Civil 3D Bullets in the Buckets

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We discussed the term Bucket and the concepts of mini-buckets to make AutoCAD Civil 3D Features a bit easier to understand in the recent Civil 3D Production Buckets post. We discovered that there are What, How, When, and Model buckets to Civil 3D Features. There are important Where mini-buckets in some Features too. This long post is about how the simple and banal may become the sophisticated in Civil 3D.

For all that esoteric stuff we learned, we have only one mission critical task.

 “Man gave name to the animals
in the beginning
long time ago

                                             Bob Dylan

Each Feature MUST have a unique name. This Power of Names is the Rule of Law in OOP. In Civil 3D our Names connect the moving parts in that project-based creature we call the Dynamic Model. The Dynamic Model works because of this primary principal. The lack of, or creation of, a Managed Dynamic Model is then up to you.

Ripples in a Bucket

A new Civil 3D user may think the Name templates boxes found in every Create Feature dialog box are perhaps a waste of time, something to ignore, or some form of confused geek-speak.

“Why do I have to do that?”

Here’s an all too common scenario – This is a lesson in what not to do in Civil 3D.

A User manually inputs “Main Road” into the Create Alignment box. The OK button instantly makes an Alignment bucket. The user then bails or quits out of the Alignment Layout tools box without adding a single segment to the alignment. The user built a valid “Main Road” Alignment bucket. The Alignment bucket is just empty.

Next the user wants to edit the empty “Main Road” alignment. Nothing to see here. The newbie user hits the Home Ribbon and Create Alignment tool again – That appears to be the obvious Ribbon menu thing to do.

“How else would I edit to the Alignment I just made?”

The Create Alignment box shows the user the same “Main Road” name (Civil 3D remembers your last Name preference). You think you are adding to and editing the first “Main Road” when the Alignment Layout tools open. You aren’t.  You are now working on a new alignment named “Main Road (1)”.

It is Easier to Edit than Create

Empty Features are perfectly acceptable for most Civil 3D Features. We must remember that self-generated Feature resolution is the end goal not a picture on the screen. Nothing visible on the screen does not mean something doesn’t exist. We have to remember to Cycle our Focus. Needless to say, Invisible or No Display Style representation states may further confuse things.

The Main Road alignment exists over in the Toolspace>>Prospector>>Alignments>>Centerlines collection. (I’m simplifying.) Select that in the branch and now pick Geometry Edit from the Ribbon. Say what?
The modern select first and act second (noun verb) is not the old school CAD (verb noun) behavior.

CAD Dementia

The Civil 3D interface behavior is not initially intuitive.  You tend to focus on the screen and menus as the primary reality. Manage the Features (data buckets) from the Toolspace. That’s what it’s there for.

Come on you chuckling Civil 3D experts. It’s not silly. We all did this (or a variation of it) ourselves in the beginning. We learn. We automatically do something else now.

Name Templates

Every Civil 3D Feature has a Name template to make the intrinsic naming process easier on the User. As our newbie discovered there is always a counter there. Civil 3D is going to apply that counter to avoid duplicate names as the solution of last resort. It is the Rule of Law.

The default Name templates are By Intent generic to make them more flexible and adaptable to many civil engineering design tasks. You might as well employ a counter (or other unique difference) that makes sense to you in the Feature’s Name template.

Feature Name Standards

It helps to have a plan. Did they tell you that Civil 3D always expects that you have a plan based on the way Civil 3D works and not on the way you think about it?

You can automate a Feature Naming Standard based on simple rules built into the Feature Name templates in your production templates.  If you don’t have Feature Name Standards, it is something you need to work on if you really want a more managed Structure and better Managed Dynamic Models. Let’s put that another way.

The Name Structure Projects Itself

Reference Surface, Alignment, Corridors, and all other data shortcut Features in drawings are tangible data buckets too. You create a data shortcut (a new bucket) and pour in the resolved contents from somewhere else.  In a DREF (data reference) the Model bucket data is simply “over there” where the published data shortcut points. Simple enough. We learn the hard way that there are ripples.

All your established Name dependencies, be they structured or chaotic, come along for the ride.

The Bullet in the Bucket That You Cannot Dodge

Many of the wizard interfaces in Civil 3D (Corridor, Intersection, and Offset Alignment create tools for example) employ generic Name templates to make the dynamic model construction hook ups (by name) easier. The Name templates tend to be hidden away on different panes in the wizards. It’s an interface thing. I’d prefer a single wizard settings pane where they are all set up, but that’s not how Civil 3D works today.

We can employ Feature Settings and even detailed Command Settings in Civil 3D to optimize the Name templates.

Barring that - Stop and think before you accept the default Name templates in any wizard. Small changes to the current Name templates can make the difference between a plan you and others understand and chaos.

What’s a Placeholder Dummy?

Here’s a not so silly question about Civil 3D project data and structure,

“Can you share an empty Feature?”

Now that would be confusing if now we didn’t now understand and expect it to be true.

I’ve pointed out in a few other posts that for certain types of work, it’s really handy to have an arrangement of pre-made empty Features that Users can just fill up the mini-buckets with the specifics.

If you’ve employed Civil 3D for a while, you already have the named Features with functional name structures in your existing projects. You may now freeze-dry or can them to automate your project world into a better place to work – aka a mini-bucket industrial revolution.

Templates within a Template

The concept of employing Placeholders or Dummies is a powerful, and all too often overlooked, benefit of model-based software. Even in old school CAD we could employ dummy XREFs to create the same result. Skilled Animators and BIM folk have no problem with this idea – they must do it in their typical workflow – aka the structure before the details.

Civil CAD people seem to struggle a bit more with it – most rarely employ Placeholders in their traditional workflow. The traditional civil CAD workflow is more linear because of how the old software was built. No matter.

What Do the Dummies Mean?

Sooner or later you might discern that a task-centric Dummies structure is one of the potential and more productive purposes for a Civil 3D template.  That begs some weird questions…

  • Can we accept the fact that Civil 3D Style is always temporary and is separate from the data behind?
  • Do Dummies mean a Civil 3D template should really be upside down and backwards if we can reference Styles?
  • Do we need a template with pre-built Dummy Features with hardy any preloaded and therefore preordained Styles?

These questions don’t make much sense if you believe in the one template to rule them myth.

Maybe this Features first template appears to be the opposite of what you initially believe about what is important in a drawing template for Civil 3D. For many tasks the root structure may be as mission critical to User productivity as Style.

Prior to the Civil 3D 2017 release and the introduction of the Reference Template Tool it was more difficult to pull this off. There is too much work involved in building and maintaining all the different templates. Things were difficult because getting the copies of the Styles to stay in synch was detailed and problematic.

The Root of the Issue

Sounds to me like we might want to look differently at those Root Reference template(s), and Setting Reference templates in our new Reference Template implementation plan. They may contain new buckets of bullets - some new high-power productivity ammunition.

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