Experience at UB is catalyst for two alumni changing the structural engineering and design process

Juan Aleman (left), Martin Diz (right).

Juan Aleman (MS'10, PhD '14)(left) and Martin Diz (PhD '15)(right)

By Peter Murphy

Published March 11, 2021

Civil engineering graduate Juan Aleman (MS ’10, PhD ’14) and aerospace engineering alumnus Martin Diz (PhD ’15) are working together to advance optimization in structural engineering and address the U.S. housing crisis. 

A structural and aerospace engineering collaboration

“I realized that there’s a lack of innovation in the industry, especially here in the U.S. There are so many resources, but engineering firms are not really doing the kind of innovation that can be done. It’s just a matter of time and money. ”
Juan Aleman (MS '10, PhD '14), Chief Scientist & Co-founder

Diz (co-founder and CEO) and Aleman (co-founder and chief scientist) reunited to form TANGObuilder in 2019 after working on their PhDs at the same time at UB. Diz and Aleman were in different disciplines, but early into their research at the graduate level, both recognized areas where their individual expertise could compliment the other’s.

“When Juan was doing his research, he was building a huge wall in the earthquake lab on campus,” Diz says, “he showed me some of his research, and some of it was very similar to what I was doing. We started to compare notes and realized the aerospace industry was way ahead. The algorithms and methodologies – basically all the math behind what we did was a little more advanced.”

Prior to joining UB, Aleman had been a structural engineer for eight years. He came to the University on a Fulbright scholarship in 2008, earned his master’s in 2010 and a PhD in 2014. “I could immediately see all the benefits of integrating these new aerospace technologies into our workflow,” Aleman says. 

“We have algorithms in aerospace,” Diz says, “the Kalman filter and all these methodologies, that are not being used in structural engineering. Structural engineers basically need to optimize, reducing, making faster solutions, converting. These processes in traditional software take six to eight weeks to solve. When you put all these algorithms form aerospace into the pipeline and start rewriting the code, you see something more sophisticated, and you’re accomplishing things much faster.” 

The researchers worked together on a paper incorporating some of the methods and technologies from aerospace engineering into structural engineering. According to Diz, they decided to take some of the ideas in this paper and start TANGObuilder. “Rather than just write the paper, we decided to actually market the company. That’s very briefly how we decided to start this,” Diz says. 

At this point, TANGObuilder has run over 20 pilot programs for different architecture, construction and engineering projects, and each simulation has provided a 10-15% reduction in structural cost, and has reduced the time needed to complete a project significantly. According to Aleman, these types of changes are needed in the structural engineering industry. “I realized that there’s a lack of innovation in the industry, especially here in the U.S. There are so many resources, but engineering firms are not really doing the kind of innovation that can be done. It’s just a matter of time and money,” Aleman says. 

After earning his PhD, Aleman moved to Los Angeles and had the opportunity to work on some large project like the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and the New Mexico City airport. “During this time, I was also doing research and I was in touch with Martin. During of these conversations, we started to talk about our project at UB,” Aleman says, “I told him ‘I think there’s something here,’ and that’s how we started the company.”

Each researcher has a background of service and working for their community that they bring into their experience at TANGObuilder. Diz, a native of Argentina, started working in the air force writing flight simulators. Diz also started a company, Bluesmart, a company using digital technology to solve issues affecting travelers. Aleman is from Nicaragua and grew up experiencing earthquakes. After earning his undergraduate degree in 2002, he started a firm in his home country. This same community-driven work both Diz and Aleman demonstrated throughout their careers is part of TANGObuilder’s mission. 

“There’s a worldwide housing crisis. Some people live in settlements, some on the streets, and the construction industry is the only industry in the last 20 years that has seen no efficiency increase,” Diz says, “that’s the big problem we have to solve. As engineers, we can’t solve everything, but everything related to software design, optimization – that’s what we’re going to solve right now. We can fix the issue from the engineering side and give the engineers, the architects and real estate developers the tools they need to speed up the design process. If we can cut the costs of the structural system by 30%, that’s a 10% reduction in home prices that will give more options to people looking for homes.”

For more information on TANGObuilder, or to contact Aleman or Diz, visit the organization’s website.