As far as steel fabrication and detailing packages go Advance Steel has always stood out due to its tight integration with AutoCAD. Now for the 2012 release the software is also being made available as a standalone DWG-native application, meaning users do not have to invest in a costly AutoCAD license.

Advance Steel 2012

  • Supplier Graitec
  • Price From £5,250 to £6,995
  • Website

AutoCAD is an excellent all-round draughting application. In recent years the development of its 3D modelling and presentation tools has moved on apace. AutoCAD 2013 now offers a whole range of freeform modelling, real-time visualisation and rendering tools.

But many users do not even get close to using these advanced tools, particularly if they use an industry-specific AutoCAD add-on. In these times of austerity, £4,200 is a lot to pay for a piece of software that users may barely touch the surface of in terms of its full capabilities.

Advance Steel, the steel fabrication and detailing software from Graitec, has run inside AutoCAD for some time, going back to the days when it was called HyperSteel. For the 2012 release, Graitec has decided to loosen the AutoCAD reins.

Advance Steel prides itself on its ability to model complex 3D sheet metal work for hoppers or ducting and automatically unfold into CNC ready 2D data.

Advance Steel can still run inside of AutoCAD, but Graitec has also developed a standalone version with a DWG-based CAD engine that uses technology from the Open Design Alliance (ODA). This shaves around 30% off the overall system cost, which will not go unnoticed in an increasingly competitive market.

Advance Steel is used to model steel structures — beams, columns, purlins, connections etc — right down to individual nuts and bolts. From a master model, the software can automatically create general arrangement and detail drawings, cutting lists/bills of materials (BOMs) and NC (Numeric Control) files for automated workshop machinery. Then, should the model change in any way, all of this can be updated with full revision control, including automatic revision clouds.

AEC Magazine last looked at Advance Steel 2010. Since then the software has developed in a number of areas, which we will look at in turn.

Project Explorer

One of the most important enhancements, and one that was introduced in Advance Steel 2011, is the Project Explorer. This is specifically designed to help users work more effectively with large models by making it easy to control which parts of a model are displayed on screen at any given time.

Project Explorer is broken down into three sections. Model views, Queries and Groups.

Model views are used to isolate a section of a model that is currently being worked on, not only to improve visibility, but for display performance as well.

Models views can be defined in two ways. i) as a box in space, say around a specific joint or grid location, or ii) by a set level — for example, the first floor of a multi-storey building. Views can be saved and recalled at any time, simply by clicking the appropriate light bulb symbol in Project Explorer.

Levels also serve the additional role of being a modelling aid. For example, when a level is ‘active’ all sections that are drawn will be placed at that specific level, regardless of the actual ‘z’ co-ordinate at which they are inserted. Then, if a floor to floor height changes, all sections on the active level will move accordingly.

Queries enable users to search on the various properties held within structural members. This could be as simple as ‘all the beams of a specific size’ or the ‘different lots or phases within a project’.

Negative searches can also be conducted — popular ones being sections that have not been given part numbers or assigned a ‘model role’. This could be a special section that was modelled in AutoCAD but, as an oversight, was not attributed a specific role by the user.

As with Model Views, Queries can be saved for use at any time and run simply by clicking the appropriate lightbulb symbol. Common queries can be set up in a project wide template.

Groups enable users to assign any objects to a specific group. This can also be used for lotting and phasing.

Advance Steel standalone


Graitec has enhanced a number of dynamic parametric connections including many new ones for hot rolled and cold rolled purlins.

The Connection Vault now includes over 150 dynamic connections, which have been nicely categorised in the 2012 version making them easier to find.

It is still not possible to create your own dynamic interactive connections. Graitec maintains that it is unlikely firms will need to create their own as the library is pretty extensive.

If bespoke connections are required, they can be modelled on their own or added to the library as a static connection. This will add in all plates, bolts and cuts, but only if they are exactly the same every time.

The 2012 release introduces the concept of joint groups, where ‘slave’ joints are automatically updated when a ‘master’ joint changes. This is a neat feature on projects with a lot of repetitive joints, but when changes need to be made it is not immediately obvious which is the master joint (located via a search). It would be nice to be able to right click on any slave joint and be taken directly to the master.

For those that do not like the rigidity of using master and slave connections, properties can still be easily transferred between joints, rather like the find/replace functionality in Microsoft Word.

Curved members

Advance Steel prides itself on its ability to work with curved beams. When it comes to connections it is not really any different to working with straight beams. Beams do not need to be broken down into nodes — go into the connection vault, pick a connection and then select the relevant beams. The connection will then automatically put bolts and plates in place, add notching, and shorten or extend the beam as necessary. This is great for handling complex roof structures.

As an extension to this, the enhanced handrail macro can now handle curved beams, which is of particular interest for plantwork or modelling mezzanine floors. Rails can now automatically follow the contour of any beam, with the position of posts adjusted by spacing or angle.

Graitec has improved the stair macro, one of many macros in the software, which makes it easy to model purlins, bracing, trusses and portal frames to name but a few.

AutoCAD vs standalone

Advance Steel 2012 comes on a single DVD. During setup it checks to see if there is a copy of AutoCAD installed and then gives you the choice to run the software standalone or within the AutoCAD environment.

On a base level there is little difference between the two versions. Both feature the now ubiquitous ‘Ribbon’ interface for model ‘creation’ — the AutoCAD one a bit more polished in its appearance and nestles the Advance Steel commands to the right of its standard tools, while the standalone version stores the most commonly used commands in the home tab, with more advanced features available further along the ribbon.

A common toolbar for model ‘manipulation’ runs down the right hand side of both versions. Command line input is still there for advanced users.

In terms of display modes, the standalone version features basic wireframe and flat shaded, while AutoCAD users are treated to more advanced real time visualisation modes, such as the popular x-ray.

AutoCAD users will also benefit from rendering with mental ray as well as the ability to quickly model particularly complex curves. While it is possible to do advanced compound geometry in the standalone version, it will be much quicker to do this in the full AutoCAD.

At the core of the product though there is little difference between the two versions. Both can happily work side by side in a multi-user environment — which Advance Steel is well kitted out for — though until the user turns off the warnings, AutoCAD will complain that DWGs created in the standalone version were not created in AutoCAD.

Layers, XREFs and other AutoCAD features are all supported in the standalone version and the workflow inside the products is virtually identical.

Quick documents

Advance Steel 2011 saw the introduction of Quick Documents, a place from which all documents — 3D drawings, Gas, bills of materials etc — can be easily created.

Templates are listed on the left of the dialog box, while a window on the right gives a preview of what the document will look like. For easy reference, the list of templates can be edited to include only those most commonly used. For example, users can strip out all the redundant paper sizes.

Putting models in context

Advance Steel 2011 saw the introduction of some concrete modelling tools, not full concrete detailing, but enough to give the model some context. Footing, beams, walls etc can all be modelled in 3D so steelwork is not floating in mid air.

Graitec has also enhanced a lot of the functionality of anchors for foundations, which are available in all base plate automatic joints.


Having been an AutoCAD-based application since the 1990s, the release of a standalone version of Advance Steel is big news. Those that want to can still benefit from the advanced features of AutoCAD, but shaving £4,200 off the overall cost of the solution by using Advance Steel standalone will be hard to ignore.

Steel fabricators may opt for a combination of seats — the standalone version for workhorse steel modelling and detailing, with some AutoCAD seats set aside for complex modelling and visualisation and general draughting. That said, with Advance Steel using DWG as its native file format, models can be easily brought into the excellent 3D presentation tool, Autodesk Showcase, which sells for £950.

There have been some other nice enhancements to the software in the last couple of releases. The Project Explorer now enables users to control model visibility from a single location, while Quick Documents gives users helpful guidance on document production. There have also been some good modelling enhancements, both for connections as well as more specialist macros such as railing.

The timing of this new release coincides with some major changes in the steel fabrication software market, which has not gone unnoticed at Graitec.

Tekla’s recent acquisition of AceCad’s StruCad business has led to an ongoing migration of StruCad users to Tekla Structures and Graitec is hoping to turn the heads of StruCad users by offering some very competitive upgrades.

Some £3,500 will give StruCad users a license of Advance Steel 2012, the first year’s maintenance and support and a three-day transition training course. Users can also continue to use their StruCad license.

There are no direct migration tools from StruCad to Advance Steel, but project data can be translated via standard industry formats such as CIS/2.