Optimise Graphics Performance In Advance Steel To Navigate Large Models Effectively

One of the perceived weaknesses of Advance Steel is how it handles large models. While there is always room for improvement, there are things a user can do to make things work much more effectively.

Most of the problems actually come down to how the graphics are handled. This is inherited from AutoCAD and is largely beyond Advance Steel’s control. Nevertheless, using the optimum graphics configuration will make a huge difference to the performance.

In reality Advance Steel doesn’t care if there are 2 or 2000 beams in a model, and adding one joint takes about the same time. Creating one part or assembly drawing takes about the same time as well. Naturally full GA views will take longer but this is rarely a problem.

The issue is that it can be very difficult to navigate large models on the screen, with rotation and zooming becoming jerky and large parts of the mode disappearing, which makes orientation difficult.

I have tested the various graphics settings with a large model I have handy, and I think the results will surprise a lot of people. Based on years of providing support and reading the forums I reckon most people are using the wrong settings. There is a massive difference between what it seems most people are doing and what is actually the best setup.

Enhanced 3D:- In AutoCAD 2017.1 Autodesk introduced what they call Enhanced 3D. This was in no small part meant to address the problems of navigating in Advance Steel. Unfortunately though, it seem the default ASTemplate.dwt provided with Advance Steel (at least in the UK version) has not been properly configured to take advantage of this. Please see my previous blog post by cicking the link below to ensure you are using an optimised template for your models.

Advance Steel 2018 visual style settings

Bolts:- Every beam or plate is likely to have a number of bolts or anchors associated with it. Therefore there will be more bolt objects than anything else in your model. We all know what a bolt looks like, so do we really need to see detailed graphics?

When working close up, sure you want to see what you are doing, but when zoomed out to the whole of a large model you probably can’t see the bolts much anyway. Therefore it's best to set the display mode of all bolts to “Standard” (centre lines only) instead of “Solids” and you will save at least half the work for your graphics. The “Selection Filters . Bolts” button followed by the “Standard Presentation” or “Change Representation Type” buttons on the Quick Views palette are perfect for this.

Advance Steel Navigate Large Models 1

Which visual style?:- While “old school” users may be happy using wireframe display for everything, we usually train all users to work in a shaded graphics mode all the time. A shaded mode is far easier to understand most of the time, although wireframe can be useful for seeing through things and hidden objects occasionally.

If you try to rotate a model in shaded mode and the system is struggling to handle the data then some of the model disappears to help maintain an acceptable frame rate. On larger models this degradation can be so extreme that you can’t tell which way you are looking at the model any more. It also takes time to redraw and causes a delay in returning control to the user.

If you are using a shaded mode in an older version (pre 2017.1) or you have not set your visual styles according to the Enhanced 3D above, then you will be getting greatly inferior performance. I also tested with and without some textures assigned to layers in the Realistic visual style, and these slowed things down drastically. If you remove all textures in Realistic and set the edge display according to Enhanced 3D then the shaded modes work far better.

Modern graphics cards are designed for shading so it is not a massive evil like it was in the old days. However, displaying shading and edges basically amounts to twice the work. Therefore the Shaded mode which should not have edges on (Shaded with Edges is for that) is the fastest shaded mode. Most people, myself included, probably expect the Conceptual mode to be faster since it has flat shading but my test showed that it is actually significantly slower - it is in fact the slowest of all the shaded modes.

In Shaded I experienced only a small amount of degradation and full speed rotation of my large model. When I stopped moving the delay was only about one second or less for control to be restored. On the other hand, Conceptual gave a large amount of degradation and a delay of 2 or 3 seconds to restore control.

If the performance of a shaded model still can't be handled, then almost exclusively people refer to using 2D Wireframe. This mode DOES NOT USE YOUR GRAPHICS CARD; it is entirely software based. As such it is really not a very good mode and it's rather slow. After setting your visual styles for Enhanced 3D as above (make sure your Wireframe style shows Occluded Edges in ByEntity colour) you will find Wireframe looks the same as 2D Wireframe. However, Wireframe is GPU accelerated and by far the fastest mode of all. I can rotate my large model in Wireframe at full speed (as fast as I can move the mouse) with no degradation and less than 0.5 second delay.

Summary:- It seems people are using the default template which is not always set correctly for Enhanced 3D, but if it is, then they will achieve a big improvement on their Graphics handling. It is imperative that you adjust your template as required to meet Enhanced 3D if you wish to manage large models effectively.

Set your bolts to Standard Presentation when viewing the whole model.

Once using correctly configured visual styles you should use the right ones:
        • Conceptual = Slowest shaded mode. Avoid
        • Realistic = should be fine for most things.
        • Shaded with Edges = should be fine for most things.
        • Shaded = Fastest shaded mode
        • Wireframe = Fastest mode of all
        • 2D Wireframe = Slow and poor. Avoid
        • Other modes – Hidden, Shade of Grey, Sketchy and XRay are not compatible with Enhanced 3D and should generally be avoided.

This screenshot shows the difference it can make – images taken mid-rotation using a different model to my main tests.

Advance Steel Navigate Large Models 2

Advance Steel Navigate Large Models 3

FYI: My tests are performed on a 6 year old laptop with a Quadro 3000M graphics card. The model is a 300m long 3 storey high mezzanine floor weighing over 210 tonnes, >15000 Beams and >6500 joints, >16000 bolt groups.

If you are looking for extra functionality for your Structural Design workflows, you should consider the Graitec PowerPack for Advance Steel. If you have any questions, please send us a message:

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