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Extracted Tables and Lists in Civil 3D

Tags table, tablestyle, list, details, annotation, legend, AddOn, video


Autodesk does not make it apparent in AutoCAD Civil 3D that you can table notes, lists, etc. tied to markers of any sort you choose. As we saw before in Not So Simple Tables in Civil 3D all this moved out of the Autodesk vertical applications and into AutoCAD long ago. Many folk are left a bit befuddled particularly if you went on using old school CAD applications for a while. If the tool isn’t a sexy new AutoCAD feature, all tools sooner or later disappear back into the AutoCAD goo pool.

“The tool problem is solved. Just customize it.
Please, ignore the occasional crash and burn.”

To be fair the technology works fine after you figure out how to make it work. If you work on the engine while it is running, things can get a bit dicey (aka unstable) at times. Data interoperability tools in all Autodesk apps tend to behave like that. Editing data rich Civil 3D label styles while they are in use also suffers from the same NASCAR race day effect.

 “Somebody help the poor boy!”

Ok, I couldn’t resist that famous quote from Mel Brooks’ parody - Blazing Saddles. Sometimes customizing Civil 3D is like standing in front of a hostile mob and holding them at bay with your own gun pointed at your own head. It made sense to me.

This powerful AutoCAD table capability is called Link Data or variably in the help files – as a data link. You can find these tools in Annotate Ribbon and Table panel in both raw AutoCAD and AutoCAD Civil 3D. For extracted data tables (Extract Data in the Table Panel) all you need is a basic AutoCAD tablestyle, probably tweaked Multileader Styles (or optionally any blocks with attributes), and optionally a connected Excel sheet(s) to make this happen.

The AutoCAD help file says…

The DATAEXTRACTION command:
“Exports object property, block attribute, and drawing information to a data extraction table or to an external file, and specifies a data link to an Excel spreadsheet.”

Technically, there should be a few more qualifications and/or additions in this statement. The statement also unintentionally belittles some of what the command and supporting resources can do to save us all time and energy. The core concepts can be covered in a short video.

Create Extracted Data Tables

The DATAEXTRACTION wizard can mine a tremendous amount of diverse data from drawing objects, a drawing, folders of drawings with objects, and Sheet Sets. The result of the wizard is an editable DXE file that maintains all the bits and pieces. Therefore common set of DXE files and Style resources can become a mission critical project asset and tool set.

We can build a pretty sophisticated production application to produce standardized annotation in many diverse forms from the AutoCAD Style parts and processes. An index of all the sheets in a Sheet Set is another classic DXE example.
Given the potential annotative tricks offered by the tools, it is easy to overlook some important QAQC tools that can be built with DATAEXTRACTION and the related resources. For example: What specific project details do we need in our plan set detail sheets?

Let’s clarify some earlier Link Data cautions.

  • If you employ a known relative file structure inside your project, Link Data tables will stay stable when archived or copied. These dynamic Link Data tables work:
    • In both model and paper space – the later usually makes the most sense
    • In XREFs – pay attention to the XREF type and avoid too much nesting
      Less in better
  • If you don’t have structure plan and maintain it, use the classic copy and paste to MTEXT approach and/or classic AutoCAD blocks that contain the same.
    That does not mean you can’t employ an Extract Data report to choose the right one.
  • If you employ extracted Link Data, a storage project structure for the DXE files is important.
  • Link Data tables may require that users remember to manually trigger updates if the data behind changes. See the drawing system variable DXEVAL for some options.
  • Civil 3D’s Feature Table Styles only work with the Civil 3D Feature’s data behind.
    They do not work in conjunction or in combination with Link Data.
    Import Text in the Civil 3D Text Component Editor currently does not support link data results or queries.

Given that Autodesk has allowed us to finally employ Property Set Style in AutoCAD Civil 3D 2017 maybe someone in civil development will see the light of history and compile a Civil 3D version of Extract Data that exposes more Civil 3D data behind. No need to hold your breath.

DXE – The Rise of the Reach

Aside for your Style preferences of look and feel of blocks and and table formatting, the most important thing is the editable DXE file you produce from Extract Data. A better refined DXE produces more consistent repeatable results.

The DXE file stores drawing and folder selections, object and property selections, and formatting choices. The Extract Data wizard guides you through the process of creating a DXE. I added some comments:

  1. Select the data source, which can be a drawing, set of drawings, or folders.
    WTMI. Start simple and edit your way to the complex.
    Sometimes you must build a drawing selection set before you create the DXE.
  2. Filter the objects (non-blocks and blocks) are extracted and select properties from which data is extracted.
  3. Organize and refine the extracted data.
    Count and sums are included
  4. Merge information from an Excel spreadsheet with the extracted data.
    The power of a linked ID field to merge data from multiple tables
  5. Choose an output format for the data (a table and/or an external file).
    Do you need a report or an annotative result?
    Yes, you can build an external report and later chose to import it as a Link Data table elsewhere.
  6. Format the extracted data in a table by specifying a table style or selecting an existing pre-formatted table.
    • Inter-application table formatting remains frustrating. Get over it.
    • The AutoCAD tablestyle has it’s way with the table data to some degree no matter what you do.
    • The more you try and mix the formatting the more time you spend being confused.

The DXE file is a compiled AutoCAD specific file format. A DXE file includes some typical XML parts, but only the Extract Data command can properly update it.

MultiLeader Style and DXE

AutoCAD attributed blocks and/or Multileader Styles that reference them are the most commonly employed methods to create the data behind for typical extracted results. Most folks choose the multileader approach.

Multileader Styles have the annotative advantages of attached leaders (or no leaders) and annotative scale from layout properties. Multileader styles also have the choice of many default location or pointer markers (they are blocks too). The original supplied symbols were built in architectural units for use in paperspace layouts.

The AutoCAD example Multileader Style blocks are intentionally generic and all employ the same name (TAGNUMBER) for the attributes. If you want to employ multiple different symbols (circles, triangles, squares, hexagons, etc.) in the same plan set, you probably want to rename these default attributes to easily identifiable names and employ a different textstyle.

Don’t expect any Link Data tables exported to other CAD applications to preserve inter-application interoperability. AutoCAD Export will preserve the appearance of the published result.

The Framework of Choice

If you employ the Framework for Civil 3D and our supplied resources in InstantOn and Jump Kit, you should note that we supply a host of potential blocks and markers (supplied in generic units) in the Symbol Set including the default NCS compliant ones. All the blocks employ textstyles that follow the NCS compliant and simple Framework open standards. See the ANNO collection and the ASYM collections.

The latest and recently released version for the Legends and Lists AddOn includes the AutoCAD tablestyles and the template employed in the video above. If you are a Release 7 Framework customer the Legend and Lists AddOn is free and now available to download from the product download pages.

The Framework Makes Civil 3D Work

Legends and Lists Posts