Structural engineering is a sub-discipline of civil engineering in which structural engineers are trained to design the 'bones and muscles' that create the form and shape of man-made structures. Structural engineers need to understand and calculate the stability, strength and rigidity of built structures for buildings and nonbuilding structures. The structural designs are integrated with those of other designers such as architects and building services engineer and often supervise the construction of projects by contractors on site. They can also be involved in the design of machinery, medical equipment, and vehicles where structural integrity affects functioning and safety. See glossary of structural engineering.
Structural engineering theory is based upon applied physical laws and empirical knowledge of the structural performance of different materials and geometries. Structural engineering design uses a number of relatively simple structural concepts to build complex structural systems. Structural engineers are responsible for making creative and efficient use of funds, structural elements and materials to achieve these goals.
Structural engineering depends upon a detailed knowledge of applied mechanics, materials science, and applied mathematics to understand and predict how structures support and resist self-weight and imposed loads. To apply the knowledge successfully a structural engineer generally requires detailed knowledge of relevant empirical and theoretical design codes, the techniques of structural analysis, as well as some knowledge of the [[corrosion],] resistance of the materials and structures, especially when those structures are exposed to the external environment. Since the 1990s, specialist software has become available to aid in the design of structures, with the functionality to assist in the drawing, analyzing and designing of structures with maximum precision; examples include AutoCAD, StaadPro, ETABS, Prokon, Revit Structure, Inducta RCB, etc. Such software may also take into consideration environmental loads, such as earthquakes and winds.
Structural engineers are responsible for engineering design and structural analysis. Entry-level structural engineers may design the individual structural elements of a structure, such as the beams and columns of a building. More experienced engineers may be responsible for the structural design and integrity of an entire system, such as a building.
Structural engineers often specialize in particular types of structures, such as buildings, bridges, pipelines, industrial, tunnels, vehicles, ships, aircraft, and spacecraft. Structural engineers who specialize in buildings often specialize in particular construction materials such as concrete, steel, wood, masonry, alloys, and composites, and may focus on particular types of buildings such as offices, schools, hospitals, residential, and so forth.
Structural engineering has existed since humans first started to construct their structures. It became a more defined and formalized profession with the emergence of architecture as a distinct profession from engineering during the industrial revolution in the late 19th century. Until then, the architect and the structural engineer were usually one and the same thing – the master builder. Only with the development of specialized knowledge of structural theories that emerged during the 19th and early 20th centuries, did the professional structural engineers come into existence.
The role of a structural engineer today involves a significant understanding of both static and dynamic loading and the structures that are available to resist them. The complexity of modern structures often requires a great deal of creativity from the engineer in order to ensure the structures support and resist the loads they are subjected to. A structural engineer will typically have a four or five-year undergraduate degree, followed by a minimum of three years of professional practice before being considered fully qualified. Structural engineers are licensed or accredited by different learned societies and regulatory bodies around the world (for example, the Institution of Structural Engineers in the UK). Depending on the degree course they have studied and/or the jurisdiction they are seeking licensure in, they may be accredited (or licensed) as just structural engineers, or as civil engineers, or as both civil and structural engineers. Another international organisation is IABSE(International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering). The aim of that association is to exchange knowledge and to advance the practice of structural engineering worldwide in the service of the profession and society.