Finite element analysis packages have always been popular among engineers and structural designers, making this one of the most competitive sectors within the design and analysis software market. However, this has not stopped an increasing number of specialist software houses from entering the market in recent months. Many though, have launched products aimed at very specific areas of finite element analysis.
The reason behind this, according to Dr Bijan O Aalami, principal at US software house Adapt Software Systems, is that 'it is no longer profitable to develop general purpose programs' which are 'viewed as commodities similar to books. The user buys the program and is left essentially alone to figure out the operation and use of the program'. Instead, he says, 'users are looking for proven special purpose programs, prompt and competent technical support'.
Adapt has just launched Adapt-Floor, a three dimensional finite element program that models entire floor systems, including openings and other irregularities. The program, which runs on Windows 95 or NT, includes a design module which checks the conformity of the floor system to either British or US codes.
The new product sits alongside Adapt-ABI, the firm's general finite element package which performs time-dependent analysis of concrete bridges and frames during the construction phase and after the structure is complete. The latest version, 3.0, runs on Windows 95 and NT, and includes modules which can be used to examine different static and moving load conditions as well as friction and elongation.
British software house Integer is set to launch its own finite element package for bridge designers at the end of the year as a complementary product to its SuperStress range of analysis and design software for bridge engineers. Marketing manager Phil Strahan says: 'Some of the existing products are very complicated and difficult to use, so people are not bothering with them. A lot of engineers use the grillages in SuperStress, but they want to do a finite element analysis to refine the design.'
He says there is considerable interest from county councils and consultants with responsibility for checking bridge loading capabilities, as a true finite element analysis could prove more conclusively whether a structure can carry the load demanded of it.
In advance of launching its own product, Integer is offering a finite element design and analysis package for building designers developed by Swedish software house Skanska. The package, FEM, can be used to design in accordance with both Swedish and British codes.
Integer has recently started developing Windows versions of all its leading products. The first product to be transferred from DOS was superSTRESS, and the remaining modules are set to follow over the next 12 months. The company offered the Windows versions to all its existing users as a free upgrade.
Most of the companies in this market are now operating internationally, and are importing the relevant codes of practice and standards for each country as required. UK firm Bestech is currently attacking the US market with its SAM suite of bridge design programs. Director Barry Skinner says: 'In America, they're adopting new load and resistance factor design codes, which are very similar to our limit state codes.'
The company had to make some quite major modifications to its software, but once the new codes are adopted, it will have a product it can target at the state departments of transport, which control most of the bridge work in the US. Bestech also sells well in Australia, where the codes are similar to those in the US.
International markets are starting to recover from the recent recession which hit the Far East. AceCad, which produces the StruCAD suite of 3D CAD/ CAM structural steel detailing software, originally suffered with Far Eastern problems, but is now seeing slight growth.
International business development manager Ian Maxwell says: 'When we saw a downturn in the Far East, we saw an upturn in North America and the Middle East. But now we're starting to see orders again in the Far East - particularly for industrial and commercial buildings.'
StruCAD supports the European CIMsteel protocol, which allows sharing of information on a project and has just been adopted in the US (NCE 17 September 1998). AceCad already sells in 48 countries and, with Japanese steel designers and fabricators talking about adopting CIMsteel, the market could grow still further. The product can be integrated with standard design packages, as well as finite element analysis models.
Integration is becoming more important in the design, manufacture and construction process. Most design packages can now communicate with each other thanks to the adoption of standard layering systems, but they must also be able to transfer information into specialist packages and electronically to remote locations.
John Chapman, marketing director of GTS Cadbuild, says: 'Users are increasingly integrating all their systems so that they can import conceptual structures from AutoCAD; analyse and design them using, say, Strap, and then export the data across the world using the Internet.'
Strap is the firm's finite element analysis program which will run in accordance with a wide range of international codes. The firm also produces structural steel design programs such as Quikport and Quikframe.
All the products contain a variety of intelligent wizards which automate much of the design or analysis process.
In Strap, there are wizards to create full 2D and 3D models, including the loading, from just a few figures. Quikport - a portal frame design package - goes further, with wizards to create the structural models and then design them to give the optimum frame weight, for example. The full range of wizards has been added to the latest version of the product, Quikport 2000, which has just been released.