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The Autodesk Civil 3D Alignment Feature altered, and continues to alter, how civil engineers and survey professionals and their organizations employ Civil 3D in production. Autodesk invests heavily in the technology surrounding the many Alignment-based tools in Civil 3D. The many capabilities and properties of the Alignment make the Alignment the core Feature in Civil 3D’s somewhat overwhelming arsenal of production Features.

What about Surfaces? Aren’t Surfaces an equally important part of what we do?

Is That the Most Important Question?

Yes and no. Some organizations and users certainly struggle with the subtle differences in Civil 3D Surface mechanics, tools and skills. The ability to build, edit, and manage Surfaces well is a key civil and survey production issue. The Framework for Civil 3D Templates and Civil 3D Style collections help with that.

Is Grading Design in Civil 3D a separate discipline, task, and set of workflows or not?

If we perceive that it is and stick to the historical man-hour intensive approaches and workflows that we employed in the past, we are then forced to work around Civil 3D’s all too apparent grading shortcomings.

If we accept that Civil 3D seeks to attack the challenges of grading design differently, we can creatively learn to employ what we learn to know differently.

This post remains a work in progress. Significant updates and changes have been made to the original.

Civil 3D Features are Tools – No More No Less

From my perspective, we recognize that software use is about humans employing Tools.
More productive workflow is about better managed tool employment and control.

This means I tend to forget about what tools are called by vendors and focus on what the specific tools can actually do to reduce the time to get from a start point to a more suitable end point.

We Are What We Eat

On the civil engineering and survey blue plate special the Civil 3D Alignment is the meat and Civil 3D Surfaces the potatoes.

Let’s consider the typical, almost circular, madness that is Civil 3D in action:

Civil 3D Parcel segments (like Civil 3D Feature Lines) may be employed as a breaklines in Surfaces?
This is a Civil 3D nuance that is easy to miss.
The new Grading Optimization (GO) tool extensively employs classified Zones as important grading criteria tools.
Zones in GO must resolve to a closed polyline and the elevations of the same are ignored.
A Civil 3D Parcel is a closed collection of segments that must also resolve to a closed polyline.
Where and how in our Civil 3D project should we store our Zones?
Site Parcel Alignment segments can also be members of a collection of segments in a Parcel.
Intersecting Alignments in the same Site Parcel topology can and do create Parcels.
Where and how in our Civil 3D project should we store and resolve our GO Zone geometries?

We can employ raw AutoCAD primitives to create, store, and manage a lot of things in Civil 3D.
As the example above points out – Civil 3D Alignments are significantly more project-based than AutoCAD primitives and/or most other Civil 3D Features. This is baked into the Civil 3D meat pie.

The Civil 3D Alignment is a Design Control Manager

The Civil 3D Alignment is all about Managed Design Control.

This mission critical and Civil 3D user management responsibility takes a bit more time to execute. and increases the overall complexity the user must learn manage in both drawing and project-based contexts. Those separate drawing and project contexts are not the same thing.

Is that increased control and complexity worth the effort?

If we develop the requisite Civil 3D skills, yes.
If not, best run away.
Flight or fight remains a valuable human instinct. Sometimes survival matters.

What is a Civil 3D Alignment?

This significant question deserves some most important Civil 3D Alignment facts before an answer. If we can functionally get over the following, we make the awkward first step to full recovery from CAD think.

  • What you Name an Alignment is the most important thing you will ever do with that Alignment.
    If we name without a project and purposed-based management plan, we will suffer for it.
    Remember - we name a collector of many data properties and not a street or a pipe run.
  • The Alignment is first and foremost a data collector.
    Metaphorically, the Alignment is a bucket. Technically and thankfully, the Alignment is a bucket of buckets or a collector of collectors.
    Yes, the Alignment holds the math and the many potential properties of horizontal control in classic civil engineering speak.
    In Civil 3D, the Alignment is much more than that. Isn’t it?
  • The Civil 3D Alignment is NOT what we see on the screen or what we publish.
    Those are Style representations. Representation is what Civil 3D Style is all about.
    Case in point – Invisible Alignments may be more useful in a design than visible ones.
  • Each Civil 3D Alignment is a Parent Feature with many Children whether we like that or not.
    By definition Profile Features and other significant Civil 3D Features are Alignment children.
  • Data shortcut (DREF) Alignments allow that bucket of data buckets to become a project-based data resource.
    Those many Alignment data definitions may be replaced in any project drawing at any time with the Data Shortcut Manager Tool. The DSM should be a familiar friend.
    DREF Alignments and their many children are easiest to employ and maintain in drawings without custom Styles.
  • A specific Alignment bucket may be contained in a “higher” Site Parcel bucket or not.
    Ignore that potential capability or complication, if you prefer, but do so at your peril.
    Best to remember the example and the Flight or Fight comment above.

The Alignment in the Civil 3D Interface

The Civil 3D Toolspace displays the grosser parts of the many Alignment buckets; provides ways to get at them; and methods and tools to manage them all.

If we create or select an existing Alignment, the Alignment Ribbon interface opens in response.

In the Alignment Ribbon, the Alignment Properties tool displays the Alignment Type specific data behind details – these core Alignment properties are accessed in the smaller buckets via tabs in the Alignment Properties tool.

The Geometry Editor tool opens the Alignment Layout Tools toolbar and provides a host of create and edit geometry tools for the selected Alignment Feature. The Alignment Grid View and the simultaneously available Sub Entity Editor provide access to the deeper and current Alignment data behind.

The newest Civil 3D interface - Project Explorer (PE) allows us to create, see, edit, manage, and report on the Alignment and its most significant children and relatives in a more productive and interactive way. The PE is particularly good at displaying the intimate relationship between the parent Civil 3D Alignment, the child Profiles, and the full data behind contained within in these related Civil 3D Features in one place.

What Buckets Does the Toolspace Alignment Branch Collect?

Inside the Toolspace, Alignments are obviously classed and collected into various specialized Alignment Types.

The Civil 3D Types of Alignments initially appear to look like and be directly related to a design purpose.
Are they? Yes and no.

Alignment Types are about specific forms of Managed Design Control - a somewhat subtle but significant difference in perspective from the purpose of any particular Alignment.

It pays to align our thinking with the Civil 3D realities.

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