When obscure engineering problems present themselves, Engineers often turn straight to analysis software to build a model and try and solve the problem.
The prevalent use of software in structural engineering is fantastic at providing us with fast answers which would otherwise have taken much longer to approximate.
However, as the old saying goes:
‘more haste, less speed!’
Mistakes can happen and it is incredibly important in the modern engineering landscape to verify the results of the software to ensure they are correct.
Here’s our internal process for verifying results:
Check the Deflected Shape
Deflections are the very first sense check for any engineering analysis. If we know the geometry of the structure, how the connections are formed and how the loads are applied, we can approximate the deflected shape before even hitting the ‘run’ button.
“If it looks right, or wrong - it probably is.”
Once satisfied that the deflected shape is as expected, the value and order of magnitude are the next indicators, again if the values are as expected, the assessment appears to be on the right track.
Check Applied Loads and Reactions
As Newton’s third law states:
“To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”
This is a fundamental verification tool in it’s simplicity.
For structural design applications, generally speaking we are designing structures that are static by nature (i.e. not moving), therefore we can easily check that all loads that we apply to the structure are carried through to the supports and all sum to zero.
Hand Calculations are Still Relevant!
With the increase in reliance on engineering and analysis programs, comes the risk of calculations being undertaken undercover or in a ‘black box’.
In the days before the mainstream use of these programs. Engineers designed from hand calculations, rules of thumb and first principles. These skills are still relevant today (if not more so than before) and we encourage all our engineers to perform basic calculations to verify all FEA results.
In summary, verification of engineering output is a critical element of the design phase, always be sceptical of all computer output and build engineering judgement!
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