AEC From the Ground Up--New Tools for Civil Engineering

31 Mar, 2006 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

Objects, 3D Help Increase Productivity for Land Development

Land development and transportation design are the bread-and-butter of the civil engineering segment of the AEC industry, especially with the current hot housing market and new federal road construction initiatives. Land development deals with projects as simple as a house lot to more-complex planned unit developments, shopping centers, industrial and commercial buildings. Transportation design covers roads and highways as well as the specialized field of rail and light rail. Several companies create products for this segment, but the main players are Autodesk, Bentley and Eagle Point. This article covers some of the civil engineering software options available.

ASE (Automation Software for Engineers)

ASE Civil 2006 design software focuses primarily on grading and paving design and production for subdivisions and commercial sites.

ASE's dynamic functionality creates only intelligent, customizable, extended AutoCAD primitives, blocks and polylines, according to the developer. Because ASE Civil creates and manages its own preferences and design data, the software realizes all of the benefits of AutoCAD's multiple document interface.

The core of ASE Civil's design engine is the Design Marker. This multiuse point object is the primary reference from which the rest of the parametric output is extrapolated. Design Markers store elevations at paving key points, paving feature definitions and constraint hierarchies. Marker constraints allow groups of markers to be handled as a single object or locked from editing altogether. Flow labels—objects that combine text and arrows—complement the Design Markers.

ASE Civil claims to be the only software that generates 3D road models without template design. The output can be very complex and show either datum or top surface output. Users can select curbing or pavement section specifications from a growing list of predefined assemblies for either local or divided roads.

Users can define selective or global pad adjustment parameters that can be applied to flat-land or hillside projects. Changes to the road design trigger immediate adjustments to the pad objects, forcing them to stay within a predefined vertical design envelope. Finished pad and finished floor labeling also are managed by ASE Civil.

If you're designing subdivisions, take a closer look at ASE Civil design software, available through Engineering Design Innovations (


Autodesk Civil 3D 2007 is a civil engineering tool whose power lies in its dynamic engineering model. The model contains all core geometry and maintains intelligent relationships between design objects such as points, surfaces, parcels, roads and grading. Tables, object labels and various analysis displays derive from the model, so if any part of the model changes, all associated parts are updated. Ease of use comes through familiarity, and AutoCAD 2007 is at the heart of Autodesk Civil 3D 2007.

 Ease of use comes with familiarity, and AutoCAD 2007 is at the heart of Autodesk Civil 3D 2007.
Ease of use comes with familiarity, and AutoCAD 2007 is at the heart of Autodesk Civil 3D 2007.

The latest edition of Civil 3D incorporates new survey functionality, expanded multiuser capabilities, production-drafting improvements and improved geospatial data interoperability.

Civil 3D 2007 can maintain drafting standards. Each object type includes user-defined settings that control layer, color, font, label content and so forth. Civil 3D comes with some style configurations (stored in a drawing template) and provides tools to edit existing styles or create new ones.

Because a tremendous amount of design and project data (such as alignments, profiles, parcels, points and surface models) exists in Land Desktop project format, Civil 3D 2007 easily imports and exports that format.

It also supports LandXML a common, industry-accepted data format for sharing and archiving civil and survey data such as alignments, profiles, parcels, points, surface models and more. Civil 3D 2007 reads and writes MicroStation DGN format files (including V8). Finally, a variety of import/export utilities import point files, GIS data sources, other CAD formats and generic ASCII data.

Autodesk also continues to offer its Map and Raster Design products. Map 2007 offers map creation and editing tools as well as GIS analysis capabilities. Raster Design 2007 enables users to clean up, edit and vectorize scanned drawings such as maps, aerial photos, satellite imagery and digital elevation models. Land Desktop also is still available.


Bentley Systems targets its civil engineering software products at road, rail and site design, offering solutions that cover everything from surveying and design to construction and facility operations and maintenance. With additions such as the Haestad Methods products for water resources and the RAM and STAAD structural analysis lines, Bentley offers even more focused solutions for specialized engineers within these fields.

As a complete site design solution, Bentley s PowerCivil fulfills the field-tofinish needs of the site industry, including surveying, graphical coordinate geometry, digital terrain modeling, site grading and design, subdivision planning and layout,
water and sewer network design, storm drainage design and street design.
As a complete site design solution, Bentley s PowerCivil fulfills the field-tofinish needs of the site industry, including surveying, graphical coordinate geometry, digital terrain modeling, site grading and design, subdivision planning and layout, water and sewer network design, storm drainage design and street design.

Bentley concentrates on delivering solutions that cover the complete workflow of engineers and designers. For some markets a single application does the job, and for other markets an integrated set of products is a better fit. The benefit to Bentley users is that all field and design data associated with a project is contained in a single environment for access by all stakeholders.

Bentley products for road and rail include GEOPAK, InRoads and MX.

PowerCivil handles site design tasks such as surveying, coordinate geometry, digital terrain modeling, site grading, subdivision planning and layout, water and sewer network design and street design. The latest features in Power Civil include automated subdivision design that begins with COGO super-lot data and generates an optimal lot layout, taking into consideration frontages, setbacks and area requirements. New design wizards walk users through creation of pads, detention ponds, channels and roadways.

PowerCivil comes with a survey package that accepts data from any field collector. A Roadway Network Designer for creating multiple roadways is due in April 2006. PowerCivil sells for $4,350, including a year of Bentley's SELECT subscription program and eight hours of online training.

Eagle Point

Because Eagle Point is a developer for both Autodesk and Bentley, its solutions run on both AutoCAD and MicroStation systems. In addition, Eagle Point has partnered with BricsCad to provide a low-cost stand-alone CAD engine on which to run its software. Eagle Point's desktop applications cover the spectrum of land development projects, from land surveying to civil design to landscape architecture.

Eagle Point s process library works in both AutoCAD and MicroStation with the identical interface.
Eagle Point s process library works in both AutoCAD and MicroStation with the identical interface.

Eagle Point's civil design products let users quickly and easily design a site, from building pads and surface models to roads and intersections. They include Site Design, Surface Modeling, Intersection Design, Profiles, Quantity Takeoff and Eagle Point's flagship product, RoadCalc.

Eagle Point modules operate on AutoCAD 14–2006, Autodesk Map 2–3D 2006, Autodesk Land Desktop 2 and 3, MicroStation SE/J/V8 and BricsCad 5.1–6.1. The company's other desktop software lines include survey, landscape architecture and presentation applications.

A key benefit in Eagle Point's 2006 civil design software is its ability to integrate processes with the technology that engineers and designers use every day.

The Process Library, a new product, electronically catalogs the workflow processes. It displays directly within Eagle Point 2006 and details the steps and directions users need to accomplish during specific tasks. The Process Library aims to increase an organization's efficiency by reducing the time needed to relearn certain tasks or do rework when tasks are forgotten. Once a workflow process is documented correctly, this tool also can streamline the training of new employees because the information needed to complete tasks along with access to the necessary technology are displayed onscreen within the CAD environment.

RDV For Civil 3D—RDV Systems

One of the hurdles a civil engineering firm faces is not necessarily ground compaction or slope, but the design approval process. These days, review committees prefer to see a visualization or animation of a project. Such committees often include a dozen or more experts, among whom may be landscape architects, sewage and drainage experts, traffic assessors, environmentalists and the crucial and influential civic and local groups. Realistic 3D stills and animations pose inherent problems. Although we can create stunningly realistic still visualizations, committees can see them only from one fixed vantage point. 3D animations display a project from more vantage points but are very costly, require long processing times and must be reprocessed when changes are made.

Changes to a civil engineering visualization also are much more complex than changes to a building visualization. When a grade changes, many items such as light poles and culverts also change. To create a new 3D animation in the typical manner often requires time-consuming manual manipulation of elements.

RDV (rapid design visualization) is an application developed specifically for use with Autodesk Civil 3D software. RDV creates a fully interactive visualization environment directly from a Civil 3D project. Using RDV for Civil 3D, designers can create drive-through simulations, flyovers and interactive presentations for proposed roads, subdivisions, underground infrastructure, interchanges and many other complex land development projects. Based on ActiveX technology, RDV output integrates into standard Microsoft applications such as PowerPoint and can even be used as a component of a custom-developed application.

RDV users can update design visualization in real time as the design change occurs. I have used RDV for Architectural Desktop models (another version is available for Architectural Desktop 2005) and was impressed by its speed and ease of use. Also impressive is its ability to handle large data files. If you use Civil 3D, Map 3D, Land Desktop or Architectural Desktop, I recommend that you take a look at this product.

H. Edward Goldberg, AIA, NCARB, is a practicing licensed architect and AEC industry analyst. Ed's full-length book, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2006: A Comprehensive Tutorial (Prentice Hall; is now available. Contact Ed for online Architectural Desktop training delivered directly to the desktop. Visit for more information, or e-mail