Alignment Based Point Groups

Tags alignment, View Frame Group, ViewFrame, plan production tool, DREF, points, Point Style, Point Label Style

What the heck is an Alignment-based Point Group? What? You’ve never had to document locations on Plan and Profile sheets? There lots of locations (points) we need to label and or symbolize relative to those Autodesk Civil 3D View Frames slapped down along an Alignment. View-based Point Styles and Point Label Styles can help a lot with the automation of our project deliverable publication.

The Long and Winding Road

We know the Civil 3D Style and Civil 3D Label Style details are not enough. We all face this problem – a ton of data strung out along a long and winding road. People. We are often talking man-hours of effort. Frequently, customers do ask about this problem.
Can this work be automated inside of Autodesk Civil 3D?
Of course.

Maybe we even wish that Autodesk would one day allow us to relate or reference an Alignment (or better yet a View Frame) in a Point Group definition. Don’t hold your breath.

Then a light goes on. Did the Civil 3D programmers already solve the problem?
Maybe we were not paying attention?
Maybe the programmers did not recognize that they solved the problem either.

The inventive use of tools is an important skill in Autodesk Civil 3D.
We might call that…

iPOD - Intelligent Publish on Demand

Location documentation is a Publish on Demand problem. What we need is there in the Civil 3D project model and the Civil 3D data behind. That is true whether we have the documentation problem for survey or design. Whether our Points be survey data or corridor output points from the subassembly Point codes (or Feature Lines) makes little difference.

Yes. Our Framework for Civil 3D products include specialized Corridor output Code Sets and matched Description Key Sets for that sort of thing. Faster, cleaner, and more consistent results are better.

The method outlined below works in all versions of Civil 3D since 2014.

If you Register on the website, there are available multiple videos that cover the written details of Alignment-based Point Group annotation for classic points and corridor points.

The Intelligent Part

The only way to learn the following workflow and skill set is to actually do it and do it a few times. The reps matter. Many important skills in Civil 3D and life are like that.

What’s Up?

We need to yank the data out from the Civil 3D project model in the form we need and then put something back in an adjusted and more suitable form. We must perform that magic in a consistent, managed, and systematic way.

We certainly need an Alignment related to the View Frames whether we employ the actual Frames or not to establish the details of the published AutoCAD Views.
Does this annotative Alignment need to be the final design alignment? Absolutely not.

This annotative or publish Alignment is best employed as a project-based Data Reference (DREF) resource.
We may choose to employ one or more DREF ViewFrame Groups associated with the Alignment.
We may want to employ this workflow in separate publishing drawings for our project deliverable production.

We perform this process systematically. We can update things later if details change.
Best to always keep the systematic aspect in mind.
We employ a spreadsheet in this process to sort and keep things documented.
Keep the spreadsheet(s) safe and special place in your Civil 3D project.

Civil 3D Survey Db Reality

We can do this magic with COGO points and separate external point file, but we are far better off with an external Survey Db and Survey points. Come on, man? You don’t realize you can toss any point file into a Survey Db and manage the data better. COGO points are for newbies and old school numbskulls. I haven’t put a Point Group in a surface definition over for a decade for example. Do you?

The Point of Groups

We do not assign Point Styles and Point Label Styles with our Description Key Set in this process.
All the Point Labels we assign and resolve with our Point Group’s properties.

It is possible to mix the methods – Employ both Description Key Set override assignment and Point Group assignments to the Point Label Styles.
If you do that, things may become much more confusing particularly if others must follow you down the road later.

The Logic of Points

Civil 3D Point Group definitions employ Boolean logic. The workflow will require that we tweak the standardized AND OR logic of the Point Group definitions. These database query mechanics look complicated. We can handle it particularly if a little detail saves us hours or days of work.

Civil 3D doesn’t do this query adjustment work intuitively in the Point Group Definition box, but the needed query creation and modification tools are all in there.

The Matter of Detail

It needs to be said that for a host of reasons publishing your Symbols (Point Styles) separately from your Point Labels is the preferred and more managed way to do things in Civil 3D. If you need to dumb down to AutoCAD or Export to DGN this separation of the published work is a must.

That said.

Get Set Up

We want to initially focus our continuous improvement efforts to this part of the processes. A consistent setup environment produces easier and quicker results.

  1. Use a suitable template perhaps with limited Styles and some other pertinent Settings details
    We recommend to Framework for Civil 3D customers that they thin down and delete Styles for such a template.
  2. Toolspace>>Settings>>Points>>Description Key Sets
    Set the Description Set Priority to a suitable Description Key Set.
    Optionally, we can always Drag and Drop in the single Description Key Set that we need.
    We want all default Styles.
    We do not want to assign any style overrides with the Description Key Set.
  3. You have some Point Group Definitions that provide the Description code lists you want to label
    Our Framework products supply many Point Group definitions in text form resources based on our huge list of standard Survey Codes in external text formats.
    Yes, These are integrated with the supplied Figure Dbs too.
    We can Drag and Drop Point Group Definitions from one drawing to another in Civil 3D 2014+.
    Remember that Civil 3D will reverse the order of the Point Groups each time you do.
  4. Toolspace>>Survey>>Open the Survey Db
  5. Insert the points you want to document into a drawing
    This may be all of them
    Survey Points (or from an import source) Right Click>>Points>>Insert into Drawing
    To limit the results - employ one or more Survey Queries
  6. Update the Point Groups
    If you display the Point Styles as <none>, Civil 3D doesn’t waste time and energy on it.
    We need only the point data. Pictures? We don’t need no stinkin’ pictures.
    One assumes you’ve QA’d the data.
    Hey. If you work from the Survey Db you can even continue the QA and edit process using the Point Label results produced from this process.

Produce, Tune, and Ready the Offset Report

Recall that Point Group Definitions require comma separated values – exactly like a csv file.
Below we take a generic Civil 3D report on the data we need and massage it into a useful form to reuse for our Alignment-based Point Group definitions.
We want csv formatted lists of Point Numbers.

  1. Prospector>>Data References>>Alignment
    Data Reference in the annotative or publish Alignment
    The external DREF source helps us repeat the processes when we need to
    We use this Alignment as a Design Control Manager.
  2. Toolspace>>Toolbox>>Reports Manager>>Points>>Station Offset to Points
    This Toolbox report produces a Station Offset report for any Alignment and selected COCO Points in generic HTML and other file formats.
    The data we need is produced in a form we can massage.
    Note – The Civil 3D .NET reports can be saved in several formats, including HTML, Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word Document, Microsoft Excel Workbook, and Text Document.
    If Microsoft Office is not installed, then the options for Word Document, Excel Workbook, and Text Document are not available.
  3. Select only the Table contents in your browser render of the HTML report
  4. Paste Special as Unicode into a blank Excel spreadsheet sheet
    You will get columns of values
  5. Find and Replace all the “’” (foot) characters in the columns for Imperial data
    In metric you are obviously replacing something else.
  6. Sort on the Offset column
    We want all the negatives and positives separated
    What to do about the zero offsets and perhaps the near zero offset points?
    Pick either side or you can also handle them separately
    You may also limit or filter the list(s) in other ways if necessary
    Note that we could chop lists into Station Ranges too.
    If we employ View-based Point Labels Styles and DREF ViewFrame Groups to publish the work, we probably don’t have to do that.
  7. Select only Point Number column of cells for the Negatives
  8. Create a new Negatives Sheet
  9. Into the new Negatives Sheet Paste Special Transpose (from rows to columns)
    Yes. This is a nifty paste tool in Excel.
    The negative points are now arrayed in a single row
  10. Repeat the entire process for the Positives
  11. Name the Sheets appropriately
  12. Save each sheet out separately to a csv format file
    We need the data in raw ASCII comma separated lists
    Keep the csv files with the Alignment Data Reference or with the Survey Db
    Save the spreadsheet Workbook in the same place.

Build the Negative and Positive Point Groups

We need two separator Point Groups. This is a classic divide and conquer strategy. Think about what you name the Point Groups carefully. They are related to a named Alignment. Maybe you want that in the Point Group name? Here we use Negative and Positive. Left and Right work equally as well and that might make more sense.

  1. Open the exported csv files in an ASCII text editor like Notepad (God Forbid)
    I tend prefer Notepad++ as my go to ASCII editor. There are other good ones.
  2. Make the Negative csv current
  3. Select the single line contents in the Negative CSV
    The row method works.
  4. In Civil 3D,
    Toolspace>>Prospector>>Point Group>>Right click>>New
    We need to create a Point Group named Negative
  5. Name the Point Group Negative
  6. Include tab>>Point Numbers
    Paste in the negative list from the csv textfile
    This will be a big list that may NEVER display on the Include tab
    Don’t panic!
  7. Check the Point List tab for the Point Group
    You should have a resolved list of Negative points
    Are all the points in there?
  8. Repeat the process and build the Positive Point Group

Build the Other Offset-based Point Groups

Each Point Group will include either the Negative or Positive Point Group.
Note that in Civil 3D we cannot Exclude a named Point Group.
We can only Include Point Groups in the definition of another Point Group.
This means we will always get an AND clause in the Query Builder tab for that secondary Point Group.

For a single Description value the Point Group definition is easy.
For example: A Flowline Negative for all “FL” points includes the Negative Point Group on the Point Group tab AND the single Description “FL*” on the Include tab>>with raw Description matching.
Remember to check the resolved Point List result in the Point Group Definition.

Most of the time we have a more complex list of values we want to assign specific Point Label Style to.
For example: we want FL, BOW, and TOC and their variation points labeled the same.

The trick is to recognize the method by which Civil 3D adds query logic to the Point Group Definition.
Includes go in first as ANDs.
Civil 3D will make the Description list a series of OR statements for each Description value (e.g. OR “FL*, OR “BOW*”, etc).
These statements will follow our first AND from the included Point Group.

Technically, the issue is how we order and group the logic within the query.

We want all the Negative points AND the only the points with descriptions that match our Description List. We want this group AND anything in this list. The second part is a grouping in the logic.

  1. Create a new Point Group – Call it CURB Negative
  2. Point Group tab check the Negative Point Group
    This includes the Negative point group at the top of the query
  3. Exclude tab>>with raw descriptions matching Paste in the copied comma separated list of Descriptions to match.
    This instruction appears backwards. Why are we excluding the list?
    We are NOT going to use that. See more in this blog about the Power of NOT in queries here.
    We know beforehand that we will edit the query in the Query Builder.
    Exclude gets us to a better initial order and grouping to work from.  
    We have less to change.
  4. Query Builder tab>>Modify the query
    When we check the modify query checkbox here we are telling Civil 3D to ignore changes on any other tabs. Civil 3D will rely ONLY on what we mean and state formally here.
    You should have a query that starts with the Negative Point Group AND
    a NOT and a bunch of ORs in the Set Operator column
    If not, start over.
  5. In the Set Operator column in the Query Builder – All the query changes are made here
  6. Remove the first AND - make it NOTHING from the dropdown list
  7. Change the NOT (before the list of ORs) to an AND from the dropdown list
    The resultant Set Operator column has one AND and a following group of OR’s
  8. Check the Point List
    The list should now have members of the Negative group with ONLY raw descriptions matching FL* or BOW* or TOC*
  9. OK out to Save the Point Group
  10. Test it by assigning a Point Label Style to the Point Group. Ta da!
  11. You can copy the Point Group, rename it, and edit the Point Group name on the Query Builder Value column to make a CURB Positive.
    Remember to check the Point List
  12. Repeat until you have all the Point Groups needed for your Plan and Profile labels related to an Alignment

Boots on the Ground

At this point we assign Point Label Styles to the appropriate Point Groups and reorder the Point Group display order as necessary.
View-based Point Label Styles will produce consistent labels related to the View Frame group.

We will still have some labels to sort out.
We can rotate simple ones to typical and consistent rotation values with relative ease.
Select and use the Properties box to put in Label Rotation values.
We do the same for Symbols (from the assigned Point Style) using the Marker Rotation property.

Label Style Nuances

We already pointed out that if you employ Survey point data you can even update point particulars and add note like description details to the points.

Our Point Label style can break up long descriptions into multi-line notes by limiting the display width in the specific component in the Label Style.
Don’t forget to do this for the Dragged State component too.

Survey Db Nuances

Our changes made in the Survey Db remain tied to the point data itself and are stored away externally to boot. Maybe you want the added values stored in a separate and copied Survey Db?

Remember COGO points can become input sources in a Survey Db.
We can add label points (some with codes that produce annotative symbols) to keep annotation and our audit trail intact.
Certainly, reducing the number of sources of annotation simplifies consistency issues in any project be it survey or design.

What the heck you may even have to produce site plans in larger projects based on the same basic idea.

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