Speak Up!

January 31st, 2014

I’ve spent the last hour pondering the content for this article. I’ve scanned each of the tabs looking for an article that will inspire passion to come up with a whole article. In scanning the Home tab of the AutoCAD® Civil 3D® ribbon, I noticed the Create Corridor command has been decreased from a drop down into one button. Would that be big enough news for an entire article? Probably not. I move on continuing my search for a topic.

The Output tab catches my attention, more specifically the Export IMX and Export to Civil View for 3d Max Design. I recall long ago writing blog posts on Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler (now Autodesk InfraWorks™) and exporting to 3ds Max®. I think maybe I can recycle the content into this new article. I decide against it, but then start to think about why I haven’t used these products.

Data and Usability

My first obstacles are data acquisition and usability of the software in utilizing InfraWorks and 3ds Max. My current design work consists mainly of small residential and commercial projects. My fee doesn’t usually include the time to go to government GIS websites to find the data near the project site. Often, the customer doesn’t care about the information. They are more interested in getting the approval for their non-controversial project’s permits.

Since I don’t use the InfraWorks and 3ds Max software often, remembering how to do things becomes problematic. Do I want to spend hours attempting to remember how to set up the daylight correctly in 3ds Max? Probably not. In my case, the software I spend hours downloading on my slow Internet connection sits unused.

Where Is the Controversy?

I think I get the thought process of InfraWorks and 3ds Max. InfraWorks provides a quick and easy way to use GIS data or survey data to get a preliminary design that provides a picture of what the design may look like in a SimCity™ type appearance. 3ds Max provides a robust tool to visual the data to provide a picture or movie of what the project may look like once complete.

I can understand the use of the tools for controversial projects or as a sales tool to get people to purchase a home or condo. Providing the information may alleviate people’s concerns on certain projects. But how many projects require this level of display? We are, in most cases, going to build the actual project after the design occurs. Do we need all these tools?

Broken Feedback Loop

I feel I might be rambling. What exactly is the point of this article? Do I really think you would find why I don’t use InfraWorks and 3ds Max in my current workflows interesting? Of course not. The point of the article is to indicate that I believe the civil design software development feedback loop is broken. (Admittedly, this conclusion is coming out of nowhere, much like a plot twist in an M. Night Shyamalan movie.)

In the last five months I have interacted with numerous users of Civil 3D. In most cases I’m describing some part of either Civil 3D or the hydrology tools that come with Civil 3D such as Hydroflow Express, Hydroflow Storm Sewers, or Hydroflow Hydrographs. In doing so questions about the software invariably come up. Usually these questions pertain to whether the program can do a specific task in the users’ current workflow. Often the answer is yes, the program can do it and I’ll cover it later. Other times it is a no, and sometimes the “no” can lead to an improvement in the product—especially if their suggestion for improvement is eventually incorporated into the program.

Rarely do these questions revolve around visualization of the model. In fact, InfraWorks and 3ds Max software products don’t even come up as an answer to the questions. In looking at the past releases of Civil 3D, it appears to be getting fewer development dollars as more goes into InfraWorks. I’m sure there are customers who were vocal and were asking for InfraWorks. In my experience I haven’t been able to find any of those people.

So that got me to thinking, why did Autodesk choose to spend millions on InfraWorks and not improve the core Civil 3D functionality? My guess is the feedback loop is broken. My definition of a feedback loop is where software development is performed, the user utilizes the software, and then the user provides suggestions on how the process could be even better with improvements in the software.

Disillusioned

During these interactions I find that people are reluctant to provide feedback to the people in a position to affect the change they are looking for. They appear to be disillusioned with the process of the feedback loop. Some indicate they could provide the suggestion, but why when it would take years, if at all, for the change to occur. Others see the value in the change, but since they are not doing the work it’s not worth the effort to send an email or pick up the phone to try to get the change to happen. Still others are close to retirement and see no personal benefit to request the change.

Ask for It

The point of this article is to attempt to get you to ask for the features required to do your job with Civil 3D. If you don’t find utility in InfraWorks or 3ds Max and wonder why Civil 3D doesn’t have the capability you desire, make sure to ask for those features. Encourage your coworkers to ask for the feature as well. Reach out to those at other companies and encourage them to ask for the feature you want. I might not agree with the feature request, such as the one for InfraWorks or 3ds Max, but I suspect I would find some of them immensely helpful in my work.

My Requests

In conclusion, here are my requests in no particular order. A curb ramp design process would greatly improve my design. Curb ramps are at nearly every curb return in the United States and require grades set by the Department of Justice. Currently it is a laborious process of using feature lines to set the grades around the curb return since a corridor object doesn’t have the ability to model a curb return.

The user interface of the Hydroflow Storm Sewers needs a major look. I don’t particularly like the OK button to go to have the ability to go to another pipe/inlet in the Data dialog box. Especially when the OK button won’t activate because I selected a text box and changed a value in a manner it doesn’t like. While I like playing video games, I don’t think the correct location for playing a video game is in a hydraulics program. Please let us enter a number instead of forcing the use of adjusting a spinney wheel and then pressing a blue button up or down to get to a desired slope, pipe size, or other value.

I think I have mentioned this before in past articles, but civil infrastructure BIM objects would be great. Civil 3D appears to be missing many of these features—the curb ramp mentioned above is one example of this. There are many other examples, but I think a walk outside would do a much better job of showing objects commonly designed by civil engineers.

I suspect the architects have had much better fortune in BIM products since the software was most likely designed in a building where the software developer could quickly recognize there are, in fact, doors, windows, walls, and other applicable building objects for a designer to model.

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