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Lots of folks in Civil 3D Land are fully committed to Feature Line based grading design in Autodesk Civil 3D. There’s nothing 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 commands and Ribbon tools to help us this done. However, this begs the question:

What is Fast in Civil 3D?

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

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

Our earlier project scale and project complexity considerations apply. To that we must in good conscious add the complications of design iterations and the real world need to support multiple design options. More on that mission critical topic below.

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

We must also consider that faster production performance in Autodesk Civil 3D is not only about the software tools but about our use of those tools.

Do We Chop or Saw Wood in Civil 3D?

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

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

“Yes sir, this state of the art 36” professional lumberjack model should allow you to easily cut 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. While I do chop wood for a living, I can still read.”

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

“Missy. 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. Do you mind if I check over the saw first? There must be some mechanical problem. Did you keep the chain sharp?”

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

“Missy, like the manual says I sharpened that chain a couple of times a day. I checked and filled the gas and oil tanks. The darned 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. They are properly filled. She flips the start switch and pulls the starter rope…

The lumberjack exclaims,

“What’s that sound?”

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

The two user skill sets required to employ each of these very 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 Book of Alignments post series talks about the many recognition steps we need to accept about the deeper properties of Alignment Features in Civil 3D.

Before we ever enter the Alignment Create box, we need to consider something else – our old school CAD 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 of Civil 3D, but it still remains an issue. Raw AutoCAD line, curve, and polyline primitives are, by definition, dumb. They obey no rules. They do not recognize tangency for example. Indeed. Non-tangent segments in Alignments can be mighty useful as well.

Here’s a classic video from Autodesk’s Jeff Bartels 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 in the collectors. These separate Alignment and/or Profile segments may initially go in different directions.

The creation of some complex horizontal design control is not possible without these more malleable Civil 3D Alignment and child Profile capabilities.

More is Possible

Truth be told 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 classic AutoCAD PEDIT command. Note that this same 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 employed as Corridor Baselines to produce collections of named Feature Lines is a mission critical Civil 3D user skill set.
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 as we discussed above.


The Data Shortcut Manager and DREF Replacement

Did I pull a Civil 3D demo fast one? Is this some tricky 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?

The Liberty to Make Civil 3D Work
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