Civil Design Goes 3D by Autodesk
reprinted by permission of Ralph Grabowski, editor
September 8, 2004
Steve Guttman called last week to tell me about Autodesk's
new Civil 3D software, which is due to ship in October or
November for US $6,996. The price includes licenses for Civil
3D, AutoCAD, VIZ Render, and Map 3D.
A second package, called Civil 3D Professional, adds licenses
for Land Desktop and Civil Design for an extra $1,000. (The idea
is that you transition from Land Desktop and Civil Design to
Civil 3D, because the former two will eventually disappear.)
Extra-cost add-ons are being developed by third parties,
including rail design.
For Autodesk, this software is a big deal. Guttman, director
of product management for Autodesk’s Infrastructure Solutions
Division, calls this the biggest launch since Rubicon (now
called Inventor), a software development that consumed 400,000
Cokes and Pepsis, as well as 115 man-years of programming over
five years. By its own reckoning, and based on figures from
Daratech, Autodesk guestimates it has a 33% market share of the
infrastructure market. Some 120,000 copies of Land Desktop and
Civil (combined) have been licensed by Autodesk.
Civil 3D uses the same technique as Inventor and Revit: you
create a 3D model, and then take off 2D plans. The difference,
however, is that Civil 3D is based on AutoCAD, and not an
independent code base.
(This leads to the embarrassing question: if AutoCAD is
capable of this, why did Inventor and Revit need new,
incompatible code bases? I guess that's why the AutoCAD-based
Architectural Desktop is more popular than Revit, and Autodesk
had to bundle AutoCAD-based Mechanical Desktop with Inventor.)
I'm not going to go on and on about the features, which you
can read about at
Autodesk's Civil 3D Web page. More interesting is the
programming behind the user interface. Many of the design
elements are objects controlled by styles. There is a hierarchy,
from points to point groups to 3D surfaces, and then to parcels,
roadways and so on. Changing a point (which represents an x, y,
z coordinate in space) changes the objects above it. Styles are
used to enforce standards; you have to specify the style before
you place the object, whether a curb, ditch or roadway. Change
the style and the entire project updates. Styles also make it
easy to internationalize the software - called "countrification"
in one of the PowerPoint slides .
Catalogs contain subassemblies, which use VBA code to control
their interaction with other objects. You assemble a road
cross-section (lanes, positive and negative slopes, ditches and
so on), and then extrude the cross-section along the road's
centerline. The "Prospector" window displays all the design data
similar to that of the Sheetset Manager.
As a former civil engineer, I could see that Civil 3D will
need version 2. Missing are electrical (street lighting),
traffic signal design, hydraulics (analyzing how water flows),
signage, parking lot layout and so on. Also missing are
optimization routines that, for instance, optimize the grade of
roads coming down steeps hill.
The software is already being used by about 10,000 beta
testers as well as, surprise, a version released for the Chinese
market last spring.
About the Author
Ralph Grabowski is
an editor at upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. (previously known as
XYZ Publishing, Ltd.). Ralph is the author of 60 books and
several hundred articles for dozens magazines and newsletters
about CAD, graphics, and the Internet.
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