Reviewing ACE OCP: A Simple, Easy-to-Use Program for the AEC World
Rande Robinson posted on April 06, 2017 |

ACE OCP, according to its creators, is the first commercial structural optimization software for cost reduction available for the architectural engineering and construction (AEC) industry. What exactly is this software and who created it? First, let’s get the “acronyms” out of the way. ACE is an abbreviation for American Computers and Engineers, while OCP stands for Optimization Computing Platform. 

ACE OCP or simply OCP is a plug-in (third-party app) for the 64-bit version of Computer & Structures (CSI) products SAP2000 and ETABS. SAP2000 is integrated software for structural analysis and design that can handle anything from simple 2D static frames to the largest 3D, nonlinear dynamic systems, while ETABS is CSI’s integrated analysis, design and drafting system. For more information on CSI and its structural analysis software, visit its website.

OCP is a product of ACE-Hellas which is a Greek firm that specializes in the marketing, development and production of vertical IT solutions for the AEC industry. The company has been around since 1979 and marketed its products mainly in Europe and the Middle East. Only recently has it entered the U.S. market. It is best known for its structural analysis and design software SCADA Pro for Eurocodes and Saudi Building Code. What is OCP? As stated before, it is an add-in program for SAP2000 and ETABS used to optimize one’s initial design. According to the BusinessDictionary website, “Optimization is the art or process of finding an alternative with the most cost-effective or highest achievable performance under the given constraints by maximizing desired factors and minimizing undesired ones.”

In the simplest terms, OCP uses its state-of-the-art algorithms, SAP2000 analysis and design capabilities along with the power of modern PCs to automate and improve the traditional “trial and error” design process.   

Structural optimization procedure. (Image courtesy of ACE-Hellas.)
Structural optimization procedure. (Image courtesy of ACE-Hellas.)

The software can perform several different types of optimization (though they all are currently available in the shipping version), such as:

  • Cost reduction (material and construction)
  • Performance-based design
  • Enviromental life cycle cost reduction
  • Risk reduction
  • Decision making for construction
  • Multidisciplinary applications 

ACE-Hellas decided to release the initial (base) version of the software with only cost reduction optimization. The other optimizations will be released over time and in phases. The main goal of phase I was to reduce cost. The software does this by sizing the structural members up or down to maximize the overall material savings, which ACE-Hellas felt was the easiest and simplest optimization for the average engineer to understand and appreciate. After running OCP, good designs should be better, whereas bad ones will at least be corrected, and code checked. 

Let’s take a quick look at how the software works inside of SAP2000. Since I am no SAP2000 expert (only installed for the first time less than a week ago), I am going to use some data that ACE-Hellas sent me.  

According to the software manual, these are the minimum requirements to run OCP.

  • OS: 64-bit versions of Windows 7/Windows 8, 8.1 and Windows 10.
  • CPU: 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4300/2.4 GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600+ 
  • RAM: 1.5 GB Windows XP/2 GB Windows Vista, 7 
  • GFX: 256 MB DirectX 9.0c-compliant video card with Shader Model 3.0 or higher 
  • DX: DirectX 9.0c compliant
  • HDD: 40 MB of free hard disk space 
  • Audio: DirectX 9.0c compliant 
  • .NET 4.0
  • An Internet connection
  • CSI SAP2000 v18 or v19 64-bit (ETABS 2016 for ETABS version)

Remember that OCP is a plug-in program, and one must have a legally licensed copy of SAP2000 to run it. These are the minimum standards: The more powerful your PC, the better the program will perform. Though I was not able to test it, ACE-Hellas said that the SCADA Pro/OCP version could use the graphics card CPU to produce up to a 10x increase in overall processing speed. If this is the case, I hope it moves the technology to the SAP2000 version soon.

Installing the program is relatively easy: You download the setup executable of the plug-in from aceocp.com and run it. A setup wizard will then take you through the steps of installing and setting up the program. Once you finish, you have two more steps to complete; one is adding the OCP plug-in to SAP2000, and the second is registering the program. Although this is easy, I had some trouble adding the plug-in to SAP2000 due to a mistake (since fixed) in the manual. 

To add the plug-in to SAP2000, you simply go to the Tools menu and select “Add/Show Plugins” (Fig. 1). 

Figure 1. Starting the plug-in install in SAP2000.
Figure 1. Starting the plug-in install in SAP2000.

In the following dialog box (Fig. 2), you simply replace the CSILoadOptimizer entry with the version of OCP you are using, which in this case is ACEOCP19. 

Figure 2. ACE OCP installed and ready to go.
Figure 2. ACE OCP installed and ready to go.

Then hit the Add button and select OK. That’s all there is to it. Once installed, you will need to activate and register the program. Once the program comes up, you select the Help button and enter your serial number (product code) in the appropriate field. 

Starting OCP.
Starting OCP.
Registration form.
Registration form.

OCP is now ready to go. Running OCP is almost as easy as installing it. OCP uses the now-familiar Windows Ribbon Interface, which is composed of four tabs. 

The OCP interface.
The OCP interface.
The Formulation tab is where you set up the basic Project Information and paths to your OCP and SAP2000 files. The other three buttons are called the Design Bounds group, and this is where the user can set various definition ranges, sections properties and variables. 


The Objective tab is where you define material cost by weight for structural steel and by volume for concrete.
The Solution tab is the programs control panel where you run, reset and view your results. 
The Info tab is where you originally inputted the serial number and where one can access the program's manual. 

The software comes with basic values and settings already filled in, so once you have a model defined in SAP2000, you can simply hit the Run button and let OCP do its thing. After running through its optimization routines, the program will display both a graphical and textual summary of the results.  

Figure 3. Results of a run.
Figure 3. Results of a run.

As you can see from the Figure 3, the optimization took 25 minutes and 53 seconds to run and resulted in a 52.3 percent improvement in material cost. Now, this is one simple example, and in general, I doubt that you can expect to see such a dramatic result in most cases, assuming the engineer/architect was doing a good job in the first place.

The results can be broken down a bit further by selecting the Results button. Selecting the button produces a tabbed dialog box (Fig. 4) that breaks down the results in a bit more detail. Each tab provides a bit more detail on specific results, with the Bill of Materials tab (Fig. 5) breaking down the savings in concrete and steel. The Section Dimensions tab (Fig. 6) lists the “optimized” dimension changes to all the beams and columns. These tabs are nice for a quick “executive” overview, but to get a detailed report, one needs to select the Results Report button at the bottom of the dialog. 

Figure 4. The Results tab with cost overview.
Figure 4. The Results tab with cost overview.
Figure 5. Bill of materials summary.
Figure 5. Bill of materials summary.
Figure 6. Section changes for design elements.
Figure 6. Section changes for design elements.

The Results button produces a Technical Report in a readable and well-formatted PDF report, several pages of which are displayed in Figure 7.  

Figure 7. Sections of the completed design report.
Figure 7. Sections of the completed design report.

Analysis and thoughts

Hopefully, I have shown you that OCP is pretty easy to use and, from what I can tell, does what it says it will do. The software takes any concrete or steel design that you have done in SAP2000 and optimizes it to produce a design that has a lower overall cost than what you created. Not only does it produce one with a lower cost, it also checks all the user-selected design codes and requirements of the original SAP2000 model. So what does this wonder of technology cost? 

The plug-in’s introductory cost is $2,200 each. Moreover, the license is per seat, under a traditional software licensing model in which customers own the license they purchased for each product in perpetuity. Besides the traditional commercial licenses, ACE-Hellas also offers academic licenses at no cost, specifically for universities and academic institutions for research and educational purposes only.

The company is looking at other possible licensing models, but right now, it’s sticking with the traditional approach. I know that $2,200 seems expensive for a program that plugs into an existing program. But if it can save you even a minimum of 5 percent by optimization, it will probably pay for itself the first time you run it.

Now for the executive summary (bet you thought it was supposed to go at the beginning of the review?). OCP bills itself as the first program of its kind in the AEC world. From what I can tell, it probably is. Being first has advantages, but it also has the disadvantage of having to prove it is needed and useful. For an individual to create, analyze, model and then optimize a design without a whole squad of engineers is a powerful thing, particularly in today's world where every penny counts and saving even a couple of percentage points in the material cost of a design can mean the difference in building it or not. ACE-Hellas has taken a huge step forward in supplying a simple, easy-to-use program for the AEC world. Running inside of another world-class and trusted structural analysis program is just icing on the cake.  

One could make the case that the software is a bit too easy to use, which is always an issue when dealing with engineering software. However, since it runs inside of SAP2000, I do not think this is a problem. SAP2000 is a program that takes time, effort and experience to use. Since the software requires SAP2000 to run, it is a good bet that OCP users are professionals who will understand its strengths and weaknesses.  

The only other issue I see with the software is that it currently only does one thing. I agree with ACE-Hellas that cost optimization is the easiest and most practical place to start. Think of the other possibilities for optimization that exist in the AEC world? OCP is only scratching the surface. I know from discussion with ACE-Hellas that it is working on adding more capabilities to the program, so I think the future of this product is bright. For users of SAP2000, getting in on the ground floor is a great idea.

If you are already a user of ETABS 2016, SAP2000 v18 or v19 you can try it out yourself for free.

ACE-Hellas has sponsored this article. It has provided no editorial input other than verification of the technical facts. All opinions are mine. —Rande Robinson 

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