Showing Up

December 20th, 2012

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize life is all about showing up. I almost didn’t show up for this article. In reality I didn’t need to show up to write it. Writing the article doesn’t provide fame, fortune, or any other tangible benefits. It took me hours to start writing the article through a heavy dose of procrastination and thinking of what to write about. As you read this article, I hope it is clear that I did show up to write it.

Many of us choose to make the opposite decision and not show up. We take training classes and go back to our regular jobs. We take the easy way out—we show up for work but don’t go any further. We don’t show up when it comes to taking the next step in learning the tools we use every day.

Primitives

Every design done in Autodesk® Civil 3D® can be accomplished using primitive AutoCAD objects of lines, arcs, and text. Many civil designers continue to use AutoCAD primitives to do their designs. They’ve decided to not show up for the coming tidal wave of model-based design. Why should they? Model-based design takes more work to use. You have to have days of training just to get the basics. Anything complicated takes more work and thought. Often, getting the training and understanding a new workflow is too much trouble.

Training

Maybe training has something to do with the trouble. Training is difficult and hard to show up for. It takes effort to convince the boss to let you show up to a training class. Either it costs too much or is seen as unnecessary. Once you get into the training class you may end up learning tons of information that doesn’t apply to the everyday work you perform, which might lead you to determine that Civil 3D isn’t worth using. After all, you spent a large chunk of your time learning parts of the program you will never use.
In addition, training doesn’t often lead you to think outside the box. While Civil 3D objects may have names such as pipes, alignments, and corridors, the jump to use these objects for other objects can be missed. For instance, did you know a few users are using pipe objects for curbs? This provides a method to take your design from Civil 3D to 3ds Max without having to break up a surface into different material types.

Looking Deeper

I’ve spent countless hours looking deeper into the Civil 3D. Once I committed to it, I took a deep dive into the software—far deeper then I probably should have gone. But in that deep dive I discovered some time-saving commands I otherwise wouldn’t have found. I went as far as to collect all the possible commands in AutoCAD and Civil 3D and explored if there was some hidden gems in the program. And there were—such as the AEC Modify tools for trimming and extending objects. I showed up and had a greater understanding of the tool I was using.

Often, we learn more from other people’s issues. Taking the time to read and respond to other’s problems in discussion groups can lead to further understanding of a program. By reading, thinking, and responding to the issues we can have a deeper understanding of what is possible with the software. This process of helping others has the benefit of providing solutions we may need in the future.

Customization

I’m a bit amazed by how many Civil 3D users don’t show up for customization of the program. This apparent lack of interest surprises me since many of the users of the program are engineers, who are the problem solvers of the world. There is a problem they are facing and the solution appears to be to ignore the problem instead of coming up with a solution. It is easier to not show up than to come up with a programmatic solution to the problem.

There are third-party providers who have created plug-ins to Civil 3D to help automate the process. I’ve created a few of them myself, in fact. Based on the number of reviews on the Autodesk Exchange, site it doesn’t appear many people are using them. It is a struggle to get the word out that a feature exists and let people discover them. Additionally, due to the relatively small numbers of potential customers the price point of the software can be higher than what a user might expect. After all they may be accustomed to purchasing apps from iTunes where the cost is usually at a low cost due to the larger number of potential customers. Selling to a million customers at $1 an app may be more profitable than selling an app to 100,000 customers.

One recent programming project I finished was for labeling a station value for a point in no man’s land for an alignment PI. The no man’s land is the area behind a PI where a mathematical solution for stationing doesn’t exist. Stationing is measured perpendicular to the alignment. If a perpendicular point doesn’t exist then there isn’t a solution to the problem. In order to solve this common problem I created a routine that calculates the station ahead and station back relative to the known station values perpendicular to the alignment. A time-saving feature if one is required to label those points in this manner. Otherwise, it can be a tedious process to label those points.

Customization doesn’t only deal with programming, but with custom subassemblies. The recent addition of Subassembly Composer makes it relatively easy to come up with solution to our corridor-based modeling problems. If you haven’t shown up to that portion of the program I encourage you to do so. With Subassembly Composer it is easy to create curb and gutter subassemblies that match your local jurisdiction’s requirements. One benefit I’ve seen is putting all the different types of curb and gutters into one subassembly. This way I don’t have to manage a whole bunch of subassemblies. I just choose the curb type I need from a drop down list.

Collaboration

Collaboration is going to potentially drastically change in the future. The change has already started with Autodesk’s recent emphasis on the cloud. Currently I’m not “showing up” to the collaboration tools. Nobody I’m working with is pushing to use these new collaboration tools. Mainly it’s because the companies I work with haven’t kept up with the technologies. They are using older technologies such as Land Desktop, which doesn’t have the built-in functions to interact with the cloud.

Unfortunately, there is a big hurdle to using the cloud. The hurdle is developing a workflow and understanding between parties on how the collaboration is to be used. We are used to living on an island until the submittals are due. Then there is a mad rush to assemble and combine the information into one design. Historically, we’ve had only one or two updates from our collaborators for a submittal. With constant updates, how do we handle the in-process changes? Since Civil 3D isn’t quite ready for these kinds of changes it will take more thinking on how they should be done.

Christopher Fugitt has spent his years in the real world collecting certifications and letters behind his name. Currently he works for his company, Civil Reminders, performing civil engineering and programming for a diverse list of customers. In addition, he contributes to the Sincpac, a third-party add-on to AutoCAD Civil 3D by Quux Software.

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