Managing Civil 3D Data

As a Senior CADD Manager and roadway designer, I am always trying to find an easy and convenient way to manage data, files, projects, sheets, xrefs, and data links. I have found that proper setup at the beginning of a project goes a long way! I find that if you start your project right, it has a much better chance of ending well. In this article I will demonstrate some of tools I use to manage my project data.

Managing Project Setup/Kickoff

I have learned through the years that most projects that start out quick and dirty will sadly end that way, too. So I treat all work as if it were a final design—with deliverables, deadlines, clients, and standards. Conceptual designs, final designs, and even user “sandbox” files are set up using our Project CADD Standards.
Schedule a CADD Kickoff meeting and invite anyone using CADD to this meeting.
Be prepared. Have an agenda, templates, pen tables, and naming conventions for all file types, data shortcut rules, and contact information available at this meeting. And I cannot stress this enough: FOLLOW UP via email with the attendees. Make your life easier by creating project team email groups in your email software.
The desired outcome of this kickoff meeting is to establish your CADD Management Plan (CMP).
Creating a CMP should be a part of every project. Discuss this with your project manager ahead of time because it will seem (to your project manager) unnecessary and wasteful. You may have to convince your project manager of the cost savings.
A well-written CMP will save more money and time than it costs up front. See the next few points to help you finish off the plan.

Managing Data Shortcuts

I work in a large company with multiple offices, multiple project team members, and multiple project standards. We use Projectwise by Bentley to manage our data. Regardless of your file management system, data shortcuts are a regular part of your day. And managing them can be daunting.

AutoCAD® Civil 3D® 2018 has made this a little easier with folders (see Figure 1). Making folders allows you to sort your data in order to keep USER files separate from PROJECT files. Create a naming convention for folders and objects. Document these in your CMP.

Figure 1

NOTE: I have noticed that the data shortcut files are generally 1kb or 2kb; when these files are much larger than that, I usually see project speed issues. To fix this, delete those large files and re-create them. Nine times out of 10, this improves project speed.

Since data shortcuts are pointers to data in other files, those other files are explored and evaluated every time you load a file that references data from them. Keep your “source” files small, tidy, purged, audited, and avoid cross-referencing data back into this file. For example, avoid xrefing an alignment display file back into an alignment source file. This is also true in sheet files—avoid referencing “source” files and “display” files to the sheets. Although this workflow works, it also creates unnecessary and time-consuming checking, and re-checking, while you are loading a file.

Display Files

I have concluded that data shortcutting directly into sheet files is not a good practice for most of my linear projects. Instead, I create “display” files. I will briefly discuss why I do not shortcut directly into sheets, then I will explain some of the benefits of the display files for managing my design data.

Users tend to not follow directions and standards, get lazy, or just do not pay attention. I like my alignments to appear the same in each discipline that they show in. If I allow users to shortcut the alignment in directly, they can set it to any style they want, making their drawing unique in its appearance. This makes their version look different than other disciplines.

To avoid this, I create a display file into which I data shortcut the alignment(s), making sure that I have the alignments on unique layers using the ambient settings in toolspace to ensure users have freeze/off flexibility. Document the naming convention in your CMP. Because I use Projectwise to manage files, I can add a description that says “DISPLAY FILE,” but you may need some characters in the file name. I offer Alignment_Display.DWG as a suggestion. With display files, you can have a single place to display the data you want for your team. Alignments, surfaces, and corridors all work well in a display, but I have found that pipe networks are not as easy to manage this way. I have found that part styles do not update to reflect part changes and part swaps.

You can still reference the alignments or surfaces for labeling through this display file xref. You can also switch labels to reference a different source in the Properties dialog box.

Project Cadd Standards           

Among the most difficult things to manage on a project are the CADD standards—the “look and feel” of a project set. We all want our civil sheets to use the same standards as our structural sheets and landscape sheets. We all want the users to use the same fonts, blocks, colors, linetypes, and reference each other’s sheets in the same way.

I have implemented tool palettes to help my users navigate our standards and make it simple for them to follow the rules. I taught a class at Autodesk University last year and discussed tool palettes briefly and the follow-up questions were amazing! Many people were scared by them, worried that they did not have the time to manage the data. Although this article will not go into the details of how to create a tool palette collection, I want to stress the ease of creation, the tremendous benefits, and the joy I get when someone says, “thanks for creating this tool for us.”

It’s easy to start. Right-click in your existing tool palette window and select New Palette (Figure 2) and give it a name. In your drawing, click and hold on an object until you see a little square beside the object (Figure 3). Now drag and drop that object into the new palette you created. You can now right-click on the icon in the tool palette and explore its many properties and functions. Once you are satisfied with your new palette of time-saving objects, you can right-click in it and select Customize Palettes, then find it in the left-hand column and select Export. Place this exported file in a network location for other users to import when they need access to those objects you added.

NOTE: the file you drag objects from also needs to be in a shared network location so users can add and find the symbols and blocks you added.

I have added AutoCAD commands to a tool palette as well—some custom LISP routines and actual AutoCAD commands that I want users to find easily. Custom Assemblies can also be added for a project team to use for consistency in sub-assemblies.

There are many tutorials online regarding tool palettes, and if you have a good relationship with your IT staff, you can make your custom palettes part of your initial AutoCAD install package for an even smoother transition to CADD standards euphoria.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Sheet Sets

Hopefully you are using Sheet Set Manager in your day-to-day projects. If not, you are really missing out on a great tool. I use SSM for updating titleblock data, sheet indexing, and sheet numbering. One thing that SSM lacks is an Excel interface. I found a product called SSMPropEditor by JTB World. This little add-on to SSM has a nifty Export to Excel function. This allows us to quickly get valuable data into a more universal format, allows quick sheet numbering, attribute copy and paste, and exporting to other programs. Once you are done in Excel, you import the file back into SSMPropEditor, then save that back to your sheet set. The program also creates a backup of the .dst file in case something goes wrong. In Figure 4, you can see the export options available. This program was $50 when I purchased it, and I saved that and more the first time I used it.

Figure 4

Current PDFs

I suggest keeping a set of sheet file PDFs up to date for your team. As a rule of thumb, I monitor the sheet files folders and do a quick publish (even faster if you use Sheet Set Manager) to PDF and keep those files available for the team. This may seem like overkill and not important, but think how many times you have been asked to “plot me a new set of plans.” I let the sheet set publish while I am at lunch, in a meeting, or headed home for the night, depending on the size of the project.


Hopefully you can use a couple of these nuggets to improve your workflow and boost productivity in your office.  I realize there are many ways of doing the same thing in AutoCAD Civil 3D and I have only scratched the surface on the power of some of these. I really believe that EVERY CLICK COSTS MONEY and I do my best to help users eliminate un-needed clicks.

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