Do you like to start with a template?

I’m sure we all have experience with file templates, whether it be a Microsoft Word template or a company standard AutoCAD file with all the right scales and paper sizes, but how often do you use templates with the structural products?  I find templates to be a fast way to set up a project with everything you need to move through design. Templates also offer a great way to keep company files in a consistent format and they can help you not to forget critical information in your models.
Not every product has a specific template per se, but even those that don’t can use the old “File -> Save-as” method to propagate settings from one file to the next.  Here’s a summary of how templates can help with the various structural Products.
 
STAAD.pro
STAAD.pro is the ultimate template program, especially when working with the input file directly. I bet most of the STAAD.pro users out there have several .STD input files that they use to start new models. You can define everything from the sections you like to reference, to the materials you commonly use, to the combinations you need in the template file. You can even comment the template input file for future reference. Just perform a save-as and modify the input nodes and members for each new project. 
I’ve also worked with companies that have a numbering standard.  Something like; all base nodes start with 1, all gravity only load combinations start with 1, combinations with wind start with 2, etc. If you work with the same templates over and over, pretty soon you will get very familiar with the numbers.  When you see that load combination 101 controls you won’t even need to look it up.
 
RAM Structural System
Template files operate behind the scenes with RAM Structural System. At one point or another I’m sure you have gone through the pages of defaults that the program has for imperial and SI settings (RAM Manager –> Tools Menu –> Defaults Utility).  When you start a new file the program reads those defaults and attributes those settings to the new file.  This is great for everything from the default grade of concrete to the design codes used, but there are a few things that commonly have to be entered again for each model.  If you set up these items in a blank file first, and then start your new projects using this model as a base point, you might save some time:

·         Load properties, - While these may not be consistent from project to project for most engineers, setting up a few common surface or line load properties might not be a bad idea. If nothing else it keeps you thinking about things (Oh, I had a cladding load around the perimeter in my last model, does this project have a similar load?).

·         Deck properties - Similar to loads, you might want to set up a few of your favorite deck profiles in the template. This will save you the time of trying to remember, is that the total concrete thickness or the topping thickness I’m supposed to enter.

·         Concrete beam and column properties - This is where you are likely to see the most benefit. By creating a blank “template” file with a number of pre-defined beam and column shapes you can save a lot of time. Furthermore, if the shapes are labeled the same as in Structural Modeler and/or RAM Elements, it makes transferring files to those applications a lot easier.

Did you know that RAM SS also allows you to define your own templates for Load Combinations?  Detailed instruction can be found under Start –> Programs –> Bentley Engineering –> RAM Structural System –> Manuals –> Load Combination Generator.
 
RAM Concept
RAM Concept is one structural application with a literal template file setting available. Just take any model you like and use the File –> Save Template (or File -> Save-as) function to create a template file. Then, when you want to start a new project, select “Copy File…” button from the File –> New window to select the template to start with. Everything but the actual concrete structure (including reinforcement and  tendons) is copied over. This includes:

·         Custom materials

·         Customization of the loads or load combinations (but not the applied loads themselves)

·         Changes to the plot settings, including colors, default text size, etc.

·         Any additional layers or plots that have been created.

 
 RAM Elements
Setting up the loads and load combinations is one of the most time consuming aspects of preparing RAM Elements models for design. There are typically load combinations for service code checks, design code checks, even special seismic provisions (see Wiki topic:  RAM Elements Advanse Load Combos FAQ). Having these pre-established can really speed things along.
Note, you can save the load sets directly (Home menu –> Load Conditions Toolbar –> Save button) or just save a blank model file with all the settings and use it when starting new projects.
RAM Elements also includes customizable templates for geometry.  With this you can set up your own truss generators for example. For details on that, see Help –> RAM Elements Manual –> Chapter 17: Creating Structure Templates.
 
RAM Connection
Did you know that every connection in RAM Connection is based on a template that you can customize? That’s right, just go to Home –> Databases –> Connections and select any connection template to edit it. You can modify things like plate or angle materials, size of bolts, etc. Then, next time you design a connection of that type, your preferences will be used.
I find that the stand-alone version of RAM Connection also benefits from a little joint set up. Simply set up a file with 5-6 joints in it. Pick your favorite connections and set them all up with a reasonable member sizes and loading (including load combinations). Then make sure all the connections are detailing with your preferred standards. With template in hand, you can quickly design any new connection by simply modifying the member sizes and loads to match the new task.
 
If you have used other methods to set up template files in any of the structural applications, we would love to hear about them.
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