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Autodesk Feature

Civil Design Goes 3D by Autodesk

reprinted by permission of Ralph Grabowski, editor
WorldCAD Access
September 8, 2004

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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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