In Review: MSCAD2002 by MicroSurvey Software Inc.

December 20, 2002
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A program that makes it easy to complete the various phases of a survey job.

Figure 1. Active COGO Batch File.
MicroSurvey Software Inc.
#110-2300 Carrington Road
Westbank, BC, Canada V4T 2N6
800/668-3312
Single license $1,995
Multiple license discounts available.

I recently attended the Surveyors Historical Society annual Rendezvous in Gettysburg, Pa. I saw old surveying instruments and a few old calculators. I had the opportunity to browse through Mason and Dixon’s journal that includes pages of calculations used to establish the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. I also studied the map prepared by Jeremiah Dixon of the famous Mason-Dixon Line survey, which was the focus of the Rendezvous.

Aren’t we thankful we have easier methods today? Instead of taking two weeks to determine our latitude by the extensive use of ancient trig functions and of the relatively new (for them) technology called logarithms_, today we can do it in less than an hour and at a greater accuracy than Charles Mason could expect using the best instruments of his day. Likewise, the laborious calculations and hours of drawing preparation have been replaced by computers. Turning out multiple copies of the drawing, once completed, is as simple as telling the computer how many copies we want, not the painstaking process of making every copy by hand. It’s no wonder that there were only six copies of the Mason-Dixon map prepared! These advancements have been developed by companies like MicroSurvey Software Inc. of Westbank, British Columbia, Canada, making it easy to complete the various phases of a survey job from data collection to the production of the final drawings, followed by staking the job.

MicroSurvey has several products to assist in this process. They include FieldGenius, reviewed in the December 2002 issue of POB; inCAD Survey, a COGO, DTM and design program that runs inside AutoCAD; Express, a survey tool for those who don’t need CAD or DTM; several forensic mapping products (including a data collector) and its flagship product, MicroSurvey CAD (MSCAD), which I reviewed in 1998_. Since then, MicroSurvey has been busy making significant changes, which are the focus of this review.

Figure 2. Specifying spiral curves

Active Drawing Technology

A common thread among all desktop products is Active Drawing Technology. This is an umbrella term that includes several subjects. In general, it provides an immediate response to the graphical screen as data is modified. Currently, it includes the Active Coordinate Editor, the Active Traverse Editor and the COGO Batch File.

The Active Coordinate Editor is linked to both the coordinate database and the graphical screen. If a point or an attribute is selected, the Coordinate Editor is opened with the selected point highlighted. Likewise, if a point is selected from the Editor, an option exists to zoom to that point. If several points are selected in the drawing, then all of the points will be highlighted when the Editor opens. The drop down menu provides an option for sorting the coordinates by any of the columns. Points in the Editor can be selected by the standard Windows selection methods, or by a coordinate or elevation range.

Once a series of points is selected, various functions are available. These include rotate, translate, scale, change layers and several other options. Any change made in this Editor to the data is immediately reflected in the drawing. If a voice note has been attached to a point in FieldGenius, a small icon is displayed. Clicking on the icon will let you hear the note.

The Active Traverse Editor works in a similar manner. If changes, such as a backsight point, rod height, description, etc., are made to the raw file, the drawing is automatically updated to reflect these when the file is re-coordinated. Closure reports and traverse adjustments are available in the Editor.

The Active Batch COGO feature is one many surveyors will appreciate. The recording feature is an option that can be turned on or off. If turned on, all COGO calculations are echoed to a file for a record of what was done, and if at a later date the user wants to change an item, such as a distance or bearing in an intersect command, the user simply opens the file, makes the changes, then reprocesses the commands. The changes are automatically reflected in the drawing and the database. A sample of the file produced is shown in Figure 1 on page 46. Notice that when a row is selected, headings relevant to that row appear. The color of the row is also customizable. This makes it easy for a user to identify what type of COGO calculation was done at any point in the Editor.

All COGO operations, Traverse, Intersection, Offsets, some curve calculations and Inverse are performed from a single series of prompts. Depending on the data provided, the program knows what kind of an operation is desired.

Inverse:Pt..Pt/Curve Inverse:Pt..Pt..Pt

Enter From Point: <17>9

All calculations start from a point number. If a point number doesn’t exist, then a dialog box appears allowing the coordinates to be entered.

This is followed by prompts for direction and distance, each of which can have various styles as indicated by the following syntax.

Options: +/- or Pt..Pt+-Angle

Enter Quadrant Bearing like QDD.MMSS:<>:

Options: C#=-*/sin/cos/tan... or Pt..Pt(+-*/) a Distance

Enter the Distance: <>:

Figure 3. Establishing a vertical alignment.
Directions and distances can be recalled by entering two point numbers separated by two dots. Thus, an entry such as 25..26 will inverse between the two points and insert the requested value. Directions can be modified by adding or subtracting angular values. Intersections of offset lines, such as setbacks of equal or unequal value, can be computed by shifting the direction line to the right or left. This is triggered by the % symbol followed by a + or - distance. For example, the following entry will start an intersection 20 feet to the right of the line connecting points 26 and 25.

Enter Quadrant Bearing #2 like QDD.MMSS: <>:26..25%+20

If both a bearing and distance are provided at the first prompts, then the operation is a traverse. However, if one of these is missing, then the operation will become an intersection command. If two point numbers are provided at the Point number prompt, then it is an inverse. If three point numbers are provided, then it computes a curve if the middle point is an equal distance from the other two. If not, then it computes an offset distance of the third point along a base line from the first to second point. This is a very clever, but subtle way of providing information.

Various options exist for entering and modifying the values for direction and distances. These include adding or subtracting specific values, selecting points or lines from the drawing, asking for offsets and performing a series of mathematical expressions_.

While it took me some time to study and understand this system, once mastered it is quite fast and efficient. Those surveyors who want to work primarily with point numbers will like this. I have often heard surveyors say they wish their program would do this.

There is a hot toggle dialog box that controls what is drawn or saved during COGO operations. The ones most commonly toggled during a COGO command are Draw lines/curves, Draw bearings and Draw distances. This dialog box can be kept handy so it is easy to turn any of the items on or off without exiting the COGO program.

In addition to this series of COGO prompts, there are several curve options available including best fit through a number of points, CAD curves, COGO Curve Calculation and others. I found that only the COGO curve calculation dialog placed corresponding information in the batch file. I have been assured by MicroSurvey that others will be added in future versions, as many are methods that surveyors routinely use.

A neat feature about the COGO routines is that one can draw a lot or subdivision using pure CAD functions. Once a layout is obtained that looks good on paper, the COGO routines will capture it by using the Line option available. By typing the letter L when the COGO routine asks for a bearing or distance, a user can select the appropriate line, and the bearing or distance is extracted from that line. Unfortunately, curves cannot be copied unless there are points at the PC, curve center and PT.

Figure 4. Vertical curve parameters.

AutoMAP Library

The AutoMAP Library controls how points are connected and the type of entity that is created as a result of using a code in the library. Each code in the library can be associated with a symbol, 2D or 3D lines, whether points are connected with a line or polyline, layer information, symbol scale, plotted description, legal writer description or a few other parameters. This provides a lot of control on how a drawing is produced based on field codes. FieldGenius, the product reviewed in last month’s POB, uses the same library so the drawing presented in the data collector will be the same as the drawing presented in MSCAD.

File Transfer

While MSCAD maintains separate files while a job is open, it combines these into a single file when the drawing is closed. Thus, when the need arises to transfer files to another firm using MSCAD, only one file needs to be copied in addition to the drawing.

MSCAD and Express can both work in the DWG format on a full-time basis. Thus, if file transfer to other systems occurs on a regular basis, this makes it quite simple. Coordinates are transferred by creating an ASCII coordinate file. LandXML is not supported at this time. MSCAD contains routines for converting points between other design software and MSCAD.

Figure 5. Establishing a template.

Creating Surfaces

A surface is the basis for contours, surface-to-surface volumes, vertical alignments for roads, generating cross sections and any other operation requiring an elevation component. In order to generate a surface, 3D entities that define the surface must be associated with the proper surface. This is easily done by selecting the appropriate entity, whether it be a point, line or polyline, and indicating what surface it should be associated with. Various filters are available to assist in this step. Surfaces are generated by triangulation between points with due respect to break lines. A sophisticated algorithm is used to reduce the width of a triangle along a break line in order to generate a better model. Each surface is named so several can reside in a project at the same time.

Surfaces are retained in memory and will carry through from one project to another unless they are specifically deleted. Once generated, surfaces can be saved for recall at a later time. They can be set to load automatically when an existing project is opened.

If a surface is available, vertical profiles can be generated that follow a horizontal alignment and these vertical profiles are plotted in the drawing. A simple road design will illustrate this.

Horizontal alignments, which are independent of the surface, are generated by first identifying the PIs (Points of Intersection) of the alignment. This is accomplished from the AutoRoute menu, and each alignment is given a name. If the alignment is to contain curves, as in a typical road alignment, two options exist. Spirals are specified by selecting a PI and filling in the appropriate values as shown in Figure 2 on page 47. Notice that both equal and unequal spirals can be specified in this dialog. Simple curves are specified by selecting the PI and providing the radius.

Once the horizontal alignment is defined, the existing ground profile is generated along the alignment and the profile is plotted. The user has full control of the station range to be plotted as well as the grid parameters. After plotting the existing ground profile, the vertical design profile is specified by completing the dialog shown in Figure 3 on page 47. The initial values for station and elevation are picked from the screen and tweaked as required in the dialog box. Note that there is an option for specifying the elevation of the VPI or the grade from the previous one. The Update/Show button will compute and update the one not specified. Also notice the convenience of the pan and zoom buttons on the dialog.

If vertical curves are a part of the design, they are specified by the length. The results are displayed in Figure 4 above.

Road cross section templates are specified using the dialog box shown in Figure 5 on page 49. Each template can have an unlimited number of segments or legs. The default is four, a sufficient number for a typical subdivision street. The graphical window is dynamically updated as values for the various legs are changed. Any number of templates can be stored for later recall. While the template doesn’t accommodate sub-grade layers, the same result can be accomplished by building additional design profiles and applying the templates in stages.

After applying a template to a range of stations along an alignment, the sections can be plotted. As is the case when plotting a profile, the user has control of the grid size and labeling.

Currently, earthwork for roads must be computed using surface-to-surface procedures; however, an end area method is under development that will use the cross sections generated. This should make it easier to compute earthwork for specific portions of a street system.

Storm and Sanitary sewer layout follows a similar but slightly different sequence. The alignment is selected by identifying structure locations, but instead of generating the ground profile first, the design profile is created as the structures are located. In order to do this, it is necessary to have a general idea of the ground surface and/or other parameters that will control the invert elevations. As each structure is located, the invert elevations or grades are specified. After all structures are located, they are tagged with the option of using a surface to determine the rim elevation. Following this, a table of structures can be generated by selecting each structure to be included. A design profile can then be plotted along with the ground profile.

Documentation

It is refreshing to see a product that comes with a manual in hard copy form. MSCAD comes with two, a Getting Started Guide and a Program Guide.

The Getting Started Guide and the online help each contain six tutorials broken down into several sections covering basic elements of Data Collection, Traverse, Property Line, Road Design, Earthwork and House Placement.

While I learned a lot by working through the tutorials, I would like for them to include more explanation of the various steps. If the introduction and the Z coding section of the data collection tutorial, and the introduction to the COGO and earthwork volume tutorials were expanded, they would be easier to follow.

The Program Guide is an excellent reference, but some sections refer the reader to the online help for more details. For example, the section on COGO where one would expect to find an explanation for the prompts, refers the reader to the online help. After finally finding it in the online help, it was divided into 15 different hyperlinked locations that I printed out one section at a time.

The documentation also includes 230 short online movies, which are screen captures while a series of operations were performed within MSCAD. They include a verbal description of the functions being used and they last from 45 seconds to 12 minutes. These movies are well organized under 13 major categories with some having as many as 28 sub-items.

Many dialog boxes have context sensitive help, which when the ? in the upper right corner of the box is selected followed by selecting a data field, a tool tip will appear that explains the topic. Some also have a help button at the bottom right of the box. When this is selected, the help system opens on the subject of the dialog box. Once opened, the help system has a lot of hyperlinked sections and hot spots. If a hand appears when the cursor is moved over a dialog box image, pressing the left button will switch to a more detailed explanation of the topic.

There are some places in the tutorials and other documentation that are not up-to-date with the last user interface; however, most of them were easy to figure out. When I could not, I contacted the MicroSurvey staff and found them to be very patient and helpful.

Conclusion

MSCAD is a comprehensive program and I have touched on only a few of its many features. Lot design, house placement, road and intersection layout and others were covered in my 1998 review, which remains a good reference. While there have been some refinements in these functions since 1998, they remain essentially the same.

MSCAD not only has many features that make the basic layout and design easy, it also has features to ease the drafting of the project. For example, when planning a storm or sanitary sewer layout, tools exist for stationing the mains and laterals, setting the inverts and rim elevations, drawing the profiles with each structure detailed and labeling the pipe runs and structures. What once took days or hours to complete can now be done in a fraction of the time.

I have not covered its more advanced design capabilities. For example, MSCAD contains several methods of creating a surface. These include using a first or second derivative on the surface, Krieging, Trend grid methods, Weighting and others that are important alternatives when performing advanced modeling.

While one could easily become overwhelmed by the complexity of the program, once a user has an organized approach to project design, it is easy to apply that approach to MSCAD. The tutorials and movies provide a good start for ordinary jobs. When these aids aren’t enough, there are several other avenues.

Top-notch technical support, free for the first 90 days, is only a phone call away. In addition, there is unlimited free Internet on MicroSurvey’s message board, which is monitored by MicroSurvey staff. Users also have a long list of user tips and a list of trade shows where they can talk to the programmers and technical support staff in person.

Two levels of paid support are also available. The first level provides access to telephone, E-mail and fax while the VIP support guarantees a one-hour response time in addition to product upgrades. Training is offered at the user’s site or in a classroom setting at MicroSurvey’s headquarters.

A software developer is constantly faced with user requests that often contradict those of other users. MicroSurvey has done a good job of addressing opposing views. These include individual settings for each type of text, point numbers and annotations; offsets and layers for curb and street layout; COGO toggles; prefixes and suffixes for labels; typical CAD settings and many others. As I worked with the program, I often found a setting that changed my mind as to how things worked. One such setting is the option to use the Active Coordinate Editor or Single Point Editor when selecting a point from the screen.

I found the MicroSurvey staff to be receptive to suggestions. When I asked why something worked the way it did, the answer was “a request from the users.” Likewise, if I asked if it would do something I couldn’t find, often the answer was, “It’s on the list.”

Excellent relations and a broad spectrum of excellent products makes MicroSurvey a good company to know and work with.

References:
Trigonometry had been in use since about 1000 BC; however, logarithms were not invented until late in the 16th century.

Math expressions take the form C (xxx), where xxx can be any combination of the +,-,\,*, Sin, Cos or Tan functions.

Read Bob’s 1998 MSCAD review or the December 2002 review of MicroSurvey’s FieldGenius.

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