Autodesk Takes Schenectady County Engineers Digital

13 Feb, 2004 By: Cadalyst Staff

Land Desktop cuts response time by automating civil design tasks

In Schenectady, a relatively small county near the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers in upstate New York, the engineering department maintains about 200 miles of roads, 18 county bridges, eight miles of bike trails, the branch library system, an ice skating rink, and the county airport. After years of managing these projects in its traditional way-drafting by hand-the county's small engineering staff determined that approach was too time-consuming. Paul Sheldon, the department's senior civil engineer, said, "We were looking for efficiency. We needed to get more work done in less time to help the highway department." The department chose AutoCAD, Autodesk Land Desktop, Autodesk Survey, and Autodesk Civil Design to automate the design process and become more responsive to the community's public works needs.

From Three Days to 10 Minutes
Like other counties in central New York, Schenectady contends with harsh winters. -The engineering department sends out surveyors in mid- to late fall, then focuses on design during the winter. Before moving to Autodesk, surveyors at project sites took notes by hand, manually plotted the information, then spent several days drawing and copying plans. This approach used a lot of paper and made editing and collaborating on the emerging designs a challenge.

Now, survey data is entered electronically into a data collector, downloaded, and then plans are drawn on the computer.

"The change from doing it by hand to doing it on the computer was dramatic," stated Sheldon. "We went from about three days of work to about 10 minutes of work." He noted, "Simply avoiding the aggravation of doing the drawings by hand makes it worthwhile to get AutoCAD. Editing is much easier, too."

The team is pleased with the reduction in paper, the time saved at the drafting tables, and the ease of collaborating with other departments and outside consultants.

Automation also allows the county to archive and track projects indefinitely. The department can easily refer to drawings from other sources. This reduces duplication of work and creates a useful library.

"It has changed the way we do business," said Latimer Schmidt, director of the engineering department. "There's no going back to pen and ink or to electric erasers." The drafting is cleaner and "prettier." Producing CAD drawings also gives the department more credibility when it proposes projects to the county legislature for authorization and funding. One recently approved project is the county's 36,000-square-foot vehicle maintenance facility and offices.

A Sample Project
The $2.5 million replacement vehicle maintenance facility will serve as a garage for highway equipment. Construction began in mid-2003. The engineering department used AutoCAD to do most of the design work in-house. First, the team surveyed the property and then downloaded survey point data from data collectors to Autodesk Survey, where the points were converted into a base map. They then created contours using Autodesk Land Desktop's terrain menu list. Next, the team created a site layout and determined building location and site drainage. Schmidt created the structural building design, and Sheldon designed the interior. The only design elements outsourced were HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and plumbing.

Schenectady County engineers used AutoCAD and Land Desktop to design several side views of a new vehicle maintenance facility.

Architectural costs typically range from 6% to 8% of the total project cost. This means Schenectady County taxpayers realized a $125,000 savings in architectural fees from this four-person department's efforts.

Rapid Response and Collaboration
"Being responsive is part of our job," said Sheldon. Automating the engineering department enables it to respond quickly to requests from highway department supervisors who review the county's roads and bridges each quarter. A recent project request came in early one morning: an intersection needed to be relocated without going off the county's right-of-way. An engineer was expected in the field, ready to go, by 11 a.m. that same day. The department used Land Desktop to create and print a design in time to meet the deadline.

Another advantage is ease of collaboration. For example, when a survey is done by a third party, the department imports the data or drawings for later use in projects as diverse as air conditioning systems, room sizes, finished roofing designs, standard Department of Transportation sheets, and road work.

Future Challenges
The job of the engineering department is to get it right, every time, because mistakes affect public safety. Schenectady County's efforts to attract more small businesses, as it works to replace aging facilities and infrastructure, will likely increase pressures on the department. The team also faces the same challenge that engineers everywhere face--the ever-present "need for speed." Yet Schmidt believes that with the right combination of personnel, training, and tools, better designs are guaranteed.


About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

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