Tekla Corp. may lack the global recognition of its fellow Finn Nokia, but in the 3D-modeling software world it is every bit as familiar. Having cut its teeth in steel fabrication, the Espoo-based firm spread into engineering design and now offers modeling to construction managers.

Tekla’s launch of worksite-management software began 18 months ago in Finland, where Tiina Koppinen was an early user. “It is a very important step to take modeling to the site,” says Koppinen, a project manager helping develop building information modeling at Skanska OY, Helsinki.

Risto Raty, Tekla’s vice president for the building and construction (B&C) sector, sees the application Structures for Construction Management as a significant advance in BIM. “The first phase of BIM has been pretty much between the design disciplines,” he says.

Tekla’s journey began more than 40 years ago in the early days of computing. It started as a number-crunching agency owned by a group of Finnish design firms. It grew by supporting other vendors’ software and developing its own X series, aimed at various users, including utility and municipal asset managers. A steel-fabrication application, Xsteel, joined the portfolio as “just a product among others,” says Ari Kohonen, president and CEO.

Xsteel sales surpassed Tekla’s other packages, making B&C the firm’s biggest sector, accounting for about three quarters of sales today. “All fabricators in the U.K. use Tekla,” claims Ray Young, CAD leader at the design firm Arup Group Ltd., London. Tekla next moved into engineering a decade ago. “Nobody had done 3D modeling between fabrication and the design,” Young says. Getting Xsteel into the structural-design office “was like having a new toy,” he adds.

Having done well in steel, Tekla addressed concrete. “The precast industry works in pretty much the same fashion,” says Raty. Sensitive to its new customers, Tekla changed the name of Xsteel to Tekla Structures about five years ago. We “deliberately had to sacrifice the product name and goodwill,” says Kohonen.

Raty’s B&C team has two-thirds of Tekla’s workforce of about 460. “We’ve been growing very quickly...adding 60 to 80 people a year for the last three years,” says Raty. As the global economic crisis intensifies, “we are not cutting,” he adds.

Tekla’s sales in 2008 matched 2007’s level of about $76 million, with B&C rising marginally to $60 million. The U.S. is Tekla’s largest market, with about 20% of sales. As global recession set in, 2008’s last-quarter B&C sales dipped nearly 6% to $14.6 million, with profits tumbling 39% to $3.1 million. The year’s operating profit fell 24% to $15.7 million.

Even in stable markets, Kohonen would struggle to forecast business growth over the next decade, he says. The pace of growth “will depend on how quickly the construction industry adopts the new ideas,” he says.

If Skanska is any measure, the future could be rosy. “We need to look at production planning and scheduling,” says Koppinen. “Sophisticated models really help.”