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The Technology Benchmark

April 1, 2006
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Civil 3D 2007 is the third release of Autodesk's popular civil engineering software. Now, with the addition of a strong set of survey tools, Autodesk is reaching out to all surveyors. Written in a modern, object-oriented programming language, Civil 3D continues to rapidly evolve and address industry needs.

Figure 1. Civil 3D interface.

Civil 3D Functionality

Since many surveyors are not yet acquainted with the Civil 3D product, allow me to briefly describe it. Civil 3D is an integrated solution containing several programs built upon AutoCAD as the foundation graphics engine. Although the full complement of AutoCAD commands are available, Civil 3D has an abbreviated AutoCAD menu to leave room for the civil/survey menus shown in Figure 1. Augmenting AutoCAD is the MAP 3D software that adds often needed GIS tools, as well as important adjunct utilities and drafting cleanup tools, to the user's toolkit. Surveyors should be particularly interested in MAP 3D's ability to perform sophisticated geodetic transformations of AutoCAD data. The civil engineering and surveying components complete the solution for heavy civil engineering design and surveying tasks.

Civil 3D offers fundamentally sound and traditional routines for civil design as well as advanced capabilities including:
  • Dynamic model associativity: allows changes made to integral design components to automatically update related project components (what I call the "ripple-through" effect).
  • Style libraries: control the design characteristics and aesthetics of objects
  • DOT highway design tools: include specialized highway design objects such as corridors and regions
  • Roadway reconstruction tools: include specific tools for roadway rehabilitation such as overlaying pavement, curb replacement, etc.
  • Modern user interface: makes data readily available to users through drag & drop, tool palettes (see Figure 2), toolbars and data mining capabilities
  • Intelligent civil design and surveying objects: contain data and functions, maintain relationships with other objects and support engineering design and surveying processes.


Figure 2. Civil 3D tool palette.

Civil 3D Enhancements in 2007

Now, in addition to its base functionality, Civil 3D 2007 contains what appears to be a very impressive list of enhancements. I will discuss these in two parts: design-oriented improvements and specific surveying functionality (in some instances these enhancements fall under both categories).

Design-Oriented Improvements
The design-oriented improvements include project management enhancements, labeling/annotation capabilities; significant expansion of grading tools; and miscellaneous improvements comprising improved utility piping abilities and corridor enhancements.

The most notable enhancement to project management is the inclusion of the "vault." If the user chooses to use a project management-based solution for data sharing, a vault can be established to house this data as it is forwarded to the external project location. The vault contains user-defined locations for the project databases and offers optional password security to restrict access to authorized users. Customers should be aware that the vault requires Windows XP Professional to handle some of its tasks.

The new labeling and annotation functions include multi-purpose note labels, which show information about the Civil 3D objects without attaching them directly to an object. This allows users to label a point with, say, station and offset data, where the reference to the alignment in question is created using the note label style. These are also customizable. For example, the elevation could be added to a station/offset label where no such link exists by default. Indeed, multiple objects can be referred to in a combined label. So the intersection of two alignments could be labeled with data from both alignment objects. Another new feature is the ability to label traditional polylines, lines and curves in AutoCAD. Many users probably thought that this ability was needed from the outset, but will nonetheless be pleased to have it now. Other labeling has become more flexible in the 2007 release as well; for instance, profile labels can now be manipulated using grips.

Another welcome addition to the software is a set of some very strong grading tools. These allow for setting grade between vertices and setting elevations by reference. Also added are new grading commands that are similar to some of the 3D point commands, as well as the ability to reverse, join, fillet and smooth grading objects. There is also a much-needed stepped offset command for 3D feature layout, which allows grading objects to be offset vertically and horizontally to assist in precision 3D grading (see Figure 3 below left).

Other miscellaneous improvements can be found throughout the software. Corridor capabilities have been added to include the addition of more powerful boundaries and the ability to add station-based assembly insertions. The new piping tools allow for conflict identification using style-based visuals. These tools offer users an interesting array of checks. The interference checking will visually show pipe parts that conflict in ways where they physically overlap, where they intersect in incorrect ways, or those that have violated preset constraints such as offset distance tolerances that the user has developed.

Figure 3. The new Civil 3D grading tools.
New Capabilities for Surveyors
Now we come to what matters most-the new functionality for surveyors. Civil 3D 2007 adds the surveying functionality that was omitted in the prior releases, including the following functions and abilities.
  • The Prospector's survey specific interface. The Prospector tab allows the user to "mine the data." Users can view the numeric data along with previews, visually locate the data in AutoCAD and even change properties and values of the data using simple, succinct pulldown menus. The survey interface shows collections for traverse networks, figures and survey points, and the ability to visually manage and oversee these collections. See Figure 4 below right.
  • The ability to download, manage, edit and reduce data collector field data.
  • The ability to enter, edit, balance and report on open and closed traverses.
  • The ability to manage and edit equipment libraries.
  • The ability to manage and edit figure libraries for automatic linework generation. This concept is similar to that offered in Land Desktop where linework is collected in the field and given a prefix. For example, edges of pavement can be given prefixes such as EP1, EP2 and so on. The figure prefix library contains an entry called EP, so the software treats anything beginning with EP as an EP item, thereby correctly establishing the layering for the linework. This allows multiple edges of pavement to be open in the data collector simultaneously.
  • The ability to create survey figures directly from AutoCAD linework.
  • The ability to develop terrain model breaklines from figures that have a specific prefix. In other words, perhaps linework coded with a BRK prefix is intended to be breaklines for the Digital Terrain Model (DTM). These might be tops of banks, toes of slopes, ridge lines, etc. Users can now send those figures that have a BRK prefix, for example, directly into the surface.
  • The use of the vault to protect the precious data that surveyors are ultimately responsible for.
  • The ability to output design data and surfaces in formats compatible with Topcon (via Carlson Connect), Trimble (via Trimble Link) and Leica (via Leica Xchange) GPS machine control equipment.
With these routines, surveyors can now perform their tasks of collecting base information data and combine that with project control using traverses to obtain automatic base sheet generation. That data can then be transferred and made accessible in one of many methods to the engineers for proposed design work. Keeping within that production envelope, the final design can then be made directly accessible to surveyors for QA/QC and preparation of stakeout data, or for 3D GPS machine control data.

Terry D. Bennett, PLS, LPF, senior industry manager of engineering and construction solutions for Autodesk, explains the features in Civil 3D 2007 that pertain to surveyors: "The new survey toolspace and features are following the same technology used for engineers-real objects and models that are truly 3D. It contains survey network objects that understand relationships and the pedigree from which they came. It visually supports multiple networks; the database understands coordinate transformations and units and will transform on-the-fly as it is brought into the drawing session in a coordinate system other than what it was collected in. This allows survey data to update automatically as the traverse data is modified and refined." Figure 5 shows an example of multiple networks support. Bennett adds, "This capability improves data management and streamlines the quality assurance process because of the ability to view and review survey data visually."

Figure 4. The new survey interface.

Implementing Civil 3D 2007

When it comes to actual implementation of the product, Civil 3D 2007 is designed to offer surveyors a less-intensive learning curve. According to Bennett, "The survey functionality, while in a new user interface, is consistent with Land Desktop in methodology so the adoption of the survey won't be too intensive. Surveyors will find a refreshing surprise, though, in that they will be working in a very graphical environment. There is, of course, a learning curve similar to that which the engineers must undergo, and it relates to the concepts inherent in model-based design and the ability to see the impact of changes made to data as they occur." But Bennett adds that the effort to learn and implement Civil 3D will be worth it. He says, "The resulting dynamic and automatic updating of survey data [in Civil 3D 2007] is a goal that surveyors have been requesting for 10 years."

Bennett recommends that Land Desk-top users migrate to Civil 3D "as soon as possible." In my opinion, Civil 3D 2007 is ready for prime time. And now that surveyors are included within its solution set, nothing should stop them from moving forward to this new release.

Figure 5. Multiple networks support.

Web Exclusive: More Q&A with Terry Bennett

Read the full text of Harry Ward's interview of Terry Bennett to gain more insights into the intended use of Civil 3D 2007 for customers. Ward: Are there features in Civil 3D 2007 that might be of interest to surveyors?

Bennett: Yes, survey capabilities have now been added into Civil 3D and they are very powerful. The new survey tool space and features are following the same technology used for engineers, real objects and models that are truly 3D. The Autodesk survey product of old has now been put into Civil 3D and has been rebuilt from scratch and is amazing. Our lead product designer for this survey technology is a licensed surveyor so this was built for surveyors by surveyors. It contains survey network objects that understand relationships and the pedigree from which they came. It supports visually multiple networks; the database understands coordinate transformations and units and will transform on-the-fly as it is brought into the drawing session in a coordinate system other than what it was collected in. We believe that is unique in the industry for survey analysis capability.

It can support multiple equipment databases and figure prefix libraries that can be changed on-the-fly in the drawing session. And these are true 3D objects and networks, so if you rotate the drawing it displays all in 3D. This allows survey data to update automatically as the traverse data is modified and refined. This capability improves data management and streamlines the quality assurance process because of the ability to view and review survey data visually. And the survey figures coded in the field are real object figures--they can be used as breaklines for TINs, they can be used as lot lines and even used as Civil 3D grading objects--very powerful capability. All of this is integrated directly into the Civil 3D tool space.

Ward: Although Civil 3D is a new product and not an upgrade to Land Desktop, will surveyors have a large learning curve when migrating to it?

Bennett: The survey functionality, while in a new UI [user interface] is consistent with Land Desktop in methodology so the adoption of the survey won't be too intensive. But like all new technology, you need to get training on it to really maximize your return on investment and to really understand all the power it now has for you to use. Surveyors will find a refreshing and pleasant surprise, though, in that they will be working in a very graphical environment. There is, of course, a learning curve that relates to the concepts inherent in model-based design and the ability to see the impact of changes made to data as they occur. This resulting dynamic and automatic updating of survey data (even the ability to undo a analysis) is something that surveyors have been requesting for more than 10 years.

Ward: How would you describe the code behind the development of the Civil 3D offering?

Bennett: Autodesk has achieved a breakthrough in that the object model is now in a container without the restrictions and limitations of having massive external databases to carry around. This makes the data set portable, and we envision it being brought directly into field operations. The most modern programming languages are being used and the architecture of Civil 3D is built so that it can continue to be developed for many years to come. This allows Autodesk to develop enhancements faster than ever before and respond to customer requirements as they change over time.

Ward: Is Civil 3D a national product or an international product?

Bennett: It was designed and built from the ground up to be an international offering. When we released Civil 3D in its preview version here in the States, the same version was being sold in China in large numbers due to demand, and it was put in production on some large infrastructure projects. It currently is translated and localized in 12 languages and the list keeps getting bigger every year. Additionally, it is being shipped with specific localized content built by country local partners. In other words, the standards and requirements for many countries are included into the software so it is directly compatible in the countries where it is purchased. In fact, the software was intentionally designed to be both an end user product as well as powerful development platform for higher verticalization, so the ability to add more civil engineering functionality to it as time goes on can be easily accomplished by development partners or by Autodesk.

Ward: When should those using Land Desktop begin the migration process to Civil 3D?

Bennett: As soon as possible. For those working on large projects who interact with many other companies in a project team environment, the training and migration should begin now if it hasn't already. The reason this affects organizations with larger projects is that they have more of a need to share data among team members, agencies and contractors. If only some of those participants migrate to Civil 3D, then the ones that don't will have more difficulty keeping up and could negatively impact the team. For those with small self-contained projects where interfacing with others isn't mission critical, there is probably a little more time before they need to migrate. But if they want to do work for others they should be using the same version of the software

Ward: Would you say that Civil 3D is now ready for prime time?

Bennett: Well, you have to define who the target audience is, since Civil 3D can be used for many different civil engineering tasks and segments and each has its own unique needs. But in general it has been ready for prime time since it was first released three years ago (as the reference to the China market shows). The research on return on investment (ROI) shows that many organizations have used the software successfully and received significant returns on their investment. Those in land development have achieved significant success using the product from the outset, and those in the transportation markets have received outstanding returns. In areas outside the United States, such as France and Germany, exceptional gains have been achieved due to the software's verticalization development showcased by the use of Civil 3D for railway design. So, is it ready for prime time, yes, and it has been a major production tool for organizations. The main issue that customers are dealing with now is the closeout of existing projects before migrating into an entirely new, corporate-wide solution.

For more information on Autodesk Civil 3D, including product details, customer case studies, white papers and more, please visit www.autodesk.com/civil3d.

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