Civil 3D and the Power of Names

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Civil 3D Styles and Label Styles employ (reference) the AutoCAD named parts to express themselves. Civil 3D Style tools just look for and match the right names that we’ve agreed to. Change the meaning of the property definitions connected to those agreed names and you can change anything.

In formal terms employing the practice of Style management we abstract (make relative) the details of the visual representation from the Civil 3D data behind. This doesn’t happen by accident. Maybe every Civil user should have a drawing like this?

We call this fundamental property and benefit built into AutoCAD Civil 3D the:

Power of Names

All AutoCAD users get the basics of the Power of Names. We depend on it. We use Layers. If you employ Layer States (and you should), we get this even more. The name of the Layer references a discrete set of properties that make stuff look this way not that way. The use of Layer States teaches us this is a current and transient state – something temporary and malleable. You have the power to change.

This Old Name

Older drafting-based CAD Standards by definition must be focused on CAD primitive publishing specifics: Layer, Textstyle (height), Block graphics standards, etc. In raw AutoCAD and AutoCAD based drafting and design software the only way to manage all that CAD primitive stuff was to be specific about all the details all the time. CAD Standards become very important. They become our focus by necessity.

The CAD drawing we create and check things in becomes the drawing we publish.

My Drawing

If you publish work out of quality control or design drawings in Civil 3D, this is a sign you may be missing some of Civil 3D’s time saving and competitive advantages.

We can miss the forest because we only see the trees. Style abstraction in Civil 3D means that the tree specifics don’t matter so much until they do. Huh? Process and timing always matter to us in projects.

While the old CADD process works, it requires a lot of man-hours dedicated to maintaining and checking the publication details. Clearly one of Civil 3D’s critical design development goals is to rid organizations and Civil 3D users of this expensive man-hour burden and cost.

The idea here is to put the man-hours into iterative engineering processes and data quality control instead. The design quality control processes are therefore different and more about checking data not drawings. We certainly have to learn how to do both and work differently.

Properly employed and managed Civil 3D Feature (the stuff in the Toolspace>>Prospector and Survey tabs) data and managed Style make this possible.

We already have a CAD Standard.

This may mean you’re attempting to run different water through the same old pipes like Flint, MI. Sure, it works but there will probably be unexpected and unforeseen consequences and hidden costs downstream.
Replicating your old CAD Standards may be the first and worst Civil 3D customization mistake any skilled AutoCAD user or organization can make. You can literally poison your Civil 3D productivity.

The odds are the CAD Standards you employed before do not take in account the data centric, behavioral, and model- based methods that Civil 3D employs. They cannot and don’t recognize the data behind and the managed behavior the drives Civil 3D Features. Why should they? The Civil 3D Features didn’t exist before. You can easily miss what they potentially can do too.

Simply put - Civil 3D is all about creating and managing the "data behind". Then C3D manages how things look and how they behave by Style and in Feature collections.

Primitive based ACAD Standards really only have rudimentary kinds of style and those forms really have formal no collections. Often these may get in the way of this new collected model-based way of doing things.

I hope you didn’t miss that sneaky behavior aspect of the Civil 3D model. Old school AutoCAD is not like that. No wonder Civil 3D customization can be disconcerting and painful.

Of course, Civil 3D Styles and Label Styles do employ the AutoCAD Layer, Textstyle, Block (style) references AutoCAD customizers are used to. The software is still called “AutoCAD” Civil 3D after all. Our AutoCAD customization skills do still apply. But we must apply them differently and much more systematically. Our Spreadsheet Tools for AutoCAD Civil 3D help our customers manage that.

A Higher Power of Names

The Power of Names is larger and you know by now more complex in Civil 3D. The complexity is partly a numbers game. There are multipliers at work. That is what the word power means. It is partly because of the behavioral aspects of Civil 3D Features and Style and user interactions with those things through the Civil 3D interface. Everywhere there are names. These are built in by design and unavoidable.

Civil 3D Buckets

In training I use the term “bucket” to talk about Civil 3D Feature creation and management. When you give something a name in Civil 3D you are naming a bucket of data. This is not the representation you may see on the screen. We nod. Do we act on that reality?

The Civil 3D bucket can and usually does contain other buckets. There are What, When, and How behavioral buckets in addition to the Model bucket that we expect that we created. Some of these other buckets we get to name. The Profile and Sample Line Group buckets in Alignments are an example. For many folk the concept of the bucket helps clarify mission critical things that make Civil 3D difficult.

Here are two important posts about Buckets in AutoCAD Civil 3D that you and the Civil 3D users around you may find helpful:

Civil 3D Production Buckets

  • The simple and user friendly way to see data in Civil 3D
  • The importance of What, How, and When buckets
  • Buckets in Civil 3D and their critical relationship with Names

Civil 3D Bullets in the Buckets

  • The reason and usage of Placeholders in Civil 3D Projects
  • Why the Name Templates in Civil 3D matter to us all
  • "I read this article and Civil 3D suddenly made sense."

Civil 3D names must be managed in a systematic and structured way or chaos and user confusion results. The Power of Names means that no matter what we want or expect in AutoCAD Civil 3D, we end up with a System of Naming Rules or not.

The illusion of our historial preference can again be a trap here. Civil 3D Features are not CAD primitives even if we can reduce them to that.  We have to ask,

“Do our Naming Rules work with the way Civil 3D works?”

Dynamic Models depend on Dynamic Namespaces

That sounds dynamically scary, but it isn't really. If we manage the dynamic, it can be liberating. In programming speak the Power of Names concept and practical reality of its execution is formerly called a namespace. For our purposes - a namespace defines a managed uniqueness of names.

We see namespace expressed to us in Civil 3D every day. The Civil 3D commands must have unique names that are different from AutoCAD and AutoCAD Map 3D commands. Civil 3D Features must have unique names too. The Power of Names (namespaces) list is huge and central to Civil 3D user’s ability to employ the software successfully.

Get Real

I pointed out previously that a prioritized stack of Description Key Sets behave like a namespace. Such a dynamic namespace answers the question – in this current context does “DI” means a “drop inlet”? Does it get an abbreviation of “DI” and get a graphic representation from that symbol not this symbol? If the current stack of Key Sets and Point Groups resolved differently, we’d get another result.

Practically our Survey Codes (Design Codes) are connected to a plethora of Keys in different Description Key Sets to accomplish different tasks in our workflows. Survey point QA is not surface building or surface QA nor is it Corridor QA either. These processes are not optimized for formal deliverable publishing for, I hope, reasons that are at least partially obvious.

Dynamic Namespaces and Style Together Do the Work

We must have…

Dynamic and Adaptive Standards in AutoCAD Civil 3D

What we do to help make the impossible possible.

  • We publish Open Standards for AutoCAD Civil 3D that include documented, pertinent details our Civil 3D Style naming conventions that address the complexity of real world productivity that effect Civil 3D users in the Civil 3D interface.
  • We employ recognized and functional National CAD Standards naming rules throughout the Production Solution products. We’re consistent. We publically document how, when and why those rules work.
  • We publish an Open and rich set of Standard Keys that work in civil engineering, survey, infrastructure design and even GIS contexts. The Keys work in cross-platform contexts too.
  • The free Member section of includes hours of video, multiple in-depth production video training series, and written detailed help for the details and execution.
  • We offer a working trial product with working detailed examples at a price anyone can afford
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