Municipal engineering projects are typically large and quite complex. That’s why it’s always best to hire a construction firm with proven experience tackling large, municipal projects. Despite the apparent benefits of working with a professional, some contractors wonder if it’s really necessary given that there are all kinds of software programs available that can help them design bridges, roadways, sewage systems, canals, and other municipal structures.
So, is using online software a good idea when taking on a municipal engineering project? The short answer is both yes and no. Professional civil engineers use a wide variety of software programs to facilitate their work, but the amount of time it would take for an inexperienced contractor to master them all would be exorbitant.
Why Hire a Civil Engineer
Civil engineers devote years of their lives to learning the ins and outs of their crafts. They need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related field in addition to a specialized license, and almost all engineers promoted to senior roles have masters’ degrees as well. Licensing requirements vary by state, but since these engineers construct, maintain, and repair public works projects, just about all locales require licensing and extensive training. Visit cochraneng.com to find out about one well-respected municipal engineering firm that hires only high-qualified engineers.
Part of the education that modern civil engineers receive is focused on learning how to harness the power of specialized software programs to complete tasks more efficiently and with greater precision. Just about all university textbooks now include software applications and courses that require students to learn how to use drafting software, land surveying software, infrastructure design software, and even hydraulic engineering software. This gives them the knowledge they need to complete large, complex, and specialized municipal projects.
3D Modeling Software
This type of software provides, at a minimum, basic drawing tools and the ability to create and modify 3D primitive images. The most popular 3D imaging software used in civil engineering is AutoCAD Civil 3D. This program supports building information modeling (BIM) and boasts a wide variety of integrated features to facilitate drafting, design, and construction. Users can collaborate on projects with other members of their teams to create and analyze designs and run simulations to determine how they will perform.
Many municipal projects require more than just BIM simulations. Creating accurate hydrologic simulations requires access to and knowledge of a different type of software program. Programs like HEC-HMS allow users to simulate watershed’s hydrologic processes by describing their physical properties and meteorology.
The simulation then provides easy-to-read tables describing the watershed’s volume, depth, and peak flow to make it easier to determine drainage needs and create designs for ponds, reservoirs, and other hydrologic systems. Similar programs are available for mapping hydraulic flow in rivers, streams, and flood plains to help engineers determine whether a new structure such as a channel, a culvert, or a bridge will cause an adverse flooding event.
Sewer Management Programs
Sewer design requires yet another specialized form of design and simulation software. Programs like StormCAD and Autodesk’s Storm and Sanitary Analysis (SSA) make it possible to design and analyze drainage systems, stormwater overflows, and sanitary sewer systems. Both programs can be integrated with AutoCAD and are commonly used to size pipes and structures, determine drainage area runoff and inlet capacity, and correctly size systems to accommodate the entire municipality’s stormwater or wastewater flow.
City Planning Software
Municipal engineers are sometimes hired to work on city planning projects. They often use programs like CityEngine to create 3D models of large urban environments based on real-world or conceptual data. This kind of software allows engineers to create, view, and share complex 3D models and export them to everything from visualization tools to VR experiences. As with the other software programs on this list, using city planning software like CityEngine requires extensive training.
Road Design Software
Programs like Site3D and RoadEng Civil Engineer can be used to facilitate road design in both urban and rural environments. This form of specialized municipal engineering software can also be used to design rail lines and pipeline corridors, determine the best approach to stream reconstruction, and create forest and resource road designs. Engineers can enter survey data as inputs then use these programs to calculate earthwork quantities, create output sheets, make changes to designs, and more.
Data Analysis Software
Designing and building a municipal project is just the first step. Civil engineers also need to maintain the structures, repair them, and ensure that everything continues to operate as intended throughout their life cycles.
Specialized data analysis software like Autodesk’s InfraWorks 360 takes analysis beyond 3D modeling to see what impact design decisions would have in the real world. This makes it easier for civil engineers to optimize designs to maximize utility and usable lifespan while simultaneously saving on engineering time and material costs. It also facilitates essential decision making regarding maintenance schedules, repair cycles, and other essential aspects of ongoing project maintenance.
What Does All That Mean?
The programs mentioned above constitute just a few of the tools available to civil engineers. While they speed up the design process, the programs aren’t meant to replace the specialized knowledge that engineers get while pursuing an education in their field. The average contractor doesn’t have access to all these programs and even if he or she did, it would take longer to learn how to use them than it would take to complete the project.
The Bottom Line
Trained civil engineers have an in-depth knowledge of many types of software programs. Municipal engineering firms have access to a wide variety of software programs that help engineers effectively and efficiently design models, run simulations and ensure timely project completion.
While it’s a good thing that they have access to all these programs, it would be a mistake to assume that any contractor can learn to use them and complete municipal construction projects without specialized training. It’s always better to hire a specialist.