In contrast to the aerospace and land transport industries the use of finite element technology in civil engineering is still quite immature and it has yet to be integrated into the overall business process. Much design work is characterised by a culture of highly prescriptive codes of practise and in many areas it is not clear how to use rigorous analysis methods effectively in the design process. The industry deals with natural phenomena which are intrinsically variable and often ill-defined (e.g. earthquakes, wind loading, soil strata) and an attendant issue is how to treat the uncertainties that arise.
An important driver is the attention to more sustainable and environmentally sound forms of construction with the attendant interest in reducing cost of construction. This is leading to a greater interest in the use of IT and the import of manufacturing industry business processes. In a number of areas there is evidence of considerably increased use ( e.g. in hydrology and river modelling, in geotechnics and foundation engineering. In both these areas a key issue is how to characterise the uncertainties of the real world with the analytical model). Safety (of constructions) is also an important driver.
There is also considerable use of finite element technology for the support and maintenance of civil infrastructure. Analytical models provide the basis from which to optimise the maintenance-spend of the infrastructure while at the same time ensuring structural integrity.
At a technical level there are a number of requirements:
- Improved models for non-linear behaviour (especially concrete) under dynamic loads
- More robust non-linear models
- Automatic calibration of material parameters
- Coupled analyses of various physical processes
- Pre and post processors
- Integration of CAD – FEM
An emerging area is concerned with application of smart structure technology. So far examples include vibration control and active damping of high-rise structures, structural health monitoring (e.g. bridges, dams, wind turbines, historical structures) and system identification (e.g. historical structures, bridges).
Business drivers include design for lifetime costs, safety and durability and environmental issues. Barriers include little experience and low maturity level in application of the FE technology to use in asset management, ie. maintenance, rehabilitation or assessment.