Grading Optimization 2023 Playtime

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Autodesk Grading Optimization (GO) is one year old this year. Grading Optimization 2023 is effectively the third major release of GO. We might consider the GO 2022.1 Update as important. That Update contained significant improvements to the GO Tools, performance, and functionality.

Based on my recent GO 2023 playtime experience, the much improved and much more refined Grading Optimization 2023 interface should help us all understand the essential GO operations and mechanics much better.

Grading Optimization

Autodesk's Charlie Ogden, Valentin Koch, and John Sayre were hosting an on-going series of Grading Optimization live webinars on YouTube. Hope they continue albeit in GO 2023.
See the site’s Grading Optimization video page for the recent published videos and more GO walkthroughs and demos from some other budding or emergent GO experts. Good stuff.

A proper dose of Learn and Burn requires we continue to read and reread the help files and watch all the content we can consume on a regular and repeated basis. GO requires a few trips around the mountain if we want to learn to move them quicker. Eheh.

If you are new to GO, start with the GO Team’s first webinar. Eheh.
We will all tend to make incorrect assumptions about a new software tool and Grading Optimization’s different approach to the challenges of grading complex surfaces.

People ask…”Does GO work?”
You bet. If you have the types of grading problems that GO is good at solving.

If you have a simple grading problem and/or sparse starting data, you are better off with the Civil 3D traditional tools.

Humans work and approach problems based on generalities and heuristics. Computers feed on data, algorithms, and the power of many iterations. The computer must sweat the data details.

What Makes the GO Go?

My dubious civil engineering and survey project production experience includes years of iterative shopping center site work. Some of you know the Big Box Store drill. Design and grade two 40 acre shopping center lots on this intersection corner as fast as possible. Most of the time throw all the work away and do it again next week somewhere else.

This type of Civil 3D project work obviously favors process over substance. Not a joke.
How fast can we validate and integrate survey data from multiple sources and turn it into useful fodder for the design team?
Can the design team resolve a complex grading design problem with a lot of conflicting design objectives as fast as possible?
This always requires iterations.
How many design iterations are possible within the man-hour budget and the project time-line constraints?

Grading Optimization certainly helps us address the mission critical question
“Is this preliminary site design possible?”
The answer might take a week, days, or even hours to muddle through in Civil 3D.
GO can do that in much less time.


Grading Optimization 2023 Tips

Preliminary Site Design is not the only reason to employ GO – the GO tool is bigger and more robust than that.
You catch the drift.

GO Fear and Loathing

If you are a Civil 3D Feature Lines Only compulsive or control freak, GO is going to be initially unnerving or maybe even terrifying. At times GO seems to conjure sense out of nonsense.

GO requires an experiential learning curve. What we think we know can be a big problem. Therefore, the principals of Learn and Burn apply.

The GO approach is to allow GO to repetitively test and adjust a complex surface to reach a set of targeted grading goals based on priorities. If we attempt to make GO do exactly what we want, we miss the point.
Intentionally and unintentionally over constraining the GO model is easy to do.

However, sometimes too much constraint that is exactly what we want to test. Constructive playtime requires we learn from iterative failures. We learn to over-constrain and test not for the reasons we initially thought. Eheh.

Understand the GO Tools

Most GO Tools have multiple properties for typical grading work expressed in reasonably understandable language.

The GO Tools executed in the Optimizer also have potentially useful nuances of behavioral States.
For example: A parking lot Zone with Exclusive Drainage behaves differently than other ZONEs etc.
A Drain Line inside a Zone employed as a Breakline produces different results than the same Drain Line inside the same Zone with the Breakline property disabled.

The GO Tools supplied in the GO Tool Palette may be edited and/or copied, renamed, and edited.
It is a Tool Palette. Sharing customized GO Tools around the office carries that bit of customization weight.

Zones Manage the Process

GO employs a multiple Zone container approach expressed in typical grading criteria speak properties.
We tend to think of Areas as side by side but GO works that way and with prioritized stacks of Zones.
Stacks of Zones are not only possible but are often exactly what we need from the design perspective. The Zone stack order effects the Optimizer outcomes.

Inside a GO Zone stack we must remember to give GO some flexibility if we what to optimize the Cut and Fill Balance, Minimize Earthwork, and Smooth the Surface. We should balance our lust for everything to work in GO.
GO functions on the principal that we will learn to manage and adjust those design priorities and design objectives.
For example- If we supply no Zone areas for GO to allow GO the Minimize Earthwork, our expected Cut and Fill Balance will also suffer. A common GO over constraint we may not see coming.

The Lines and Points Inside

Within a GO Zone the classic civil engineering linear grading and point design principals apply and are again expressed as separate GO Tools with separate and distinctly malleable behavioral properties.
GO will employ iterative adjustments to our linear objects to optimize towards our targeted priorities or design objectives mentioned above.
A slope constrained Civil 3D Feature Line is something GO produces but not how the Optimizer reaches that result.
Intentionally, important GO Zone properties do and do not ignore these linear and point design specifics.

Most useful GO models employ crafted area Zones with various forms of Drain Lines, Curb Lines and other linear or point GO Tools to constrain our typical site design.

Location, Location, Location

GO appears to act like a grading generalist but GO remains software code.
GO sweats the location details.

Most GO Zones include relatively large areas. GO is sensitive (for good reason) about small geometric differences in location for those internal or external linear and point GO Tools. Location inside or outside most Zone definitions matters and may be hard to identify unless we learn to watch for them. Another over constraint we did not see coming.
A bunch of crossing Breaklines in the imported Civil 3D Surface and crossing Feature Line results is a dead giveaway.
Always carefully test and check the output Feature Line results.

GO and Civil 3D

GO does  produce dense Civil 3D Surface Models and complex Feature Lines as results.
Note that the GO’s Options include an important TIN Triangle Length property we generally want to set.

To repeat - GO does not use these familiar Civil 3D Features the way we do.
The GO Optimizer does something different.

The typical GO Feature Line output back into Civil 3D from a complex starting surface can make us cry and moan. “What the…”
Always carefully test and check the output Feature Line results.
GO output still is not perfect, and we do tend to tell GO to try the impossible.
An over constraint we did not see coming.

Practical GO Usage Tips and Tricks

GO starts from and stores our Civil 3D GO Tool AND Optimizer edits in the Civil 3D drawing.
Keep and update more than one copy of this drawing.
The current 2023 version of GO is remarkably stable and robust. The problem is that we forget to Save the details when we change back and forth between the Civil 3D interface and the GO interface which allows us to modify more details.

If you make changes in the Optimizer interface, go back to Civil 3D and Save the drawing and replace that other copy before you run the Optimizer. There are obvious reasons to take the time to this.

GO employs a Seed Surface or a Preliminary Surface.
To call this the existing Surface can be a mistake.
Take the time to prepare the Preliminary Surface model appropriately for the site design grading problem.

GO currently ignores a Boundary in a Surface model.
The Civil 3D Crop Surface command Export to XML and Import XML tools and mechanics allow us to act to fix that.
Remember to provide GO with room inside the Grading Limit to move the Surface model around.

GO supports Exclusion Zones if you need a pasted Surface (maybe from a corridor with a boundary) excluded from the remainder of the grading optimization.

GO Tools employ Property Set data attached to the objects selected.
Currently, we cannot manually delete assigned GO Property Set data in the AutoCAD Properties box.
We can replace one GO Tool’s Property Set data with another GO Tool’s Property Set data.

Manage the GO Results

GO models tend to grow in complexity and detail - What people plus computers do.

GO assigns default GO object names by the AutoCAD source Layer name. This is often not all that useful in practice.

We probably want to employ a numerical naming convention to GO Zones and the GO Tools used within those Zones primarily based on the Zone stack order. The aptly named end product Feature Lines are much more useful.

Employing area location and directional suffixes appears to work well for Drain Lines etc.
The linear feature name definition looks something like this:

Building Zones are a special case in GO. The optional but important Reveals can allow the Optimizer to more easily resolve the all-too-common pavement Zone to building Zone conflict issues. It usually only a takes one or two optimization runs with loose Building elevation settings to establish a satisfactory Building Zone elevations. Then Reveal property settings are more effective at resolving interactions with neighboring Zones and other GO Tool linear features.

The Drain Lines rule (or suck) inside Excluded and otherwise general Zones.
We can control the slope of areas inside a Zone with Active, non-breakline Drain Lines placed near the inside edges of parts of a Zone. Try this. You’ll like it.
Proximity always matters in GO which optimizes the TIN triangles of a surface from our perspective.
The GO Breakline setting forces the Optimizer to create triangle edges on the Breakline.
This is not always what we want.

Imperfect Results are a Good Thing

Grading Optimization results do not have to be perfect. The goal of a Grading Optimization is to get us through a lot of iterations of a complex grading surface as fast as possible. The process will probably leave you with a few detail issues to resolve.

My major whine about the current GO is that it should and could do a much better job at producing the vital subgrade Zone feedback and detail. All Zones should by default produce Bottom Feature lines.

We can produce the subsurface Datum from the Feature Lines that GO delivers, but there’s some silly work we must do.

Save the GO input drawing, We may want keep a copy of the original GO result Feature Lines.
Select all the appropriate Feature Lines Right Click and pick Raise or Lower to adjust the top level Feature Lines to the appropriate adjust Datum elevations.
Now we have the requisite Top and Datum surfaces to explore and validate the site grading volumes more effectively.
The old grading contractor in me talking.

Wait a minute…Don’t we decide what geometry the GO model is focused on. Maybe we could use GO Curb Tools differently. Dooh. Then again GO Zone results are useful even with the present limitations.

The GO TwoFor

This tip is more than interesting.
Silly me. I initially missed this GO multibackground processing trick.
While I write this post GO is happily grinding away optimizing a parking lot grading nasty as another user on the same Windows 10 machine.
Quick Grading Optimization benefits and less wasted production time?
Does that work for you?

The Framework for Civil 3D and GO

One significant reason we did all that recent Label Style Expression Set collection work in the Framework for Civil 3D was to speed up the annotative processes and flexibility available to Jump Kit customers from the Grading Optimization results.

Everyone wants to see the numbers when new grading processes and tools are employed.

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