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Review: Autodesk Technical – Part 2

By [email protected] - 25th April 2007 - 16:14

Autodesk Technical Demo â Part 2AutoCAD Civil 3D 2008Jack Strongitharm, Civil 3D Application Engineer for UK and Ireland led me through the newly renamed AutoCAD Civil 3D product. Key to the new version of this product is an increased emphasis on collaboration and increased visualisation capabilities.Additional features have been added and I will discuss those below.
Image: Autodesk

In concept the workflows and processes for civil engineering tasks involve both many people who must collaborate together. The ability to complete projects quicker and save costs is highly dependent upon how people share information and data. A surveyor may input field information, while a designer may have different tasks than a project manager. Meanwhile, a series of CAD technicans and a drafting team may be supporting all of these efforts separately.Gains in the workflowAutodesk suggests that the link between design and production, at the same time, while working within the standard model dynamically is the principle point where gains may occur. Visualisation fits into the design process from the beginning, since rendered objects are more easily understood and translated into working documents and workflows. AutoCAD Civil 3D 2008 comes with increased visualisation capabilities including over 100 new 3D objects within this years Country Kits. These include street furniture such as light posts and benches along with trees and other photo-realistic vegetation. These objects may be dragged and dropped into the drawing and moved to the surface.Interestingly, this software also allows the user to assign the position of 3D objects below the surface. The value of this is obvious â for utilities and underground objects. Consequently, the software will be able to show through transparency a number of objects relative to any given surface. Visualisation is part of the design process in a big way in this version of the software, and it has been estimated that time savings due to collaborative gains can approach 20-50%.More with less peopleâThe idea is to be able to do more with less, â says Strongitharm. It is hard not to mention that there is a serious shortage of skilled professionals for CAD software internationally, something Autodesk has been mentioning increasingly the last year or so â no doubt one of the reasons more 'has' to be done with less.Indeed, Autodesk is now providing AutoCAD Civil 3D 2008 freely to students, for educational purposes through the Student Community Portal, a move that will likely build capacity to resolve the trained worker shortage. However, the gains through increased collaboration are real.Today many projects involve people from all corners of the world. Software that enhances the ability of people from different locations to work together is important, enabling work to continue during all times of the day and through numerous workflow changes.Autodesk Vault is the collaboration tool included into this product, which is designed for collaboration needs. This ensures a common model is used throughout project versioning. Opening the design doorUsually when we think about openness we think about format translation and access, however, openness may also occur throughout the design process and incorporates the ability to move from 2D to 3D. For Autodesk products this means the ability to collaborate through DWF format through use of the DWF viewer. This ability also provides the means to maintain the workflow in a 'digital' format â paperless exchange.Strongitharm says, âdata is DWG and DWG is data.â This is in reference to the ability to maintain intelligence in the design digital format, without loss through translation or conversion. In my mind, the glue that really makes the paperless concept work for the first time is the fact that the DWF viewer is geo-referenced now.I say this because many of the sensors driving data into the civil engineering process are GPS enabled and therefore collecting data of higher accuracy and precision, that must be maintained â if the cost in machinery guidance, for example, is to be retrieved. Corridors may also be rendered without surfaces. A side benefit, in my view, is that the DWF viewer actually becomes a primary input software for field software, again, due to its being geo-referenced. Autodesk would do well to GPS enable the DWF viewer more fully, perhaps.New for AutoCAD Civil 3D 2008-- more flexible plan and profile sheets-- .NET subassemblies-- Google Earth import/export-- survey LandXML is now incoporated-- export DEM to GEOTIFF-- draping of images to surfaces-- moving of blocks to surfaces-- alignment and profile toolbar-- faster performance-- gradingA 64-bit version of this software is also potentially in the works as the base platform AutoCAD releases a 64bit version this year and is expected in the near future.Meanwhile, design guidelines are also expected to be incorporated into the product in the near future.This product now includes a feature to open a Google Earth window and then directly import the digital elevation model (DEM) and also the aerial photograph into the AutoCAD Civil 3D 2008 workspace directly. In practice one could use the underlying stylisation engine to add annotation to the DEM or other vectors from AutoCAD Map 3D 2008.Since most DEM in Google Earth are based on Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM) derived data; vertical accuracy (nor horizontal) is not likely to be as valued as the professional surveying data destined for this software in the first place.A new online develop center and Student Engineering and Design Community website for this product are welcome additions. I learned that Autodesk is placing a higher emphasis on education and training in the future through these web activities, again supporting the concept of building capacity and market share. SummaryThe speed gains (3x's) over the previous version are welcome. Formalising and refining this product to a higher level of collaboration is an important step toward enabling the product for multi-user environments â a reality today. I think the .NET sub-assembly features added to this product are important.They enable a higher level of authentification and security; and, given a new administration manager for this product is coming shortly, a needed step. Lastly, because Autodesk owns 3D Max, the leap to 3D objects is not far away. This product, potentially, has a gold mine of 3D objects lying behind it for future use â which is where speed also comes in. More Information 3 of this series will feature Autodesk TOPOBASE.

Author: Jeff Thurston

Bio.: Editor, Geoconnexion International Magazine

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