Automation and Communication in Structural Engineering: Shaping the Future of the Industry

In this episode, we talk to Michael J. Bolduc, P.E., Senior Project Manager at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. (SGH), about automation and communication in structural engineering, and how engineers can help avoid the increasing pressure on structural designers to respond to major architectural changes or coordination issues late in the design process.

Engineering Quotes:



Here Are Some of the Questions We Ask Michael:

  • You co-authored an article in the March 2021 Structure Magazine, called Communicating in a BIM World. Can you please explain why effective communication between architects and engineers is so important and how it affects the success of a project?
  • In the article you said, and I quote, “The development of sophisticated ‘truly integrated’ design tools has been limited to high-profile design projects, whereas the more widely adopted tools have not lived up to the hype.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
  • What strategies can structural engineers adopt to help designers minimize the rework penalty, stay efficient in a slowing economy, and prepare for a future where BIM is the deliverable?
  • In another article you co-authored in the March 2022 Structure magazine called Automation and the Future of Structural Engineering, you talked about how tech allows us to automate responses. Can you please talk about that?
  • In the article, you mentioned that “… as daily work processes become more model-driven, and less time is spent looking at the drawings, the potential to miss critical details that are not modeled is introduced.” Do you worry that it will lead to structural failures?
  • Do you have any advice for engineers?

Here Are Some of the Key Points Discussed About Automation and Communication in Structural Engineering: Shaping the Future of the Industry:

  • Effective communication between architects and engineers is more important now than it ever was. The pace of the work is much faster now than in the past, so making sure that you are clear in your communications is vital. The numerous ways of communication we have available to us causes us to be inundated with them. You must set the boundaries and standards of how you want to communicate in a project to ensure you do not miss any information. Have conversations because the conversation places the context of what you are trying to achieve. If you are having trouble understanding what someone is trying to say, pick up the phone and make sure you understand what information the other person is looking for so that you can give them the answer they need.
  • The true integration of a full building-type model only happens on large-scale projects. It is where you have the time and budget that is dedicated to the design team to get the construction-ready model during the design phase. Typical construction projects pose a challenge for this because of time constraints and tight budgets. Having a construction-ready model lets you coordinate everything down to a single duct penetration and turns a reactionary design into a proactive design.
  • Having BIM as a deliverable is a long-term goal for the structural engineering industry. Everyone looks more at your model than your drawings. Use placeholders within your model to communicate important attention areas. Do not put too much detail in your models and only put in what is necessary at a given time point. Detailing a model too soon can cause challenges if changes are needed because you will need to change a multitude of elements. Ensure that a section of the model is locked down before detailing that section. Anticipate change. It is going to happen, so expect it to come. Don’t bring things to a final state but to where you know you are close, and leave yourself notes of finalization steps to be done once it is locked in.
  • Try to automate mundane tasks. Find the simple and repetitive tasks that you do and find a way to automate and streamline them. Automation will help you by freeing up more time to make the other changes that you need to do. It will keep engineers doing engineering. Let the automation of corrects happen through visualization, which is the model. Models have a multitude of information where you can get feedback on the complexity or the completeness of your given set.
  • Details that are in the drawings but not modeled stand a chance of being missed or implemented incorrectly. Models supply the contractor with a wealth of information, but not looking at the drawing set can often cause the small details to be missed. The small details are often not modeled because they can be tedious and time-consuming. If we are moving toward a BIM deliverable in the structural engineering industry, then we must ask for more money because of the extra time and effort being put into the model to take it to a construction-ready model.
  • We are moving toward a fully digital process and digital communication era. These confluences are going to merge into a way of having a digital transfer. We are heading to a time when the digital model can be virtually stamped and tied to the drawings and packaged as a set. One of the biggest things with BIM is that cross-disciplined information sharing becomes easier because things can be visualized and help everyone to understand what must be done.
  • Young engineers who are interested in a career in BIM must learn AutoCAD and Revit because they are predominant in the industry. Leveraging BIM is critical to staying efficient and being part of the game. There are many ways to learn BIM online, and many schools offer classes on it. Learn as much 3D modeling as possible because virtual buildings are where the structural engineering industry is heading.

More Details in This Episode…

About the Guest: Michael J. Bolduc, P.E.

Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.Mike is a registered Professional Engineer in Massachusetts and a Senior Project Manager at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. (SGH). He has over 20 years of structural design experience and was an early adopter of BIM on a variety of projects, including healthcare design, commercial design, and precast concrete structures. He joined the SEI-CASE BIM Committee in 2011 and served as a committee chair for over six years, leading the committee to evolve from a primary BIM focus to a new focus on Digital Design and the effects on structural engineering practice. He now serves on the SEI Business Practice Activities Division Executive Committee and the SEI Board of Governors.

About the Host: Cara Green, P.E.

Hilti North AmericanCara Green, P.E., works in Hilti’s North American headquarters as the Structural Engineering Trade Manager for the U.S. and Canada. She is currently an EIT in Texas and received her bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.


Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.
Structure Magazine Article: Communicating in a BIM World
Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) Digital Design
Structure Magazine Article: Automation and the Future of Structural Engineering – Installment 2
Connect with Michael J. Bolduc, P.E., on LinkedIn 

This Episode Is Brought to You by PPI

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Please leave your comments or questions in the section below on automation and communication in structural engineering and how it is shaping the future of the industry.

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To your success,

Cara Green, P.E.
Host of The Structural Engineering Podcast

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