Friday, May 27, 2011

Out With the Old, In With the New

While reading discussions on the LinkedIn AutoCAD Civil 3D Users Group, I began typing this response that I later decided was worth sharing with others.

The discussion was on why firms are still using LDD instead of Civil 3D. The responses are typically:
  1. cost of training
  2. no time to learn it
  3. "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitudes
  4. lack of initiative to make it happen
At the firms where I've been employed, I've seen several of these responses. It seems that because an individual knows exactly what workflow to use, then it must be the most efficient one. However, once the employee has learned how to use Civil 3D and begins to become efficient at it, they may actually dread going back to LDD to work on an old project.

Learning Civil 3D takes either enthusiasm to learn and embrace new software or a mandate from management to learn it. My current firm mandated the change and now my coworkers actually request making the change from LDD to Civil 3D on projects whenever possible. In fact, just last week I helped a coworker use Civil 3D to do something with surfaces that he was unable to do in LDD. Using LandXML and drawing objects, the procedure was done very efficiently in Civil 3D yet the final product is still in the original LDD project file format.

For Civil 3D, there are so many training aids available (many of them free, especially if you are on subscription) including a Home Use License, Autodesk University recorded videos and handouts, subscription training videos, YouTube, etc.

For me to learn Civil 3D, after a couple of employer paid training classes, I requested a Civil 3D Home Use License from the company's Autodesk contract administrator and spent hours learning to create a project from scratch with Civil 3D. Of course the time I spent at home was not paid, but it gave me an opportunity to learn the software better than anyone else at the company. Now with Civil 3D experience being a more valuable commodity in the workplace, the time I spent unpaid was well worth it. Also, the fact that I learned it before more and more features were added helped a lot too. Instead of learning EVERYTHING at once, I learned alignments, then profiles. Next I tackled surfaces, then pipes, etc. I suggest you do the same thing to learn the software. Don't try to swallow the whole bottle at once, it can be overwhelming. Take smaller bites and see how they taste.

Workflows for Civil 3D are so different than LDD. Until you can put that mentality aside, you will struggle to learn the software. As for the software not doing what you want from a surveying or civil engineering perspective, join the Autodesk beta testing community or post your feature request to the Civil 3D wish list on the AUGI forums. Not using the software because a feature doesn't exist won't get that feature there any faster. Besides, the feature may be there just in a different format than where you expect. This is where local Civil 3D User Groups or discussion forums can be a great asset.

As a great man I know once said, "Don't give me problems, give me solutions!" I think we should all take this approach more, so here's my possible solution for you:

First get a copy of the software to begin your training. Download Civil 3D from the Autodesk website and begin your 30 day product trial or request a Home Use License from your contract administrator if you are on subscription. Of course you'll need a computer that can run Civil 3D. If that isn't a possibility, set aside a few hours a week to stay late, arrive early, or train through your lunch hour on your work computer.

Start with an existing project. Begin creating that project from scratch. This way you're not facing deadlines or trying to learn the software and design at the same time. Get the whole team together and work through issues of how to complete a particular task. Watch some training videos at home after you put the kids to bed. Take notes then duplicate the procedures at lunch the next day.

Another thing that will help with implementation of Civil 3D is to create templates for your firm. Yes, there's an NCS standard template that's provided with Civil 3D out of the box, but let's face it, there's not a single box of chocolates that pleases everyone and templates are no different.

Create a CAD standard and setup your templates to implement those CAD standards. If you get rid of some of the up front work, you'll be surprised how much easier it is for users to become efficient with the software and comply with CAD standards at the same time.

Here's an example: Our firm has a template setup just for existing utilities. It already contains pipe networks for each existing utility with all defaults set. You can be up and running and creating pipes and structures with this file in minutes. You don't have to go through the trouble of setting up the pipe network parts list, the pipe network itself, the default layer names, default pipe and structure names, default pipe and structure styles and labels, etc. It's incredible how much time this will save you and how much you don't have to know about using the software because it's already done for you.

Here are a few more suggestions for learning to use Civil 3D:
  1. First of all USE THE SOFTWARE! If management provides training and you don't use the software, then you're probably going to struggle to remember what you learned.
  2. If you don't have time to create templates yourself, then pay someone to do it for you.
  3. Set deadlines then enforce them. Request a progress set on the pilot project as if it were a real project.
  4. Work with your employees to get the most from them. Offer an incentive to completing their first project using Civil 3D.

I think many firms overlook the value of using the current software as a tool instead of as a crutch. Don't be one of those firms!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Don't Forget These Commands...Part 1

There are so many commands in AutoCAD and Civil 3D that we use every day. Some of them are available via toolbars, menus, or the ribbon, that you only have to learn where to find them, not memorize them.

In my case, there are a few commands or system variables that just get lost in the deep void of space inside my brain. Here's a few of them:

LINEWORKSHRINKWRAP - Creates a boundary around a selection set of objects.

PELLIPSE - Setting this variable to 1 will draw an ellipse as a polyline.

FILEDIA - This variable gets set to 0 during some commands and/or lisp routines. If AutoCAD crashes, you may have to reset it to 1 to display dialog boxes instead of command line prompts.

'STAE - Transparent command for Civil 3D to select station from the parent alignment of a profile view.

'SSE - Transparent command for Civil 3D to select station from the parent alignment of a profile view and elevation from a surface.

'PSE - Transparent command for Civil 3D to select station and elevation from a profile view.

'ZTP - Transparent command for Civil 3D to zoom to a point or range of points.

There's plenty more to add to this list, but it's a start.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Water Structures in Profile View

You know that special symbol for water valves and fire hydrants that the engineers want to see in profile views of water lines? Ours looks something like this:

If you think it's a structure style, then you're wrong. It's actually a label style that uses several custom expressions. I use a block that is a rectangle on a no plot layer for the structure in profile view. You can leave the no plot structure visible, or you can turn off the display of the structure in profile view once you've added your labels.

This label will move with the structure, adjust to the size of the structure, and adjust to changes in the surface referenced in the structure. Adjusting the custom expressions, you can control how far all four sides of the rectangle are from the center of the structure based on the size of the structure.

Now if only we could assign a default label style to each structure in profile view I could finish my P&P sheets even quicker. For now, I'm just happy that I don't have to place a dynamic block at each structure then remember to go back and move it as my structure moves to an updated location.