GIS Gets Civil — Civil 3D, That Is

28 Apr, 2010 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Easy import of AutoCAD Civil 3D data into a geographic information system (GIS) using FME from Safe Software is the key to cleaner, richer data for the Township of Langley.

As you likely know all too well, CAD and GIS are "format-rich" disciplines, to put it nicely. With a plethora of file formats — some of them proprietary — and evolving or nonexistent standards, headaches are bound to arise. It can be a daily struggle to move data among applications and coax a menagerie of file types into cooperation.

Data interoperability challenges like these are the raison d'etre for Safe Software's spatial ETL (extract, transform, and load) solution, FME. The 2010 release of FME, which arrived early this year, brought welcome news for anyone who works with AutoCAD Civil 3D data: It can now be translated and seamlessly integrated into geospatial information systems. This capability promises time and labor savings for organizations — such as utilities and municipalities — that must maintain as-built data in their GIS to meet federal asset-management requirements and provide field workers with up-to-date information.

In this screenshot from the FME Viewer, Civil 3D data is being read into FME before being loaded into the geodatabase. Image courtesy of Safe Software.

One such organization is the Township of Langley, located east of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Manager of Information Technology Steve Scheepmaker explained that the municipality — geographically larger than its population of roughly 100,000 would imply — must manage a significant amount of development. Langley maintains as-built data for water, storm water, sanitary, road infrastructure, and other civil engineering projects to comply with reporting requirements imposed by PSAB (Public Sector Accounting Board) 3150, the Canadian federal asset-management mandate.

Getting that data into Langley's GIS, however, is no small task. There are two data streams for projects like these — internally and externally generated — and both flow through Langley's Corporate Information Technology department, Scheepmaker explained. There, the data is subjected to quality control and added to the GIS. "We would get Mylar printouts of as-builts — and sometimes CAD files, depending on the consultant — but they were not consistently created," said Scheepmaker; elements might be spread across multiple CAD layers, for example. Wrestling with physical media and nonstandard files consumed many hours of staff time before the introduction of FME 2010.

The FME Workbench interface, showing a workspace that restructures the geometry and attributes for road alignments and coordinate geometry points and outputs the results to a geodatabase. Image courtesy of Safe Software.

Implementing a New Standard

"We've used FME for years to get data in and out of our GIS," said Scheepmaker. For example, the Township employed FME to transfer legacy map data when switching from MapInfo GIS to ESRI Enterprise GIS in 2005. The introduction of support for Civil 3D data, however, has expanded the ways in which Langley will use the Safe Software solution.

Just last week, Langley completed implementation of the Civil 3D MMCD (Master Municipal Construction Documents) standard. "The switch to MMCD-formatted data is going to be a big help for us," Scheepmaker said. "Adopting a universal standard really streamlines the process ... it will make everyone's lives a lot easier. We don't have to monkey with things as much to get the data [into the GIS]."

In addition to reducing human error and the amount of time staff members have to spend cleaning and importing data, the new standard will improve the dataset's richness. Attribute data, such as pipe diameters and invert elevations, will be retained alongside spatial information. "We could always store attribute data within CAD files, but it was more cumbersome to get at," said Scheepmaker. "The Civil 3D approach makes all that information readily available, and it's organized properly."

And the implementation is expected to yield yet another benefit: more timely data for field workers. Up-to-date information is important for utility employees working on various forms of infrastructure, and it's essential for emergency services personnel handling a crisis. Langley is currently implementing GIS tools that are to be deployed on laptop computers in its fire trucks, Scheepmaker noted.

Going Citywide

This Civil 3D implementation is currently limited to Langley's Survey and Design & Construction departments, which will serve as a kind of test case for the municipality. According to Scheepmaker, the project will hopefully scale out to include other areas of the organization as well. "It would basically become our corporate standard [at that point]," he explained.

Based on his experience with FME and this implementation project in particular, Scheepmaker shared some advice for other municipalities dealing with similar issues. "Regardless of the size of the organization, there is a lot of value [in compiling city data in a GIS]. ... Always try to adopt industry-standard tools — if you can make that information flow seamlessly between them, there's a lot of savings up for grabs."

Editor's Note: FME 2010 supports Civil 3D 2009 and earlier. Just as we were putting the finishing touches on this article, Safe Software announced AutoCAD Map3D 2011 support through the release of FME 2010 Service Pack 1 (SP1). FME is the first commercial product to extend AutoCAD Map3D's capabilities through FDO 3.5, facilitating an uninterrupted upgrade path for users, according to the company.

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