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Blueprint and Compass


What is a civil engineer?

Isn’t it the same thing as an architect?

This is a more than common misconception, and the truth is that they are different sides to the same coin. An architect’s focus is on the building’s layout and overall design, whereas a civil engineer is more focused on the structure’s integrity and material makeup. In shorthand, the architect is the “art major” while the engineer is the “physics major.” The two work simultaneously on a project, and each requires something different from the other in order to do their job. You can plainly see some perfect examples where art meets functionality in some of today’s modern buildings. In fact, the first institution to have civil engineering as a separate line of study was Norwich University in 1819. Before that there was no real established difference.

So, with a job as important as making sure that a building doesn’t collapse in on itself, its important to have the right tools at your disposal. Civil engineers of every kind use software programs for building models, perfecting designs and testing structural integrity. When it comes to the software to choose from, there is a huge assortment of options. Often times, instructors will recommend programs they choose, and in the field people will recommend others, but it will all come down to personal preference. What works best for you? What do you need it to do? Is what you’re currently using accurate enough? Of all the options out there, sometimes it is worth taking a look at the most popular choices.

Below is a list of 3 of the most popular programs used by civil engineers, and the results they produce are a testament to their popularity.

1.  AutoCAD

Arguably the most powerful tool in the design world, AutoCAD allows you to render ideas and designs in either 2D or 3D. It’s definitely not free, but it goes way more in depth. It has the capability to support a project from beginning to end, from the drafting of a new idea, to the documentation all along the way. It has made productivity it’s most distinguished factor by providing tools that allow for fast and easy resizing, quickly populate repetitive elements by saving custom blocks, and add a full range of visually appealing aspects to breath life into your project. No to mention that you can do a walk through of your project with their 3D navigation tool.

It’s power and efficiency has made it a globally renowned product, used by millions of engineers, architects and designers from around the world. The popularity and widespread usage of AutoCAD had in fact reached a point where they updated their systems to be compatible between mac and Windows users.

2. SAP2000

SAP2000 is a structural design software that not only allows the user to design a new project, but allows them to put the design to the test. Programmed with integral specifications based on multiple international build standards, you can test your projects structural soundness against international steel and concrete building codes. You can see how well your structure does against wind speeds and wave impacts, as well as weight loads, seismic activity and a plethora of other strength tests.

This is one of the most practical software programs available to civil engineers that goes beyond the display and layout of a project. By associating your design specs with SAP2000’s analytical capabilities, you can be sure that what you build will stand the test of time.

3. Pipe2014

This is not the same type of tool as the two previous ones, but in the correct field it can be equally as useful. Pipe2014 is a hydraulic distribution software that breaks down and analyses every part of a fluid’s journey from one pipe to the next. It allows you to design complex piping systems that transport a multitude of different liquids (water, sewage, petroleum, etc.), each having their own specifications (density, flow rate, etc.), and allows the design to incorporate different qualities like pump, pipe, valve and tank sizes, all to find the most efficient method, while showing the faulty and problematic sections.

You can easily incorporate a map from a variety of supported formats (JPG, BMP, PDF, etc.) so you can lay your project out on the actual landscape it is intended for, as well as lay out a grid format to keep the project neat, uniform and perfectly to scale. Tools are readily available to keep your model as accurate as possible, like calibrations and pump operations.

There are countless programs out there to aid engineers in their line of work, and there will always be more to come in the future. Knowing that there is software that allows us to see, simulate and test structures before even building them shows that we have come a long way in civil engineering, especially when you consider that it dates all the way back to 4000 BC when manpower was the only means of construction. With that in mind, it’s not that crazy to think that the future could render these three programs obsolete. But as for right now, these industry leading programs are what pave the road to that future, and they are some of the best at what they do.