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What Is Civil Engineering? (+Best Software For The Job)

Michael Gigante
Michael Gigante  |  September 13, 2019

From interstate roads to international canals, civil engineering has had a direct impact on our evolution as an increasingly urbanized society with constantly expanding infrastructural needs.While most people might understand the general concept of what civil engineers do, not everyone understands the ways civil engineers have contributed to the physical environment  around us.

What is civil engineering?

Civil engineers are often tasked with the construction of public spaces such as roads, airports, pipelines, and railways.

Types of civil engineering

Civil engineering has many disciplines that focus on specific areas. Civil engineering design tools can be customized to many fields. It is important to distinguish how different tools cater to different fields of engineering.

While the daily functions of a civil engineer have stayed constant, the tools that civil engineers use have changed. Luckily, civil engineers no longer have to use pencil and paper to draft their designs. Today, they use civil engineering design software to draft complex 3D designs of municipal buildings and structures. Below, we will provide an overview of the main types of civil engineering, as well as some of the most useful tools that civil engineers use daily.

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Structural engineering

Structural engineering is a discipline of civil engineering that focuses on designing the shape of a manmade structure. The main focus for a structural engineer is to design structures that are safe, sustainable, and functional. 

Some of the main elements of structural engineering include columns, beams, plates, arches, shells, and catenaries. These are the building blocks that form the stability and functionality of most structures and are used to create infrastructure such as bridges, dams, roads, railways, and tunnels. 

Over the past 30 years, structural engineering has become more efficient, safe, and economical. In the past, structural engineers had to sketch examples of their finished product. Today, advancements in technology allow structural engineers to model 3D structures and test them before they even begin construction. Tools such as building information modeling (BIM software) allow users to generate and manage digital representations of structures. This makes it easy to collaborate and make edits within the software, streamlining the entire engineering process. 

Skyciv structural modeling software gif shows one aspect of civil engineering software.                                                                  Image courtesy of skyciv

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Transportation engineering 

Transportation engineering is a discipline of civil engineering that focuses on planning, designing, and maintaining systems of transportation. The main focus of a transportation engineer is to provide safe and efficient modes of transportation for both the public and the movement of goods. The main structures that transportation engineers design include roads, railways, ports, and airports. 

Transportation engineers utilize computer software to perform many core functions of their jobs. Tools such as civil engineering design software enable transportation engineers to run traffic simulations, plan transportation routes, and conduct pavement analysis and road design.                           

SIte3D Transportation engineering software photos show an important aspect of civil engineering.
                                                                Image courtesy of Site3D

Environmental engineering

Environmental engineering focuses on improving the overall quality of the environment by constructing sustainable buildings.

From finding solutions for waste management to reducing air pollution, environmental engineers aim to protect human health and ecosystems, and reduce human impact on the environment.

Environmental engineering incorporates many of the same tools that civil engineers use, including civil engineering design software. These tools help them draft complex 3D designs of sustainable structures and analyze the ways that their designs will impact the environment. 

TIP: Make sure to check out our article on environmental engineering to learn more. 

Hydraulic engineering

Hydraulic engineering is a discipline of civil engineering design that focuses on using fluid mechanics to solve problems with the collection, storage, and use of fluids. On a daily basis, hydraulic engineers use a branch of fluid mechanics called computational fluid dynamics (CFD) which uses numerical analysis and data structures to solve problems with fluid flows. This allows hydraulic engineers to design structures such as dams, channels, lakes, and canals. 

While hydraulic engineering is a complex field of study, there are tools that aid engineers in their design process. One tool is computer-aided engineering (CAE) software. CAE software supports hydraulic engineering tasks such as computational fluid dynamics, water distribution modeling, and other simulations. Using these tools, hydraulic engineers can model fluid flows and conduct accurate simulations before they begin to build. 

Hyrdaulic engineering software which is an important program for hydraulic civil engineering professionals to know.
Geotechnical engineering 

Geotechnical engineers focus on finding solutions to problems related to geology, or rock and soil. Since civil engineering projects often include excavation, geotechnical engineers are valuable resources for these projects. Some of the main construction projects that geotechnical engineers work on include tunnels, mines, and embankments. 

Some of the common tools that geotechnical engineers use include civil engineering design software as well as geology and seismic software. These tools let them estimate seismic risks for different types of extraction and identify different types of rock formations. 

Fine Software Geotechnical Engineering used by environmental engineers, closely related to civil engineering.

Civil engineering in the future

As the population continues to grow and urbanize, there will be a growing demand for creating sustainable and functional environments. 

The department of labor and industries predict that employment of civil engineers will grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026. With heavy growth in the sector, expect the use of civil engineering software to continue to evolve and aid civil engineers in the daily functions of their jobs. 

Looking for civil engineering tools?  Check out the easiest to use civil engineering design software

Michael Gigante
Author

Michael Gigante

Mike is a market research analyst focusing on CAD, PLM, and supply chain software. Since joining G2 in October 2018, Mike has grounded his work in the industrial and architectural design space by gaining market knowledge in building information modeling, computer-aided engineering and manufacturing, and product and machine design. Mike leverages his knowledge of the CAD market to accurately represent the space for buyers, build out new software categories on G2, and provide consumers with data-driven content and research. Mike is a Chicago native. In his spare time he enjoys going to improv shows, watching sports, and reading Wikipedia pages on virtually any subject.