Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Blocked Subassembly Packet Files

Have you ever received a packet files from a source only to find that you get an error message when you try to use it in Civil 3D?
Well I did and got this error message:
So it pops up in Google searches it says:

Error: Unable to run the subassembly script.
The problem arose for me because Windows had blocked the packet file. This blocking carried over when I imported the subassembly into Civil 3D. To fix this go into Windows Explorer, Right click on the packet file, and choose Properties.
At the bottom of the General tab there might be a checkbox (or button) that indicates Unblock. Either check the check box (or press the button) and then press Ok. This will unblock the packet files.
Unfortunately, you are not done at this point. Two more steps need to be done.

  • Open the packet file in Subassembly Composer and then save it. 
  • Then delete the previously imported subassemblies from this folder: C:\ProgramData\Autodesk\C3D 2017\enu\Imported Tools\

Now when you import the packet file into Civil 3D again it should work correctly.

Friday, November 13, 2015

SincPac: Wall Profiles

One thing I hated doing was creating wall profiles for retaining walls. Since Civil 3D requires profile PVIs to have different station values, it becomes tedious to ensure each PVI has a small gap between them. Then there is the other constraint of wanting even steps. If it is a block wall being 8” or for concrete retaining walls 1’ or 2’. Back in the day, around 2008, I wrote a command that did this in VBA, but I promptly lost the code when switching jobs. Recently I was given the task of once again creating wall profiles and found the process not improved by Autodesk. So I decided to write the command once more. Here is a video of the command in action:

The command will be available in a future version of the SincPac.

Want more information and going to Autodesk University? Then stop by the Quux Software at Booth 11. Enter the Exhibit Hall, make a right, grab then food and/or beverage, and then talk to Jeff. Tell him Christopher sent you.


SincPac Sewer Lateral Command

What is BIM? I think it should be something that enables you to do your job better. If it’s something that just sits there until you tell it specifically what to do then it’s crappy BIM. Civil 3D pipes fit exactly in the sweet spot of crappy BIM. I’m all about wanting BIM, wanting software that helps you along towards your goal instead of making you do all of the work. That’s why exactly why I wrote a command that links a lateral to a main line pipe as shown in this video.

Well I didn’t really write the command to fix crappy BIM, since this was before Autodesk told me to expect BIM from Civil 3D. I wrote it because I saw the need for an automated process when doing 200+ lot subdivisions. I also had little programming experience when writing this command. I essentially learned how to program while writing this command. I took the Civil 3D samples found in VBA and modified them. I saw in other programs that you could have it automatically update to changes and so learned how to do that and incorporated it into the command. So I essentially beat Autodesk to writing this desired feature by numerous land development designers.

Want this feature today? Then check out the SincPac. If you wait for Autodesk to provide this basic functionality you might be waiting for an extremely long time.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Free Certification Training or Free Advertising?

Heading to Autodesk University this year? Well then while you are there you might want to take a Certification Test to show that you have the basic skills necessary to use the software.

Worried about not knowing what you need to know to pass? Then check out the offering from Ascent and CADLearning who are partnering to provide free prep materials. I haven’t checked them out, but you might want to.

More from their press release:

ASCENT- Center for Technical Knowledge Partners with CADLearning to Provide Free Autodesk Certification Preparation Materials

Thirty Days of Free Online Access to ASCENT’s Official Certification Preparation eBooks and CADLearning’s Video Content is the Stress-Free way to Prepare for Autodesk Certification

OWINGS MILLS, MD — November 3, 2015 — Rand Worldwide (OTCBB: RWWI), a global leader in providing technology solutions to organizations with engineering design and information technology requirements, today announced that its courseware division,ASCENT- Center for Technical Knowledge, is partnering with 4D Technologies to provide free access to their Autodesk Certification Preparation content online for a limited time. The new online certification preparation portal includes Official Certification Preparation content by ASCENT and rich CADLearning video courses by 4D. These materials, available for free from November 3 to December 3, will ensure an unrivalled learning experience for those taking certification exams at Autodesk University 2015 in Las Vegas.

“Both ASCENT and 4D have provided free access to their content onsite at Autodesk University for a number of years, but cramming at the last minute while attending an eventful conference is not ideal,” says Paul Burden, director of product development, ASCENT. “We want to give certification candidates the best possible chance of success, so we’re now offering learners the option to study where and when they want for a full month, right up until the end of Autodesk University. Free access to ASCENT’s Official Certification Preparation eBooks and industry-leading CADLearning video courses will help end-users of all learning styles understand the key topics and objectives required to achieve certification.”

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ASCENT’s free offering includes six Official Certification Preparation eBooks:

  • AutoCAD 2016: Review for Certification
  • AutoCAD Civil 3D 2016: Review for Certification
  • Autodesk Inventor 2016: Review for Certification
  • Autodesk Revit 2016 Architecture: Review for Certification
  • Autodesk Revit 2016 MEP: Review for Certification
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ASCENT- Center for Technical Knowledge develops professional training courseware and technical documentation for engineering applications including those from Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes and PTC. ASCENT is an Authorized Author, Publisher and Developer of Autodesk curriculum and the sole provider of Autodesk Official Training Guides. ASCENT training guides, eBooks and Instructor Tools are available to educational institutions and training centers, individuals and corporations and can be purchased directly from the ASCENT eStore (for volume sales, contact an ASCENT representative). For more information visit the ASCENT website and follow ASCENT on Twitter at @ASCENT_CTK.

About CADLearning
CADLearning’s comprehensive, self-paced professional learning content is designed to maximize performance with Autodesk 2D and 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. Users leverage CADLearning for self-paced learning, as an ongoing resource, and as a help tool. CADLearning is developed by 4D Technologies, LLC. Visit to learn more.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why Can’t Your Civil 3D Do This?

Sorry no fancy graphics or videos created by me showing Civil 3D in action. Instead I’ve borrowed videos created by the Autodesk Technical Marketing Managers and provided links to them.

  • Can your Civil 3D have pipes that interact with each other? After all don’t we provide crossing pipe labels to ensure we have enough space between pipes? Why doesn’t Civil 3D provide the ability to have your sewer pipes stay at least 18” from the water line? Why does Civil 3D make you look at labels in profile view to verify the spacing?
  • Can your Civil 3D know when it runs into itself? Well unfortunately it doesn’t. Have two crossing baselines? Well Civil 3D will force you to split a corridor region, create an intersection, then delete regions you really don’t need. I know Autodesk knows what to do when walls intersect each other as shown in Revit, so why not have the similar behavior in Civil 3D?
  • Improved survey collection or surveying George Washington would recognize? It’s been around 266 years since a young George Washington was appointed official surveyor of Culpeper County. In the past 266 years we’ve gone from using paper and pencil to connect surveyed points to having a computer connect dots for us. Seems to me if Civil 3D was forward looking those surveyed points would connect and produce a 3d model of curbs, gutters, pavements, and fences. Why can’t Civil 3D create 3D objects from surveyed points? Well the obvious answer is Civil 3D doesn’t have real world objects. (Yes, the topic of the video doesn’t match my comments, but then again the link I used from the Autodesk didn’t match the link either.)
  • Why no mentioning of the best data shortcut feature improvement in Civil 3D 2016? Probably because it was my idea (yes, many other users also had this idea, probably you the reader). I spent numerous hours advocating for the removal of the annoying dialog box that asked you to save the drawing, even though it was previously saved. Did you see John pan in the drawing and then easily create data shortcuts? It made the video a lot nice to watch without him having to stop, explain why he needed to save the drawing, and then move on to the next step. It took way too much effort on my part to get rid of the dialog box. Then why hasn’t your Civil 3D gotten rid of the other annoying places where that save dialog box shows up, even though the drawing already has been saved? Sorry, fellow users I ran out of free time to advocate for the removal of the other dialog boxes. Feel free to hound Autodesk into removing the other instances of the warning save dialog box that isn’t necessary.
  • Why can’t your Civil 3D objects make the round trip directly between Civil 3D and Infraworks? Wow, the same product can open it’s own file. Is that revolutionary? I’ve been doing this for years using Excel, AutoCAD, and Word. It’s almost like Autodesk is marketing to me as this feature is being revolutionary. You know what would really be revolutionary? A world where a company builds a product from scratch and has it consume the input files natively. Like have Infraworks read in a Civil 3D file, modify the Civil 3D file’s alignments, and then when you open the Civil 3D file in Civil 3D have the alignment show the revisions. The current process feels like an afterthought, where whoever designed the product had no idea people would want interoperability that is quick and easy. I guess we are stuck with a convoluted process. In fact I often teach in an environment where two software products are used that require an export to go from one to the other. Guess what the reaction is? If you guessed the number one answer is that sounds stupid, you would be correct. I usually have to explain that they really have the best Civil 3D workflow ever. They export out of Civil 3D into a dumb drawing, add labels, and then print. They get rid of the worst part of Civil 3D in it’s bloated overhead when printing out. After all who wants to wait 4+ hours to print out a 100+ page plan sheet when it can be done at a fraction of the time in the other product. 

Are these ideas revolutionary? Or do they seem like they would be common sense and that a company with a $600 million per year research and development budget should be able to afford to implement in less than a year or two? I know my $20,000 research and development budget isn’t enough for a year or two turn around.

I’ve announced it on twitter, but you can buy this blog and my twitter account for a low price of $600,000. This is from a reduced price of $750,000 from earlier this month!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Corridor Slope Stake Report–Through XREF

Ever want to run a corridor slope stake report through an XREF? Want it as the same format as the current Civil 3D report? Well if the answer is yes to both questions then you will want to use this post from way back in April that I did.

If the answer was yes to the first one and no to the second one then you will want to download the Civil 3D 2016 Transportation Extension from the website and check out that one out. The format of the report may be found below:


I missed the documentation portion of the extension, but there are some hidden gems in it that you can utilize with a little drawing setup. For instance if you want to auto populate the values the report like shown below you can.


The values are pulled from the Drawing Properties, under the Custom Tab. Add the appropriate name and the report will then pull the values from them. To run Drawings Properties type DWGPROPS at the command line. Then add the custom properties. This is what I have used to fill them in:


I did miss one in the above list and that is Author, this will fill in the Author text box.

I personally think these features are genius to have for a report, but that might just because I suggested them and ended up having to write the code for getting the corridor through the XREF for the report. No word on if Autodesk will add the corridor XREF code to the out of the box slope stake report.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Are you Frustrated by Using Civil 3D to it’s Fullest?

John Sayre over at BIM on the rocks as a new post asking “Are you Using Civil 3D to its fullest?”

Here are my top five things that suck by using Civil 3D that is costing you money. Evidently Autodesk thinks they should spend resources telling you how awesome there product is instead of fixing it and I’m here to tell you how it sucks when you use Civil 3D to it’s fullest.

1. Stage Storage

Well BIM is in the title of John’s blog, you’d think he’d at least mention the BIMlessness of the Stage Storage tool that is costing you time and money. Let me clue you in if you don’t use Civil 3D to it’s fullest there is NO basin object in the program. What does that mean? Instead of designing a basin that knows it’s dimensions, water capacity, and freeboard we are left with creating a surface or offset polylines. The Stage Storage tool then analyzes the ENTIRE surface or polylines you select. That means Civil 3D is wasting your time having you to either have a separate surface just to do the basin.

Want to do a design change. Yep, if you’ve used Civil 3D to the fullest then you know that you have to run the command again, export out the data from the tool, and then type in those values in a separate  analysis program. For the Stage Storage tool doesn’t actually have the ability to do those calculations. Seems to me a BIM program would have this capability, after all the Mechanical Engineers can analyze air flow in a buildings room in Revit.

2. Style Creation

If you are using Civil 3D to it’s fullest then you have experienced the nightmare of creating and modifying styles that is costing you time and money. Why not have a graphical selection of the various components to labels? Well that would be to easy. Now you get to wade through a possibly long list of items to change and often times change the wrong values.

Use Reference text and want to check what it looks like? Well Civil 3D makes you waste your time by exiting out of the dialog box, see what the change is, and then go back in make any changes. For Civil 3D thinks ??? is an appropriate look for reference text components. I think it’s wasting my time and costing me money.

3. Overly Burdensome Corridor Creation Workflow

Ever use a corridor to it’s fullest in Civil 3D? Well then you’ve probably experienced the random screw ups that the corridor costing you money. That random corridor feature line that decides it doesn’t want to connect to the next section and instead go to some seemingly random location. Or the way you can’t quite get it to go across the centerline for median work. For at sometime someone decided that feature lines shouldn’t cross the baseline which in turns costs you money and time coming up with workarounds to a common design feature in roadways.

4. Select Corridor Targets from an Xref

Sure when it works Select Corridor Targets from an Xref sounds good, but in practice not so much. Get into work and find that since you had to update some linework your targets now have a different handle and bam all of your hard work goes down the drain costing you time and money.

5. Pipe Networks

What a mess here in pipe networks costing you tons and tons of time and money. Want to place a pipe network for a sewer at 0.3% minimum slope and your road slopes at 0.5%. You’d think you would place the pipe network and then Civil 3D would follow the road. But you’d be wrong because someone at Autodesk decided the slopes need to be solved to the 1% place. That means you’ll quickly find your self manually moving pipes and structures to get the slope values you set in the pipe rules because Civil 3D will give you slopes at 0.3%, 1.3%, 2.3%, 3.3%, etc… A ton of time wasting Civil 3D is costing you money.

Want to go up a pipe run at a particular slope, a common task? Well Civil 3D is costing you money since Autodesk has decided you only need to place the pipes and structures once and shouldn’t have tools to easily change the slopes and elevations of the pipe networks. Civil 3D is costing you money.

Want to swap parts in a pipe network? Well Autodesk has decided it should cost you money big time. For you have a large project and need to change 50 pipes from 8” to 10”. Well congratulations you get to run the SwapPart command 50 times for a task that should be done in 10 seconds. Want to swap parts in a pressure network, well if you are using Civil 3D to the fullest you get the privilege of deleting the the parts and recreating them costing you money.

6. Add Feature Line PI

John provided a sixth item, so I will to. Adding PI’s to feature lines is costing you money when Civil 3D decides it cannot. Here are two posts illustrating the issue:

2008: Inserting PI into Feature Line jumps ship
2014: Feature Line - "Error inserting PI"

Yep, the issue has been costing us users who use Civil 3D to it’s fullest since 2008 and it’s still not fixed. I doubt it’s even on the list.

Want more info on how Civil 3D is costing it’s users money see and join the conversation in this forum post.

Many of these time consuming tasks have been automated by third party applications:

Steltman Tools
RedTransit Consultants

Plus you are likely to get bug fixes measured in months instead of years. Where as Autodesk and Civil 3D’s fixes are often measured in years if they are fixed at all despite a multi hundred million research and development budget.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Southern California Edison Layer Template

This link has an AutoCAD 2009 template with the Southern California Edison Layers already created. It also includes a Layer Filter Properties that contains the list of SCE layers. The file is provided as is and may not even be correct. Double check the current SCE layers list, but as long as they don’t change it too much it might be or might not be a good place to start.

If you want to check to make sure you’ve got all of the layers converted to the SCE layers you can right click on a layer in the SCE Layers Filter and choose Invert Layer Filter.


Thursday, September 03, 2015

Civil 3D Development Time Survey

I’m looking for survey responses:

The survey is to figure out how long you think it takes to do these commands. Once the survey is done I’ll post the results as well as how long it actually took me to program it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Sometimes you want to do stuff in Civil 3D that isn’t readily apparent how to accomplish. One case where I’ve seen often is where you know where your daylight line is going to be, but don’t know where your HP should be located at. The image below is one such instance. I know where I want to daylight at, the TOP of Existing Slope Feature Line, and I know I want to have it slope towards my ditch at 2% and then down to the left flow path at 2:1.

In order to get this to work I’ll want to use the LinkSlopeBetweenPoints, a marked point, and a LinkWidthAndSlope.


Make sure to add the MarkedPoint Before the LinkSlopeBetweenPoints.

Here are the values used. Make sure to use the same Marked Point value, in my case BottomLeft.



The set the LinkWidthAndSlope to the top of existing breakline for the elevation and horizontal target. You might need to play with the slopes since I didn’t check it for this post.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Pipe Network Layer Blues

Why is Civil 3D hard to use? Well I’m guessing it’s because Autodesk user’s identify issues and then see them not resolved. One such issue I came across is data shortcut layers for pipe networks.

So what is wrong with data shortcut layers for pipe networks? Well you only get once chance to get the data shortcutted pipes and structures on the correct layer. For when you import a datashortcut Civil 3D will assign the layer that is in the Object Layers in Drawing Settings. Don’t waste your time hitting the layers button on the pipe network data shortcut dialog box, because while Civil 3D will set the correct value on creation, on a Synchronize magically they will be reset back to the layer in the Object Layers and wipe out all of that hard work you just did. Half way through your project and you realize you didn’t put them on the correct layer? Well your out of luck because in order to get them updated you have to:

  • Delete them,
  • change the Object Layer,
  • import the pipe network as a data shortcut, then
  • add the pipes and structures to the profile views, and then
  • add/update the labels.

Wow, that seems like a ton of unnecessary rework when the steps should be to select the pipe and structures and use the Layer Drop Down in AutoCAD properties or on the ribbon.

Why is Civil 3D hard to use? Because Autodesk doesn’t care about you the user to fix these issues. It has little to do with user interface, but that seems to be where Autodesk focuses their attention on. I think since Civil 3D 2007 the Pipe Network Icon has been changed at least 5 times. How many times has this issue been fixed? None.

The help file doesn’t even let you know of this issue:

If you don’t believe this, here is a video showing the results I’m seeing.

I’m sure we’ll see this fixed between 6 months and never. I’d bet the answer is closer to never since I’m sure the UI will need to be redone first for 2017, 2018, 2019 ….

Monday, August 24, 2015

Civil 3D is Now Officially Built on AutoCAD Architecture

Way back when; Civil 3D was quasi acknowledged to be built on top of AutoCAD Architecture Desktop. If you felt that Profile Views are just fancy floor plan grid lines then you felt correct. Unfortunately with earlier releases of the program most of the Architecture commands where stripped out of the program. Try to draw a window in Civil 3D you’d get a command not found message. Now there is a way to add those commands back in, just install AutoCAD Architecture on the same machine as Civil 3D.

Want to create slope lines between two lines? Then use the Escarpment command.

Image Source

Want to draw a wall, go ahead and use the wall command. Want to draw a window within that wall? Then use the window command. Want to create window styles? Then use the WindowStyle command.

You can even see that it’s official on the about product information after installing AutoCAD Architecture. 


Any command that doesn’t show up requires loading the appropriate program file from the C:\Program Files\Autodesk\AutoCAD 2016\ACA folder. There are even the cui file you’d need to get a ribbon, although my license had expired so I couldn’t get the profile from AutoCAD Architecture to test it out to make sure it worked.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pipe Label–Dimension Look

A long time ago I did this post about getting a pipe label to look like a dimension.

It works as long as the pipe is on the alignment or equidistant from the alignment. If it isn’t then the dimension lines don’t match. In order to fix this we can modify the expression listed in the other post to:

ABS(({Pipe Start Station}-{Pipe End Station})/2/{Drawing Scale Conversion})

The rest of label is the same. Here is a link to the drawing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Expressions and Cross Sections

Civil 3D can be fairly complicated at times. Often times lots of work may need to be done in order to get stuff to look correct. Take this image for instance. SNAGHTML19f7bf3

The arrows are pointing in the wrong direction and the slope labels are not consistent if we want the lane to show a constant slope value of –2%. To fix this we need to create some expressions or use some that are already available.

The first expression is the Grade Check Expression. This can be found in the _AutoCAD Civil 3D (Metric) NCS.dwt template. If you don’t have it the expression value is:

IF({Link Grade}<0,0,pi)

This will rotate the arrow to the downslope and is placed in the Rotation Angle of the label component.


The next expression is to label the slope the same for both sides. This will use an expression to see if the slope is positive and then multiply the grade by 1 or –1 to get the desired slope.

IF({Link Grade}>0,-1,1)*{Link Grade}

Then add the expression to the text component.


I’d use a label name to apply to what code you want to change, in my case Flat Grades-Pave. Then in the code set style apply the correct label style to the link code.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Codes Based on Color

It would be great to visualize stuff in corridors based on their properties, such as length or offset from the centerline. Unfortunately Autodesk doesn’t agree and haven’t implemented the ability to create expressions to set how a link or point shows up in a corridor.

We can create this feature by either programming our own custom subassembly or using Subassembly Composer . The way I’d solve this in Subassembly Composer would be to create a temporary point and link. Using the temporary point and Link I’d then get the length of the link by using AP1.Length and then create a Define Variable to control what code should be used:


Then in Civil 3D I then add my link codes to the corridor code set style and Civil 3D should show the appropriate colors set in Subassembly Composer.

Here is a link to a Subassembly Composer subassembly that shows what it takes.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why Should Land Desktop be Brought Back? Because Civil 3D and Infraworks are Broken

Over at BIM on the Rocks Karen Weiss argues why Land Desktop shouldn’t be brought back. This blog post is why she is wrong and Land Desktop should be brought back.
The main reason to bring Land Desktop back is that both Civil 3D and Infraworks are broken when it comes to production work. Why go to products that are inherently broken? Civil 3D often causes more rework than it initially saved in having dynamic labels. Infraworks is broken because it is a predominately a Garbage in Garbage Out product that makes pretty pictures.


When you placed a label in Land Desktop it stays at that location with accurate contents. Sure if a design change happened you had to change the label. After using Civil 3D for nearly a decade I’ve often been bit by Civil 3D deciding the label where I placed originally should be moved. So now Civil 3D has decided my 2% minimum slope label needs to go label an area where it needs to be 1% minimum or in a profile I need to label a begin curve PVI from plan geometry and I simply add a PVI to indicate a mid point on  a plan view curb and magically my profile label has moved down the profile in the middle of line making my BC label look way out of whack. At this point Land Desktop has Civil 3D beat.
Another example is if I decide to modify my curb width in a parking lot surface with having them stay the same elevation, guess what I have to do in Civil 3D? If you guessed move each and every TC/FL/FS label then you have guessed correctly. I change my surface, now I have to go back and move each and everyone of those $#)@!#L$5 labels. Even though Karen says model based design is necessary, Autodesk has clearly forgotten to implement the model based design. For if Autodesk had a model based product wouldn’t my labels automagically move with the design change?
Surely if Civil 3D or Infraworks was a model based design then those labels would be tied to the model I’m supposed to be creating to save me time? If it’s just killing my time, then it obviously not worth the time to learn Autodesk’s supposed model based design.


Ever print a large set of plans from Civil 3D? Want to live in the 1990’s for printing speed? Then go ahead and use Civil 3D. A large plan set from Land Destop can be printed in a time frame measure in minutes. Well Civil 3D? Well you better hope you don’t have any changes, such as adding sheets to the plan, because you’ll be measuring your print time in hours. Like you just missed your deadline by days because it takes 4 hours to print your 90 page set of plans.

Model Based Design

I’m not seeing model based design in Civil 3D or Infraworks. Just yesterday I helped a novice Civil 3D and Infraworks user move his design from old AutoCAD (not even Land Desktop) based workflow to Infraworks. Not once did I say you need to turn this into a pavement object, or this into a stripping object, or this into an inlet, or this into a PCC Pad, or sidewalk. It was take your contours turn them into essentially a Land Desktop surface and then bring that surface into Infraworks. You know that pavement you want to see in Infraworks. Yeah, your parking lots are just dumb polylines indicating the area of materials to be applied and just show the surface as a different material called a coverage area. Now, why would you expect an Civil 3D/Infraworks MODEL to have pavement thicknesses to calculate accurate quantities? Well of course because Karen is writing articles for model based design on software that doesn’t really do model based design. So the lesson here is you don’t even need Civil 3D to bring design data into Infraworks, yes AutoCAD is just as good as Civil 3D in creating a model in Civil 3D. This should show you how little modeling there is required in Civil 3D and Infraworks.
I’m fairly certain he didn’t even need to convert the polylines to a Civil 3D surface. He could have just brought in the polylines as coverages not draped to a surface and they would have created the surface in Infraworks.
Why move to Civil 3D and Infraworks? I guess the real question is why not move to Land Desktop and Infraworks? Because there is little difference between a Civil 3D/Infraworks pair and a Land Desktop/Infraworks pair.
If Autodesk wants to change my mind then they need to give us all the ability to model with actual objects we are designing. Curbs, pavement, gutter, sidewalk, landscaping, etc…. Until then please stop posting about these imaginary model based products Autodesk has for site civil engineers. If they do this then I’d probably stop posting about Autodesk not having Model Based software products.
I really would Autodesk would focus on the Model and not empty marketing.

[Edit: This post is mostly tongue in cheek.]

Monday, July 27, 2015

Section Line

This video shows how to create an alignment labels that look like sections going across in plan view.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Subassembly Composer Targets Sucks

When using Subassembly Composer you quickly realize that targets suck big time. The call to check if they are valid is .IsValid. Unfortunately this only checks to see if it was assigned to the region, not if the target was found at a particular section. This has disastrous results when trying to do a design, because the cause of the issue isn’t readily identified. Often times an error message is sent to the Event Viewer, but you think your SAC is correct since you included the check for .IsValid.

In order to get around this pain in the butt, since Autodesk appears to have no inclination to correct the call, is to create an Auxiliary point that uses the target. If the elevation of the Auxiliary point is a dummy value we will enter then the target isn’t present and we should adjust for it, if an elevation is found that will then mean the target is there and should be used.

The first thing we need to add to our subassembly is an Auxiliary point that is from the origin or any other point.


Then add in another Auxiliary Point that is going to go from AP1 down to –1000, unless it finds the target in which case it will have the correct elevation.


Then we need to add in a Define Variable to get the elevation value. I used this formula and name. Although you can use a decision or something else to get your design intent.


Disclaimer I did not test this particular subassembly, my math may not work and I might need to adjust the expression to be what the actual value is. But the concept is sound and I’ve used it in other subassembies.

Convert Profile from File or Surface to Profile from Layout

For some unexplained reason Autodesk has decided to prevent you, the user, from changing the profile data source type. This can be extremely frustrating when you want run reports on profiles originally sampled from a surface that is now static, or imported from a file. Or when you want to tie the profile to the alignment geometry changes that where added in Civil 3D 2015.

The easy way to solve this is to use the SincPac’s feature to convert a profile from surface to one by layout.

The harder way is to create a dummy profile by layout. Create a profile by layout and there is no reason to add data to it. Next select the profile you want to convert to a Profile by Layout profile. Instead of creating a new profile when doing the copy, overwrite the profile data.


Now you have a copy of the profile with it being by layout instead of the original source data.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Subassemblies on Ribbon

I encountered something pretty cool recently. I saw subassemblies being accessed from the ribbon. It makes it way easier to find the appropriate subassembly in an easily accessible place and doesn’t require a Toolpallette that can take up some space on the screen.

The way it is accomplished is to use something similar to this line for the macro:


The TPNAVIGATE part lets us open up the ToolPallettes. The curbs indicates the tab we want to go to. The _AECRIBBONTOOL lets you access the ToolPallettes and appears to come from Architecture. The next part is to select the subassembly you want to use and then close the tool pallettes.

Then repeat the process until all of the subassemblies you want are on the ribbon. Remember you can create dropdowns to help organize them. So you can have a Curbs Pannel with drop downs for your type of curbs and a separate drop down for sidewalks. I think it is pretty nifty.


You’ll probably also want to use the correct image for the subassemblies. You will find them in this folder, making sure to replace the user name:

C:\Users\<REPLACE USER NAME>\AppData\Roaming\Autodesk\C3D 2015\enu\support\ToolPalette\Palettes\Images\

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Benching Subassembly

Sometimes creating benching between lots can be problematic. Grading is essentially out of the question based on the overhead it creates in a drawing, especially on large projects. One solution to this is to use a corridor along the back of lots where they abut each other. This provides for getting a quick solution to see what the grading will look like, do preliminary quantities, and then at the end clean up the corners or empty spaces. Usually grading codes specify how the slopes should be graded. In one area it might be the higher pad gets a larger pad and then the lower lot gets the slope on their property or the opposite way. One can create a custom subassembly to automate this process.

The way I solved it was by creating two profile targets, because Civil 3D sucks and won’t allow us users to grab elevation data from a horizontal target. I started with a slope direction factor so I can figure out which way it the subassembly needs to build. To do this I make the user select the right pad elevation and then left side. If the left pad is higher in my scenario then the direction is to the right, or positive one. If the right pad is higher than I get a negative one and the slope goes to the left. I then create a dummy point of AP1 because I don’t like building form origin and then make the decision on the elevation of the bench start point. I find the higher target and then put P1 on that location. I then build the slope using the slope provided by the user and the direction dictated by the pad elevation target elevations.

Here is a link to what I did: Back of Lot Subassembly


Monday, June 01, 2015

Project Approach Validation

No one knows everything about everything about Civil 3D. This is especially true of new users or users who haven’t had a large amount of projects to gain knowledge about the software. Occasionally I’m called into fix a Civil 3D project and wish I could have been there sooner to streamline the process at the start instead of midstream on a project. Often times a large portion of project time for a project is spent trying to come up with a design solution using Civil 3D tools. When I start a new project these are the things I like to think about.

  • What typical section is the project going to utilize? This involves looking at the design requirements and coming up with an assembly that will meet those criteria. If available a quick corridor is created to validate if the assembly will meet most of projects requirements. If needed an approach will also be created for retaining walls or tying into existing features. This phase is primarily making sure we pick the correct assemblies to get the job done.
  • Is phasing going to be utilized on the project? This involves understanding if phasing is going to be required. For most projects this is ignored and left up to the contractor to figure out. On larger projects designs are needed to account for each phase of the project. If financing is important to the project then each phase needs to have accurate quantities and how is the user going to put all of the features together. Often a workflow diagram is useful for coming up with an approach on how to design the project and help decide how to split up the Civil 3D drawings.
  • Is customization appropriate for the project? Often times customization is appropriate for a project. If the roadway is in a previously developed area a custom subassembly may be required in order to ensure the sidewalk meets ADA requirements. In an older business district the curb height may need to be variable in order to meet the minimum 2% sidewalk slope. In these cases the elevation needed to tie into the existing buildings is more important than maintaining a constant 2% cross slope on the roadway. A custom subassembly may provide for an easy solution for this. If a custom solution isn’t allowed then the ability to think outside the box is helpful to solve this problem. Since the roadway subassembly will probably need to use an advanced approach to solve the problem.
  • Does the staff have the resources to complete the project? Often times training ends up going in one ear and out the other. In talking with users it can become apparent that additional help is required for those users. Identifying it from the beginning can provide an opportunity to provide support for those users. Checking in with the users periodically will prevent wasted time where users are spinning their wheels attempting to figure out what to do next.

I’d suggest having a team meeting to validate the project approach. This also provides for a time to get buy in on the project and approach. The approach may change as time goes on, but with a good starting point I’ve found there is less time coming up with how we should solve the problem.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Slope Stake Report Through XREF

Have you ever wanted to run the slope stake report on a corridor through an XREF? Well I have and I now am giving way the a version of the report that does just that. Here is a link to a dll and the source code:

The dll has been tested on Civil 3D 2014 and Civil 3D 2015, and should work on Civil 3D 2013. To get the report to run download and unzip the file. Go into

C:\ProgramData\Autodesk\C3D 2015\enu\Data\Reports\Net

Replace the 2015 with appropriate year you want to save replace the standard Civil 3D report.

Next rename the C3DReport.dll file to something else or move it to another location. This way if the report doesn’t work you can simply remove my version and replace it with the original.

Now go into the downloaded zip file and find the C3DReport.dll and copy it to the above location where the old report dll file was located at.

That should be it. The next time you run the slope stake report it should use the new report and allow you to run the slope stake report through an xref.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Civil BIM

I'm looking for some votes and ideas over at the Infraworks Idea Station. I'm looking for a focus on Civil BIM features. Currently I find Infraworks greatly lacking on BIM and I figure the best way to get those features is to muster a Civil BIM Army to advocate for it. Who's up for the easy challenge of either contributing ideas or upvoting with Kudos?

I've already posted a few and will post some more. I'm looking to design with actual objects such as curb and gutter, sidewalk, pavement, and more!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Civil BIM Hydrology

Civil BIM shouldn’t revolutionize hydrology and hydraulic, calculations but allow us to easily extract the information to calculate the values required to do the calculations. Any Civil BIM product should provide the flexibility to do the calculations as required by the local agency’s hydrology manual. For this post I’m using the LA County Hydrology Manual and the San Diego County Hydrology Manual for examples on how I would expect the work flow to work.

First the model would be created by actual civil objects. Curb and gutters, pavement, concrete swales, grass swales, vegetated swales, etc…. Each one of these objects would be able to have the ability to communicate with the objects around them and with themselves. For instance the pavement object would know where it’s grade breaks are and where that water is flowing to. Often times in the real world this curb and gutter (or any other type of object). The pavement would communicate to the curb and gutter what area of water flows to it, the C or CN values, plus any other objects that contributed flow to the pavement object. May be there is a cut slope and water flows from offsite to onsite and the pavement object would add the information to the pavement object and then onto the curb and gutter object.  The final output from this would be an exhibit showing me where the sheet flow occurs, where the channel flow occurs, and the like (including the arrows showing the flow).


At any time I would be able to put a catch basin into the model and capture water. The catch basin would have the ability to calculate how much water flows into it and how much flows past it or offsite. The calculations could be either the default software provider’s or a formula from a hydrology manual. Ideally we would also have the ability to include a nomograph for the ancient agencies that don’t have a formula related to the capacity of an inlet (or didn’t create one). The calculation output would be something like this showing the areas and where the water is coming from. Starting at Page 223 of the San Diego Hydrology manual provides some good examples on how the workflow should go for the calculations. Everyone’s calculations appear to differ slightly and any Civil BIM product should be flexible enough to do the local agency’s methods.


Any changes to the model would update the calculations. I wouldn’t expect it to happen real time, but the ability to hit a button to update the values. I don’t think we are at a point yet where there is either enough processing power on a desktop or the ability to spread the load of the calculations over a cloud deployment of software.

An additional topic on this would be the ability to do calculations for water quality reports that seem to be all of the rage. Each county, at least in California, appear to have different approaches to the calculations. Any water quality system should have the ability to enter the agency’s formulas and the output them to their preferred format, no matter how unnecessary it might be. This would be enterable in the form.

The focus on this tool shouldn’t be solely on a slick user interface, but a help system that conveys what the user options are and what they mean. Making it a black box without concern for letting the user know what is going on or the ability to change the method of calculations will quickly make it a tool unusable by most users due to agency requirements.

I think most important capability, which is missing in most hydrology programs, is to provide a flexible reporting tool to match what the plan checkers are looking for or the ability to easily create an output of the information into a file that other programs can read. Having done conversions from Civil 3D to HEC-RAS or WSPG this shouldn’t be too hard of a task to complete since it’s usually putting things in the correct location in the output.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Slope Stake Report Blues

You ever get the feeling Autodesk is just checking off check boxes and not understanding what users actually need? I do. On such example of this is the Slope Stake Report conversion to Excel with images. The images cover the data in the Excel sheet. Not what I would consider a good result. One way to fix this is to either create a VBA code in Excel or in the report. This report will show some code pieces that can be used to fix this catastrophe.

The first thing we would need to do is to get the images. They are called a Shape.

For Each xlsShape As Excel.Shape In sheet.Shapes
' 972 is the approx width of the available space.
If xlsShape.Width > sheetWidth Then
= (sheetWidth - 2)
End If
Dim moveDistance As Single
= (sheetWidth - xlsShape.Width) / 2
= xlsShape.Top + 3
= moveDistance - firstColumnWidth

Once we have it we can then move stuff around if we want. In the code above I'm taking the shape and then adjusting the width and centering the image.

We would also want to add rows under the shape. We can get the location of the cell under the image and then insert rows.


You’d want to replace the 1 with the current row and add as many rows as you think are needed based on the image height. Once you put it all together now the images will not be over the top of the table. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Civil BIM–Site Grading Example

What would you want a Civil BIM software product to perform? Well today my primary work is creating a preliminary grading plan for a tentative tract map. The project is for some condos with some challenging grading constraints. There are sidewalks, retaining walls, stairs, and landscaping areas. The buildings have retaining walls built into them. This is primarily to make them carriage units and provide the residents the feel of a traditional housing with an easy to access floor area. Carriage units are exempt from ADA requirements and are where the living space is above the garage area.

Most of the time when we get CAD drawings from other sources such as planners and architects. Tons of time an energy is spent correcting their often time sloppy linework. If Civil 3D was forgiving we could just use, but since feature lines close to each other may cause crashing it’s advisable to clean up the linework. For my project I’ve already spent 2 hours cleaning it up and probably have another 2 hours before I even start turning the polylines into feature lines. I then have to turn all of those feature lines into a design and offset them to get the desired shapes such as curbs, retaining walls, and stairs. It’s a ton of busy work that really provides a crappy user experience.

What if we could make the experience better? Well this is the way I’d envision Civil BIM working. First I’d be able to bring the architect’s linework into the program. I’d also have the actual legal linework in the drawing as well. As we all tend to know, architects tend to think of the world as square and the reality is often far off from it. So we are forced to fit their square design into a different shape.

Once in the program I’d be able to determine the constraints. In this case I know I need to tie into the existing sidewalk and curb and gutter at the south side of the project. I know from looking at the site I’m not going to be able to tie into the North, East, and West side due to the terrain without a retaining wall. If I was able to I’d shoot for a maximum of 2’ elevation difference so I wouldn’t have to design a retaining wall. Most areas in California allow a 2’ differential without calling the privacy wall a retaining wall. I’d want the ability to snap the privacy wall or privacy/retaining wall along the surveyor’s linework for the parcel. At this point it would follow the existing ground at the property line.


Next I’d want to create the sidewalk at the south of the property. This placement of the sidewalk would allow me to pick either the center of the sidewalk, an edge, or an offset from an existing feature. In this case I’d want the offset to be 7.5 from the existing curb and gutter. I’d then want to determine the elevation of this relative from the curb and gutter. In this case it would probably be a constant 2% grade since the buildings are separated from the sidewalk with a retaining wall. If the building was closer to the roadway then the grass landscape area would have a variable slope and the sidewalk would get it’s elevation from the building entrances. Of course the sidewalk would know about ADA requirements and would automagically insert ramp resting areas, if necessary. The ramp resting areas could then be moved and adjusted. The driveway would also be placed using parametric design based on the local design requirements. I’d expect no more bullshit of ignoring these often used features in civil design to ensure the grades are adequate to place the driveway and provide ADA passage.


I’d then want to place the other sidewalk on the project site. At this time I wouldn’t be concerned too much about elevation since I’m putting everything together. I think it would be too challenging to place and set elevations since I have no real idea where my constraints will show up in relation to the grading. The sidewalk would allow me to do both linear segments at a given width and the odd shapes in front of the buildings. I’d expect to be able to make my sidewalk too large or too long. When I place other objects such as retaining walls, stairs, or trash enclosure areas that it would automagically trim it’s self to those objects.

Next I’d place the buildings. Buildings can have retaining walls or stem walls associated with them. In my case as an architectural desire or for basements in colder regions. I’d then place the buildings on the site. The buildings would have a pad elevation (floor elevation minus any building materials to the floor elevation), a floor elevation, and the ability to slope the garage area to the entrance. This way I can move the building up and down and have my model adjust to it. On each side of the building I’d be able to set elevation points like we can do using the Civil 3D feature line tools. Find a high/low point to shed water away from the building or to get a retaining or stem wall as part of the building.

The building model, sidewalk model, and stairs would create a warped surface between the elements. The last element is curb, gutter, valley gutters, and pavement. I’d probably want to start out with a preliminary grading concept to build from. In looking at the site I’d want to determine how the water would flow through the site. For this site I’d think I’d go with something like shown in the image below.


I’d expect to be able to set the grade direction relative to a reference object, in this case the sidewalk at the front of the property. Then grade to the back of the property at 1% and up each of the alleys at 1%, and at the odd ball parking area at 1%. This pavement would automagically trim itself at the sidewalk and buildings or other objects. I now want to place the curb and gutter to constrain the pavement even more (or place it earlier) in the process. The pavement would automagically get it’s elevations from the building at the garage entrances to provide for a warped surface to a valley gutter that is going to have to be designed to flow water away from the garages.

The curb would be a smart curb object. It would know if it needed to be a curb or a curb and gutter and automagically change between the two as I grade the pavement. At this preliminary stage it would get it’s elevation from from the pavement projections. I’d also need to put in a valley gutter to direct the water away from the building. It would also automagically provide for the transition between curb and curb and gutter as well as the ability to go from one curb height to another over a distance of the length.

I’m now ready to set some grades. The surface would have the ability to show me the grades by shading. The sidewalk would have longitudinal and cross slopes to indicate areas that are out of compliance. In this case I’d add stairs to the model where it was too steep. In this case the architect has given me a general area to place them. The landscape area would also indicate steep slopes, close to steep slopes, and super flat areas by coloring. The sidewalk, valley gutter, curb and gutter, and stairs would have tools like the quick elevation editor in Civil 3D to allow me to set elevations. The sidewalk and pavement would have tools to allow me to add a grade break and either use the warped elevations to the existing model objects or project a grade way from it to adjust selected curb and gutter objects to adjust to them.

I’d also want to place the retaining walls where needed into the model. I’d expect to be able to tie it to the adjacent sidewalk and buildings either longitudinally or at the ends of them. I’d expect this retaining wall to be able to design itself parametrically based on minimum cover over the footing, footing step length based on the constructability. For a concrete wall this would be in increments of 4’ or 8’ to minimize the cutting of plywoood. For block walls it would be in increments of 16”. I’d be able to look at the wall in a profile type view and be able to adjust the footing dimensions and top of footing. This profile view would show the existing ground, the ground at the back of wall, the ground at face of wall. The ability to change the elevations would be provided. The retaining wall would use these elevations to then warp the surface around them.

The retaining wall object should also have the ability to calculate structural backfill, structural excavation, drainage material behind it, and construction tools. The construction tools would allow for the modeling of shoring, formwork, and other temporary construction methods to determine quantity of work needed to perform the work. Hundreds of millions of dollars of work are wasted coming up with these numbers.  If you want more information on the process take a look at this research done at Stanford.

All of the above objects should have the ability to determine their own thicknesses and dimensions. This information should be used to calculate the amount of cut and fill earthwork for the site for a datum surface. This should also allow the ability to extract quantities. The quantities should also be able to be gotten by designating an area, such as Phase 1 or Phase 2. The phases should also allow the ability to do a partial design stage using the finished model to create it. For instance if I pick an area requiring fill, it would then grade to it.

All of the water on my site is going to either do surface flow to the pavement or small inlets and pipes to direct water to the pavement areas. In other projects would require the ability to create swales. The swales would have a minimum and maximum depths and the surface around it would warp to the other objects around it. The swale would allow for the quick elevation edit of the flow line as well as adjusting the depth along the swale to ensure drainage into the swale at an expectable grade that is neither to flat nor too steep. It would also allow me to set a grade from another object with elevation and then slope down to the swale and tie into it’s side slopes.

This project doesn’t have ADA parking, but it would also need it’s own tool to design to make sure the maximum slopes aren’t exceeded and tie into the adjacent pavement surfaces.

The final step would be the ability to create linework that can be shared in CAD programs. Each line of the model would have the ability to be extracted or not extracted. For instance the back of the curb, flowline, and lip could be extracted from the model; skipping the top of curb and bottom curb and gutter lines. The output I’d envision would be something similar to what Plant 3D does when it creates plan sheets. The ability to choose what lines to choose if there is multiple levels associated with the work.

In closing this workflow would save time by letting us design instead of doing busy work of making sure lines come together properly to prevent crashes and provide an intelligent model.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

CadMouse Will Join the Fight

A new mouse is on the scene called CadMouse that is looking to land on your desktop. The CadMouse, developed by 3DConnexion, aims to provide an improved right hand experience. They have previously developed tools for the left hand with their 3D Mice. The most obvious improvement is the large middle mouse. It’s often used while performing CAD CadMouse_ISO_Right_Front_RGBtasks and hidden as a press with the wheel. For some users the middle button as the wheel is a bit hard to utilize. This mouse should help make the middle button easier to press.

In addition to the big middle button it comes with a QuickZoom feature where the ability to zoom is available to one’s thumb. The wheel also provides for scrolling just like a regular mouse, but with the added benefit of providing a click to click zooming experience. I’ve never really had any issues with the speed of my mice in the past, but if you have it also sports an advanced laser sensor which is being billed as way to get better precision.

In addition there is a gesture button that activates a context sensitive on-screen radial menu. Since CAD users tend to move their mice a whole lot, some estimate up to 1km per week, there are some ptfe feet on the mouse optimally shaped to provide a smooth feel across surfaces.

The 3Dconnexion CadMouse will be available at the end of February at a suggested retail price of $99. More information on the mouse may be found here. I haven’t used the mouse yet, so don’t know how good it might be.

I’m supposed to let you know I’ve gotten free product from 3DConnexion in the past, or at least that’s what I’ve heard the FTC desires.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Fields and Sheet Set Manager

Here is a short video showing how to use fields to show sheet numbers in an mtext object.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Section Labels of Surface

Often times we need to label what type of line a section line is. In this case it is Ex. Grade and Prop. Grade.

Now the hard way to do this is to use a multileader and then move and adjust them with each design change. There is a an easier way that is a bit more dynamic. The way I do it is I create a corridor just for these two labels. For the assembly it’s a LinkWidthAndSlope for horizontally where you want the label to be placed and then a LinkSlopeToSurface to get from that point to the surface. It should look something like this.


The settings I use are shown here:


The values for the Existing surface are similar. Then all you need to do is to create a corridor, assign the code set showing the correct labels and then create polylines for the existing and proposed to control where the labels are placed so you can move them around on the section view to miss other labels. I usually end up with multiple code set styles to control how the labels are shown. Here is a drawing showing everything except for the polylines as targets and having multiple styles.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Civil 3D 2015 Service Pack 2 API Bug

If you have a program that you wrote for Civil 3D and find a random crash in your routines, you may want to check to see if you are setting the ElevationMin for a profile view. If the ElevationMin property is set first Civil 3D will quickly crash without warning, even error catching can catch it. I’m guessing someone is trying to divide by zero causing the catastrophic crash. To get around this error set the ElevationMax first and then the ElevationMin. This seems to fix the issue. Alternatively you can set an elevation max and min values in the UI and it should start working correctly. This leads me to believe someone is dividing by zero in the property setting of the profile view.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Data Shortcuts Folder

Data shortcuts can be a big pain in the butt if things are change on you. Maybe someone started the project on the wrong hard drive and now you have to move it to the correct location. There is a way to help alleviate the issue and it is a little known variable named DSSYSVAR. This variable allows you to set the data shortcuts folder path with this windows environment variable. So if all of your data shortcuts are on the D:\Projects in one office and E:\OnGoing in another office you can use the DSSYSVAR to help not having to repath everything, all you need to do is change the DSSYSVAR to get it to work correctly.

The hard part is to create a user interface that will easily change the values. There is a Windows way to set the environmental variables. The first step is to create the variable. To do this first go into Windows Control Panel and type Environment Variables in the search box.


Then press the Edit the System Environment Variables option. Then go to the Advanced Tab, User Variables Button, Press the New Button for System Variables and then change enter in DSSYSVAR as the name and then the value you want it to point to.


If one is already created you will want to select the variable and then press Edit instead.

Now in Civil 3D you won’t see a change. If you look in the XML file of the data shortcut you will find that path is now saved using the DSSysVar.



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