One of the biggest bottlenecks in building a new building is creating the structural design. It is largely a manual process that is prone to error. The consequences of such errors range from project cost overruns to construction worker injuries. However, two entrepreneurs discovered that it was possible to apply advanced aerospace analysis techniques to automate the construction industry’s design process. Martin Diz and Juan Aleman developed TANGObuilder to address a canonical problem in structural design. TANGObuilder uses robust aerospace structure analysis techniques to optimize and automate structural building designs. The startup is based in San Francisco.
Ralph Gootee, co-founder of PlanGrid (acquired by Autodesk for $ 875 million) and angel investor in TANGObuilder, says, “The software used in the building design process has not been significantly updated in the past 20 years. TANGObuilder brings aerospace design methods and advanced algorithms to the construction industry, drastically reducing the time and cost of developing new buildings. “
Co-founders of TANGObuilder (left to right): Martin Diz and Juan Aleman.
Frederick Daso: What are the difficult and tedious parts of creating engineering designs?
Martin Knie: The main problem is to find an initial design solution that is secure and fits the architectural intent, budget and time constraints of the builder or property developer. Current engineering tools are intended to review design drafts. If the engineer cannot suggest an optimal design solution, the design is not optimal. The design process is lengthy and cumbersome, as it is a trial and error search for a valid structure. It takes weeks of coordination and back-and-forth movement with everyone involved. Civil engineers propose a solution and then check whether it is valid. If this is not the case, the engineer has to suggest a new solution. If the structure is valid, they must try an alternative structure to see if optimization is possible.
There are other difficult / tedious parts to creating designs. Creating a reliable FEM model is a challenge. Current tools do not contain any requirements of the building code for checking structural models. The engineer must have a thorough understanding of the building codes in order to create a compliant design. Generating complex 3D models of wood and masonry structures is cumbersome and expensive. Usually this is not done due to the low budget of these projects.
Daso: What are the most common mistakes in the manual design process and what are the consequences for the entire construction project?
Say: By far the most common mistake is the excess of components. Since the process is iterative, the engineer tends to err on the side of the additional components in order to get to a valid structure faster. This results in the building using more material and taking more time to build, increasing the overall cost. The most dangerous problems arise when the side system design for earthquake or wind-resistant buildings is not properly understood and each building is at risk of collapse in an earthquake or hurricane.
Daso: Who are the end users for the TANGObuilder product? Who are the decision makers when buying your startup’s software?
Say: We are currently working with real estate developers. In this case, the program manager is usually the decision maker. You are interested in reducing development time and final costs. However, our long-term vision is to provide everyone in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry with access to our platform.
Daso: How did you design your sales process and go-to-market strategy for selling to these two companies?
Say: The process is straightforward. As soon as we contact the real estate developer, we share a sample project with them and discuss the advantages of the platform with them. Then we take one of their projects, run it through our platform and share the savings on material costs they have when they use our platform. We achieve constant material savings between 6 and 30% and cut design time by 10 times.
Daso: Where did the idea of using finite element analysis, a technology that has been used in the aerospace industry in construction for decades, come from?
Say: During my school days, my co-founder worked on a research problem relating to the modeling of masonry buildings under seismic loads, while I was working on the modeling of spatial structures under vibration loads. Comparing research notes, we found that the aerospace industry’s design discipline is several decades behind. We then started working on a joint research project to use aerospace algorithms for building design.
Daso: How do you translate various building regulations into boundary conditions for the models that you create in your optimizations?
Say: Our design algorithms are generic. A number of parameters are required to fine-tune the solution. The choice of these parameters determines the kind of solution we can get. We convert each building code into a configuration file to set these parameters and ensure that the design is optimal and code compliant. We emphasize the parameters that have a greater impact on the constructibility of our designs.
Daso: Have you been able to use your academic experience in building your company? If so, how?
Say: Our academic experience was instrumental in founding the company. The software we create is groundbreaking. Without our research experience in academia, we wouldn’t be developing the software we have now. We are constantly looking for and writing the latest algorithms that can be implemented on our platform. In addition, we need to change the way in which certain algorithms are used to implement them on our platform. Our experience in the academic field, combined with our over 20 years of experience in the industry as entrepreneurs and engineers, has proven to be crucial in building our company.