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AECbytes Product Review (May 17, 2010)

Tekla Structures 16

Product Summary

Tekla Structures 16 is the new release of Tekla’s BIM application for structural engineering that also includes comprehensive tools for detailers, fabricators, manufacturers, and constructors, along with a module for construction management.

Pros: Extensive repertoire of modeling and detailing tools for steel and concrete (precast as well as cast-in-place) construction; innovative data structure that makes file sizes concise, even for large and complex projects; large library of parametric components that automate the tasks of creating details and connections; bidirectional link to all the leading analysis tools; strong commitment to interoperability; new role-based task interfaces for different types of users; new Mini-toolbar allows quick editing of element properties and position; easy access to a large amount of learning resources, including interactive tutorials and videos; new tool to convert IFC objects imported in reference models to native Tekla objects; new free Model Reviewer tool for collaborative design review of Tekla models; many additional improvements in modeling, analysis, drawing, collaboration, and interoperability.

Cons: Complex application that still relies heavily on numeric input in dialogs for many operations; interface not as modern and sleek compared to competing applications; does not support multi-processing except for a few tasks; does not integrate directly with any architectural or MEP BIM applications.

Price: Available in various configurations priced from $1,000. The Engineering configuration, which includes rebar and connection modeling, clash detection, and other project management features, is $9,900.  All licenses are network and multi-user.

Tekla recently released version 16 of its well-established and popular BIM application for structural design and detailing, Tekla Structures. AECbytes first took a detailed look at Tekla Structures in November 2007 when it was in version 13—that review should serve as a reference for those who are not yet familiar with the repertoire and capabilities of the application. It provided an overview of the application and looked at aspects such as how a project is organized, the interface and tools for creating a structural model, the analysis, drawing, and detailing capabilities of the application, and the support for distributed teams as well as external collaboration. In addition to its extensive repertoire of modeling and detailing tools for both steel and concrete construction, other key highlights of Tekla Structures—particularly in comparison with competing applications such as Revit Structure and Bentley Structure—are a centralized database that ensures that all drawings and reports stay coordinated with the model, along with an innovative data structure that makes file sizes concise, even for large and complex projects. The model is contained in one file, while all drawings, reports, settings, and so on are in separate files but still part of the project database.   

A subsequent review of Tekla Structures 14 in December 2008 looked at its new construction management module, which can be used to carry out and manage construction projects from conceptual design to pre-construction planning and through ongoing site management. Version 14 also included enhancements such as an improved task-oriented user interface and menus, a more flexible and efficient licensing system, improved tools for coordinating multi-disciplinary models, the ability to work on models twice as large as before without the risk of running out of memory, and greatly improved documentation including a vast array of video tutorials that can help to reduce the learning curve of the application.

The newly released Tekla Structures 16 continues to enhance the capabilities of the application along several fronts including performance, interface, learning, modeling, analysis, collaboration, and interoperability. It also expands and builds upon the improvements in version 15 that was released last year. Let’s explore the consolidated improvements that have been engineered in Tekla Structures since the last review of version 14 of the application. 

Performance, Usability, and Learning Enhancement

Like most other BIM applications, Tekla Structures is now available in a 64-bit version in addition to the traditional 32-bit version. The 64-bit version allows users to create and handle considerably larger models than before. The improved capability is gained through memory processing, since the 64-bit version is able to utilize all the memory that is available in the hardware and the operating system. In addition, Tekla Structures 16 works with Windows 7, the newest Windows operating system, and has been certified by Microsoft for compatibility and reliability on Windows 7, guaranteeing a certain level of quality and performance.

Recall from my review of Tekla Stuctures 14 that the user interface was significantly overhauled in that release to make it cleaner and less cluttered. This was achieved by streamlining and organizing the toolbars more efficiently and re-organizing the menus to make them more concise and follow a more logical structure based on the typical user’s workflow. Tekla Structures 16 has taken this interface overhaul a step further by introducing a role-based interface that caters to the specific requirements of the different disciplinary professionals that use the application. When you start Tekla Structures, in addition to the type of environment (which captures the standards used in many different countries; there are several environments available for download at the time of installation), you can now also select the disciplinary role you want to use to work with the application. Different environments have different roles; Figure 1 shows the five roles that are available for the US Imperial environment. Each role has a user interface that is customized for it, including the types of tools, catalogs, drawing settings, reports, and so on, helping to improve the usability of the application for its diverse range of users.


Figure 1. The new option to select a Role when starting Tekla Structures 16, so that the appropriate task-based interface can be launched.

Another aspect of the application that had been significantly improved in Tekla Stuctures 14 was the quality of the documentation and online learning, with a wide range of video tutorials and an interactive First Steps tutorial designed to help a new user get started quickly and easily with the application. Since then, Tekla has continued to enhance the learning resources. The First Steps tutorial has been updated for the new release and more video tutorials have been created, including those describing the new features of Tekla Structures 16. In addition, Tekla has now created a Self-Learning portal on its Extranet where all the learning content is presented in a more organized way to better benefit new as well as existing users (see Figure 2). Access to the Extranet is available only to registered users, and not to the public at large. Most Tekla users would be registered for the Extranet anyway, as the software will typically be downloaded from here—installations CDs are available only by request rather than by default. This effort to not only provide good learning resources but also find a better way to organize them makes them much more accessible and useful in learning the application.


Figure 2. The Self-Learning section of Tekla’s Extranet provides an easy and efficient way to access different kinds of learning content.

Improvements in Modeling, Analysis, and Drawing Production

Tekla Structures 16 includes several interface enhancements to make the process of creating and editing building elements easier. Some of these were introduced in version 15 and enhanced in version 16, such as the Mini-toolbar, which appears in a semi-transparent mode when you select an object in a model or in a drawing. Moving the mouse over the toolbar activates it and allows you to quickly change different properties of the object such as the name, profile, material, phase, class, etc. The exact properties that appear in the toolbar will depend on the type of object, and can be customized by the user. Additionally, the Mini-toolbar includes a tool for copying properties between objects, and commands to open up the Properties dialog for the object as well as the Inquire Object dialog to get more information about it. It also allows you to graphically adjust the position and rotation of the object by using a selection wheel, as shown in Figure 3. The Mini-toolbar can be dragged to another position or pinned in one spot by using the Lock button in the top right corner.


Figure 3. Using the new Mini-toolbar to quickly adjust the position and orientation of a column. The eight sectors are for position selection while the small green circle controls the rotation angle.

Another useful enhancement that was introduced in version 15 was the ability to visualize and use the work plane for modeling. The work plane now has its own grid, which can be used for positioning objects. By default, the work plane grid is displayed in dark red color to distinguish it from the main view plane grid displayed in dark blue, as shown in Figure 4. The Snapping toolbar also contains a new option that can be used to display the work plane grid. You can snap to positions either on the view plane grid or the work plane grid, depending upon your selection. Work planes can be quickly created in a variety of ways to coincide with the faces of objects or by selecting one, two, or three points in the model.


Figure 4. Creating and using a work plane grid to create a new set of concrete panels.

A whole slew of snapping improvements have been introduced, both in versions 15 and 16. A new Snap to Line option allows snapping to entire lines in the model and is useful when creating objects that line up with an existing object or a grid line (see Figure 5), or when creating objects based on lines in reference files. Other enhancements include snapping orthogonally along the Z axis, snapping orthogonally relative to two previously picked points, snapping to extension lines of nearby objects for alignment in 2D as well as 3D, and snapping to positions at even distances where the snapping precision is determined by the current zoom level. Additional interface enhancements for speeding up the creation and editing of elements include the display of key dimensions when an element is being created (as seen in Figure 5) or when it is selected, a new Zoom Selected option that quickly zooms the active view to a selected object, and a new Automatic Rotation Center option for quickly setting the rotation center of a view at a desired location.


Figure 5. Using the new Snap to Line option to quickly create a contour plate by selecting the edges of the four existing beams.

Another useful enhancement is related to the numbering of objects, a common requirement in structural design. A new Number Series of Selected Objects command has been introduced which automatically numbers different areas of the model separately. This allows users to selectively number the same types of parts but in different phases or cycles of detailing at different times. It also allows numbering different materials (such as concrete and steel), which are usually at different detailing and release cycles but in the same Tekla Structures model, with different numbering settings. This can potentially save a lot of time, especially when working on a large model, as there is no need to number the entire model at once—the model can be split into smaller numbering series, for example by area or phase. When the model is modified, only the affected series needs to be renumbered.

The modeling repertoire of Tekla Structures has also been expanded to include more types of building systems such as light gauge steel frames, wood frames, wood connectors, concrete masonry, and fire protection. All of these are available as detail-level components in the Component Catalog (see Figure 6), from where they can be selected for placement into the model. There are also many enhancements to the cast-in-place (CIP) design and construction tools, including out-of-the-box settings for CIP design and detailing, CIP components available in the Component Catalog, and reporting tools such as rebar quantity take-off (see Figure 7). CIP design is also made easier through several reinforcement modeling improvements including better reinforcing bar bending type auto-recognition, improved meshing patterns, more component options, and auto-splicing of rebars in the Slab Reinforcing Tool. All of these enhancements add up to make Tekla Structures the leading BIM solution for CIP construction, and is particularly important because that industry is still lagging behind in BIM implementation. Hopefully, with the availability of a BIM solution specifically targeted towards the needs of this industry, CIP professionals can now also begin to derive the benefits of BIM implementation.


Figure 6. The Component Catalog showing the expanded range of detailing tools for different types of building systems.

Figure 7. A sample rebar quantity take-off report from a CIP model in Tekla Structures 16.

Recall that Tekla Structures 14 had introduced the capability to graphically manipulate the analysis model and also allowed the analysis elements of multiple objects to be combined into a single one, useful in cases where the objects work together and need to be treated as one structural element. Tekla Structures 16 further improves the analysis capabilities on several fronts. You can now interactively add nodes as well as rigid links to analysis models. This does not affect the corresponding physical model. Other improvements in the interface include the use of handles to adjust the position of bar nodes, area nodes and area edges if the automatic model creation does not produce the desired result. Another enhancement is that all analysis-related content has been moved from the regular Properties dialogs to new Analysis Properties dialogs. This facilitates analysis by making all analysis-related properties accessible in one dialog that is connected to an analysis object; it also simplifies the dialogs for the corresponding physical objects. While Tekla Structures has had the ability to create multiple analysis models for the same physical model for a while now, the new version allows supports/releases to be set differently in each analysis model (see Figure 8), providing further flexibility for analysis.


Figure 8. Setting up different releases for the same beam object in two different analysis models.

Several improvements have also been made to the tools for creating and managing design drawings. The key new feature is the ability to define object-level settings for controlling how different object types are represented in drawings. For example, you can specify different colors, linetypes, lineweights, etc. for columns, beams, walls, braces, and other elements, and save them as one object setting. Multiple object settings can be defined in this manner, and when a drawing is to be created, you can simply select which object setting to apply to it (see Figure 9). These settings can be easily managed and updated in a list per view as shown. Another useful enhancement is the ability to individually assign drawing object representations to reference model objects, so, for example, different layers in the architects’ drawings can be shown in specified colors as required. Additional drafting tools have been introduced such as adding break lines and moment connection symbols automatically in the drawings. Filtering now works in the same way for drawings as for models, allowing contents of drawings to be filtered in more complex ways. There are numerous other enhancements related to dimensioning, drawing symbols, the Master Drawing Catalog, associativity of a drawing view to a part of the model, printing and exporting drawing view frames, and other tasks.


Figure 9. Defining the graphic representation of a column in an object level setting and subsequently using that setting for generating a drawing.

Interoperability and Collaboration Enhancements

In past reviews, we saw that while Tekla Structures supports a wide variety of file formats for both import and export, it relies primarily on the IFC format for interoperability with other disciplinary BIM applications. Version 16 includes several enhancements to make the IFC work even better for interoperability with applications such as Revit Architecture, Revit MEP, ArchiCAD, CAD-duct, and so on. A new macro called IFCObjectConverter option is available to convert linear objects such as beams, walls, and columns in an IFC reference model into native Tekla Structures objects (see Figure 10). This allows the structural engineer to use, for example, the structural objects that have already been modeled by the architect in the architectural model rather than re-create them using the architectural model as a reference. In addition, IFC import and export has been improved in several ways: it is now faster and better able to handle large files; you can now export assembly definitions, bolt sets, and reinforcing bars to an IFC model; and there is a new option to add units to IFC property sets and values for quantities including area, length, volume, and weight. Thus, Tekla is investing a lot of effort into improving its IFC capabilities in order to be interoperable with as many applications as possible, not just BIM applications, but also additional downstream applications such as Solibri Model Checker, which works primarily with the IFC format.


Figure 10. Converting columns from an ArchiCAD model imported as an IFC file to native Tekla objects, shown in (a) and (b) respectively. Subsequently, the visibility of the reference model is turned off, but the converted columns are now Tekla objects and stay visible, as shown in (c).

Additional enhancements for collaboration include better clash management with classification of all clashes by type and the ability to prioritize the clashes and decide which clashes are acceptable by approving them. Another useful new feature is the ability to view the origin of reference models so that project teams can correctly set up project datums before sharing models. Tekla Structures 16 also has the capability for change detection in reference models, which is helpful in keeping track of revisions. The light-weight web models that can be published from Tekla Stuctures for viewing with the free Web Viewer (as described in my review of Tekla Structures 13) can now have custom data embedded into objects, enabling this data to be shared with external team members. It is also possible now to publish a web model only of selected objects rather than the complete model.

While the Web Viewer is a great way for engineers to publish their models for non-Tekla users to view, it has no commenting capability and cannot be used for design review. This limitation has been addressed by the introduction of a free Model Reviewer application that can allow external team members to view as well as comment on Tekla models (see Figure 11). The application is similar to Autodesk Design Review except that it works only for Tekla files rather than DWF files. While Tekla Structures supports Adobe’s 3D PDF format, it does not support the 3D DWF format, so the introduction of the Tekla Structures Model Reviewer fills a definite gap for Tekla users and can be very helpful in facilitating better design collaboration and coordination.


Figure 11. Adding a markup to a published Tekla model using the new Model Reviewer application.

Analysis and Conclusions

With each new release, Tekla Structures continues to expand its BIM repertoire for structural design and detailing as well as improve its usability and collaboration capabilities. Tekla Structures 16 has improvements in every aspect of the application, including the user interface, modeling of diverse building systems, analysis, drawing, detailing, interoperability, and multi-disciplinary design coordination and review. It also continues to build upon the dramatic improvements in learning resources that we saw in Tekla Structures 14. The plethora of material available on its Extranet for self-learning, including the interactive tutorials and numerous videos, represents a sincere effort by the company to do everything it can to reduce the learning curve of the application for its users.

Being a single disciplinary application rather than a multi-disciplinary platform like Revit and Bentley, it is easy to see why Tekla is strongly committed to interoperability among AEC applications. Its new IFC object converter utility should be extremely helpful for engineers to re-use objects that have already been modeled in other disciplinary applications, and the improved IFC import and export should help to better preserve the fidelity of the building data being exchanged between Tekla Structures and other applications. Tekla Structures continues to support the CIS/2 format—also an open standard—for exchanging data between structural applications. In addition, it is participating in Bentley’s ISM (integrated structural modeling) initiative discussed in AECbytes Newsletter #41 and has just announced an “OpenBIM Collaboration” initiative in partnership with Solibri that would use an open standard to enable workflow communication between different BIM authoring tools.

Some aspects of Tekla Structures that could be improved in future releases include support for multi-processing, which is currently used only in limited areas of the application such as reference model reading and clash detection. With multiple cores fast becoming a standard feature on most computers, it would be extremely helpful for users if their software could take advantage of all the cores to improve speed and performance. Thanks to its unique project structure described in my review of Tekla Structures 13, model sizes are concise and manageable even for large and complex projects, so the lack of multi-processing support is not a critical limitation yet. However, given that projects are getting increasingly more complex, it would be good for the application to keep expanding its multi-processing capabilities, especially when advances in computer hardware are already here to facilitate it.

Another aspect of the application that can continue to be improved is its interface. Although it was significantly overhauled in Tekla Structures 14 and has been further streamlined in this release with the new role-based task interfaces, it is still quite complex and takes a significant amount of time to learn. While the new Mini-toolbar is a great step towards improved usability, the overall interface could do with some modernization—it is missing the sleek look and feel of modern-day design applications. The new dimension display is helpful, but it is still a far cry from the heads-up dimension display of other BIM applications where you can not only see the dimension display but also write over it to quickly create elements with precise dimensions. There is no concept of a Project Browser as in other BIM applications, except for a Model Browser in the Construction Management module. Also, the interface for creating and activating different views continues to be quite primitive.

In the longer term, it would be great to see Tekla working on providing design optimization for structural engineering of the kind provided by SITEOPS for site design (see the article “SITEOPS: Applying Optimization Technology to Site Design”). Unlike architectural design, structural design is a lot more algorithmic and lends itself more easily to the development of rule-based design tools that can generate optimized solutions for at least some parts of the building structure instead of requiring the structural engineer to design every single aspect of it. We saw how design optimization was one of the key themes at the last Autodesk University, but while Autodesk is talking a lot about this, it hasn’t yet come up with any optimization tools for its AEC users. Tekla is actually in a very good position to explore optimization technology since it is purely focused on structural engineering unlike other vendors such as Autodesk and Bentley that are serving multiple disciplines. The next step for BIM is to start becoming more intelligent by automating routine tasks, and Tekla has the opportunity to become a frontrunner in this race, given that the playing field is still wide open.  

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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