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Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm
5

Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

3
(OP)
I'd like to share the things that have helped my firm grow technologically. I own a small structural engineering firm so this advice may not apply to bigger firm. I know this is unsolicited advice, but hopefully it helps someone.

1. Buy a subscription to AutoCAD. I tried a cheaper option (BricsCAD), but it just doesn't work well.

2. Get a 13x19 printer in the Epson WF series. 11x17 format printers are too small and large format plotters are too big for everyday tasks.

3. For site visit photos, use a Sony RX series camera. It's small enough for employees to use and the Wifi connectivity is easier to transfer photos than plugging in the memory card.

4. Use a server to store all your data with a physical backup (USB hard drive), cloud backup (Onedrive or equivalent), and a remote backup (Syncthing). I've never had to use a backup but a previous company I worked for almost went out of business because of a hurricane messing up their hard drives.

5. XP-pen Artist 24 Pro 2K graphics tablet is great for marking up drawings and calculations.

6. PDF-XChange is cheaper than Blubeam Revu and it gets the job done.

7. Use a 2 monitor display for everyone. Any random 1920x1080 display will do.

8. For calculations, use ETABS, SAFE, Tekla Tedds, and Excel. RAM and STAAD are garbage because of their pricing. Enercalc is not as good as Tedds (this is debatable, but I've tried both for years).

9. For in-company communications, use Google Chat. Wechat, Whatsapp, and Yammer are not good. I haven't tried Microsoft Teams, but Google Chat is working well so far.

10. For the website, use Wix. It's cheap and easy. It won't get the best SEO.

11. Make training videos. Use a microphone (use brand Blue, expensive) and OBS Studio (free). For editing the videos, use Powerdirector.

12. For computers using AutoCAD, RAM doesn't matter. 16 GB is enough. Processor speed and GPU are far more important. Don't cheap out on this.

13. iPhones are more reliable for business calls than Android phones.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Its a great topic and provides a forum for outlining equipment. It’s just me working here, and have 3 desktops and 2 laptops (I’m into tekkie toys); none of them are connected. I use the one desktop 99% of the time. I don’t have a firm.
  1. I only do limited drafting, with most of it 2D. I’ve used Bricscad for a decade and find it more than adequate for the work I do. I don’t know how the price of it is now, but it use to be half the price of AutoCAD LT and had more than 99% of the capabilities of the full blown AutoCAD. I don’t know how it currently compares. I’m using an early version and haven’t upgraded for, maybe 8 years. I highly recommend BricsCAD and unlike AutoCAD, you can still get a ‘perpetual’ license. I like owning my stuff (subject to licensing).
  2. I’ll look into a 13x19 printer. I’m quite happy with my Epson 11x17, except it’s an inkjet. The larger size sounds good. I don’t print very much anymore; I mostly create *.pdf files. My general printer is an 8-1/2x11 Samsung colour laser. My late wife got upset when I moved the HP 350C large format printer into the livingroom, so it’s down the basement. I haven’t had the need for large format prints for years.
  3. For site photos, I use my Sony a6000. I picked up a Sony a6400 as a result of ‘Engineers with Hobbies’ forum, but use the a6000 on site. It’s quite small and has lots of great features. I often use my phone (not as good as a real camera) but the Huawei P30 Pro takes excellent photos, including excellent macros. It’s almost as good as a real camera.
  4. There’s just me and basically one computer, so I don’t have a server system. A server is better from a reliability view, but not necessary for my work. Invest in a server quality HDD. Two backups are made at the end of each day to portable drives. One is to an SSD and the other to an M.2 drive. Knocking on wood, I’ve never had a failure. The ‘hole’ in my setup is that I don’t have offsite storage, only a fire safe that I put the one portable drive in each night.

    My son was instrumental in selecting components for his gaming (all computers) and the processors and video cards are, easily, up to snuff. I won’t let him overclock them. 16GB of fast RAM with low latency is adequate for my work. M.2 drives are used for all OS and applications on all computers, including laptops. My oldest desktop only as one M.2; it was assembled before M.2 drives were common and I had to order the part from Australia.
  5. I don’t use a tablet; they are good, but I don’t have a need for one. If on site, I will take my laptop, if I need it. I generally use the ASUS Zenbook Pro and I can do what I need. I’ve not done it, but I could easily design and draw a 20 storey building on it, in the middle of the bush. I also have two ADATA ”battery packs” that are good for the laptop or cell phone.
  6. I’m looking into PDF Xchange for manipulating *.pdf files. I have two similar programs, but am looking for something that allows me to easily insert pdf ‘sketches’ into other pdf files. Dynamic pdf files are also a great idea for my work.
  7. If I were more into drafting, a two display setup would be great. My 32” curved screen is adequate. Because of the close proximity to the screen, a curved screen is great.
  8. For calculations I find Excel and SMath to be mostly adequate. I use a 3D FEM frame program and ‘solids’ program for analysis, occasionally. With the exception of the frame program, I go for months without using the solids one. I often use an Excel beam program, written by Yakov years ago.
  9. Other than talking to myself, I don’t do in house communications.
  10. I don’t have a website and have little use for one; I’m not chasing down work and not interested in displaying it.
  11. I don’t need to make video training videos. My Logitech G935 headphones has a built in mic, but I don’t use it. I picked it up for the odd zoom conference.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

milkshakelake, curious to know which part of the structural industry you are in (i.e. commercial buildings).

Do you draft your own drawings? or you have drafters for that?

What are your thoughts on when to bring in new people? I crunched the numbers and looked at the risk/reward ratio of having 1-2 employees, it doesn't make a lot of financial sense to do it. By that, I mean a lot of risk for what seems like a very little reward.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

(OP)
@dik Thanks for sharing. I might steal some of these ideas. I think it's good to discuss these things because it takes years of trial and error and isn't trivial at all.

1. The non-perpetual license of AutoCAD really kills me. But BricsCAD doesn't display some things correctly, particularly multileaders and fields. I guess your mileage may vary.

3. Sony cameras are great in general. I'm thinking of getting an endoscope camera to get into cracks. I used my phone on a selfie stick once to get under a building and take videos of the foundations.

4. I'm thinking of upgrading the server with some M.2 NVME SSDs. It saves only a fraction of a second, but those add up.

10. Just curious, why don't you want to chase work and expand? I've seen you posting here for a while and it seems like you can take most of the business in your area with your knowledge and thoughtfulness.


@Enhineyero Financially, if you can make $1 more by hiring someone, it's worth it. If you're charging the right amount for your projects, the numbers should work out. That's why companies hire people. Emotionally, you can unload things you don't like to do. There will come a time, if not already, that you have more work than you can handle and will need people to do things you're already good at. Then you can focus on higher level decisions, like marketing, management, client relations, and running a smooth/efficient operation. One example is my "front desk", who handles things like invoices and proposals. I could do it myself, but having someone else do it frees me up for higher value things, and plus I hate paperwork.

My work is 95% residential multi-story and the rest is commercial/industrial. I have 2 engineers, 2 drafters/engineers, and 1 front desk. I'm trying to get larger buildings since they're not particularly harder than small buildings and they pay better.

I don't draft anything; I set up standards and make sure people follow it 100%. I focus on calculations and big picture things like where to put shear walls and columns.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

I can likely respond for dik on number 10, I believe I'm correct when I say dik is closer to not answering phone calls and emails than he is to requiring more work. He's one of those people that really enjoys doing what he's been doing for 40 years (50? I feel it's somewhere in that range) and so he does work now more for fun than income.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

I work in a bit of a vacuum... My work isn’t peer reviewed, and I very seldom get comments back. It’s nice to see what others do.

1. A couple of features I don’t use; I’ll check the problems out to see what the issue is. I’m really happy with Bricscad at a fraction of the cost. I’ve use 3D Bricscad for editing 80 Meg AutoCAD files with no issue.

3. I have a small digital one with a screen that stores photos. Resolution is sh*t.

4. If your PC handles PCIe 4, they are blazingly fast... else just really fast. All my computers have them as the primary drive and my desktops have two of them, one for OS and the other for apps. My old desktop has a single M.2. They weren’t common at the time and the MB only has accommodation for one. They run ‘hot’... the first one had a running temperature of 100C (I thought it was a typo, too); they need good heatsinks. They, I understand, are far more reliable than HDDs. Way back, I had a couple of WD HDDs fail, but haven’t had a failure for decades. My ‘machines’ are a lot faster than what I need and all are liquid cooled. No need to RAID them for speed. Any improvement is negligible. You’ll be surprised at the speed improvement. Other than my first AST 286, I’ve assembled all my computers... generally, ASUS products.

10. I’m getting old and more wobbly; I’m happy just playing engineer. I never was financially motivated and have never sought recognition. I’m just content. I’m contacted by a few engineers looking for design information or assistance every so often, and that’s about it. My experience is mostly industrial or commercial and only highrise residential. I’ve only done a few houses, and, generally, ‘as a favour’.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

(OP)
@dik Sounds like you're in a good place in life. Thanks for sharing! And yeah, I definitely plan to do an M.2 NVME setup without RAID. I haven't looked into liquid cooling but that could be useful for my next server and workstations.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

milkshakelake - thanks for opening this discussion. Nice to see what others are doing. I'm a one man shop right now, but have dreams of growing. Here's how I compare:

1. I use the AutoCAD LT suite. I get Revit and AutoCAD (2D only) for $550/yr. I don't run LISP routines, build custom menus, or any of the fancy stuff so I don't need full blown CAD or Revit. The basics suit me just fine. I also don't need all of the other 'stuff' that comes in the building suite. If they got their act together and turned Robot into an easy to use program good for all materials then I could see a benefit there, but otherwise the LT package is all I need. I looked into BricsCAD - the cost wasn't that much better than AC. It is cheaper, but not by much. And while the drafting might be comparable to AC, it seemed the BIM/3d modeling wasn't anything like Revit and I have a few clients that are pretty hell bent on everything in Revit all the time.

2. I've been happy with my WF-7820. It goes up to 13"x19" but I only use 11x17. The jump in paper cost from 11x17 to 12x18 is shocking. Probably not much in the grand scheme of things, but it didn't seem worth it. I'm not on site trying to scale half size prints anyway.

3. I have a Samsung Note 10+ phone. If I dig into it and play with settings, it gives my Canon Rebel DSLR a run for its money (as long as I don't need a telephoto, of course). The best part is that I can have it set to sync automatically, so if take 100 photos and then drop my phone off a 4 story stack of scaffolding, I didn't loose any of them as long as I had a signal. It also has a built in stylus so I can annotate important things in pictures on site. I have a borescope that I use. It comes in handy. Drill a hole in a floor and run the camera in. It syncs up to my phone with local wi-fi and I can store the photos in the same place as my other job site photos.

4. It's just me, and I'm only at about 130 projects for the year. My OneDrive for business serves as a good backup for now. I also keep it locally on my hard drive. I'm going to start investing in annual physical backups and a safe this year.

5. I have the XP-Pen Artist 12 Pro. Not as big as the 24, but it does the job. I bought it as a test to see if I like it. I love it. I use it for taking notes on the phone, hand calculations, marking up drawings, etc. When I upgrade I'll get the big one.

6. I love Bluebeam. I tried using Adobe. It got the job done, but not well. Can't beat the features that come with Bluebeam. Worth every penny to me.

7. I have a pair of 27" displays and my pen display. Couldn't agree with you more.

8. I'm letting my Tekla license expire. Didn't use it enough to justify $2k. Most of what I use it for can be done with other tools that I have, or with a manual table lookup. I'm in the trial phase of a SAFI General Structural Engineering license - I'm liking it so far. Reminds me a bit of older versions of RISA, but with neat tools like parameterized walls. You tell it where a wood stud wall is, where the windows and doors are, and where the beams bear and it infills all of the studs, jacks, kings, and columns. Can't wait to give that one a whirl on my next house...

9. Not an issue that I have to deal with yet. I have an Office subscription (Office 365, Outlook e-mail hosting, etc.) and it comes with Teams so I'll probably use that.

10. Same here. Wix is good, and I don't need SEO. Most of business is word of mouth/referrals. I just have the website so I look like a real business and not just some guy sitting at home in his pajamas...

11. An interesting idea. Possible marketing usage - make training videos for architects. There was a small firm in my area that started doing technical notes for architects years ago. Simple structural engineering topics that frustrate architects a lot and things that get missed in coordination. It got the firm's name in front of all of the architects in the area, showed that they care about coordinating, etc. I say there was a small firm doing this...because they're now the regional powerhouse. Offices in several cities. If it's taller than 4 stories around here it's likely them.

12. I'm running 32GB of RAM with a nice GPU and good processor. I can run analysis software, Revit, bluebeam, and my music at the same time with no problems.

13. What makes you say that? I use Android and haven't had any issues.

Not sure if I agree with the "if you can make $1" statement, but I think I see where you're going with it. Profit is why we're in business, but it needs to be enough profit. My target is a minimum profit of 15% of overhead (payroll, rent, subscriptions, etc.). This is an asset poor industry. I have a computer and a couple of monitors. Some tools. All told my company assets are worth about $4k. And they'll depreciate over time anyway. So the short term financial risk is in covering overhead between checks from clients. If I can't make at least a 15% return on that annually, I'll just buy a bunch of Vanguard Whole Market (which is up 22% YTD right now). Long term risk is general/professional liability, which is mitigated by insurance and covered in short term overhead. Even so, it's always nice to see a larger return to squirrel a bit away just in case and/or for tailing insurance when it comes time to close up shop (unless you're fortunate enough to find somebody willing to pay your for your firm...ha...)

My growth plan looks a little something like this:

Optimal - bring on a partner who has clients already. Hire a drafting manager who can oversee QC of drafting standards, manage contract draftsmen, and do drawings themself when the circumstances dictate.
Sub-optimal - hire another engineer and a draftsman/grad engineer.
Not altogether opposed - just keep it as me making a good living with a really flexible schedule. I've got a pretty good thing going right now.

In either of the first two cases, I want to make sure I have a considerable 'war chest' before hiring. That's a bank account with a minimum of 3 (preferably 6+) months payroll and 12 months of other overhead. That's the absolute minimum before I'd consider it, and a backlog of work that can support it.




RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Quote (The jump in paper cost from 11x17 to 12x18 is shocking.)


Thanks... I wasn't aware of that.

Quote (the cost wasn't that much better than AC.)


The price must have jumped in the last several years; it used to be much cheaper... maybe since they were bought out.

Quote (as long as I don't need a telephoto)


My Huawei P30 Pro does fairly good telephoto shots and for regular shots, the detail is excellent.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Quote (he's been doing for 40 years)


55 coming up in a year or so. In hind sight, I should have gone into medicine (I think I would have had more fun), but I enjoy engineering... I still have the curiosity of a child.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

I have the HP T130 plotter. Does D size & C size from the roll, 13x19, 11x17, and letter from the tray. Very happy with it.

I have the iPad Pro 12.9, with LIDAR. I use AutoCad on it, plus a bunch of other sketching apps. Also have a great planner app on the iPad that I like way more than any of the various calendar apps I've tried.

Only reason I have 32 MB ram on my PC tower is the fact that I run some games on it throughout the day, while AutoCad is running.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Re: cost of paper - I think it has to do with the weight. It's hard to find 12x18 less than 28lb, with most seeming to be 32lb. 11x17 is easy to find in 20lb, which is your typical cheap copy paper weight. If you look at the same weight, the cost difference is roughly proportional to the paper size.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

StrucPatholgst - what planning app do you use?

I have Harpoon (harpoonapp.com) for invoicing, expense tracking, time tracking, etc. and use Float for resource management/scheduling. I linked them up with Zapier API Automation so when I add a new project in Harpoon it populates in Float. I use the free version of Zapier, so it can take up to 15 minutes for it to transfer. If I paid I think it drops it down to under a minute.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

(OP)
@phamENG

3. Annotating things on site is a great idea. Little details and observations get lost when I take notes on paper. I might get an iPad with a stylus for that, or a Surface Pro.

4. I'm amazed that one person can do 130 projects a year. I have a team and we can barely get 100 done per year. I guess I have to keep finding ways to optimize workflow.

5. The 24" one was like $220 off on Black Friday. Maybe they'll drop in price again over Christmas.

8. Never heard of that software. I need to give it a try. Thanks for the hint.

10. I found the website to be extremely helpful, so I've poured a massive amount of time into making it good. It serves as a portfolio for new clients. Like you, business is all referrals, but architects and developers do look at the website.

11. That's an awesome idea. I'm stealing it! Maybe I can offer CEU credits with it for free publicity.

13. Me and my wife have had reliability issues with multiple Android phones. Things like freezing, GPS not working, overheating, etc. I haven't used Android for 5 years so maybe they've gotten better.

That sounds like a pretty good growth strategy. I don't think of profit in terms of net income, though I should. I think of it in terms of how much I'm charging the client and how much I'm paying people for the work. People, including me, should be producing 3 to 5 times their own salary in production. 2 times will break even. That will cover overhead like rent, payroll, insurance, etc. I just started using TrackingTime (online thing which is $5/month/user) to see how many hours are spent on each project and which projects are more profitable. I have to analyze it a bit more but strangely, steel connection design seems to have the highest returns. Good luck finding an established business to team up with; I've seen that work in the past.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

The size of the projects is a big part of the 130. They range in size from "no, ma'am, the crack in your wall does not mean your house is collapsing" to a 5 story multifamily residential and the whole mix in between. I've seen your website and I'd probably struggle to turn out 10 of those a year by myself.

SAFI - I saw it when I was searching but didn't give it much thought. They have a nice website with opaque pricing. As in they don't tell you. I assumed it was a "if you have to ask you can't afford it" situation, so I moved on. I was irritated with how inefficiently a large wood project was going recently and started searching for better tools and happened upon this video. They modeled and analyzed an entire (albeit simple) 2 story light frame wood building in 16 minutes. I realize that I could probably do the same building in almost the same amount of time by hand, but without the in depth calcs to back it up. I'm interested in it for the complex stuff that currently requires an excel sheet to track my excel sheets to keep track of my loading.

Once I get at least 3 weekends in a row with my family I'll start thinking about boosting my website game. For now it's all I can do to keep projects moving.

For CEU's, keep in mind that you have to be approved by and registered with AIA to provide credit. I believe there's a path through sponsorship by your local AIA chapter.

My economic knowledge is mostly self taught. I didn't get much out of my micro and macro econ classes in college, but reading Adam Smith unabridged was eye opening. Particularly understanding the component parts of price - wages, rent, and profit. "Industry standard" numbers (as presented by my insurance agency through some BD webinars) is a 2.667 multiplier for break even (so if you're doing it with 2.0, good on ya) and 3.0 minimum for overhead and profit. I'm not quite there yet, but as a one man shop I don't have as much short term risk or expenses so I'm not hurting at a 1.5 multiplier.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Quote (I'm amazed that one person can do 130 projects a year.)


My projects are very small... maybe only two or three hours per project for the smaller ones. In the last two years, I've completed 564 of them at last count.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

1. I think Bricscad works great. Overall better than Autocad LT, which I had used previously. I also have REVIT LT, with the vague intent to learn to use it. I hear that you have to go all in with revit, but I haven’t taken that plunge.

2. I have an HP 7610 and use 12"x18" paper, though it doesn’t actually include 12"x18" in its driver. A drawback is that it only has one tray so I have to get up to change the paper. The HP T130 plotter seems like a good idea that I’ll look into. The paper is more expensive than 11x17, but I bought it to print half scale without cutting off the titleblock.

3. When my canon elph finally died, I got a Lumix/Panasonic DMC -Zs100 which can do much more than I ask of it. I wish it was just a bit smaller.

4. I use a physical external drive backup

5. Due to a recent eng-tips thread, I just got a samsung Tab s7 tablet. I haven’t incorporated it into my workflow, but I'm hopeful that it will work for a specific use ( marking up architectural drawings)

6. Also due to recent threads I got blue beam revu, which I like. I’ve always used Foxit as a pdf editor, but bluebeam is better. Another good pdf tool that I recommend: PDF factory pro. It’s a printer driver that I have used daily for years. It's great for printing things using my calculation sheet as a letterhead.

7. I should probably go to two monitors, based on comments here.

8. I like IES products. I’ve used them 2 decades.

9. It’s just me, so talking to myself seems to work well enough.

10. My website is on squarespace

11. I’ve never heard of this outside a very large corporate context.

12. I’ve used a laptop forever, but my kid set me up with a desktop build that’s quicker, but not portable.

13. Android works for me

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Quote (3. When my canon elph finally died, I got a Lumix/Panasonic DMC -Zs100 which can do much more than I ask of it. I wish it was just a bit smaller.)


You might look into the Sony a6000... it's small and capable. I use it and my a6400, the latter not for site visits.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

(OP)
@phamENG I've always had a rough time with wood (and cold formed steel) buildings because the calculations take forever, especially transferring loads from one element to another (which is probably why you have a network of Excel sheets). I've built a library of different general cases, like for stair beams and studs, but projects don't like to fit into neat categories. I don't have amazing tools to speed it up like I do with steel/concrete. I'll definitely look into that.

@dik You might have the world record for most projects done by one person.

@kipfoot
2. I have an HP T120 and Epson WF 7720. I like the 7720 better because it's easier to use. With T120, buying rolls of paper, storing them, loading them, and disposing them becomes a hassle.
6. Nice tip!
11. I know; that's why it's powerful. People don't realize how easy it is. In terms of hours, if I have to train 5 employees to a certain company standard, it'll take several times longer than the 2 hours it takes to make a 15 minute video. And employees can keep coming back to it, so Quality Control is easier. I was pretty reluctant to share this one since it could give a huge edge to my competitors, but they're probably not reading. Anyway, it probably won't work for everyone.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

most just tiny ones... like a safety ladder or guardrails or handrails... sometimes much more involved.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Quote (milkshakelake)

'd like to share the things that have helped my firm grow technologically. I own a small structural engineering firm so this advice may not apply to bigger firm. I know this is unsolicited advice, but hopefully it helps someone.

I have been on the Mac platform since 1991. Works amazingly well for my relatively small projects. It is me and one contract PE (He in on a PC)

1. I use Powercadd. No subscription and is better for 2d drafting than Autocad. My contract employee uses Autocad LT.


2. I am pretty happy with my Brother 11x17

3. iPhone for a camera works fine for me

4. I use a NAD and Google Drive.

5. I don't use a tablet.

6. I don't mark up many PDF's. i have perpetual license fro Acrobat.

7. I have used 2 monitors in the past and one 27" Retina display on my iMac works better for me.

8. Mainly spreadsheets, 25 year old 2D frame and retaining wall programs for the Mac and webtools. The only software that I have a subscription for is office.

9. Email, text and phone are my go to.

10. I use a similar setup as Wix

11. N/A

12. I buy a new Mac every 5 years. They are incredibly fast and reliable. I never need any service or upgrades. I can run PC software full speed under virtualization.

13. iPhones FTW for sure.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

This is great! I came upon this post searching for software alternatives and thought I would contribute.

1. I use AutoCAD LT annual subscription. This is what I was use to. I tried a couple open sourced programs that were not adequate. I'll have to try BricsCAD.
2. I have managed without having to print plans. I was recently asked by a client if I could provide originals, but I talked him into accepting electronic. I got down a rabbit hole before that and would have gone to fedex to have them printed and mailed. All my plans are 11x17. I use a basic Brother 8.5x11 printer for checks and paperwork.
3. My Samsung S9 works perfect for pictures, and I don't need to worry about a separate camera.
4. I use OneDrive, which also makes sharing folders easy. It came with my $5/mo Microsoft email subscription which includes online versions of Office programs (I am currently using the first year of Office that came with my computer for desktop versions). Files are also stored on my hard drive. I need to add a physical backup.
5. I don't use a tablet, just my laptop. PDF commenting works fine for me.
6. Microsoft Edge (free) has some markup capabilities and this is what I have been using thus far. I use adobe.com with a free account to combine pdfs. This system works ok for now, but I need to invest in a better program long term.
7. Yes, two monitors plus my laptop screen are a must.
8. I use mostly self-written Excel programs and Vespa (MSE walls), but that is all that is needed for the work I do. I also have Microsoft Office365.
9. It's currently just me and two part time contractors. Email works best for communicating as we all work at different times. I use Trello (free) for keeping track of projects personally. I will use Zoom (free version) for training when needed.
10. I use Bluehost with Wordpress built in. I also use imarkinteractive.com for site security and making updates to the website.
11. Great idea. I am looking into doing more training videos both for my website and my contract workers. I do use the Snip tool for taking screen shots and pasting them into a Word doc for quick training manuals.
12. I have 32 GB of ram on an HP and love it.
13. Love my Android. I use Google Voice for a local number for my business so I don't give out a personal number, and I also don't have to carry around two phones. I have a great set of noise canceling headphones for taking calls while at home.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Is the XP-pen Artist 24 Pro only good for PDF markups? Can you use it for marking up the screen on video conference calls?

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Haven't been on this forum in a while.

I read your list quickly and I have already done most of your recommendations. I suspect I started my business before you.

-I have multiple perpetual licenses of AutoCAD LT (wish I bought a few more, but it's just me and I can get by). They have helped my with my less than ambitious CAD guys below.
-I do have drafters that help me part time. It makes dealing with larger projects much easier. However, they are a huge PITA to deal with, so I sometimes draw the smaller stuff myself (why wait 2 weeks and face tons of complaints about how long the job is going to take them to complete when I can do the task in 4 hours and make a few hundred an hour).
-I do use STAAD and RAM. It was a tough nut to swallow at the beginning, but unfortunately it is the software I learned on.
-I have two Epson WF printers (one for 8.5x11 and one for 11x17.... they are both over 10 years old and printing on the 8.5x11 isn't great anymore).... bought the WF 7520 right after it came out. It prints up to 13x19, but only scans up to 11x17.... and 90% of what I print and markup I need to scan back in, so 11x17 is fine for me.
-2-19" monitors and a laptop screen here. The laptop doesn't go anywhere, but it's what I've used for years. The computer is somewhat new, and I didn't skimp when I bought it (does have 32GB RAM).... although I had hoped to hook 3 screens up to the laptop, but the on board graphic card can't handle the extra workload (found that out after purchase).
-I have a backup network drive.... which saved my a$$ a few years ago when my older computer died. It is suppose to backup once a day, and I get nervous that it's not always doing that. I would like a network backup, but haven't bothered to figure that out yet.

What do you do about projects where the architects are using REVIT? I have so far avoided it (as I don't do my own drafting) but I can get a sense that the clients are starting to get annoyed with the lack of REVIT use.

I work on most structures 3 stories or less in height. 95% commercial with only about 5% being residential.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

What version of OS software are you using? Have you tried running with 16GB RAM? Unless you are doing some heavy graphics or mathematics related stuff, 32GB may be overkill.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

I have found that a good IT guy and a SSD are far more important than RAM. Not being a techy I used to think that more RAM usually meant faster, then I met the aforementioned good IT guy who installed a SSD and worked some magic. 16GB and my laptop is smoking fast despite being a heavy (ab)user of large 3d models and CAE.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

One thing I really like with my setup are two 32" 4k monitors, even though I don't do a lot of fine detail work. They allow me to have up to 4 documents open and readable at the same time.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Quote (I used to think that more RAM usually meant faster)


That's why I asked the question... all my desktops (3) and laptops (2) have M.2 SSDs and only 16GB of RAM... and are all pretty toasty... If they can, I have an M.2 drive for OS and one for apps. Some of the whimpier versions of Win can not use 32GB.



Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Thanks for the post. About 3 months ago I got caught up in the federal covid vaccine mandate and let go by my Company after almost 16 years. With not to much early success getting offers as I am a more "senior" engineer, I've decided to go self-employee and provide engineering services on my own. Good post for someone like me.
Thanks,
VQ

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Have you talked to a lawyer? Maybe another iron to put in the fire.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Memory, and throughput, is not that useful if your architecture is lame. We once tried to use a quad C80 DSP processing board, with something like 9 GLOPS throughput, for some video processing, but it sucked so bad we exchanged the board for a quad PowerPC, with slightly less throughput, but an architecture designed for dealing with video. Of course, bloat is also a big issue, both with operating systems and application programs.

I used to know this CFO of our division that gleefully received the very first 80386-based computer in our company and waxed on about how his monthly spreadsheet could run in less than 10 minutes when it used to take an hour. About a month later, he was moaning about his spreadsheet taking an hour, but it was because he added a bunch of stuff that he couldn't contemplate processing before. Nature abhors a power vacuum.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

There is not much interest by employment attorney's for issues related to covid; at least right now in this pandemic climate.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

(OP)
@dik Per your suggestions, I upgraded some of my computers to NVME and it's slightly, but noticeably, better. Never going back to 2.5" SSDs. And my latest computer is liquid cooled, didn't notice a difference but hopefully it increases the lifetime of the components by keeping them cooler.


@MTNClimber Yes. For video calls, I take a screenshot and mark it up. I can share the screen with the markups.


@SteelPE I've struggled with that thing where I can do something faster and better than employees. I had to let go of that notion and let them do it. Otherwise, what are they there for? Things like having strict standards and training helped reduce the errors, but the speed is still not there. I'm still figuring it out.

For network backup, I use Goodsync. I don't know if it's the best program out there, and it has lots of downsides (non-perpetual licensing, high learning curve, terrible interface) but it gets the job done. I have 3 servers (main, older backup one, and home server) and I have it do a 1:1 daily backup on the main server, sync to old server and home server, and weekly /bi-weekly/bi-yearly/yearly backups spread out over the different ones. Maybe it's overkill but I'll still have my data if 2 of them burn down or a rogue employee deletes all my files. I stopped using a previous backup software (Paragon) that did incremental backups into a proprietary format that saves space, because I couldn't really check if it's working without restoring the backup. With a 1:1 backup, it's right there and Goodsync will tell me if some files failed. The downside is that it takes tons of drive space. Also, having a server (or desktop) with a RAID configuration automatically adds a layer of protection to your data because if one drive fails, you can swap it out and it'll automatically rebuild the data without any loss.

I haven't dealt with anyone who uses Revit.

RE: Sharing my technological business practices for a small structural engineering firm

Two of my desktops and my two laptops all have double M.2 drives in them. One for the OS and drivers, and the other for applications. My one desktop, an ASUS Maximus 7, only has one. It the oldest and has Win 7 installed. At the time M.2 weren't common and I had to order it from Australia. I don't run my machines hot... just not my speed. I do like tekkie stuff and that's the reason for liquid cooling... M.2s run hot and you need a good heat sink. The Sabrent M.2s I use have an excellent heat sink and the heat sinks that come with the ASUS boards are also excellent. I was surprised that my first M.2 had an operating temperature of 100C.

With liquid cooled, my computers typically run slightly less than 40C.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

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