We recently came across a company that we bet few of you have heard of, but we think you will be impressed by their products. These design and analysis packages for structural engineers, collectively known as Multiframe, are developed and marketed by Formation Design Systems (formerly Graphic Magic). Interestingly, the Scotts Valley, California-based company began in the mid-1980s in Australia (where the software is still developed today) as a surface modeling and structural tool vendor for boats and ships.
Today, Multiframe is an extensive range of products for a variety of tasks performed by structural engineers. The company says that its users worldwide use Multiframe for many different types of design, including steel, concrete, and aluminum construction.
The Multiframe Range of Products
The Multiframe line consists of:
Multiframe 2D - This is an analysis tool for small scale problems that can be adequately solved in two dimensions. It has all of the modeling commands found in the 3D modules, and lets you quickly model, load, and analyze 2D structures. As examples, a simple continuous beam, portal frame, or more complex truss can be readily sized, managed, and analyzed.
Regularly spaced structures are easily handled as Multiframe’s 2D snap-to-grid, automatic generation, and duplication rotation, and extrusion functions are well-suited to repetitive model construction. A built-in library of common structural shapes lets you analyze steel, concrete, or timber frames. You can also include sections made from any other material or automatically include sections design using another of the company’s applications, Section Maker.
Price is $495.
Multiframe 3D - This 3D analysis tool contains a built-in range of methods for automatically constructing geometry, restraints, materials, and loading conditions. All types of framed structures can be modeled and can include special structural features, such as springs, prescribed displacement, member releases, and pinned joints.
Multiframe 3D provides automatic factoring of load cases, automatic inclusion of self weight, and a range of commands to automate the generation of regular geometry, such as continuous beams, curved beams, trusses, and high-rise frames. Like the 2D product, Multiframe 3D contains a built-in library of common structural shapes that lets you frames composed of several materials. You can also include sections made from any other material or automatically include sections design using Section Maker.
Price is $1495.
Multiframe 4D - This dynamic analysis tool helps you determine the dynamic response of frames being designed. It features a fast solver that uses sub-space iteration to quickly find the natural modes, frequencies, and periods of structures being designed. For more complex problems, Multiframe 4D’s time history response option lets you simulate a structure’s response to seismic or other loading over time. A built-in library of earthquake spectra can be used or you can enter and store your own data sets for use with Multiframe 4D.
Either lumped or distributed masses can be used to automatically take into account the self weight of a structure. Because you can control the number of mode shapes or time steps and convergence criteria, the module can calculate a quick estimate of dynamic response or a more rigorous, accurate solution. When analysis is complete, a mouse click on a joint or member displays a graph of its response and behavior over time. Alternatively, the entire structure can be animated to show the total structural response.
Price is $1995.
Section Maker - A custom structural shape is sometimes the best solution to a structural design problem, but designing and calculating the physical properties of these custom shapes can introduce unintended problems. Section Maker eliminates the need for any calculation of section properties by automatically computing the properties of sections made from virtually any material. Section Maker lets you quickly design and construct a shape and then integrate this shape into the Multiframe library of sections. Built-up sections, including standard shapes, such as I-beams, channels, hollow sections, and tubes, can be automatically created by entering a few key dimensions. Any standard shape from the sections library can be placed and combined with other sections. Once you have the shape you need, you can install it in any group in the library and used in any Multiframe structure.
Section Maker also lets you automatically create a range of sections that interpolate between two other shapes. Tapering members can be simulated or you can create a whole table of shapes by designing the parent form.
Price is $395.
Steel Designer - The key to efficient steel structural design is always the optimization of a structure in accordance with applicable codes of practice. If you are using Multiframe for analyzing steel structures, Steel Designer automates the checking of structures to steel codes of practice. Steel Designer is integrated with Multiframe so that it can directly access analysis results and perform design checks. However, Steel Designer is not just a "black box," it gives you control over all aspects of the structural design process — for example, which clauses you want to check or what effective lengths you want to use. Steel Designer also provides you with a set of design aids for searching through a structure for specific design criteria and then graphically highlighting these areas of interest.
Detailed tables of stresses, deflections, and forces for a whole structure or a single member let you determine critical loading conditions. Steel Designer provides a complete range of output that can combine text, tables, and diagrams. All data can be copied to other office or drawing applications for further documentation.
Price is $695.
Multiframe products are not really intended as a standalone applications, but rather for use in conjunction with other products for performing detailed design, drafting, solid modeling, and rendering. The key here, of course, is effective data exchange. The Multiframe family supports a few standard data exchange formats, including IGES (reads and writes data to other applications such as MicroStation), and DXF (reads and writes to other applications such as AutoCAD), and exports 3DMF and QuickDraw 3D files to various packages. Tabular data can also be copied and pasted from Multiframe products to most popular spreadsheets, such as Excel.
Bundles and Free Technical Support
Multiframe products are currently available for Macintosh Power PC and Windows NT and 95 platforms.
The company offers three discounted product bundles that include:
- Starter Bundle - Multiframe 2D, Section Maker, and Steel Designer for $995.
- 3D Bundle - Multiframe 3D, Section Maker, and Steel Designer for $1995.
- Professional Bundle - Multiframe 4D, Section Maker, and Steel Designer for $2495.
All products and bundle purchases come with free upgrades and free technical support for the first 12 months following the initial purchase.
Quite frankly, before we wrote this article, we didn’t know much about Formation Design Systems and Multiframe. Now that we do know a little something, we are quite impressed by the big ideas emanating from this little company, and we think you might be, too.n
Contact: Formation Design Systems Inc., 408-440-0702, http://www.formsys.com