Structural Engineers Timber Design Software Review and Recommendations.

A key tool that structural engineers rely upon in the design of non-residential or commercial building sector is structural analysis software. This software predicts the behaviour of structures and building components. The widely used structural analysis software available to engineers is dominated by concrete and steel information. For the timber industry to compete in the non-residential or commercial building sector, suitable software that includes timber information has to be readily available.

While software is used regularly for timber in domestic residential applications, there has been a lack of knowledge on suitable software for non-residential or commercial building applications. A 2010 survey of 30 structural engineering firms across Australia found that 70% of the engineers surveyed said that they were either likely or very likely to specify more timber in non-residential projects if there was a readily available structural analysis software package, which incorporated current timber and engineered wood product properties, and provided a check against compliance to AS 1720 Timber Structures – Design Methods Standards.

Many engineers expressed uncertainty about AS 1720, as they are not frequent users of this Standard, so in turn lacked confidence in specifying timber. A software program that checks against the Standard in a transparent way would substantially reduce engineers’ risk in designing with timber and engineered wood products. In time, it would also increase comfort in the specification of timber. 

The survey pointed to a wide range of timber engineering and design software programs being available, and the number has increased since the survey was conducted, but they have not been taken up by general structural engineers. In general this is because lack of awareness of the software amongst structural engineers. 

The review recommends that FWPA help to publicise and promote existing timber specific structural design and analysis software to structural engineers through FWPA’s WoodSolutions program. The review also recommends that after a period of time, structural engineers should be surveyed on their software preferences to measure any change in usage. If the survey shows structural engineers are not using the existing available software program, FWPA could consider developing a generic timber Standards/Code checking compliance with AS1720 software module that could be incorporated into the most common structural analysis software.

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