As I go through the requirements for putting together a grading plan, it becomes clear that many tasks required to put together a plan set are missing from Autodesk® Civil 3D®. This is where third party applications help to fill in the gaps. This article will cover some of the third-party applications that are available for use with AutoCAD Civil 3D.
The tools contained within SincPac from Quux Software are focused primarily on survey-related commands. The product contains three modules Drafting, Points, and Power. There are more than 100 commands combined with all of the modules—too many to cover in the limited space in this article. One command I find useful is the PGAddRemovePoints. This command facilitates the organization of point groups by making it easy to add and remove points from point groups without going through multiple dialog boxes for each point group.
Figure 1: SincPac
In the Drafting module there is the ParcelOffset command. This command, the first one I learned in the product, draws parcel lines offset from the sides of the actual parcel lines. These lines typically represent the buildable area of the parcel. This command alone saved me eight to ten hours of offsetting and trimming polylines for a large subdivision project.
Steltman Software has been a long time provider of third-party applications for Land Desktop and Civil 3D. There is a plethora of commands available in the software package they provide. Some new commands created are related to pipe networks. One new command identifies pipe interferences. Sometimes we need to identify pipe conflicts with other objects, whether it is pipe representations as polylines or minimum separation distance from an object that Civil 3D doesn’t represent. The tool provides either a table of conflicts or a block at the location of the interference.
Figure 2: Steltman Software
Civil 3D may contain the ability to output the lengths of pipes and the count of structures. Unfortunately, this doesn’t take in account the most important cost component of installing pipe and structures. The depth of the pipe or structure is important in determining the installation costs.
Figure 3: Pipe interference dialog, Steltman Software
The pipe depths report provides the option to calculate the depths from either the top or the bottom of the pipe. The report may be either output to the drawing or into Microsoft Excel. The depths are based on a user-selected surface. The user may determine the depths range for the pipes. This is important because pipes and ground usually slope and don’t always have a constant depth along the pipe.
Figure 4: Pipe interference table, Steltman Software
Civil 3D isn’t the most user friendly when modifying pipe and structure information, especially when you have to modify many properties at the same time. The Pipe2Excel command facilitates the exporting of pipe and structure data to Excel and then the reimporting the data. Not all of the pipe and structure properties are modifiable. While not all of the properties are modifiable, it also comes in handy if you need to export the data to Excel to be used in another program for reporting information.
Civil 3D Power Tools
One of the underdeveloped tools in Civil 3D is reporting. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to export out design information from Civil 3D. You only get it one way, and that one way was determined six or seven years ago. Modifying the code, either .NET or XLS, is a bit complicated and takes skills that civil engineers or drafters don’t normally possess.
An alternative is the Visual Report Designer, which utilizes a graphical user interface to construct the reports by dragging and dropping information at the desired location on the reports. In addition to placing model properties, complex custom calculations may be performed.
Besides outputting to reports, the program is also capable of inserting the reports directly into a drawing. This is useful to fill in the table appearance deficiency in Civil 3D.
Savoy Computing provides numerous tools to do projects related to pavement design. Products include verifying turning radius of vehicles, roundabout design, rail design, and airport design. I found the demonstration of the roundabout design appealing. It incorporated both the vertical and horizontal design elements required for a roundabout. This is a well-rounded offering. Not only is the grading taken care of, but the software also draws the stripping and signs.
Transoft Solutions provides competing products to Savoy Computing. Much of what I wrote for Savoy Computing applies to Transoft Solutions products. If you are in the market, I’d suggest you look at both products and then decide which one works best for your workflows and design methodologies.
Recently, Transoft Solutions released a new version of AutoTURN. The newest version provides for a large update of the vehicle libraries. They include updates to reflect changes for AASHTO, Caltrans, Florida PPM, and Wisconsin DOT vehicles. If you are a user in Israel you’ll be happy to know there are several updates to reflect the unique vehicle requirements in Israel.
Managing Civil 3D styles may cause headaches as sharing and modifying styles across drawings is problematic. Fortunately, CAD Masters has developed a solution to help limit this frustration. The product utilizes a database to store the Civil 3D styles and settings. The styles may be imported into drawings as needed. This helps reduce drawing bloat due to having numerous unneeded styles or layers in a drawing. I found the product easy to use, though it does take some work to create the standards to put in the database. But once you do the groundwork, it is easier to have a consistent look across drawings and projects.
Another company providing solutions to civil designers is DotSoft. Their Civil/Survey offering is called MapWorks. It contains numerous commands to help you design. One tool I find especially intriguing is the Grade Poly command. It lets the user select a point and a grade. A polyline is then drawn along a surface at the slope provided. It makes it easy to find a preliminary route a road should take up or down a hill.
Figure 5: DotSoft's MapWorks
If you perform mining design you might want to take a look at the mining tools they provide. There are tools to report quantities in tonnage, which, in mining, is a more appropriate unit of measure than volume.
This article doesn’t represent a complete list of the third-party applications available. There a numerous others that provide their own solution to civil engineering design problems. The next time you are faced with a time consuming task, take a few minutes and see if there is a product available that would cut the time to do the task. If you don’t see a tool available, the third party application developer may be willing to create them for you. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.
I have done work with some of the products mentioned in this article or have received free versions of the products in the past. The U.S. government suggests that I disclose these facts in my article writing.