The Autodesk Reference Explorer and Civil 3D

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The maintenance, upkeep, and Updates of our on-going Civil 3D Projects are a big deal for most of us in Civil 3D Land. Some persons handle that entire structure and process personally. Other groups plan to do it corporately. A few manage to Collaborate Pro. Most of the time, we all simply row and bail like mad to get the civil engineering and survey project work out the door in Autodesk Civil 3D. This is what we do.

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Best to remember that the daily behaviors of people affect our production results in Civil 3D projects far more than any technology. Software vendors and thoughtful Managers fear and loath this fact for obvious reasons. This is where the rubber sole hits the road. Sorry folks. I couldn’t resist the Fab Four 60’s twist.

In the Ask The Right Civil 3D Questions post, we explored some downright disturbed questions about various specific aspects of Civil 3D. Those interrogatives are based on the vital and interesting “Where do we fill the gas tank?” question – a behavioral metaphor.

One thing about Civil 3D is certain…There are lots of haystacks in the Civil 3D data behind and in our Civil 3D workflow mechanics. Why I go on and on about the recurring value of Civil 3D Project Template development.

Beep. Beep.

Deadline after deliverable it sometimes feels like we are Wiley Coyote in pursuit of the Roadrunner. When did we run off the cliff? Beep. Beep. Boom. The sort of Nowhere Man existence we all experience all too well on some days.

Reference Explorer

All this talk of references and projects brings us to the fact that ACME…err…Autodesk released a Reference Explorer drawing reporting tool with the latest June update to the Autodesk Desktop Connector (ADC) this week.
To quote the new Reference Explorer section in the ADC help:

“Now with Reference Explorer you can visualize all files in a dataset as well as the relationships between them.
Use Reference Explorer as a pre-check before adding data to Autodesk Docs, Fusion, or Autodesk Drive.”

Sounds Like a CAD Manager’s Cat’s Meow

Oops. There are some important corrections or clarifications necessary to the first sentence above.

“visualize each individual file, from a list of Autodesk supported file types, in a related dataset of files and see that file’s internal relationships between supported file types.”

One can guess why the edits occurred to that sort of help file mumbo jumbo.

Reference Reporter

We should probably call this new and valuable tool the Reference Reporter or some such thing. What the tool explores are most of the common, dependent file attachments that occur in the major Autodesk/vendor apps recognized by Autodesk Cloud services.

The dataset report is all about what references and dependent files the Autodesk Desktop Connector can locate and may upload to the various Autodesk Cloud services that the Connector supports. The total of related file sizes found is the reported dataset size.

This is a read only report tool. There is no functionality or interface to replace this reported missing file with that file in the initial release of Reference Explorer. Given the list of software applications supported this makes some sense, but I also found that to be a bit disappointing.

From a Civil 3D user and management perspective, the tool does not produce an analysis of the entire Civil 3D project structure as such.

This is an application based (e.g. Civil 3D, Alias, 3DS Max, Inventor and related products, SOLIDWORKS, etc.) by single file reference reporting tool. Note that Revit reporting is absent from this initial release. See the Manage Link tools in Revit help.

From a Civil 3D perspective, the new Reference Explorer tool compliments but does not replace the Data Shortcut Manager (DSM), the external Data Shortcut Editor (DSE), and the infamous external AutoCAD Reference Manager. All those tools are already your best buds?

The fact that you must install the Autodesk Desktop Connector to employ the external Reference Explorer tool may also be a bit annoying.

Civil 3D Reference Explorer Support

The good news is that individual Autodesk Civil 3D dwg files are supported by the Reference Explorer. The report interface reports on dwg attached: Data Shortcuts (DREF), Reference Templates (TREF) and direct XML and other file data references. Hoorah.

The Reference Explorer also reports on .auf reference data files that may be included and referenced in Civil 3D Surface collections. I did not check before this post for .csv and/or similar .txt file formats that may also be referenced in Surface models. The odds are good for file references in Surfaces.

The Reference Explorer is about dependent file references. Therefore, the new tool does not report or recognize Survey DB connections to Survey Points and Figures, imported XML, and/or formerly imported file types of any other kind that I could find.

The Reference Explorer Sans Collaboration

Even if we don’t need no stinkin’ cloud collaborations, the new Reference Explorer drawing report tool can be downright instructive about all those project interconnected file references and dependencies that play a vital role in our Civil 3D projects.
These sometimes drive CAD Managers and Civil 3D users plain crazy. You know the drill.

“Civil 3D Projects Tend to Become Spaghetti”

In bigger, more complex projects and projects with longer timelines, we all tend to lose track of where that file dependent data came from.
All in one place the Reference Explorer file report tool can answer some pressing questions like:

  • What are the XREFs (External References) and IREFs (Image References) in use in the drawing?
    The internal current State or types other than file type are not reported.
    Nesting is reported in the Tree View.
  • Which DREFs (Data References) and TREFs (Reference Templates) are in use in that drawing?
    Certainly worth the price of admission – we don’t need to open dwgs and root around in all those separate Civil 3D data behind haystacks.
  • Did we update that drawing or folder of drawings to the latest and greatest Reference Template (TREF) or not?
    Sadly, that Update process remains a tedious manual Update task in Civil 3D.
  • Did we remember to move the data dependent XML and other files when we updated/copied/restructured the project or not?
  • Where were the missing pieces?
    The old stored (unresolved) file path and name are reported. Hooray.

Note that the Reference Explorer technically reports on an internal attempt to resolve the Relative and Fixed paths to all the processed and recognized attached files. That turns out to be a handy QAQC test.

If you want to employ the Reference Explorer in Autodesk Cloud project contents (for Civil 3D dwgs) you must synch the local stores before you fire off the new report tool or you will receive bogus report results.

The Reference Explorer does report and display all the above all in one place with both List View and Tree View report formats.

  • The List View reports of found reference counts and Status which may be either found or missing.
    Missing (unresolved) references are displayed in red text.
  • The Tree View report does display resolved XREF, IREF, and DREF nested references.

The new Reference Explorer will become a handy new QAQC tool in our Civil 3D file management toolchest.

See the Manage Civil 3D Dependencies post and the connected post series on these important Civil 3D user management topics in Civil 3D.

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