BIM to GIS: Getting Your Pipe Network into a Shape File 

One of the hot topics, particularly for me this year at Autodesk University, was the announcement of the partnership between Autodesk and ESRI, the makers of ArcMap, the prominent GIS software around the world. The goal is to add more interoperability between BIM and GIS. To get started today, I’m going to address at least one piece of that puzzle. In the infrastructure environment, more often than not that’s going to include pipe networks. With Civil 3D we already have the model-design workflow identified. We model pip networks in Civil 3D, push them to SSA, run the models and adjust the design, and then push them back to Civil 3D. But after the design, it’s important to get those pipe networks into our GIS for long term operational management.
Some people are aware of the Export Civil Object to SDF on the Output ribbon, but I don’t run across too many people who are familiar with the format. SDF is a Spatial Data File, and is a GIS format, but it is pretty much exclusive to Autodesk. It’s comparable to an ESRI personal geodatabase. It’s designed for a single user, and can carry multiple feature classes. The fact that it’s pretty much an Autodesk format stops most folks as other GIS systems don’t support it. It needs to be transformed to a more universal format.

So we’re going to convert it to a shape file, which is pretty much the de facto universal transfer format. The first step we do is get our pipe networks ready, and then go to the Output ribbon to select the Export Civil Objects to SDF command.



Then it opens the Export to SDF Dialog. It prompts for the new filename and location, and the projection you want to use for the data. Once you select OK, the export is completed. It doesn’t prompt you for which civil objects, as it will export all of them. Since the SDF file manages multiple feature types, they all go into the same file.



At this point I find it useful to connect to the data to review the results, and we’ll need the connection to get it to a shape file.

You’ll need to open the Map Task Pane either by changing to the Planning and Analysis Workspace, or turning on the Map Task Pane on the Home Tab.


Once the Task Pane is up select the Data icon at the upper left and select Connect to Data.


Be sure to select the Add SDF Connection, and then add a Connection Name, and then locate the SDF file you just created.



The different data sets come through from the possible civil object groups. All of the data sets will show even if you have no data in them. In our case we are going to select the pipes and structures and Add them to the Map. The data in the SDF file should now overlay the objects in your drawing. I find it’s a great way to verify all of the data came through.

Now we’ll want to go back to the Data Connections and this time use the Add SHP Connection and use the folder option and select the folder where you want to create the new shapefiles. Connect, but don’t add anything to the map.


Next we go back to the Data button on the Map Task Pane, and then select Bulk Copy.

The Bulk Copy dialog box is a bit confusing at first look, but is intuitive once you understand it.


The Source side is the original data set, and in this case, the SDF data with either the pipes or structures as layers.


The right side will be the new shape file. Select the checkbox for Structures (or Pipes) and all the lower boxes should get selected. These are the different attributes in the feature class.

In the target box, select the new shape folder connection name. Select the check box in the area below, and the names from the left box (the original SDF) will be copied over to the right side (the new shape file). I typically rename the Schema to Structures or Pipes to keep things clear – select the field and it should allow text editing. The other requirement is to change the Autogenerated_SDF_ID by selecting and retyping it to ID – The shapefile only allows field names up to 8 characters.

Select the Copy Now, and the new shape file gets created. Add it to the Task pane to compare and validate the copy. Use the same process to finish the other part of the networks (pipes or networks) and you now have a shapefile that can be incorporated to your enterprise GIS.

-Written by Rick Chappelle, ATG Industry Specialist

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