Leveraging InfraWorks and Stingray for Interdisciplinary Checks and Reviews
Figure 1: InfraWorks rendering of a wastewater treatment plant
To me, it seems like all the cool new design and review programs that have been released over the past several years have been more focused on the building/structure side of the business. Sure, Autodesk had released InfraWorks® for us Civil folks, and have put a lot of effort into further developing it and making it a practical application for us to use during the design process. But it has its limitations.
I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate InfraWorks into my design process since its first release, and have found it to be great at many things. I can do my preliminary existing site analysis by quickly obtaining topography, waterways, drainage features, buildings, etc. in a matter of minutes; whereas the process would have taken several hours, sometimes days, trying to track down all this information online and through various agencies. It also increases speed and decision-making during your project’s conceptual design phase as you can run through different design scenarios on the fly.
Probably the most important benefit I’ve found from InfraWorks is it’s ability to improve your AutoCAD® Civil 3D models from a visualization standpoint as well as it’s improved interoperability with other BIM applications. Yes, Civil 3D can bring in Revit models via ADSK and DWG exports, but trying to view your Revit and Civil 3D models in a rendered state in Civil 3D can be quite painful and time consuming, and will cause file corruption in your design models at some point.
As clients and owners discover the true value of properly developing an accurate BIM | CIM design, and adapt to this new technology wave, it’s becoming more common for them to make it a requirement for AEC firms to include their 3D models along with hard copy plan sets at each design deliverable. I’ve seen many design review meetings take place where BIM models are brought into Navisworks® and firms are able to navigate through the model with their clients. Clients are typically left feeling impressed by the new technology and much more comfortable with the design itself, as they can really visualize how everything is coming together. Trying to get design models from Civil 3D into Navisworks has been a whole other process that isn’t as seamless as Revit into Navisworks. Another downside to this concept is that clients are required to download software to view these models on their own.
The more I have incorporated InfraWorks into my design process, the more I see it as just an extension to Civil 3D. It really has brought some of my company’s designs to life. I’ve produced some really cool renderings and videos of site fly-overs and walk-throughs of the entire design model. I’ve been able to incorporate our design models from both Civil 3D and Revit, thus providing another program that gives us the ability to review these models for interdisciplinary checks. It also provides a much improved visualization from a Civil standpoint as other disciplines aren’t just looking at lines on a drawing anymore. They can really visualize how their building/structure models are being integrated into the surrounding land, and the rest of the site design.
A couple years ago, I came across a webcast that demonstrated how to bring your Civil 3D models into Stingray. Stingray, as far as I knew, was more of a gaming platform. That being said, I assumed that if you ever wanted to be that person turning your Civil 3D models into Stingray games, and if you have that kind of time on your hands, more power to you. To be honest, though it seemed pretty neat, I didn’t see it as very practical in any sense. Plus, the demonstration had you go from Civil 3D, to InfraWorks, to 3ds Max® and then, finally, into Stingray. To me, this seemed like a whole big workaround just to produce a game.
With all the recent advancements in technology, it just seems like there should be an easier process. The more I get into relying on InfraWorks as an extension to Civil 3D, the more I see both programs as one. I have also since found out that I can ultimately bypass using 3ds Max altogether—I can actually export my InfraWorks model to an FBX file, which can then be brought directly into Stingray.
Once you import your FBX model into Stingray, and get everything positioned in your scene the way you want it to appear, you can then deploy your scene to an executable (EXE) file that can be launched on any computer without having the need to install any additional software. This is extremely important to note, as clients and owners will feel much more at ease with the overall concept and final output, and not feel overwhelmed by having to acquire, install, and actually learn a new software or tool.
Another concept that might take some getting used to during this process (at least I had some trouble getting used to it) was not to consider this EXE file as a “Game.” I’m sure you can imagine what the response would be if you discuss turning your models into a game with upper management. Instead of considering it a Game, you’re going to want to consider it a “Virtual Reality Simulation.” This phrasing of the concept will get you increased buy-in from upper management, as well as clients and owners.
Although this Virtual Reality Simulation is actually an EXE file that can be launched directly on your laptop, Stingray also provides the real deal VR experience where you can hook up Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and some other VR headset devices for your simulations, thus allowing you, clients, etc. to be fully immersed into your design models.
Figure 2: View of wastewater treatment facility in InfraWorks
Export Civil 3D Components
There are obviously many ways to export Civil 3D components and bring them into your InfraWorks model. My personal preference is to extract my site components individually. Although a little more time is spent up front exporting these components, it can and will save you time down the road as you further develop your design. This process keeps it simple, making it much easier to manage and update specific components, as needed, at a later date.
Figure 3: A view of the Civil 3D model
Export to Autodesk SDF
Land coverage areas are best exported from Civil 3D as Autodesk SDF files. Note that all areas will need to be closed polylines to ensure they’re represented accurately in the InfraWorks model. In Civil 3D, export these site features to Autodesk SDF files using the MapExport command. During the export process, make sure you manually select the features in the Selection tab and Check the
“Treat closed polylines as polygons” box under the Options tab.
Figure 4: MapExport Dialog Box
Figure 5: MapExport Dialog Box
Export to LandXML
Surfaces and gravity pipe networks are best exported from Civil 3D as LandXML files. If the site has multiple surfaces and gravity pipe networks within the design, it would be best to export each surface and/or network individually, rather than all at once, so all components reside in one LandXML file.
A quick tip here is to combine your existing and proposed surfaces into one complete surface model and then export this new combined surface to LandXML. If any excavation is required for buildings/structures on your site, be sure to account for this as well. The last thing you want to see in your InfraWorks models are surfaces running through your buildings.
Figure 6: Civil 3D combined surface
Export to Civil 3D
Pressure pipe networks are not supported in InfraWorks at this time. To bring these components into InfraWorks, the best practice is to WBlock these networks out to a separate file. Once exported, open up the file, select all objects within, and explode them to the point that they are 3D Solids.
Figure 7: Civil 3D Pressure Pipe Network
Import Civil 3D Components into InfraWorks
Import Autodesk SDF Files
When importing land coverage areas, the best practice is to import SDF files as coverage areas and apply a rendering style (Rule Style) to each particular component that best represents the feature. Under the Source Tab, make sure that the Drape option is selected and the “Convert closed polylines to polygons” box is checked.
Figure 8: Coverage area data source configuration dialog box
When importing striping for roadways and parking lots, the best practice is to import as coverage areas, and assign as a constant color within the Rule Style. Make sure the Drape option is selected and the “Convert closed polylines to polygons” box is unchecked. Go into the Table tab and apply a buffer to depict the true width of the striping.
Figure 9: InfraWorks select style/color dialog box
Figure 10: Coverage area—adding a buffer value
When importing fences and barriers, the best practice is to import as a barrier, then specify the Rule Style, Height, and Object Spacing. Make sure the Drape option is selected and “Convert closed polylines to polygons” box is unchecked.
Figure 11: Define fencing as barriers
Figure 12: Applying style, height and object spacing to fencing
Figure 13: Select chain link fence component
When importing areas that will have running and/or standing water on the site (i.e., streams, retention/detention ponds, etc.), the best practice is to import as water areas with the Water Rule Style applied to it. If these areas are to illustrate standing water (i.e., pond, lake, etc.), the best practice is to select either “Don’t Drape” or “Set Elevation” option to show a consistent elevation throughout the wet area. However, if these areas are to illustrate a stream, you will want to drape these features onto the surface.
Figure 14: Applying the default water style to watered area
Figure 15: Select ‘Don’t Drape’ for standing watered areas
Import LandXML Files
When importing LandXML files into your model, InfraWorks will automatically recognize what type of component is being imported (i.e., surface, gravity pipe network, etc.) and define it as such. InfraWorks will separate your gravity pipe networks into two Categories: Pipelines and Pipeline Connectors.
Figure 16: Importing gravity pipe networks dialog box
Import DWG 3D Model
When importing your Pressure Pipe Networks, the best practice is to import as a DWG 3D Model. Once imported, it’s best to categorize these components as pipelines. Note that since these objects have been exploded to the point where all Civil 3D data has been lost, all pipes, fittings, and appurtenances will be grouped together, not separated as Pipeline Connectors.
Figure 17: Preview of pressure pipe network
Figure 18: Pressure pipe network shown in InfraWorks model connecting to piping from Revit models
Import Revit Models
When importing Revit model files, the best practice is to import as such. InfraWorks will automatically categorize these models as buildings, regardless of the actual contents within the Revit model (i.e., plumbing, mechanical/HVAC, electrical, etc.).
Figure 19: Preview of the Revit mechanical/process model
Bring Your InfraWorks Model into Stingray
Once you have your InfraWorks model set up and everything appears as it should, you can then export your model to an FBX using the “Export 3D Model” command under Settings and Utilities.
Figure 20: Export 3D model to FBX
Figure 21: Export 3D model to FBX dialog box
If you’re new to Stingray, I strongly recommend starting a new project using one of the templates already configured. The project templates include all the basic necessities to create the virtual reality experience with your design. Once you determine which template you want to use, your basic scene will be set up. Go ahead and select all the objects in the Explorer tab on the right-hand side, minus the reflection_probe (Unit) and Skydome; right-click and delete.
Figure 22: Stingray Explorer tab
Then in your Asset Browser tab underneath the scene, expand “Content” and select the models folder. Drag and drop the FBX file you created from InfraWorks into the models folder. This process imports the model into your Stingray project. Depending on the size, it may take several minutes to process. Once imported into the models folder, you can then drag and drop the imported FBX file into your scene.
Figure 23: Import FBX dialog box
Figure 24: Stingray Asset Browser tab
After you get it positioned in your scene where you want, the final step is to generate your EXE file by going to the Window | Deploy and Connect | Deployer. In the Deployer dialog box, define the location where you want to save the EXE, give it a name, and click the Package Project for Windows button. It’s that simple!
Figure 25: Package project for Windows deployment
I realize this may sound like some really souped-up software plugs, but in reality, I’m just a CAD geek trying to embrace the new technology. As mentioned earlier, once you begin to view InfraWorks as more of an extension, or an add-on, to Civil 3D, the easier it is to consider this workflow practical and achievable. It appears the technology floodgates have been opened recently and CAD, and designing in general, is taking some serious leaps into the future.
To learn more and post your thoughts about these topics, please visit (and join!) the Civil Information Modeling (CIM) LinkedIn group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8473326. Through this forum, members can share pertinent information regarding CIM processes, provide updates on industry-leading design standards, practices, and techniques, have open discussions, provide tips and tricks, and most importantly, improve our overall quality, efficiency, and consistency across the board.
As always, feel free to contact me directly if there’s anything you would like to discuss: firstname.lastname@example.org