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The future of design

Parametric Modelling By Calum Perey, Principal, Structural Engineering – 28 October 2021

Calum sat at his desk looking at a parametric model on 2 screens


Calum Perey in office

Calum Perey

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Due to the rapid and ever-expanding software industry, innovative opportunities are being brought into consultancy. New tools and techniques are changing and shaping the way we work, both aiding and adapting traditional practices. Within engineering and architecture, a new tool has emerged that is completely transforming the way designers approach tasks.

Parametric modelling is a system that enables designers to instantaneously alter the constraints of their model. It captures the design logic within a series of input parameters and functions, enabling the user to rapidly change and regenerate the entire model to suit their desired values. This enables engineers and architects to explore a wide range of permutations to efficiently reach an optimal design solution.

Parametric models have no fixed dimensions or attributes, rather it has a series of commands that will generate the model according to any chosen inputs. This method of design has become a powerful tool for all disciplines, enabling designers to exploit unique opportunities tailored to assist with their everyday tasks. These tools have numerous applications, with the biggest advantage for structural engineers being the ability to quickly alter geometry, generating any model combination to efficiently analyse a full range of design options to form an optimal solution.

In Cundall, we have been utilising these tools across multiple disciplines and projects, to efficiently analyse a full spectrum of design possibilities. This is beneficial to our clients, as it not only saves time, but also ensures the final solution is based off a comprehensive analysis that has explored multiple options to produce a better design.

For the designer, a major challenge associated with parametric modelling comes in deciding when to implement. Not every task needs to be parameterised and it is a skill to understand when it is appropriate to utilise the tools.

Another major challenge involves establishing the model constraints. A parametric model can be programmed to control any variable, but the more complex the inputs the longer it will take to build the model. It is vital for the designer to establish what needs to be varied, and what can be fixed. However, fixing inputs to simplify models can sometimes create more issues, as variables might change at later stages in the project, leaving the model unable to adapt. Especially for complex projects, the designer initially doesn’t know what the critical input variables are, so it can be very difficult to build an efficient and effective model that can adapt to future unknown design changes.

Integrating parametric models has also started to change the ownership of geometry within a project. Traditionally, technicians have exclusively controlled geometry in both 2D CAD and 3D BIM models, however the integration of parametrics will start to shift the possession between both the technician and the engineer. Building the parametric model is currently being undertaken by the engineer, as it forms part of the projects fundamental design.

This can cause problems for technicians, as analysis models are not generally drawn to the accuracy and detail required for fabrication and construction. This can potentially cause additional rework to integrate the parametric model with the BIM model. It is therefore vital that both mutual understanding, training and integration of correct practices occur for both the engineer and technician, so that as our approach to design changes in the future, all parties benefit from the improvements.

Parametrics has become a vital core component for consultants and is the future of design. For structural engineers it is now being fully integrated within both structural analysis and BIM software, creating completely adaptable models that can integrate any required changes instantly. Eventually there will be an entire library of standardised designs, that an engineer can open, input the project variables, and within hours have a running model.

These pioneering tools are becoming standard practice and are being incorporated into all aspects and disciplines within the design and it’s essentially to stay competitive and be on the edge of design innovation.