So, you want to bring a surface from Civil 3D into Revit? It’s pretty easy, provided you have both Civil 3D and Revit Structure. What? You don’t have them both? You only have Civil 3D? Are you sure? Recently, anyone that had Civil 3D on subscription was automatically upgraded to the Infrastructure Design Suite Premium and, guess what, it has Revit Structure! So most likely, unless you specifically opted out of the upgrade, you have access to Revit Structure.

Please read this entire post as there is some very important information near the end. First, I’ll tell you how to Import the Surface and then I’ll tell you about the Limitations and Issues.

Import the Surface

The Bridge Modeling Tools have been around for a while now. If you haven’t installed them yet, go to the subscription website and download them. You’ll need both of them, one for Revit Structure and one for Civil 3D.

After you have installed them, simply open the drawing that has the surface in Civil 3D and then open the file in Revit Structure you want to bring the surface into. In Revit, there is a little bit of setup you need to do (if you’re a Revit person, you probably already know this stuff). Go to your “default 3D view” (that’s the “doghouse” on the quick access toolbar) and edit the Visibility/Graphic Overrides.

Setting Up Revit

Setting Up Revit

In the Visibility/Graphics Overrides, turn on the display of the Topography.

Topography Options

Topography Options

This will allow you to see the surface when you bring it in. Once Revit is set up (I’m sure there are some settings I’m not aware of and I’m sure a Revit Guru will correct me on this), go to the Extensions tab, expand out the Civil Structures tool and choose “Integration with AutoCAD Civil 3D”.

Integrate with Civil 3D

Integration with Civil 3D

If you have more than one drawing open in Civil 3D, you’ll need to choose the drawing with the surface in it, the surface(s) in the drawing you want to import, and then have it import the surface into Revit.

Import Settings

Import Settings

After hitting OK, you then have some options when importing the surface, such as the material that will be assigned to the surface and the limits of the surface (if you don’t want the entire thing).

Terrain Definition

Terrain Definition

Once done, you’ll have a surface in Revit that you can do whatever you want to with it.

Surface in Revit

Surface in Revit

Limitations and Issues

This tool is really, I mean REALLY cool! A few years ago, one of my coworkers (Brian Mackey) and I worked up a technique to do this very thing and believe me, it wasn’t this easy. This is easy but, you need to know what it does. If I take this surface in Revit and I compare it to the surface in Civil 3D (I’ve stylized it in C3D to be similar to what we see in Revit) you’ll see they are quite different.

Civil 3D vs. Revit

Civil 3D vs. Revit

As you can see, the limits of the surface from Civil 3D aren’t honored in Revit. In fact, the only thing that comes through in Revit is the surface points. If you have added any breaklines or boundaries to the surface in Civil 3D, Revit doesn’t recognize those. For you civil folks, to get a feel for what Revit is doing, basically extract the surface points from a surface and then add them to a new surface and that’s what you will have in Revit. This is still better than what we had though so it’s definitely an improvement. If this is important to you, file a support request with Autodesk so they know and perhaps they will adjust the way the tool works (the method Brian Mackey and I developed has the same issue by the way).

I WANT YOU TO MAKE THE SURFACE LOOK PRETTY!!!!!

Yes, we’ve all heard it before, Civil 3D makes contours that sometimes look like the recording of an earthquake on a Seismometer:

Seismometer Recording

Seismometer Recording

Really, it’s not the fault of Civil 3D, it’s the data. Add the same data to any other civil design program and you’ll get the same results. This seems to crop up quite a bit when you have cross grades. In the following image you can see that there are two roads going opposite directions and this is where the jagged contours are coming from:

Jagged Contours

Jagged Contours

No contractor would build it this way so, let’s see what our options are.

Option 1: Smooth the Contours

You can smooth the contours of the surface. In the style the surface is using, you can toggle on the option to smooth the contours. This is a great way to make a drawing “look pretty”. It will take the contours and smooth them out. This is only editing the display of the surface. If you have a profile through this area, smoothing contours does nothing to the profile because we aren’t smoothing the surface, we are smoothing the display of the surface.

To smooth the contours, go into the style the surface is using and, on the contours tab, toggle the option to smooth the contours to True. Once you have this toggled on, you can select the type of smoothing you want to apply to the surface as well as how aggressive you want the contour smoothing to be. Play around with these settings and see what looks best for you. There isn’t a correct setting for this because your goal, when smoothing contours, is to make the contours look pretty.

Contour Smoothing Options

Contour Smoothing Options

And here is the same area of that surface with the contour smoothing option set to True, the Smoothing Type set to “Add Vertices” and the contour smoothing maxed out.

Surface with Smoothed Contours

Surface with Smoothed Contours

There are some things to be concerned with when smoothing contours, you are sacrificing the accuracy of the contours to make them “look pretty”. If you have a spot elevation that happens to fall very close to a contour or perhaps a point that was used in the surface creation that’s really close to the contour elevation, you might see some discrepancies. In the following image, I placed a spot elevation and snapped to the contour and you can see it’s not the exact same elevation as the contour:

Smoothed Contours Labeled

Smoothed Contours Labeled

Another issue with smoothing contours is you might end up with contours that cross each other. You’ll see this sort of thing primarily where you have some really steep areas such as retaining walls.

Crossing Contours

Crossing Contours

Anyone that’s done any amount of surface modeling knows this is not allowed.

The last issue that I’m aware of with smoothing your contours is, it’s all or nothing. You can’t smooth just a portion of the contours of your surface. This is because it’s a part of the style.

Option 2: Smooth the Surface

The other option is to smooth the surface directly. This is an edit that is done to the surface and is found in the same place you can raise/lower the surface or paste in another surface.

Smooth Surface Command

Smooth Surface Command

There are two options when smoothing surfaces, “Natural neighbor interpolation” and “Kriging”. I’m not going to go into detail on how the different methods work or what settings to use. You’ll need to read the HELP FILE and do your own research to find out which method works best for your situation. In this example, I’m going to use the natural neighbor interpolation method.

Smothing Options

Smothing Options

So, how does this differ from smoothing the contours? Well, when you smooth contours, you are smoothing the display of the surface. When you smooth the surface, you are actually editing the surface and not just the display. Here is an image of the surface with the smoothing edit applied to it:

Smoothed Surface

Smoothed Surface

As you can see, the contours look much different then when the contour smoothing was applied. If you take a look at the triangles of the surface, you can get a better idea of what happened here (I did a 5′ grid in this example):

Smoothed Surface Triangles

Smoothed Surface Triangles

A couple things to note here, I didn’t smooth the entire surface, just the  area that needed it. Second, any data that was added to the surface was not modified in any way at all. If there are points, or breaklines, or corridors, or gradings, they are preserved (including the triangulation along the breaklines). This only affects the way the triangulation in the areas between data are calculated. Basically, instead of doing a straight grade between one point and the next, it rounds it out.

Something to be aware of, this can add a LOT of data to your surface and can make it very slow to work with so play around with the settings and get the results you want without adding too many points to the surface.

Hopefully this helps out when someone is complaining about your ugly contours!

Civil 3D uses a Triangulated Irregular Network (TIN)  for surface models, just like every other piece of civil engineering software that I’m aware of. There a  couple of major limitation to a TIN that you should be aware of. First, every single horizontal location (i.e. every x,y coordinate) can have only one elevation. This means no vertical faces and no overhangs or undercuts. The other limitation is since it’s made up of a bunch of triangles, you can’t have curves in your surface. If you have curved data that you want to add to your surface, you must approximate this with straight line segments, and this is where the mid-ordinate distance comes into play.

What the Mid Ordinate Distance Is

When you add data to your surface, one of the options is the mid-ordinate distance. What the heck is the mid-ordinate distance? Well, it’s the distance from the midpoint of a curve to the midpoint of the arc.

Mid Ordinate Distance

Mid Ordinate Distance

When you add something like a curve to your surface as a breakline, boundary, or contour; the surface cannot follow the curve so it uses the Mid Ordinate Distance to approximate the curve. Basically what happens is C3D will start at the end of the curve and draw a line to another point on the curve so the mid ordinate distance between those two points on the curve equal what is set in the dialog box.

Mid Ordinate Calculated

Mid Ordinate Calculated

As you can see in the image, there is a little bit left over at the end, when you add this to a surface, you don’t want that little bit left over so Civil 3D then evenly distributes the number of points added to the feature along it. This will result in a final Mid Ordinate Distance slightly less then what was calculated.

Mid Ordinates Distributed Along Curve

Mid Ordinates Distributed Along Curve

So, instead of adding just the ends of the curve to the surface, the Mid Ordinate Distance allows us to determine how many points along the curve we want to add.

What Should You Set It To?

Now that you know what it is, what should it be set to? In the default template, it’s value is set to 1 drawing unit (1′ in the imperial template and 1m in the metric template). Is this value too big? Too small? Or just right? Let’s think of this in a different way. Don’t think of it in the abstract Mid Ordinate Distance way, think of it instead as “How far away from my data should I allow my surface to be created?” If you set the Mid Ordinate Distance to 1′, then the triangle of your surface can be up to 1′ away from the actual data. It’s your call, is this acceptable or not?

Here’s how I like to figure out an acceptable Mid Ordinate Distance. What is the smallest distance between any two breaklines you’ll have in your surface? Are you modeling a haul road for a mine? Or are you modeling curb and gutter for a commercial parking lot? In my experience (primarily land development) I use a lot of curb and gutter. When I model the flow line and the top face of curb in a standard curb and gutter, that’s a horizontal distance of 2″. Take that smallest distance and cut it in half to get your desired Mid Ordinate Distance, in this case 1″. Since 1″ is about 0.08333 I will typically us 0.1′.

Can I Change the Default?

Well, of course you can! Ok, let me rephrase that, if you are using Civil 3D 2010 or later you can. On your toolspace, go to the Settings tab and expand out Surface and Commands:

Command Settings Location

Command Settings Location

As shown in the image, there are three commands (at least that I know of) that can have the Mid Ordinate Distance set, AddSurfaceBoundaries, AddSurfaceBreaklines, and AddSurfaceContours. Right click on the command you want to change and choose Edit Command Settings. In the command settings, expand out “Add data options” and change the “Default mid-ordinate distance” setting.

Mid Ordinate Distance Defaults

Mid Ordinate Distance Defaults

Hopefully this will help you understand what’s going on with this setting and, have a Merry Christmas!

So, Civil 3D 2013 is just around the corner and I wanted to let you all know a few of my favorite things in this release.

PERFORMANCE

Well, I can’t really comment on the performance yet as I haven’t had much chance to push the software around but, if you listen to those in the know, they’ve made some serious improvements to the performance.

SURVEY

There are some major improvements to the survey tools in this release. In fact, there is an entire new tab on the ribbon for your survey tools. What’s the big thing? Querying your survey database. One of the things I’ve always found awkward about the survey database is the disconnect between it and the drawing. With this release you can query your survey database and add the results of the query directly to a surface. If you add additional data to the survey database that matches the query, when you rebuild your surface, it will update (in my testing, the surfaces wasn’t marked as out of data if the survey database changed).

Survey Query

Survey Query Ribbon Tab

Now that’s pretty cool and really useful for surveyors but, there is also the ability to create a line label, WITHOUT A LINE! How many times have I been asked if you can do this? I’ve lost count and now I’ll be able to say, YES!

Line Between Two Points Label

Basically this tool creates a phantom line that is labeled. Grab the label and you can adjust the points it’s labeling between.

Transportation

I’m an engineer. Why did I get into engineering? I wanted to drive trains. Three years into college and I realize that I won’t be driving any trains (I was wondering what statics had to do with trains) but now with Civil 3D 2013, I can design rail lines. There are new alignment types and settings (I’ve seen many times on the discussion groups people asking about Degree of Curvature and now we have it). Honestly, I’ve not done much with the rail tools in 2013 so I’ll leave that for someone else to write up (at least for now).

Rail Cant

The corridor creation has a new dialog box that makes it a bit easier. It’s a small improvement but hey, I’ll take anything they’ll give me. The assemblies have had some very nice improvements. When you add a subassembly to another subassembly, it will detect the correct side that it’s on for you so you don’t have to constantly change the sides as you are creating the assembly. Additionally, you can replace an existing subassembly in an assembly as well as insert a subassembly between two subassemblies.

Insert Subassemblies

Surfaces

The Volume Dashboard Extension is now a part of the program. If you have checked out this great tool, check out the write up I did on it earlier HERE.

One thing that I always struggled with is when you need to cut out one surface at the limit of another surface. Not a difficult task but if you change these surfaces, the process for adding the boundary again is very manual in nature. Now you can simply add one surface as a hide boundary to another surface (be careful not to get into a circular reference issue).

Surface as Hide Boundary

Pressure Networks

Yup, you heard me. You can now model pressure networks in Civil 3D 2013. There is a brand new type of object, a Pressure Network. It has it’s own parts lists and everything. Bends, tees, crosses, valves, etc are all available for you to add to your network. This is a pretty big addition to Civil 3D and I haven’t had a lot of time to get down and dirty with this yet so stay tuned for more posts on this topic as I learn the ins and outs of this.

Hopefully you’ve seen something here that makes you go, “Oooh! I can use that!”

This has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time, survey figures don’t honor linetype gen. What does that mean? Basically, it means the linetype will not pass through vertices. If you have a survey figure with a lot of closely spaced vertices, it looks like a continous line even if you have a linetype assigned to it.

Survey Figure with Linetype Issue

That’s not what I want. What I want is something like this:

Text placed on figure to simulate linetype

Unfortunately, what I’m about to show you doesn’t work real well for generic linetypes (dashes, dots, etc.) but it works really well for putting text labels on your survey figure. The trick is to create a marker style that displays a piece of text. The text must be a block (you can enable background mask in the text if you want to, I did) and then assign that block to a new marker style. If you aren’t sure how to create a block in AutoCAD, click HERE.

The marker styles are found in the Settings tab of the Toolspace under General->Multipurpose Styles->Marker Styles. Create the style and use the block with the text in it.

Marker Style

Now that you have the marker style created, assign this to the survey figure style. Survey figure styles allow the use of quite a few markers, you can place them at the end, the beginning, and the vertices, as well as additional markers, and these additional markers is what we will be using to simulate a linetype with text in it. Edit your survey figure style and on the display tab, turn on the display of the Additional Markers.

Survey Figure Style - Displaying Additional Markers

Now that the additional markers are displayed, you need to choose the style and options for those markers and this is found on the Plan and Model tab of the survey figure style. Here you can specify the different marker styles for all the places markers can be used, down near the bottom is the Additional Markers section. Choose an appropriate marker style (most likely the one you just created) and then change the “Additional marker placement method” to At Interval. Choose an appropriate interval and you are done.

Additional Marker Settings

There are a few limitations to this technique

  1. The text can (and most likely will) be displayed upside down. I haven’t found a way yet to resolve this issue. If anyone knows a technique, please let me know. If the survey figure goes left to right, it’s displayed right side up. If it goes right to left, it’s upside down.
  2. The space between the text isn’t controlled by the drawing scale. If you are going to plot this at different scales, you would have to edit the style to get the spacing the same on the plotted page.
  3. It’s a lot of work.

Now, most likely, because I just created this post, the very next version of Civil 3D will have fixed the issue of linetypes for figures and feature lines but until then, hopefully this will help someone out.

Credit for this goes to Kelvin at Lamp, Rynearson & Associates

Yes, I know Civil 3D 2012 is coming out soon and yes, I’ll probably post about the tools that I think will be the most beneficial (I’ll let everyone else post the “Hey! Civil 3D 2012 is coming out!” posts) but sometimes things slip through the cracks and you find out there are cool new things available for what you already have.

Now, my question is; How did I miss this? Did this just come out? I did a search online and I can only find one reference to this outside of the Autodesk website so I’m assuming this is something really new (please correct me if I’m wrong). I probably missed it because of all of the focus on the announcements of the new AutoCAD Civil 3D 2012 that will be coming out soon.

One of the fine folks I follow on Twitter just posted a link to the Transportation Extension for AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011. I had never heard of such a thing so I went investigating and I found some really cool tools are available to everyone that has Civil 3D 2011. It’s not on the subscription site so I’m pretty sure it’s for everyone. Go to the home page for Civil 3D (http://www.autodesk.com/civil3d) and click on the Support link, and then the Utilities and Drivers link (a direct link to the page can be found HERE). Under AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011, you’ll see something called, “AutoCAD Civil 3D Transportation Extension”.

“What is this?” you may ask yourself, well, let me tell you what I’ve found out so far. It seems to be a bunch of additional tools that will run on top of Civil 3D 2011, and there looks to be some great tools in here. Allow me to list them for you and then later I will get into greater detail about them (at least the ones I’ve figured out so far):
1) Check Alignment Geometry
2) Quick Cross Section
3) Surface High/Low Points
4) Import Raw Data
5) Create Surface from Photogrammetric Data
6) Export Civil Data
7) Show/Hide Labels
8) Export Layout to DGN
9) Eleven New Reports (according to the readme)

Transportation Extension Tools

That’s a lot of cool stuff they’ve given away for free (remember, this isn’t on the subscription website). So, let’s take a peek at what these tools will do.

1) Check Alignment Geometry

Have you ever created an alignment from existing entities and later found that those lines and curves that you received from the planner or surveyor or whoever weren’t tangent? Well, worry no more. This is a great little tool. In testing it, I created a polyline with a line segment, a tangent curve off the end of it, and then a line from the end of the curve that I drew so it looked tangent to the curve, but wasn’t actually tangent. I created an alignment from this polyline and then ran this tool on the newly created alignment. After running the command, it prompts you to select the alignment and then asks you to “Enter gap tolerance”. I’m not exactly sure what the gap tolerance is but probably has something to do with gaps in the alignment. There is no help so I can’t do any research on it and the little bit of testing I’ve done has helped me figure it out either. Next, it’s going to ask you to “Enter angle tolerance”. Again, I’m not exactly sure what the angle tolerance means but every time I’ve run it, I’ve used the default setting and it does something. So, what does it do to our example of a non-tangent line connected to an arc? Well, it makes them tangent. In addition to that, it place a PI at the point of intersection of the two lines (very convenient).

Alignment Check

2) Quick Cross Section

This is an interesting one and I’m not sure how useful it will be but, I’ll explain what I know about it. The Quick Cross Section command works very similarly to the Quick Profile command. I want to see what my cross sections will look like (real quickly) created from a line between here and there. Well, run the command and it will create them for you, all you need is a drawing with a surface in it. Once the command is run, it will prompt you for the surfaces you want to display in the sections and then it will prompt you for “Enter an option [3p/Multi]“. I haven’t tested the 3p option yet but Multi will allow you to pick points on the screen that will basically define the alignment you want to create the sections for. It will then prompt you for the sampling interval, the left and then the right swath width and where you want the sections to be displayed in the drawing. After you have entered that, a dialog box will be displayed that will ask you for the appropriate styles, Section Style, Section View Style, and Band Style Set (apparently there is no option for labels). Once you hit OK, the sections will be displayed in your drawing. Like a Quick Profile, the Quick Cross Sections are temporary. Unlike the Quick Profile, the Quick Cross Sections will immediately disappear when you end the command, rendering it (in my opinion) fairly useless.

Quick Cross Sections

3) Surface High/Low Points

This command looks pretty cool. It will analyze a surface and place points at the high points and at the low points. You can then use the Low Point points as the starting point for the Catchment Area command. Basically, just run the command, and then select the area of the surface you want to be analyzed (if you want it to analyze the entire surface, just hit enter). It will also create two point groups, one for the high point points and one for the low point points (pretty convenient, huh?). You can then use these point groups to control the display (as well as the description) of the points.

High/Low Points

High/Low Points

4) Import Raw Data

I wasn’t able to test this one out as I didn’t have any file types that would be needed for this command to work but, here is what I THINK it will do. It will take a Star*Net .dat file and convert it into a fieldbook file (for more information on Star*Net click HERE). From the import dialog box, there seem to be quite a few options.

Import Raw Data

5) Create Surface from Photogrammetric Data

This one looks cool. I haven’t tested it out completely yet but, basically run the command and it will ask you what layer your data is on. Select the layers for both the linework and the point data (you have to give them names), select the surface you want to add them to (or have it create a new surface for you) and you’re done. I tested it with a bunch of contours and it didn’t give me the option to minimize flat faces (apparently they didn’t think that you could use this for contour data).

Create Surface from Photogrammetric Data

It appears there seems to be a slight issue with the dialog box. The bottom of it is cut off and no matter how you re-size the dialog, it doesn’t seem to fix it. If you are familiar with creating surfaces in Civil 3D, you shouldn’t have any trouble figuring out what is being cut off.

6) Export Civil Data

This is another one that I haven’t been able to test out as I don’t have any survey equipment. According to the readme file that comes with the extension, “Export Civil Data (to survey formats – RD5 and TP5) – enables users to export Civil 3D alignments, profiles, and corridors to a TDS .rd5 roadway file and/or .tp5 template file.” The dialog box asks you to select the Alignment, Profile, and (or?) the Corridor and it will create the .rd5 and the .tp5 files for you.

Export Civil Data

7) Show Hide Labels

This is another one of those tools that looks pretty cool. Have you ever been looking at a drawing and though to yourself, “Man, I wish I could just get rid of those labels temporarily. It sure would make it easier to see what was going on!”  Well, now you can. Simply run this command and the select the label types you want to hide and the ones you want to no longer be hidden. There’s even an option at the top to hide all labels or show all labels. Pretty slick in my opinion.

Show/Hide Labels

8) Export Layout to DGN

Pretty self explanatory here I would assume. It allows you to export a layout tab to a .dgn file. Again, I can’t truly test this one as I don’t have Microstation installed and I don’t have a “seed file”. It seems straight forward though. It will export each sheet (or just the ones you select) from a Sheet Set Manager file (.dst) to a .dgn file

Export Layout to DGN

9) New Reports

According to the read-me, there are 11 new reports. Well, I have no reason to doubt that but, when you install it, there is a new report category and it only shows one new report so the other new reports must be included in the other report categories somewhere (I don’t have a list of them or of the originals that come with C3D to compare my current list to). The one that does show up (Corridor->Slope Stake Report) is pretty slick as it will actually display the cross sections in the report for a visual confirmation of the data.

Slope Stake Report

Wrap Up

As I said, there are some pretty cool new tools here so go out and try it for yourself. Let me know what you think, what reports you like that are new with this, etc. Also note that when you download it, you can also download the CalTrans Content Kit after you install these tools. Looks like I may have another post to write up about that.

Civil 3D is used around the globe but I only use it here in Colorado. The coordinate systems in Colorado, and almost all surveying around here, uses the US Survey foot, not the International foot. If you aren’t aware of the difference, one US Survey Foot is 1200/3937 meters whereas the International Foot is 0.3048 meters. The difference between the two definitions of the foot is only 2 parts per million. In other words, 1,000,000 International Feet is equal to 999,998 US Survey Foot. Now, in most situations, it’s irrelevant but, when you are surveying in state plane coordinate systems, it is important to know which one to use. If you accidentally use International Feet instead of US Survey Feet, you can be off by a considerable distance.

So, all this rambling brings me to the point of this post, when you create a survey database in Civil 3D, it has to set units of some sort and, since it is an “international” program, I guess the developers decided to use “international feet” as the default imperial unit. Now, in Colorado, we use the Survey Foot and I don’t want to have to go and change this setting every time I create a new database because, if I forget, that could be a very bad thing. What I’m going to demo is not just for units but can be used for all the different settings in the database.

The first thing you have to do is create a survey database and set all the settings the way you want them. These settings will be what we are going to use in the next step.

Survey Database Settings

In this example, the only change I’ve made is to set the units to US Survey Foot. Once I have all the settings correct, I export the settings out to an external file. This file can be in a shared network location for all users to have access to if you want. To export the settings, there is a button at the top of the database settings dialog box to export them. If you have projects that use different settings then the default but they are consistently different, you can also import specific settings using the import settings button just to the right of the export button.

Export Survey Database Settings

Now that we have all the settings saved to a file, we need to tell Civil 3D to use these settings the next time we create a survey database. This is done through the Survey User Settings. These settings are found at the top of the survey tab on the prospector. In the user settings, you can specify the file you just saved as the default settings for the next time you create a database.

Survey User Settings

Now the next time you create a survey database, all your settings will be preset for you and you can get straight to work. Hope this helps!

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