Migrate A Civil 3D Test Project to BIM 360

Tags Civil 3D 2020, BIM 360, project template, project, Project Management, Connector, DREF, XREF, IREF, TREF, Reference Template, data shortcut

The first thing you are going to want to know about the new Civil 3D Projects in BIM 360 Design is - Will this cloudy stuff work for our Civil 3D projects? You sat in on the Civil 3D Futures session at Autodesk University 2019 or any of the AU 2019 sessions that dipped their toes into the new Civil 3D for BIM 360 Design. Perhaps you’ve watched one of recorded webinars available from more than a few Autodesk Resellers.

BIM 360 looks like it might work and might be worth a test drive. Let’s see if we can make Civil 3D Project migration to BIM 360 Design easier. Sorry folks. Explaining this is going to take a bit.

This post is a continuous work in progess document. There will be and have been updates since its initial post date.

Make My Civil 3D BIM 360 Design Project Work

If you are like most people, the first assumption you are going to make is that BIM 360 is something like DropBox or One Drive with some added goodies on top. BIM 360 is, and is not, a simple cloud-based file structure. At BIM 360 roots it is first a Document Management System. It is not only a file structure.

We are not here to argue about the fact that all OS file systems are databases too. BIM 360 is more than an AWS storage structure. Simple put - There are rules and processes that happen above and beyond the common files, folders, and permissions.

Test Flight One Crashes and Burns

You forego the easy to watch and free BIM 360 courseware videos. Who watches Autodesk tutorials anyway? You are a smart fella. You can figure this out. That’s what you do. You install the Autodesk Connector. How many Autodesk Connector apps are there that work with Civil 3D now?

You manage to create a BIM 360 project as a Admin.
You grab a sample Civil 3D test project and drag and drop the beast into the Project Files folder in BIM 360 Docs or into the local BIM 360 share location.
There’s a zero (very small) chance this is going to work.
BIM 360 usually drops into never never land of Initializing and doesn’t seem to do anything.

There should probably be an insulting dialog box that asks if you bothered to read the manual and instructions.

There is help for Migrating Existing Civil 3D Projects to BIM 360 in the online Civil 3D Help files. We’ll attempt to demystify some of the technical help file gobbles. Be thankful. ‘Tis the season.

Plan to Succeed or Plan to Fail

BIM 360’s intent is to manage the work not just the folders and files. BIM 360 Design is built to inhale dwgs and other files a few files at a time into a planned and prebuilt structure with a workflow.

Each file and folder must go through an input process above and beyond a raw copy to the cloud process. BIM 360 is building the internal System Management stuff above and beyond the file permissions, drawing reference evaluations, and even automatically publishing things for you like Layouts, PDFs, etc. The BIM 360 Docs internal Microsoft Office integrations are useful for example.

This doesn’t mean you have to build a project from scratch in BIM 360 to test things out.
As usual for Autodesk products, you just need to understand what BIM 360 wants to eat and how it does that.
Silly me. I must mention…
You also must know and recognize what Civil 3D wants to eat and how it eats that too.

You Got to Chunkifize

[que the You Got to Funkifize by Tower of Power bumper music]

BIM 360 wants a Project structure. Give it one you understand. God forbid, you start making folders in BIM 360 like I’ve seen demoed a few times. Of course, there are other good reasons to do some of that to collaborate with others, but probably not to get a sample Civil 3D test project functional for you and company internal users.

The point being that to Civil 3D 2020.2+ with the Autodesk Connector installed and working a BIM 360 share is almost the same as your local drive or a network share. Ok. It really is not.

Technically, the BIM 360 share is a Connector managed mirror or local cache (in help file speak) of what you’ve pulled down from the BIM 360 cloud. The Autodesk Connector is there watching the local location to keep things in synch and process the changes.

Start with a Valid Civil 3D Project Template

You are best served to feed BIM 360 a valid Civil 3D Project Template from inside Civil 3D to get things off to a well-managed start. There’s a reason I’ve been harping at you all about Civil 3D Project Template development for a long while. We can bet that the Civil 3D dev folks would at least make that project start-up process work from the get-go. Whoopie, it does.

In a pinch, you can take a copy of your project and rip out the files and Civil 3D data to create an empty folder structure for the Civil 3D Project Template tool. The better you do this not-so-silly setup work the better and faster you will get to the live BIM 360 project results.

You won’t be happy attempting to employ an entire existing project in total as your Civil 3D Project Template.

Be warned. Be patient. The Connector once started on a major import process inside or outside of Civil 3D can take a long while to complete. A clean way to stop all the process in the Connector que is not available.

Folder Placeholders

You may want to tweak your Civil 3D Project Template a bit. The Connector for BIM 360 by default ignores empty folders. Where have we seen that before? Use placeholder files in the folders you want to keep – e.g maybe empty text files. These take less upload processing time. Maybe PDFs that tell the folks what the folder is there for. Your call.

Why Empty?

I am not saying a yours must be a completely empty Civil 3D Project Template or raw folder structure. However, we do have to accept and understand BIM 360’s current file reference evaluation limitations and processes.

Civil 3D DREFs seem to sort themselves out eventually if you do the proper Manage Data Shortcuts work and most simple XREFs resolve by one means or another but not much else.

The Civil 3D Spaghetti is Not BIM 360’s Problem

Autodesk does try to protect your data. Reference Files usually manage to get up there to the BIM 360 cloud but maybe not where you’d expect them to be. The Connector for BIM 360 employs a Related data folder structure to protect your reference assets.

Windows Explorer Works

If you don’t like the create by Civil 3D Project Template method, you can employ the Windows Explorer method and drag and drop a project folder structure (with placeholders) into the BIM 360 Project Share. This is faster, but you probably are going to want to port the drawings and files by folder instead of all in one drag and drop.

Carts, Horses, and Rail Track Width Issues

Don’t worry, if you miss the joke…

Connector for BIM 360 doesn’t yet fully understand Civil 3D projects and the many potential file associations all that well at this point. Each file that gets sucked up is processed individually. For example, even simple DWF IREFs in a drawing located in the same folder are still a complete mystery to the Connector.

More nuanced data-linked reference stuff like point file references in surface models or LandXML surface data sources are not lost. But these file references must be cleaned up manually.

The Connector won’t find these types of file references even if they exist in the same folder as the drawing that employs them. Arrgh. These types of file references when evaluated by the Connector create extra Related data folder structures that you will probably want to manually clean up inside Civil 3D.

The Too Deep Path Creep

If you employ deep (long) file paths inside your Civil 3D project structures, the uploads to BIM 360 may tank completely because of the temporary extra-long file paths that are built for these references. There is a 260-character file path string length allowed in BIM 360.

What happens if you copy up the reference files to BIM 360 before the consumers? This helps a bit, but not because it works as you might expect. It makes a systematic cleanup easier.

Related Data Mysteries

The Connector will still do the Related data folder thing for DREFs and XREFs as well even if the resource files already exist. There is no look up for existing references check built into the initial Connector for BIM 360 for Civil 3D implementation. Civil 3D will resolve them on Open if the DREF or XREF isn’t broken.

Some new code in Civil 3D purports to magically translate your existing DREF and XREF paths inside the BIM 360 project for you. It apparently employs the aforementioned Related data folder structures to do that. In effect, you can end up with multiple copies of the DREF, XREF, IREF and file resources files all over the place. This works, but it is probably not the desired integrated single source results you want.

For reasons unknown the Connector will not always process the Related data folder structures for every dwg you upload. When you open an uploaded file from BIM 360 in Civil 3D the same check process runs again. New Related data folder structures may be created for resources missed on the initial file upload.

Migration Sanity

That Civil 3D project with all those pre-built folders you need already in the right place helps with the chunky manual load process that seems to work better to migrate a local or network Civil 3D project up to a BIM 360 Design project.

To make the manual fixup process easier you probably want all the project DREF, XREF, and file reference sources to arrive in the project before the consumer drawings. Be aware the Connector and BIM 360 take more time to do this than a copy on your computer or network. Pay attention to the Pending Actions box for the Connector.

You will need to make sure the DREF file paths are updated properly with the Manage Data Shortcuts Tool in the consumer drawings. You will need to make sure the XREF saved paths properties are updated in the XREF Manager Tool.

Manual Cleanup Particulars

  1. Use Windows Explorer to drag and drop resource files first and then the dwg containers into a previously unloaded folder structure in the BIM 360 share.
  2. Allow the Connector and BIM 360 to do its thing. Be patient. You want the files to show as cached locally before you edit them.
  3. Open each of the uploaded drawings and allow the Connector to double check and create Related data folder structures if necessary.
    It probably worth a peek at what got put in the Related data folder.

Inside Civil 3D

  1. Leave the XREF Manager open so you see if there are XREFs and IREFs with saved file paths to Related data folders. Update them by fixing the saved file paths.
  2. Carefully check file resources buried in Civil 3D Features like xml data sources or external point files in Surfaces. Know thy data.
  3. Employ the Manage Data Shortcuts Tool to reconnect DREFs from the Related data folder structures to the actual published data shortcut file resources.
    These do NOT show up as broken presently because they usually resolve. Where they resolve to is the issue.
    It helps to expand all the objects on the drawing side and bang down through the DREF resources. This process allows you to delete the Related data folders and contents later.
  4. If you employ Reference Templates (TREFs), recognize that the Connector does not recognize TREFs as file resources at all.
    If you want the TREFs to be project-based reconnect them to a previously uploaded TREF resources with the Reference Template Tool.
    TREFs linked to local shared resources will continue to resolve to the local files.
  5. After the manual cleanup work is done you will have V2+ versions of the cleaned up dwgs in BIM 360.
  6. Exit Civil 3D

In BIM 360 Docs

  •  Delete the now extraneous Related data folders and contents. Remember that the contents in BIM 360 is now the source of the known project good and not the local cache contents.
  • Remember that BIM 360 may recreate Related data folders when it cannot resolve a reference issue
  • You probably want to manually BIM 360 Lock project drawings you want to remain read-only
    Read-only file properties do not appear migrate to BIM 360 by default via the Connector.

After the clean up of the live BIM 360 version...

Turn off the Autodesk Connector

  • You may want to also clean up the resolved Related data folders in the local cache so as not to confuse the new downloads from the known project good

It is not uncommon in local and networked Civil 3D projects to create Data Shortcut host drawings in one part of the project file structure and consume the DREFs in other locations in the project structure. This tends to sometimes generate Related data folder paths that exceed the 260-character file path string length limit. When this occurs the DREF consumer drawings may give you corrupted drawing or other failure messages when you attempt to open them in Civil 3D from BIM 360.

Be aware that mass unloads of many folders with many files are far more likely to fail this way in an initial upload than a folder by folder upload based on how your project was built up in the first place.

Civil 3D Survey Functionality

Nope. The current BIM 360 Design implementation for Civil 3D does not support Survey functionality at all. Drawings with Survey Db output work fine as references but are not buildable or editable in the BIM 360 project context.

This process all worked great for porting the Framework of Civil 3D sandbox projects.

One hopes that the Connector and Civil 3D will get smarter about the resolution of references in the future.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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