Autodesk Utility Design 2013 Release 2: The New Phone Books Are Here! The New Phone Books Are Here!

Well, maybe not exactly…but in a new release of Autodesk Utility Design (AUD) that showed up on the Autodesk Subscription Site last Friday (for those who have the appropriate subscription – Infrastructure Design Suite Ultimate, or AUD itself) communication and fiber support have been added in all areas of functionality – industry model, configuration, layout and analysis.

In addition, so additional functionality has been added. Those who were working with 2013 AUD knew that when creating new overhead lines, a 3D view of the lines and pole was created (complete with sag in the lines). Now the same 3D visualization has been added to underground facilities.








There’s a new analysis tool for overhead clearance. It identifies clearance between wires as well as with the ground.

 For those who do design based on work locations and stake-outs, a new work location block allows you to associate material and feature information with that work location.

For design output, material lists in table form can be added to the drawings with the “Insert Table” button.

An exciting new feature for a lot of electric utilities will be the new schematic layout tools. Non-schematic lines with conductors and ducts can be converted to a schematic view and then back. The new commands AUDEXPAND and AUD COLLAPSE will generate the schematic and then back to non-schematic views.

Some new electric distribution tools have been added – neutral conductor can be automatically added with the layout of primary, new span tools (create equal spans and preferred span lengths in addition to maximum span lengths), double circuit networks for overhead 3 phase systems have analysis and visualization capability, a spreadsheet-like load calculator for calculating demand load at service points, pole heights are now set by a pole height above ground pole leveling and custom status.

When you open an existing drawing with the new release, you will see a model update, and the new tools will be available.

I’ve worked with AUD for several iterations, and the current implementation is pretty exciting. It is a great tool for doing utility design. It is very easy to integrate with GIS and provide the calculations that engineers and designers need to get quality designs out faster. Watch over the next several weeks, and I’ll add some new blogs on AUD and utility design. If you haven’t taken a look at it, now’s the time.

The Tyranny of GIS – Part One

As a professional in this industry for over twenty-five years, it’s difficult not to notice common threads. One of those is the cost of doing GIS. I run into many smaller organizations, such as utilities or municipalities where the cost of GIS is burdensome or a complete barrier to the technology. These organizations often miss out on the efficiencies that GIS can provide them (the fact that even many enterprises with very extensive systems miss out as well is a topic for another time). In many cases, these organizations don’t have the personnel knowledgeable to make effective decisions about the systems and so become hostage to consultants who have interests outside of their own (as a matter of fact, I’ve heard the word “hostage” used many times in reference to GIS). Now as one of those consultants, I’m not self-loathing here, but pointing out that in all cases, a consultant has a mission of increasing their sale of services to be successful – this is different than the needs of his customers. “Good” consultants will align their mission with the customer’s – selling the customer the services they need. In many cases, though, the consultant may not fully realize the needs of the customer, and the customer lacks the technical understanding to fully express their needs.

I noticed this particular effect in a very simple transaction recently – getting my hair cut. I’ve noticed a trend lately. Many of the new stylists (I have to not show my age and call them barbers) ask detailed questions about the methods – cutting with scissors or clippers, or the specific length at the top or sides. Quite honestly, I have no idea how to answer these questions. I want it to look a certain way, but I don’t know how to get there. That’s why I get my hair professionally cut (aside from the fact that trying to cut one’s own hair is challenging). Does this sound familiar? I’ve seen this interchange with service providers from all areas of business, and quite often in the GIS world.

This breakdown of communication is purely the result of different frames of references. The result is that there are several areas of the process that are not effectively “sized’ for the organization. Areas like data precision, system design, system architecture, training, data sharing are specific areas of an implementation (or operation) plan that can get a bit out of control and drive the cost of the GIS up. Getting a handle on these can often bring the cost of these way down. I’ll tackle several of these over my next several entries.

Precision –The first area I’ll cover is data precision. This raises the obligatory issue of precision vs quality. Precision is the standard of measure we use, such as survey grade GPS, consumer GPS, steel tape, measuring wheels or “calibrated eye” (I once saw a survey while on the east coast that used a distance of a cigarette – I assume he meant the time to smoke it – I wonder if it was a regular or long?). Quality is how well we did the measurement (was my tape level, did I read the angle correctly, etc). For the purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about precision, and I may use the word quality, but I mean precision.

The actual GIS data is probably the greatest expense for most GIS programs. Of course, that makes sense, when you consider that data really is the GIS. While there is the old adage that GIS is software, hardware, processes, people and data, the reality is that all of the other components are interchangeable while the data is the reason we do GIS. Because of this, it’s easy to place an undo importance on the precision (quality standard) of the data. Often this is because the actual business purpose of the specific GIS data is poorly developed or understood. It is the actual purpose of the data which should define the precision standard of the data, but in many cases, we start data capture without clearly defining the need, and so data capture is at a higher standard than necessary or prudent. When speaking of data creation, the cost generally rises with precision (often at an increased rate).

I can hear some folks cringe at the suggestion. After all, the standard engineering definition for GIS is “Get It Surveyed” to identify their inability to rely on GIS for design. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. As a designer, I consider it due diligence to survey the site for every project, as things change and the records may not show it. Relying on existing records is a way to guarantee delays, change requests and other problems with a project. Knowing that, then “basis for design” may not be a valid business requirement for GIS data. Generating, for example, parcel data that is suitable for design can be quite expensive and completely justifiable for a construction project (as a percentage this would be a small part of the overall cost of most projects). Generating data of similar quality for an entire municipality where a very small portion may ever be involved in new construction can be prohibitive and become a major impediment to developing GIS capability. Using a lower quality data set may be perfectly effective for the planned use of the data. In the parcel example, maintaining a link to the actual record of survey may provide satisfactory access to higher precision data.

I’m not suggesting that data always be at the lowest possible quality, but I am suggesting that prior to determining the need for accuracy, that a reasonable expectation on the data and it’s uses (immediate and long term) be evaluated. In many cases, having a highly precise base map provides benefits that are perfectly justified for the organization. I know of some utilities that use highly precise data to model their systems and feel the cost of generation was completely justified. In many new systems, using highly precise as-built data from recent designs would be more cost effective than trying to generate a lesser quality dataset. I know of other utilities that have used a commercial street centerline data set and rubbersheeted old scanned system maps to fit. In usage, I’ve seen a range of precision levels used quite effectively.

The key is understanding the needs and understanding your data. The results from modeling a system based on lower quality data will give lower quality results. That isn’t bad, it just means that there is a greater margin of error. That may be just fine for the particular application.

In the next post, I’ll address some system design issues.


The Power of 10: Filtering Contours with Map

I was recently working with a client, and he was working on a project where he needed to show contour lines in the area as a reference. The particular job didn’t need any kind of surface, just show contour lines as a reference.  Luckily, the local city had complete coverage of his project area. The data was 1’ contours in an ESRI shape file. That was way too detailed for the project, so he needed a way to thin down the contour lines (no AutoCAD Civil 3D needed here – no surface or analysis needed). As a matter of fact, he really wanted only 10’ contours.  What he needed was a query to filter out the other contours. In this case, identifying the desired contours is pretty easy – they all end in 0.
Some folks create their contour data and using a string (text) data type. In such a case, it can pretty easy to do in a single step – use the substring function (from the Text Function list) to select all the features where the final character of the elevation attribute is equal to 0 – be sure to add quotes to the 0 to show text rather than numbers.
When the field is numeric, there is a just a little more to do. In this case we need to find all the contours whose elevation is divisible by 10. So how do we do that in a query? The trick is to divide the value by 10 and evaluate the remainder. If the remainder is 0, we know that it is divisible by 10. To do this in our AutoCAD Map, we first create a calculated field where we capture the remainder and then run a filter query to select only the values that have a remainder of 0. Let’s take a look.
First, right click on the layer to Create a Calculation.
Then when the dialog box appears (this should look familiar), give it a meaningful name, go to the math functions and select remainder, and then replace the number place holder with your elevation field and the divisor by 10.  Click validate to ensure the calculation doesn’t have any problems (keep in mind this can only check for appropriate field types vs actions – it has no way to check if this is what you really want to do) and then ok.Check the table to take a look at the result to see if it gives you the result you’re looking for.
Now that we have the remainder field, we can use it to filter the data. In the Create Query dialog, set the remainder property equal to 0, validate and hit ok.
Now your contours should only show those 10’ contours, and we can see how to use calculations can enhance our ability to select and show data.
Check out my video of the process.

Property Alterations: Get Elevations from Layer Names

Every once in a while, I run across an AutoCAD drawing with contour lines that are 2d polylines with an elevation of zero, but the actual elevation is the layer name. While they appear as contour lines, that’s not a very useful format for the modeling world – particularly for Civil 3D users that want to use the polyline contours to create a surface. These files usually come from a GIS conversion process, typically where the GIS provider doesn’t understand DWGs and AutoCAD modeling. Often the data started as a shape file, and someone converts it to a DWG and sets the elevation property as the layer name.
There’s a relatively simple way to change it to a more useful format. The trick is to use AutoCAD Map 3D’s Drawing Attach command (found on the task Pane under the Map Explorer tab).
Select the DWG with contours and add them to the selection set shown in the bottom box and hit OK. The DWG file will show up under the Drawings folder on the Map Explorer.
You can select the Drawings folder, right click and select Quick View, make sure the Zoom to the Extents button is flagged, and hit enter. That will set your drawing extents to match the contour drawing extents – it becomes a visual to check progress. Remember, a Quick View is only a view, and will disappear with a regen.
When that is finished, select the Current Query under the Query Library on the Map Explorer.
On the Define Query dialog, hit the Location Query Type and set to All, and then under Options, select Alter Properties.
On the Set Property Alterations dialog, select the Elevation property (this is the property we want to change) and then select the Expression button.
Expand the Properties folder (this is all of the objects AutoCAD properties) and select Layer. This will set the Layer name as the data source.
Select the Add and it will create the expression in the box at the top of the dialog. This will tell the query command to copy the value from the Layer name to the Elevation. In this case it will work because the layer name is a number. If it was not a number, this wouldn’t work the same way.
When you get ready to run the query, be sure to set the Query Mode to Draw. The when you execute the query, the contour lines will be copied into your current drawing and the elevations should now match the layer name.
Check out my video on this on the CADsoft YouTube channel:

New Autodesk Infrastructure Tools

There’s some new tools in the Autodesk Infrastructure world. Autodesk has just released a few new products for the geospatial world. The Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler is the production release of the former AutoCAD Labs Project Galileo. It is conceptual modeling application that let’s you mix and match GIS, BIM, CAD and image data to quickly get a view of potential design options. You can create very realistic views of an entire area, both above and below the surface. One of the cool things is the ability to include and show underground utilities generated from your GIS data.

Another new tool is not really new at all, but a redesign of an existing powerful system. AutoCAD Utility Design has been released, and it’s the new implementation of the former Autodesk Utility Design. The name change to AutoCAD represents the movement towards a powerful standards-driven tool built within the powerful design and documentation environment of AutoCAD.

AutoCAD Utility Design is built on the AutoCAD  and AutoCAD Map 3D technologies. It combines template and workflow-based design tools with GIS to create in intelligent 3D connected network model for the electric utility industry. Autodesk added easy-to-use templates and workflow tools built on a powerful rules base to create consistent designs based on engineering standards. AutoCAD Utility Design includes engineering reports and documentation as a by-product of the design, rather than having to go back through the design to pull data and manually compile common reports. It includes engineering tools for calculating voltage drop, cable tensioning, sag, pole sizing, guying and others. The model is also designed to allow integration with existing supply, EAM, and other enterprise systems.

In a former life at an electric utility, I helped implement Autodesk Utility Design and did some planning for integration with the GIS and Asset Management Systems. I also had the chance to do some trials with Project Galileo while it was in the Autodesk Labs. I’m pretty excited for these new releases and am looking forward to working with these.

Street views in AutoCAD Map

OK, first off – a disclaimer. I’m blogging about a new software tool – I have no connection whatsoever with Earthmine – I just think it’s a cool new tool for AutoCAD Map users, so I’m sharing.

Thanks to Google Maps, Sketchup, and other visualization tools, there is a stronger interest in seeing things from a 3D and realistic perspective than ever before. There’s a new tool for AutoCAD Map 3D that shows some interesting promise for GIS users. Think of the streetview from Google Maps, and now incorporate that kind of view interactively into your GIS applications. Earthmine combines a new collection process collecting stereo photos as well as point cloud information to create a 3D photographic view of an area. Now take that view, and integrate it with your geospatial data in AutoCAD Map 3D.  You get to see the photo model, with your data right in the model.

I see some exciting applications for asset management – municipalities, utilities and campuses, as well as land developers.

So while you “look” around the street, your data shows up in real locations. So you can see the streetview with your valve or manhole location where it might not otherwise be visible in the photograph.

Or get an idea of the subsurface utilities under the street while looking at the model.

It’s a major step forward in the technology. The data itself is coming from Earthmine servers that either you can host, or have Earthmine host. It appears that you can license model information from their partners, or create your own photo models. Imagine making a 3D view of your new development or campus with your geospatial data superimposed. It brings to mind a number of possibilities. Aside from the tools for viewing the data in AutoCAD Map 3D, Earthmine also has a mobile 3D mapping system so you can have your own photo car to drive around (or pedal). I’m pretty excited to see how this technology advances in the coming months and years. I’m looking forward to getting a closer view of this new tool.

Don’t forget your AutoCAD tools – Qselect

Sometimes when using vertical versions of AutoCAD (like AutoCAD Map, Civil 3D, Architecture, etc), is that you can get entrenched in the vertical tools and forget that it is still AutoCAD, and so you have all those rich AutoCAD tools available. Recently while working with a client, one of these came up. The tool in question was QSelect. Now, I don’t know when QSelect initially showed up – for years I used LISP routines to do advanced selection, and one day several releases ago I stumbled across QSelect. It has been a great friend to me ever since – particularly working in the GIS world.

In this case, they have a drawing with areas defined as numbered zones. The drawing was created to show boundaries in individual sheets rather than build polygon data sets. There are labels along the lines throughout the data, duplicating where they will show on the sheets.  

These drawings have been in use for some time, and they wanted to turn these into a polygon feature class. Generating a polygon feature class is pretty basic, and there are several ways. I like to get a clean data set without slivers or gaps, so using Map’s topology tools are a great way to get clean data and converting to a feature set is easy. The process forces you to clean the polygon data, and then create the topology. One challenge is that you can only have one centroid in each polygon. The text labels already exist, so they are perfect to use as centroids. The problem is there are too many. Erasing them individually is painful as well. You could write, or find, a LISP routine to prune down the number of labels. Or you can use the QSelect. With QSelect, I can build a selection set by querying various properties of the objects. In this case, select an object type (MText), a property (contents=the actual value of the text) and set an equals operator to find MText objects whose contents = Zone 36a (you don’t use a text identifier such as “” here).

Now I have a selection set of all the text labels in Zone 36a (you can see by all the grips on the selected text). The next step is to escape to drop the selection set (so we can manipulate it later). Now start the erase command, and when it prompts to select objects, type P to get the previous selection set (this grabs all of the queried text labels). Now change the selection prompt to remove mode (removes objects from the selection set) by typing R, and pick one of the labels to remove it from the selection set and enter to complete the command. At this point, there will only be one label for that polygon. Do this for each polygon, and you will be ready to use them for labels.

Now, I wouldn’t use this for a dataset with thousands of polygons, but it is a quick and easy way to remove some tedium when preparing a relatively small dataset.

Map 3D Projection Rounding – It’s Just Cosmetic

Last week, I was attending Arizona Professional Land Surveyors Annual Conference, Tom Homan, a GIS Coordinator for Gila County did a great workshop on working with AutoCAD Map. While he was preparing for his presentation, he was working with AutoCAD Map 2012, and ran across a potential problem. He found what looks like a problem with the coordinate projection used in the Arizona State Plane projections. While looking at the details for the projections, he noticed the Scale Factor was showing a 1.000000 rather than the expected 0.9999. That may not sound like much, but that’s 1 in 10,000 units, or a foot across a little less than two miles. This is a pretty big difference across a large are, such as an Arizona County (the counties in AZ are typically larger than those of most states). Now, Gila County, AZ is a mountainous area with a lot of vertical change which can really cause havoc with projections.  To deal with this, they use some custom Low Distortion Projections. He also found a similar problem when creating these custom projections. After saving, the projection file was rounding up to 1.000000 as well.

So after digging a little bit, and reviewing the projection definition dictionary, the correct scale factor was built into the files. I also created some data, did some reprojections, and exported out to a shape file to see how the projection file (PRJ) turned out, and sure enough, it was creating the correct scale factor. It looked like it was a cosmetic issue with the dialog box form. So, after creating a support case with Autodesk, Nathan Moore validated the issue as a form display parameter rather than a functional problem with the dictionaries. The issue is also present in Civil 3D 2012.
So, the good news is the projection tools in Map 3D still work great, and with the new tools much easier to work with.

BIM and Geo – Playing in the Sandbox

Bandwagon – a party, cause, movement, etc., that by its mass appeal or strength readily attracts many followers -

Geoworld magazine published an article this month from Liam Speden, the business line manager for Autodesk’s infrastructure planning and conceptual-design solutions. The article is called “Are You Ready for BIM?”

I’ve been avoiding the topic myself as the phrase has become a bandwagon topic. A lot of people are talking about it, but far fewer understand what it means, and so that water gets pretty murky. Now that the subject is going mainstream in the geo industry, it’s time to start clarifying. BIM means a lot of things to different people. I hear some folks talk about it as a type of software, using BIM software where they would have said CAD software in the past. In reality, it’s somewhat more than that. It’s more of a process, or methodology – a paradigm. It’s also a standard defined by the National Institute of Building Sciences.  More and more owner organizations, particularly government,  are requiring designs that comply with these standards, such as GSA, Corps of Engineers, and recently the US Air Force.

Wikipedia describes it as “the process of generating and managing building data during its life cycle[1]. BIM involves representing a design as objects – vague and undefined, generic or product-specific, solid shapes or void-space oriented (like the shape of a room), that carry their geometry, relations and attributes. BIM design tools allow for extracting different views from a building model for drawing production and other uses. These different views are automatically consistent – in the sense that the objects are all of a consistent size, location, specification – since each object instance is defined only once, just as in reality.” 

Of course, Autodesk has embraced the concept with it’s vertical construction products as well as Civil 3D for horizontal design. Autodesk has numerous resources of information available on the subject, starting with their BIM page

So, what does all this have to do with GIS and geospatial technology? Well, more and more often, the geo technologies will be required to integrate. While there are many similarities, there are some differences that will interfere with a smooth transition in much the same way as the CAD to GIS (or in reality Design to As-Built) continues to plague organizations. It is important for geo professionals to understand this technology. I’ll be exploring the relationships and integrations in the comingposts. Stay tuned and join me in the expedition.

AutoCAD Map 3D just got bigger…

It’s that time of year again – Autodesk has announced the new annual releases, and they’re starting to be available for download from the Autodesk Subscription Center. The big news this year is the packaging of multiple complementary products as Suites allowing organizations to procure all the tools they might need for the entire design process. Along with the grouping of products, there’s increased interoperability and collaboration. It’ll be interesting to see the impact this has on the industry as firms that may not have ventured into areas such as visualization might be motivated to try them out.

Aside from the Suites, there are some great new tools included in the new products. Even the Autodesk basic platform product, AutoCAD, has some great new features. But I’ll let my coworkers talk about those – my goal is to share some of the great new solutions included in the new 2012 release of AutoCAD Map 3D. I won’t try to cover them all now, but will share items that stand out and add new notes as I explore the new tools with you.

The first thing is that now the Autodesk Topobase functionality is now included with Map 3D.  Topobase was a very powerful infrastructure management software built on AutoCAD Map 3D. It brings specific industry-oriented data models for a number of areas, such as electric distribution, water and wastewater systems and land. In addition, the ability to add business rules to object editing, more advanced topology capability and reporting tools have made Topobase a very important application for utilities and municipalities. I’ll be adding more about this functionality as time goes on.

Right off, the geographic coordinate system is different. There are new transformation algorithms and creating your own is now much easier.

For the common typical user of Map 3D today, the feature data connectors are key pieces of the interoperability puzzle. One of the immediate new items is the new stylization tools. In the past, you can connect to a geospatial dataset through FDO (the Data button on the Display Manager), and create line and symbol styles based on AutoCAD blocks and Map linetypes. These linetypes were different than the AutoCAD line types stored in the ACAD.LIN style. This was a bit of a challenge for some users who had standardized linetypes based on the standard AutoCAD linetype sets.

We could create composite linetypes and stack line components to get some pretty complex and interesting line (I used to make the typical map-style roadway with a dashed yellow line stacked on thicker black and red lines to “look” like a road).

We can still do that, but now we can use standard AutoCAD linetypes (or any custom linetypes we store in our @.LIN files), as well as blocks, text (MText objects), and dynamic text right from the data. And the style tools give more advanced placement options.

So instead of using labels to put a street name, we could make the street name part of the linetype.

A couple of other items to mention – the FDO connectors now include ESRI Personal and File Geodatabases, as well as ArcSDE 10.x geodatabases, and new capability for relational databases. I’ll add more on that pretty soon.


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