In today’s episode of the Civil Engineering Academy Podcast, Isaac talks to his brother, Mark Oakeson, about the variety of software available within the Civil Engineering arena, ranging from the standard ones that appear in basically every specialization area to the ones
that truly emphasizes one specific aspect of the profession.
This is a must-listen episode for anyone in the field in order to listen from two real-life engineers who work in the industry and use engineering software to perform their jobs. Don’t forget to check out the Civil Engineering Academy website for tips and resources on how to
pass the PE and FE exams and reach out to Isaac at [email protected] or Mark at [email protected] for further comments.
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- The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course – if you need a complete review course then use the one we made for you from the ground up! The PE is back on so get prepared at https://www.civilpereviewcourse.com!
- Geotechpedia – great resources for reviewing software and geo tools! Check them out at https://www.geotechpedia.org
CEA Show Notes
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Isaac Oakeson: All right. So I got my brother Mark back on, and today we are talking about different softwares, depending on the discipline that you're going into. I think obviously each discipline has its own special kind of software that is helpful. And so we obviously, aren't going to dive into every single software that's available for people out there, because, you know, this might be a 10 hour podcast episode, but we're just going to hit some of the highlights that we think are useful, things that we know about and things we could share with you. I also think in general there are softwares that every engineer should know. It's just kind of part of the industry that we're in. So a lot of the general tools that we'll talk about definitely going to help you as well. But, really, it's up to you to find out which one works depending on the industry you're going intowhich is kind of our goal here is to help direct your attention to what's out there and kind of if you're heading into a certain direction to find out what's a good to check out.
Isaac Oakeson: So, anyway, I also think in general, a lot of basic tools maybe Mark can disagree with me here, but I think in general, a lot of tools, like Google Earth, sometimes you really should get out into the field and see what's out there, because,there's a lot of things that just software and doing stuff on a computer, you don't really see it as well.
Mark Oakeson: I can chime in on that one, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: Go for it.
Mark Oakeson: In fact, I have got little field trip plan for my team actually on Tuesday where we're doing that exact same thing. The exact thing that you're talking about. We're looking at a project for an owner. It's a good size project. And here in Lehi, Utah, and that's exactly what we're going to do. We could just use Google Earth. We kind of get a feel for the lay of the land and maybe how things are laying out, but there's so much activity in Lehi, Utah right now, construction, not only I-15 that goes through there, but there's also a lot of high-tech office space being constructed there. And so we got to get a real time feel for where this thing's laying out, how we're going to logistically positioned cranes and all those things. And it just, it makes sense for us to go out there and walk the job. See how it's laid out.
Isaac Oakeson: I should put a big asterix on there because that can really bite you in the butt, If you don't take a field trip and my own industry with transmission design, you know, you could play around on a computer all day, but until you actually go out and see a stake in the ground and see where stuff is going you don't see it all. You don't see this silver line that you could be hitting orother issues that are in the way or clearances to things like that. So you gotta get out there. So, having said that let's dive into some software. So there's our caution for everybody. So Mark, let's talk about just general software overall. What do you think is a good for an engineer to know about?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, I think it's good to have a good working knowledge of AutoCAD. I mean, that's kind of the baseline drafting software that You're not pulling out your graph paper. You don't have a drafting board anymore, here you're actually laying things out. If you're someone like me that works in the structural and the things, you're trying to make sure dimensions are compatible and things are laying out properly, whatever you're designing. And so Autodesk is really just an invaluable tool because everything can be laid out to scale. Everything that you've sized, that you've calculated, any structural member can be quickly put, mut down and laid out. And you can, ou can make sure everything fits. Obviously the next step up from that is a Revit, which we'll talk about, but that's, one of the big ones I say is one of those base pieces of software that every engineer should have at least some kind of working knowledge of.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And I believe every engineer has taken a class on that. So if you don't use it, you can't lose it. I'm not a heavy AutoCAD user right now, but I still get involved with it. But yeah, that's kind of a baseline software to know.
Mark Oakeson: I use it every day. I use it like every day, man. It's like, when I have something, my brain doesn't work now because I've used it so much. It's like, I need it for my brain to start working and laying things out and making sure everything fits. It's just like, I don't know. That's just like a go-to piece of software for me.
Isaac Oakeson: Cool. So Autodesk. What are the other ones We've talked about some of these PDF softwares, like Bluebeam a lot of people were using Adobe, but Bluebeam, if you're not familiar with that, it's just a really helpful tool for the industry. I use that the whole time.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And blue beam has been kind of a -- It's been nice because it's more of a -- I call it more of an intuitive type PDF management tool for marking things up and measuring. I mean, it's a cool piece of software. It's a nice tool.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. If you haven't checked that out. Definitely do. But and then in general, your general Microsoft tools which you're going to go through school and understand if you're not familiar with those alreadyGoogle Earth is definitely a must, I think which is a fabulous tool. And I think also a little bit of ArcGIS, which is also class when you're in school at a university to take. And I think a lot of people might brush that class off because it's not maybe the specific focus you're going to go into as an engineer, but it is a tool that's used quite a bit and in all industries to really display information in a really neat way. So that's kind of our general list. Do you have anything to add to that, Mark?
Mark Oakeson: No. I mean once we get into construction, I'll have some more comments, but yeah, I think that's a pretty good general list.
Isaac Oakeson: Alright, well, let's dive into construction. What do we have in here?
Mark Oakeson: So construction the big thing with construction isyou've kind of got this group of takeoff software, right? So the construction guys, once a design is produced and it doesn't matter if it's a commercial building or if it's a bridge or a roadway project, there's quantities to be taken off, right? You got cubic yard of just dirt. You got cubic yard of concrete, and those quantities form the basis for the estimate, right? So you gotta know how much, how, how big things are and how much tonnage, how much cubic yardage, how much square footage is in the job so that you can put a price on it. And so there's a bunch of takeoff software that exists. And I would say the forerunner in all that is PlanSwift. On center software has another set of takeoff software that's pretty prevalent out there, but that's the big one. It's PlanSwift and there's there's others, of course. And then, once you get through a takeoff, then you want something that you can estimate with, right? You want to be able to plug in all those quantities into some kind of a tool that helps you estimate your job. And the big ones in transportation is a HTA's HeavyBid is a big one. There's one called B2W. It used to go by Bid To Win, but now they just call it B2W. I guess they figured Bid To Win was a little cheesy of a name. And those are the big ones in the transportation industry. The heavy highway and civil construction industry. And they're geared towards moving dirt and that kind of stuff drainage pipelines and those kinds of things. And then on the commercial side of things, there's Sage, which used to be called Timberline, you know, Sigma pro S. There'sestimating software that kind of just specializes into that commercial construction realm. So what we're talking about here is first we start withthe estimating software, and then you move into -- Well, you start with the takeoff software, then you move into the estimating software, and then you move into the project management software.
Mark Oakeson: And so, and the scheduling. Yeah. That's part of that. So your Primavera, your Microsoft projects, you're billing 360s, which is an Autodesk product is kind of a project management software. Procore is a big one. So there's kind of these big three segments in the construction industry of software that's out there. And then there's some overarching software that, I mean, there's companies that are trying to incorporate the accounting, estimating,and all the project management all wrapped up. Nobody's kind of really tackled that sufficiently in my opinion, but it'll probably happen one day.
Isaac Oakeson: So what's your thoughts on somebody? I'm just thinking about an engineer that wants to focus on learning one of these, do those skills translate to the other softwares? Are they easier to pick up? Because to learn all of these seems impossible, but if you learn one maybe they bleed over into others.
Mark Oakeson: They do, they do. So, if you were heading into the construction industry and you were focused on heavy highway and civil, and you jumped in Bid to Win, or B2W as they call it now that would definitely translated into HeavyBid. And you could transfer pretty seamless across platforms. But estimating is estimating. I mean, to be good at it, you really need to get a lot of experience, but the software to tackle, is just the software, if that's what we're talking about. Yeah. Learning any of these is going to help you across all the platforms. For sure.
Isaac Oakeson: Cool. Cool. Anything else to add to construction?
Mark Oakeson: No, I mean, we talked about BlueBeam. Sketchup is, is a nice one. Sketchup is kind of a stripped downBIM modeling software. So it's not as big as Autodesk's Revit, but for hoisting plants and those kinds of things - we got big girders that were hoisting and we got to create a hoisting plan for that stuff. Man, SketchUp is nice because you can scale really quick, 3D models and SketchUp. That's a good one to learn.
Isaac Oakeson: Is that one free? I can't remember. All of these have a free trial.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, they all have. Sketchup in fact, just barely went to a subscription based model, which most software is doing these days. But yeah, you can get a standalone version, but I think they're going, subscription-based now.
Isaac Oakeson: Cool. All right. Well, let's dive into our next discipline, which is our geo-tech arena. Obviously I think there's a plethora of softwares for geo-tech, depending on what you're analyzing and what you're getting into. But, and I think in general, though, you have various software for foundations. I, myself am familiar with using what's called LPile, and we use that to design some of our deeper foundations or for the transmission structures, but we've listed here others, like Plaxis SoilVision, OpenGround site, and there's various software for seismic software. There's a really neat website I found actually called geotechpedia.com there they list all of the softwares that they can find for geotechnical engineers. And it is pages and pages and pages of geo-tech software that you can check out. I don't know what to say, like, the most popular or the most used. It seems like there's just a lot of different applications for different things, but what are your thoughts on these geo-tech ones?
Mark Oakeson: The only geo-tech that I do personally sometimes I have to design retaining structures, you know, soil nail wallssoldier pile, those kinds of things. And I don't use any of those. I got a package. I use StruCalc for a lot of those, and we'll talk about that when we get to the structural software, but I don't use any of those. My staff of course is, I mean, I'm coming from more of a structural perspective on that.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. I just know that in general, there is a software for basically any application in the geo-tech world, and I'll, we'll try to link this resource, but it's called geotechpedia.com. If you go check out a software, I'm telling you there are pages and pages and pages of different software, so you can check out for geo-tech. So a ton of them, ton of them. What about, let's go into water resourcesIin school, it seems like what they mainly have you focus on, at least one as I've been going to school has been HEC RAS and Heck-HMS. All of these softwares are used basically to model ground water or surface water, or flood plain modeling. Then, again, there's quite a few softwares under water resources, but for like school and for what you use even after school, I think that EC RAS and Heck-HMS are very popular softwares.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. I think they're the dominant ones.
Isaac Oakeson: Do you know of any others for water resources or anything that falls under there?
Mark Oakeson: Those are the 800-pound gorillas. I don't know of others, specifically.
Isaac Oakeson: We need a water resource engineer to get on.
Mark Oakeson: And I know we could use their input right now.
Isaac Oakeson: They'll give us some negative feedback.
Mark Oakeson: Probably
Isaac Oakeson: Again for water resources, that geotechpedia also has a ton of options for water resource softwares for water and groundwater. And I could sit here and read you a few pages, and I'm not going to be familiar with them.
Mark Oakeson: Neither am I. And I can say Bentley offers a ton of those kinds of packages. They're, they're a good resource too, to kind of check out.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, just a quick sample. And they're showing Mike Flood, Precision 3D, Hydro Adaptive Groundwater Aqua 3d, all kinds of stuff. So go check that out. We'll list thatLet's jump into structural, then this is kind of Mark's forte. So, so what do you got here?
Mark Oakeson: What's cool about the structural software is it's kind of a it's it's it's developed, I'll say. So, you know, the, the AutodeskAutoCAD used to be the workhorse. Now a Revit has completely taken over structural design. And so the Autodesk Revit is developing the BIM, right? The building information model. I mean, that's what's used nowadays, and it's a nice tool. What they can do with that now is, in the old days, when you had to draw everything -- AutoCAD had some 3D capabilities, but the information wasn't really in the core of the software, it wasn't really in three dimensions like it is in Revit. And so what's cool about that is thatyou know you're used to looking at cross sections and you can look at plan views on projects, butwhat they're working with with Revit as a complete 3dD model. And so they just go through and they define where they want these views what plan views they want to define, what section views they want to define. And it's really easy for them to define these, these locations. And then it just compiles all that for them and creates a set of contract drawings. And it's really great tool.
Isaac Oakeson: I'm not terribly familiar with. All of the softwares. Is Revit doing a structural analysis or is it just for drawings?
Mark Oakeson: Right now, It's primarily just for drawing, but that is changing as well. Autodesk is working on an actual structural design component to Revit. And my belief is that eventually that will probably take over the standalone structural analysis packages, because it would be such a cool thing because you're building -- because with the other structural software. Like if we're talking about SAP 2000, RESA STAAD, you know, any of these other high end structural packages that you can buy, you're really building the model within that structural software and doing the analysis separate from the tool that you use for the design and the layout. Well, it just makes sense to merge those two together eventually, and Autodesk is working on that and who knows what ends up happening, but I can just foresee that being too much of a convenience. When you're designing and building your model and bam, after that, you do your structural analysis. And the whole thing is put together in one package. I think that's a good deal.
Isaac Oakeson: That's cool. So for people that don't know what are the top kind of analysis softwares for structural, but you've talked about them, but I don't think people that just hear these names, they don't know what they do.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Okay. So, there's a company called the computers and structures incorporated (CSI). They're the ones that develop a suite of software. One of the most prevalent ones that they have is SAP 2000. And so it's software that will do everything. It's a finite-element type analysis software thatonce you put your model in there, I mean, it'll analyze everything, you know, everything. You'll give your obviously the simple stuff is your gravity analysis, but any lateral analysis that you need to throw at it, it'll do that. Plus it'll also do performance based design. So usually when we talk about structural design, we're talking about design that's prescribed by the code, right? Everything's got to adhere to the structural codes, whether it's ACI or AISC or the governing codes IBC, of course, but everything is prescribed by code. What can, and can't happen. Well, on a performance-based designan owner can dictate what level of performance he wants his building to perform at. If he wants his building to just have life safety after a seismic event, that's basically what the code provides for him, but if he wants his building to be usable after a seismic event, then this software can like analyze those column, those levels of analysis, which gets really deep. I mean, some of those performance based designs, I mean, back in the old days, when AutoCAD used to, you know -- When I started, they were working with release 14, right? And I remember hearing some of the old drafters are like: "Yeah" when we'd hit render on our drawings, after we were donedetailing a certain area of the building or whatever they were working on, they had to go to lunch and let the thing render while they're at lunch, you know? And, but now obviously computers are powerful enough that none of that needs to happen anymore. And it's just instantaneous things can be produced on a 3D model, or whatever, pretty instantaneously. But sometimes now when they do these performance-based designs, the calculations that have to happenand using, you know, programs like SAP 2000, I mean, it takes that long now. Like it's software, that's taxing the hardware.
Isaac Oakeson: When you say it takes that long, you mean they're going out to lunch again?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And it takes, it takes hours for it to analyze the model. And and it's crazy the level of detail now that they're getting in their structural analysis, but yeah, SAP 2000. And then there's a lot of software packages that resemble that, that are competitors.
Isaac Oakeson: And just to note, I don't think it's just the structural arena that also is getting a little more detailed and thorough in their analysis too. I think it's every software that you have available .Obviously there's updates to them.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, it's just, it's just interesting to me that there's actual software that's overcoming the capabilities of the hardware anymore these days. You know what I mean? It's like we got all the computing speed we ever could dream of these days, and there's actually some analysis that
Isaac Oakeson: Chugs it.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. It really taxes the hardware, you know, so that's interesting to me.
Isaac Oakeson: Cool. Well, that's helpfulAny more on structural softwares?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. There's other subgroups. In my market that I work in, there's a lot of -- Ram is a big structural package that's used for structural concrete design, and that's a Bentley product. There's STAAD, STAAD Pro, also Bentley products. RESA, you know, is another one. And then AutoCAD has got this other package that kind of goes on top of Revit that's called Navisworks. So, Revit generates the model. And then Navis works doeskind of the clash detection. And it's really the tool that analyzes the model. That's another one that's pretty prevalent. And, but with all of that said, when it comes down to what I use personally, I mean, I don't get into that much detail. I'm not doing any performance-based design and those kinds of things. I'm an inner calc, StruCalc-kind of a guy, just those handle 90% of whatever I need to do.
Isaac Oakeson: Hmm. So let me ask you this, and this goes with all softwares. As we head more to like a world where software is used for everything,how important is to know what it's doing how it works and kind of the background, the theory behind it all? Because eventually you kind of get used to just using the software all the time, but as an engineer, you need to know what's going on there. What's your thoughts on that?
Mark Oakeson: I'm kinda old school and the thought that someone needs to know the basics. You need to know if, what the computer is spitting out makes sense. I got a couple newer engineers that are working with me that struggled with that a little bit. That even though the computer is telling him that, you know, there's a certain load in a shore, for example, for doing a reshore design or you knowsome kind of false work design, I always try to draw them back to the actual dead loads that are in the structure, that the shores are actually seeing, you know, quote unquote, and seeing if what makes sense intuitively as you checked your, you know. -- I haven't checked on paper with a hand calc what the computer is kicking out, just as kind of a double check, you know? If the, the bridge deck that I've supported is eight inches thick, then you can kind of figure out what a tributary area is going to be for a certain shore, for example, and the load in the computer calculator better be pretty close to what you'd get with your hand calc or something's off, you know?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, yeah.
Mark Oakeson: So I try to steer them in those kinds of directions for sure.
Isaac Oakeson: And I think that's good for everybody to understand that, you know, we get so dependent on the software sometimes that it's still important to kind of understand what's going on behind the scenes and kind of do a sanity check on some of that.
Mark Oakeson: Absolutely.
Isaac Oakeson: Let's dive into transportation then. And what some of these transportation softwares we listed out, what do you think some of the most popular in there?
Mark Oakeson: I see AutoCAD Civil 3D is a big one. I got surveyors that work for me that that's they're kind of go-to package for laying out and creating models for grading and different things. Microstation, which, in roads, I got guys in my office that used that to, an open roads too, for a lot of our design buildpursuits where they're creating models,embankments and alignments for roadways andthose kinds of things. And they're able to generate quantities and stuff that help us kind of get a feel for where pricing is, needs to be on our design build jobs. I use that quite extensively and we actually work with transportation design firms that use that software extensively too, to lay out their jobs. So the other ones, Isaac,I'm not as familiar with.
Isaac Oakeson: Neither of us are diving into the transportation engineering world. So those out there will have to forgive us if we've missed some of yours.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Again, the king of the transportation design software world is Bentley, again. I mean, they're the ones that have kind of the most prevalence, and probably the most sophisticated stuff that I've seen.
Isaac Oakeson: And with transportation, they probably do fall into a couple of categories once probably traffic-related where you have simulations, transportation planning, and then pavement analysis and probably design. So there's a long list of softwares, but I think Mark kind of just hit it on the head with Bentley being probably the big elephant in the room.
Mark Oakeson: The 800 pound gorilla on that one.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. No, I think this is a good list of software. I just would probably add, or maybe you can talk to this, but, as an engineer maybe that's just starting out or knows what kind of area they want to get into. Well, what's the benefit? Wwhat do you think they should be doing in either to prepare for a job or to give them a leg up in the industry?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, I would say if, if you know, what area of civil engineering you're going to specialize in, if you're gravitating towards construction or geo-tech or water resources or structural, whatever it is, learn about the firms. The design firms or the construction firms that you may go for. You can find out what software they use and just do a little homework. And, if that's the direction you want to go, just start using some of them start practicing on them. And even if you're justusing software that's specialized in any of these civil engineering disciplines. I mean, like we talked about before, they're going to be the skills that you learn, or the exposure you get at one software, is going to translate pretty well into another one, if they happen to be using a different software package. But you're going to have a leg up from just somebody who's maybe just fresh out of school and just trying to figure things out. If you know the software, at least you've had some exposure to it. Man, you got a leg up. I think.
Isaac Oakeson: I agree. I've interviewed quite a few people just in the transmission engineering world. And if they have any experience whatsoever in the software, I mean you're immediately head and shoulders above the next guy.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. You're the head of the line.
Isaac Oakeson: Yep. So if you have any inkling of the industry, you want to go into find out the software, I'd recommend getting a free trial version, just becoming familiar with the layout. If you could model something really basic, that might be helpful, but just become familiar with the tools that people want you to know.
Mark Oakeson: Absolutely.
Isaac Oakeson: So anyway, I think that'll do it. Great tips, great softwares that we've discussed. If you guys have any comments about any of this, feel free to email us. You can reach Mark at [email protected] and [email protected] We'd be happy to answer any questions you have about any of this. So, Mark, thanks for joining me again. And we'll probably see you on the next one.
Mark Oakeson: You bet.
Isaac Oakeson: All right, bye.
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