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Lots of people in Civil 3D Land are truly committed to Feature Line based grading design in Autodesk Civil 3D. Nothing is wrong with that. The Grading Design by Feature Line Heuristic is well understood and employed by most civil engineering and survey professionals. Civil 3D is loaded with useful practical Ribbon tools to help us get ‘er done. This begs the question:

What is Fast in Civil 3D?

Demonstrably, those Surface-centric build and edit workflows and mechanics require considerably more man-hours than other methods as the scale and complexity of the project deliverables grows.
Mind you, the man-hours issues expressed here are an industry wide complaint about the classic grading design heuristics and workflows – A problem Civil 3D hopes to address.

We need to recognize that our most profitable project deliverables are not about a single Civil 3D Surface derived from single design working drawing in the first place. If I mention Datum surfaces, I trust that is not seen as a sharp stick in the eye.

Our earlier scale and complexity considerations apply. To that we must in good conscious add the complications of design iterations and design options. More on that topic below.

To reduce those man-hour design, quality control, and documentation increased costs, we need to somehow build and maintain better managed design control. A host of individually built and maintained Feature Lines (aka breaklines) in a drawing or two is not always the viable solution.

We must also consider that faster production performance is not only about the tools but about our use of the tools.

To Chop or Saw Wood in Civil 3D

A lumberjack walks into his local big box store and somehow finds salesperson in the aisle.

“I here tell that a chain saw will help me chop more wood than my trusty axe.”

“Yes sir, this latest 36” professional lumberjack 2021 model should allow you to easily chop 4 chords of wood a day. Our customers all rave about this beauty.”

“I’ll take it.”

“Would you like a walkthrough of how to use and maintain the chain saw?”

“No thanks, missy. I am a lumberjack. I chop wood for a living, but I can read.”

A few days later a dejected lumberjack returns to the store and hunts down the salesperson.
Miracles do happen.

“Miss. I’m sorry but I have to return this darned thing. No matter what I do I can’t cut more the ½ a chord a day with this thing.”

“I’m sorry, sir. We’d be happy to do that, but do you mind if I check over the saw? There must be some mechanical problem. Are you keeping the chain sharp?”

He hands over the saw. They walk up to the returns desk. He says,

“Miss. I sharpened that chain a couple of times a day. I checked the gas and oil tanks just like the manual said. The thing just won’t chop wood.”

The salesperson takes the saw out of the travel case, checks the chain. It is indeed sharp. She examines the tanks. There are properly filled. She flips the start switch and pulls the starter rope…

The lumberjack shouts,

“What’s that sound?”


If we must cut wood to heat a house, the axe is a great tool. A chain saw makes many parts of the wood cutting task easier.

The two user skill sets required to employ each of these different tools have little in common with one another.

Alignment and Profile Pairs or Feature Lines

The Civil 3D Alignment post and the rest of that significant Alignment post series talks about the many recognition steps we need to accept about the properties of Alignment Features in Civil 3D.

Before we ever enter the Alignment Create box, we need to consider something else – our old CAD drafting construction habits.

If we create Alignments from Objects, we significantly restrict what we can do with that Alignment. This is less problematic in more recent releases, but it still remains an issue. AutoCAD line, curve, and polyline primitives are dumb. They obey no rules. They do not recognize tangency for example. Oh yes. Non-tangent segments in Alignments can be mighty useful too.

There’s recent video from Jeff Bartels of Autodesk that makes that point and more.


Alignment and Profile Tips and Tricks

To create Alignment geometry, constraints, and parameters with the Alignment Layout Tools takes only moments longer than the Create from Objects command. To habitually employ the Alignment and Profile Layout tools significantly increases our design control capabilities and the depth of our Civil 3D create and edit skill set.

Put another way – An Alignment or Profile in Civil 3D does not need all the segments to be connected together all the time. Disparate and separated segments can be collected. These separate segments may be going in different directions as well. The creation of some complex design control is not possible without these more malleable Civil 3D Alignment and child Profile capabilities.

More is Possible

Sorry. We cannot easily do those things with an AutoCAD polyline. Critically, the skill set to create and edit a Civil 3D Alignment Feature and all its many children in the project-based context of Civil 3D is nothing like the AutoCAD PEDIT command. This skill set has next to nothing in common with the Civil 3D Feature Line create and edit skill set either.

The shared project-based design control of Alignment and Profile pairs as Corridor Baselines is a mission critical Civil 3D user skill set. Put simply –
Civil 3D Corridors create, edit, and manage large collections of Feature Lines.
See the Site Grading with Corridors page for videos and links to posts for more about that.

Let’s directly examine the Civil 3D project-based functionality and necessary skill sets that help us address those important and more profitable design iteration and options possibilities we discussed above.


The Data Shortcut Manager and DREF Replacement

Did I pull a demo fast one? Is this some video sleight of hand?

You have to love the robust simplicity of the Data Shortcut Manager (DSM) and Data Reference (DREF) workflows expressed in this short video. We made multiple significant changes to a complex design.
How long would it take us to return that drawing to the previous condition and state?
Could we choose to implement only some of those changes?

Better managed design control is a powerful thing if we bother to build the shared, project-based data behind and project structures in our Civil 3D projects to hold it. That effort does require we work to acquire the new and different skill sets to accomplish that. We must ask:

What is Fast in Civil 3D?

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