Best Software for Civil Workflows Explained

If you’ve been using Autodesk for a number of years, or have looked into getting new licenses recently, you’ve probably heard the term “Subscription” come up. Now sometimes that term incites confusion or unhappiness. The days of paying $X dollars to receive a disc in a well-designed colorful box are long over. That model of software purchasing died years ago. After that phase came the maintenance phase, where you can buy the software for $X dollars, but then you must pay more annually to keep it up-to-date. Others have adopted this new subscription model, Microsoft and Autodesk included, and it is fantastic.

Yes, I said fantastic. Let me explain why. The programming, engineering, support, and marketing that go into creating and maintaining software is extensive. The hour count alone would be a massive number, then throw on all the employee benefits and other operating costs. Like every other good or service, if you want quality, you must pay for it. Your business is no different. Your hourly rate is set at your level because the work you provide shows quality and value. Software is expensive, but it’s worth it, especially when you get a subscription.

You see, Autodesk doesn’t want you to subscribe to just Civil 3D anymore. You now get the AEC Collection. This is where the uncertainty comes in. People want Civil 3D and that’s it, they don’t feel that they need the collection. I am writing this blog to show you why it’s a good idea to get the package deal. It’s not just more bells and whistles, there’s a lot of value here when utilized properly. Plus, with the subscription you always have access to the latest and greatest versions with updates as soon as they are released. Need an older version? You’ll have access to those older versions as well if you need them on occasion.

This blog is focused on Civil workflows, and I’ll be honest, some of the software in the collection is simply not applicable to “normal” civil workflows. As Civil goes, we’re focused on everything but the building. Give us a footprint and connection points. We don’t care about paint colors, interior wall thicknesses, or how many BTUs your HVAC system can crank out in January. But as firms evolve and get more complex, it’s a matter of time until everything in the AEC collection is in use by professionals under the same roof.

Below I’ll provide an overview of each included program, then I’ll get into the interoperability between them and how you should be using these on every project. In alphabetical order, here are all the software components to the AEC Collection.

This blog is written by Jason Artley, LEED AP, Senior Technical Specialist at ATG. To contact Jason, call 1.800.935.4894, or email marketing@atgusa.com. 

Cloud based, internet accessible, and desktop connected fileshare. Send your clients a link and invite them to your drive to upload and download various files that are too large for email. With the desktop connector installed, you can access these files right from Windows Explorer. This is intended for smaller firms and individuals, but it works very well. I use this often to trade files with clients. Just use your existing Autodesk login at drive.autodesk.com

This isn’t civil related at all, but it certainly benefits architectural or structural firms creating visualizations for marketing or public engagement. It’s a Cloud based service for rendering high resolution still images (not video!) from Revit or 3DS Max. Rendering takes a substantial amount of computing power. Even if you’re on a BIMBOX, the fastest AEC workstation, it’s still going to take hours, and sometimes DAYS, to do a high-quality render. By harnessing the cloud, and using Autodesk Cloud Credits, you’ll have access to nearly infinite processing power. Reducing rendering time from hours to minutes.

Ah yes, the “Crown Jewel” of the Civil Engineering world. No more explanation needed. You are using Civil 3D right? Of course, Civil 3D is built upon AutoCAD and also includes Map3D.

Now built into Civil 3D 2021, this is an extremely powerful visual scripting tool for programming repeatable actions. This works in AutoCAD and Revit as well. If you have a need to do repetitive tasks, use Dynamo to do it for you. Then when the need arises, simply “run” the command. Remember Lisp? It’s 1000x more powerful.

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing. Luckily, we have some amazing talent here at ATG that know MEP. Most of us Civil folks don’t do anything with this. For these “inside the building” design tasks, Fabrication MEP can do wonders with your duct work and pipe routing.

This is Autodesk’s competitor to Trimble’s Sketchup. It’s easy to use, intuitive, and quite frankly, fun. Create simple shapes and then use more complex commands to add detail and parameters. This is Civil related! I’ll explain how below.

Intended for preliminary design, Infraworks is an amazing software for 3D modeling environments and exploring design concepts. This is one of my absolute favorites. Gather data from GIS, Civil3D, Revit, and others and combine them into an immersive model. Compare different design decisions, generate video visualizations, then export to Civil3D to finish the production work. Use it with Revit or bring in a point cloud from ReCap to generate terrain. This software is amazing!

Another one that is not intended for Civil. This is for modeling building performance using the computing power of the Cloud. It’s certainly interesting and powerful but isn’t going to help the civil workflow. In an above paragraph I joked about the BTUs the HVAC can pump out in January. Insight can do that. It’ll also model how far the warm air will spread from a certain vent in the system. It’ll quantify energy efficiency and solar performance. Amazing software, and I’m glad it exists, but doesn’t really help Civil. I’m sure there’s a way to utilize it, but it’s not common. Yet.

This program is a key component for the BIM workflow, and that means it absolutely has a place in the Civil world. Import your underground utilities and compare it to the existing utilities. Do the pipes clash? At any point are the lines within 2 feet of each other? Navisworks is designed to visualize these model components and compare them in the 5D workflow. Take your 3D model and add 2 new measurable dimensions, Time and Cost. Want to know how far along your project will be in June of 2021? Or how much the project should cost by August 12? Modeling the project schedule in Navisworks Manage can give you access to all this data.

Compiling, adjusting, and cleanup of Point Clouds has been made simple with ReCap Pro. Import your scan data, create your regions, then import the cloud data into Civil 3D or Infraworks. Absolutely civil related!

If Civil 3D is the crown jewel of Civil Design, then Revit is the crown jewel of architectural and structural design. This parametric, intuitive design program is a giant step up from lines and text in AutoCAD. If your civil firm crosses over into Bridge Design (another new function in Civil 3D 2021!) then you should be looking at Revit. It also has a great civil purpose and it’s not that difficult to learn.

Here’s another one that isn’t exactly Civil. This is used heavily in the structural space for analyzing structural loads and identifying problem areas. Simulate wind loads upon a building or verify your code compliance. This software advances the power of BIM-based design.

It’s all in the name! This software does what it says, it allows complex analysis of loading on small to medium bridge spans. It’s essentially the bridge version of Robot Structural Analysis Professional. If your civil firm cross over into bridges, this software is certainly worth deploying into your workflows.

Last but not least, this AutoTURN competitor runs on top of Civil 3D to generate parking lots, run swept path analysis, or creating complex roundabouts. This software is amazing and surprisingly easy to use. If you already subscribe to AutoTurn, you’re wasting money for it once you’re on the AEC Collection, since this can do everything AutoTurn can do, with more functions and easier use.

Now let’s explore some options on how to use them all in a Civil workflow.

Revit and Civil 3D actually work well together. You don’t need to know a lot about Revit to use this “common” workflow. A couple years ago, Autodesk released a Shared Reference Point utility that allows you to “share” a location and rotation between Revit and Civil. This ensures that the project is aligned properly on the correct coordinate system. We can open the Revit model, export the building outline into Civil 3D, and align it properly. Then we can use that Shared Reference Point utility to translate it back into Revit.

Infraworks is loaded with great city furniture to adding detail to your model. However sometimes you need something else, or a simple building or structure instead. Enter Formit. Create these simple 3D models and import them into Infraworks. When your preliminary design is done in Infraworks, export it into Civil3D and continue your plan production.

Vehicle Tracking runs inside of Civil 3D, so this one is even easier. Use it to layout parking areas (and use the report function to count the parking spaces!) then export from Civil 3D into Infraworks using .sdf/.shp files to draw realistic parking spaces in Infraworks.

Create a region in Recap that isolates the ground level from your Point Cloud. Then import that new Point Cloud into Infraworks where terrain can be generated and themed. You can even extract linear data from the point cloud (roadway striping, curb lines, etc) and then export that new surface and linework back into Civil 3D for final design.

Export your point cloud from Recap into Revit, where you can model the solids to generate a proper 3D building to insert into Infraworks. You’ll get exact dimensions and capture all of the unique features of the building to enhance the realism of your Infraworks model.

Export your Pipe Networks from Civil 3D, Export your Plumbing Objects from Revit, and Append them together in Navisworks to make sure they line up properly, in 3D. Not only will you see the horizontal and vertical alignment, you can match up the pipe sizes too.

Those examples were just a few ways the various tools can be used together in a Civil based workflow to elevate the design process. By really moving Civil Engineering to a model based (BIM) mindset, we can achieve smarter design with less errors, less confusion all while being more efficient than traditional methods.

We have experts here at ATG that would be happy to demonstrate how these workflows apply to your projects. If you’re on the AEC Collection already, or you’re considering switching to subscription, please reach out to us and see how we can help. We’re far more than just an Autodesk Reseller. Our Technical Specialists used to work in the trenches at firms just like yours. We understand your needs and can help you solve your day to day issues. Thank you for reading and stay tuned for future blogs, webinars, and user groups!

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