Wednesday, June 17, 2009

ad hoc interview

I just had a very informative telephone conversation with Brian Webb, the founder and president of Avontus Software. His company has developed solutions for shoring, scaffolding and formwork applications. I asked him in particular about adoption of CAD by the industry and about whether parametric modeling might have any place in the design of scaffolding systems.

Mr. Webb explained that innovations in software as a design tool are being realized more in the forming industry, where software has been developed that can work with existing CAD tools to design formwork that in his words "will not fail."  In other words, the design drawings for the concrete are imported into the software and the design and calculations for the formwork are automatically generated.  In the scaffolding industry, CAD is mainly used in place of the drafting table to facilitate documentation that is delivered in much the same way as it has always been.  Avontus provides a suite of "blocks" from the major scaffolding manufacturers for its customers to use in the design of the scaffolding.  The software company also provides software that will aid in the calculation of loads as well as generative software for laying out and design of curved scaffolding installations, however most design and calculation for scaffolding loading requirements is still done the old fashioned way.  One reason for the slow adoption of newer digital technologies is that until very recently, large markets such as New York City's didn't even require installers to submit drawings of planned installations.

In Europe, explains Webb, the standard for general construction scaffolding is 'tube and coupler' systems (see photo above) as opposed to the 'frame' systems prevalent in the U.S.  European software companies have developed tools to design these systems, which are labor-intensive to install, but offer much more flexibility in accommodating often irregular site conditions.  This deserves more research.  Might there exist software that can automatically perform parametrically to optimize these installations using a standard kit of parts? 

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