of use and ease of learning come into focus in the release of SCIA Engineer 18. A number of improvements and small new features in various places in the software are a step towards a simpler user interface, clearer workflows, and a more intuitive civil engineering design software platform.
The intention of usability features developed in version 18.0 is to help engineers with their daily tasks, and, in particular, to help new users of SCIA Engineer to get up to speed fast and easily.
|A large number of various features improve user experience and increase the efficiency of their work. Many of these improvements come as a result of a close involvement of users during the development.|
|Practical default settings in a new project reflecting the most common workflows eliminate unnecessary additional steps users had to take. Also the project functionality settings are now better managed and allow the user to set up the new project faster.|
|Automation of trivial steps in the design process frees up both time and energy and the users can more easily focus on the interesting and creative aspects of structural engineering.|
|The refactored Project Manager together with integrated learning materials supports new users and help them quickly get up-to-speed with the software.|
Motivation and user involvement
SCIA Engineer is sophisticated software; a large number of functionalities dedicated to various engineering problems coexist and interact with each other. In addition, the complexity of civil engineering work requires that various workflows and a great deal of flexibility be accommodated in the framework of our software.
It is because of this that a logical, clean and self-explanatory user interface is fundamental.
To achieve a strong impact on usability in version 18.0, it was important to closely involve users in the discovery phase. Surveys, private interviews and structured tests were conducted with the following goal in mind: to identify:
- the busiest dialogues and windows in the software
- what changes will make the biggest difference for the highest number of users.
Customer Service engineers were also involved during development as experienced and passionate advocates of user needs.
Small improvements can go a long way when it comes to usability, especially when the focus is on the common user needs.
One confusing step when using SCIA Engineer (especially for new users) is the need to activate functionalities. Advanced functionalities are by default hidden, as these should not be in the way when users need access to the basics. However, when a user does need to use an "advanced" feature, he will not find it in menus before he activates it in the functionality list.
This logic often creates confusion and users can be blocked until they are helped by Customer Service.
Commonly used features are now accessible without the need of activation. A large number of users using a functionality we used to consider advanced indicates that engineering needs are adapting: what was in the past advanced is common practice today. Based on tracking the usage, we can reconsider what advanced means.
We reduced the need to access the functionality list in the following ways:
- Commonly used functionalities are now activated or even hidden and active, if needed.
- We reviewed the naming of functionalities and more informative and logical names and order were selected.
- Obsolete functionalities were removed.
The benefits are that:
- users will often not have to do the additional step of activating functionalities;
- the functionality list is now shorter;
- it is much easier now to find an item in the list.
The following are examples of functionality that will now be accessible without additional activation:
- analysis with tension-only members or compression-only supports,
- Structural Model,
- property modifiers,
- soil properties,
- climatic loads.
The Structural Model lets you model the actual position of members in the building independently from the analytical model: an extremely useful feature in the BIM context.
Property modifiers let you easily account for cracking in concrete slabs, neglect bending and/or shear stiffness of masonry walls, etc.
If it needs to be done every time, why not automate it?
A number of trivial modelling steps are now performed by the software in the background, leaving more time for the user to focus on the more responsible and creative aspects of civil engineering.
Cross-sections are now created as soon as the user creates the first 1D member in the project.
It can be argued that there are few cases in which one can completely skip assigning cross-sections to 1D members. Yet, assigning a section to 1D members by default has its merits. The main one is that this allows the user to chose when to bother with section sizes.
The benefit for simple structures (e.g., isostatic or continuous girders) is obvious. In addition, the combination of this feature with e.g., Steel or Composite beam AutoDesign can be quite poweanyrful: it can completely eliminate one step in the modelling process and directly link the design of sections to exact values of unity checks, rather than experience or sheer guessing.
Sometimes we run analysis only because we want to see that our model fits together and is appropriately supported. In such cases, the creation of at least one load case (self-weight for the sake of simplicity) was a necessary step.
Because self-weight is almost always needed, we create in every new model automatically.
Code-based load combinations
Load combinations based on the selected design code (e.g., EuroCode, IBC, NBR, etc.) are also generated automatically. What is more, these combinations are managed 100% in the background:
- new load cases are added to automatic combinations instantly,
- the user can eliminate specific load cases from an automatically managed combination,
- changes in settings of Load Cases and Groups, e.g., related to type of load (dead, live, wind, snow, seismic, etc.) or relationships between loads (dependencies, exclusiveness) are also taken into account as soon as the changes are introduced.
ULS, SLS, and seismic load combinations are now generated and managed by the software.
Code-based nonlinear load combinations
Nonlinear combinations are necessary for nonlinear analysis. And unlike code-based linear combinations, which are envelopes of hundreds of loading scenarios, a nonlinear combination is a very specific set of loads with fixed intensity. The reason is simple: the superposition principle is no longer valid inside the nonlinear context and load effects cannot be scaled and combined to represent the scaling and combination of loads.
Creating nonlinear combinations that follow the combination rules in the design code was always a hurtle in SCIA Engineer -- because every nonlinear combination needed to be created separately. This is no longer the case in version 18.0: a semi-automatic, bulk generation of nonlinear combination is done in 3-4 clicks.
Any linear envelope combination can be used as a starting point for generation of nonlinear combinations (including the automatically created code-based combinations). Moreover, the use can control the number of generated nonlinear combinations: instead of generating all possible combinations, the user can choose
- to only generate the combinations that cause extreme effects and stresses in the members in the structure.
- or to generate a fixed number of combinations that represent the most dangerous loading scenarios.
The look and behaviour of the SCIA Engineer Tree has been revised. As a result, the Tree is now more compact, it is easier to switch between services (such as Loads, Results, etc.), and the user can simultaneously access a service of interest and the Main Tree directory. This promotes editing and viewing possibilities while basic aspects of the model (such as grids, load cases and attributes) are accessible.
Learning material in Project manager
Do you have new colleagues who are learning CAE software for the first time or are switching to SCIA Engineer from other solutions on the market? Do they experience difficulties and are you the one who needs to guide them and answer their questions while you are taking on your normal responsibilities?
The new SCIA Learning Centre provides short on-boarding videos for new users on various topics. The main focus are common tasks and aspects of the software that might be unclear for somebody that is just starting to use SCIA Engineer. The videos are created in collaboration with Customer Service engineers, who know well what questions new users normally pose while learning.
We hope that the new Learning Centre will guide users and make learning a pleasant experience. And, most of all, shorten the learning process and get engineers up and running with advanced features quickly.
In addition, small improvements in the Project Manager itself make content more findable: a simpler and more logical structure, better naming and up-to-date templates and tutorials will be helping not just the new, but also the experienced users.
Various company initiatives aim at discovering how we can improve the way users experience working with SCIA Engineer. All users are invited to give feedback and ideas, to participate in testing features under development, all for the sake of improving our everyday use of the software.
For more information, please visit the SCIA Insider programme webpage.