AEC From the Ground Up-Software Strategy: Civil Engineering Options

28 Feb, 2005 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

The latest in transportation and land development software.

In today's highly competitive and responsive engineering environment, civil engineering depends on sophisticated computerized design software. Generally, civil design and engineering can be divided into several areas, the two most important of which are transportation and land development. Transportation deals with the design of roads, highways and railroads. Land development covers projects ranging from simple house lots to more complex planned unit developments, shopping centers and industrial and commercial complexes.

Collaboration between civil engineering and other AEC trades, such as architecture and structural engineering, is essential. Among the main players in the civil engineering software arena are Autodesk, Bentley and Eagle Point. Smaller vendors such as Steltman Software Solutions provide added value to existing CAD engines like AutoCAD.

Autodesk Land Desktop 2006, Civil Design 2006, Civil 3D 2006?

Autodesk offers three primary products for civil engineering: Land Desktop, Civil Design and Civil 3D. The recently announced Land Desktop 2006 software is part of Autodesk's infrastructure solution, along with Civil Design 2006 and Survey 2006. Land Desktop 2006 also includes Carlson Connect survey equipment communication software.

Autodesk's latest product is Civil 3D (figure 1), a key part of Autodesk's long-term product strategy for the civil market. It also continues Autodesk's push toward intelligent 3D modeling throughout all of its product lines.

 Figure 1. Autodesk Civil 3D creates relationships between objects so that design changes update dynamically. It uses the same Tool Palette and Content Browser paradigm as Autodesk Architectural Desktop.
Figure 1. Autodesk Civil 3D creates relationships between objects so that design changes update dynamically. It uses the same Tool Palette and Content Browser paradigm as Autodesk Architectural Desktop.

According to Autodesk, Civil 3D is the only civil engineering tool that creates relationships between objects so that design changes dynamically update. Designers and engineers work in a system that combines graphical interaction, tabular editing and style-based control, enabling them to model interrelated, real-world environments. For more details, see the review on p. 36. Until now, Land Desktop has been Autodesk's flagship civil software. Civil 3D does not replace Land Desktop and Civil Design—Autodesk plans to continue to support these programs. Autodesk recommends using Civil 3D with Land Desktop and Civil Design where functionality gaps exist.

Land Desktop will continue to be available for sale as a stand-alone product and is also included as a companion to Civil 3D and Civil 3D Professional. Civil Design will be available only as a component of the Civil 3D Professional package and is no longer available for purchase as a separate product.

Bentley GEOPAK, InRoads, PowerCivil

Bentley addresses land development and transportation needs with its PowerCivil, GEOPAK and InRoads program suites. GEOPAK Site for land development was developed from the ground up to offer intelligent object modeling and, according to Bentley, sets the standard for relationship modeling. The company recently refined and repackaged this technology in PowerCivil, a stand-alone product for land development and site design. It's based on the included PowerDraft and sells for $4,995. PowerCivil is a complete development tool for site components, roads and drainage. It also includes tools to handle complicated multiphase workflows and supports a variety of land development projects.

PowerCivil is designed to function according to a civil engineer's natural working methods. It can be used for building and manufacturing sites, subdivisions, dams, water resources, solid waste facilities, urban development and parks and recreational facilities. Its flexibility makes design changes and exploring different scenarios easy. For example, as a designer modifies objects, associated site features adjust automatically, obeying custom-defined design constraints and intent.

Users can perform 2D/3D feature and terrain modeling, minor roadway design, storm water systems, water and sewer layout, geotechnical evaluations and more. Built-in tools import and export design information and facilitate management of coordinate geometry and survey data. Comprehensive plan preparation and quantity takeoff capabilities support worldwide standards.

Bentley is a leader in the area of transportation and infrastructure design. MicroStation is the standard design platform used in 47 state DOTs (Departments of Transportation) and the U. S. DOT. GEOPAK, InRoads and MX are used in 43 state DOTs. Many state DOTs also use Bentley's production mapping tools.

Bentley GEOPAK is a family of integrated civil design and engineering software built on MicroStation and suited to civil engineering projects of all types. The GEOPAK products include GEOPAK Civil Engineering Suite, GEOPAK Site, GEOPAK Survey and GEOPAK Bridge. The GEOPAK Civil Engineering Suite provides a full range of tools for road and interchange projects, airports, bridges and overpasses, rail corridors, dams, tunnels, urban complexes and rail systems. This civil design solution is used by 19 state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration and design and engineering consultants worldwide.

The InRoads products (figure 2) include a core application and modules for Bridge, Survey, Site and Storm & Sanitary—all of which are also available packaged together in InRoads Suite. InRail is a separate add-on for railway and light rail design. InRoads applications are used on a host of civil engineering projects, including railways, municipal and public works projects, commercial and industrial site development, levees, rivers, pipelines, environmental projects and more. The InRoads family is used by 22 state DOTs.

Figure 2. Bentley's InRoads Site modeling capabilities lets users create photorealistic renderings with MicroStation.
Figure 2. Bentley's InRoads Site modeling capabilities lets users create photorealistic renderings with MicroStation.

GEOPAK and InRoads are available as suites. Both programs now offer a Quantities Manager that provides quantity takeoffs directly from design and integrate with Bentley ProjectWise for project collaboration.

Bentley's MX products—MXRAIL, MXRENEW, MXROAD, MXSITE and MXURBAN—are widely used in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom.

Bentley recently acquired Haestad Methods, a company that specialized in water, wastewater and stormwater engineering methods. Bentley plans to integrate its MicroStation-based products and the Haestad solutions.

Although Bentley is not divulging the entire story, it's developing tools to leverage design data in the field. These upcoming construction tools will run on handhelds and Tablet PCs and address stakeout and inspection.

Eagle Point

Eagle Point was founded in 1983 by two civil engineers who wanted to automate the calculation of earthwork on transportation design projects. Over the next few years, the company developed relationships with Autodesk and Bentley Systems to develop a comprehensive suite of products dedicated to all forms of land development projects. The company went public in 1995 and branched out into related areas of architecture, building construction, GIS, field survey and structural engineering. In 2001, the company became a private entity, again retaining a focus on land development with products and services that address field survey, construction management, landscape architecture and civil planning and design.

 In This Article
In This Article

Eagle Point's products and services are used by Fortune 1000 companies, small and midsized private companies, and federal, state, county and city governments. Eagle Point believes that the days of purchasing tools based only on feature content are coming to an end. Organizations understand that other factors drive success or failure on projects and have adopted a broader approach to address these factors.

The company offers consulting services such as vision casting, business management, workflow process consulting and education and training services. It also offers a broad range of software applications and hardware dedicated to the land development market (figure 3). Network licensing is available for check-in and check-out of modules. In addition to the aforementioned products for land development, Eagle Point offers seven field survey software products. For more details, visit the company Web site.

Figure 3. Eagle Point's Intersection Design software uses the initial designs from RoadCalc and then employs a planimetric site design approach to finalize pavement cross-slopes, island and median designs, and water flowlines into a surface model. Shown here is a rendered picture of an Intersection design.
Figure 3. Eagle Point's Intersection Design software uses the initial designs from RoadCalc and then employs a planimetric site design approach to finalize pavement cross-slopes, island and median designs, and water flowlines into a surface model. Shown here is a rendered picture of an Intersection design.

Steltman Software


Robert Steltman C.E.T. has been both a user and developer of AutoCAD since v1.9. Building on his professional background in civil engineering and his experience as a trainer, he formed Robert Steltman Inc. in 1991 to facilitate the move into professional software development. Since then, Steltman Software has seen broad acceptance of its AutoCAD-based software tools for roads, sites and surveys from a variety of clients, including engineering companies, consultants and municipalities in the United States, Canada and worldwide. The company offers an integrated series of programs for surveyors, contractors and civil engineers engaged in site, subdivision, river and road engineering projects. The software programs enhance productivity by adding extensive design and drafting capabilities to Autodesk civil products.

With Site Tools users can design and draft a site grading plan by automatically placing elevations at all the lot corners with correct location and rotation and create multiple 3D polylines for streets and curb returns and calculate earthworks.

Road Tools includes routines for design and drafting of alignments, cross-sections and profiles. With this product an engineer can label existing and proposed sections, calculate road widening, label plan information to profile and create and send Land Desktop sections or profiles to HEC-RAS.

The company's Survey Tools enhances drawing creation and the generation of stakeout files by letting a user create breaklines from descriptors, rotate catch basins to curb line, edit and view a 3D polyline, export drawing entities or Land Desktop alignments, profiles, sections and pipes to Sokkia, Leica, Geodimeter, TDS and Topcon data collectors.

Pipe Tools enhances sewer design with tools to export and import from Land Desktop pipes and Excel, updates rim elevations from profile, creates a network of pipes in 3D, and creates pipe object tables for GIS, pipe depth reports and pipe clearance tables.

To see these tools in action, go to the company Web site to view AVI movies that show each of these add-on tools. All routines work with Autodesk Land Desktop 2 and higher and some require Autodesk Civil Design.

See It To Believe It

Civil design software tools for this industry are robust and the competition is fierce. As with all specialized software, before you buy, be sure to see the software demonstrated on a real-world project (preferably your own).

H. Edward Goldberg, AIA, is a practicing licensed architect, industrial designer and AEC industry analyst. Ed's full-length book, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2005: A Comprehensive Tutorial (Prentice Hall) is now available ( Ed now offers customized online Architectural Desktop training sessions. Go to for more information or contact him at ed.

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