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kelsey_pete.jpgThe integration of CAD and GIS has moved from a trendy topic for early adopters only to a mainstream reality. Equally encouraging has been the acceptance and practice of integrating GIS with survey data. We’ve come a long way baby, especially when it comes the CAD vs. GIS scene.

For my first contributed column for Vector1, I wanted to share with you what gets my engine going these days – promoting a three-way integration of GIS, CAD and survey data for seamless “field to finish” solutions.

Autodesk has been campaigning and setting the stage for just the CAD/GIS/survey integration phase we see unfolding today. Civil 3D has made a major contribution toward this three-way integration by offering an entire CAD design component with AutoCAD Map 3D for GIS. The Civil 3D platform also contains a survey component.

We all know what the typical civil engineering methods are like. I’ll quickly sketch out the “old school” model and then contrast this with what can be experienced today using Civil 3D for an integrated Survey/CAD/GIS approach.

Doing the Old School Dance

Multiple software and headaches – Most civil engineering outfits juggle multiple pieces of software. They have a survey-specific application that’s separate from the CAD program used by the engineering team. And GIS, heck, that’s off the radar. GIS is usually handled by specialists that the engineers often don’t interact with much. We all know the drill. Surveyors come in from the field with their data collectors and download data to a survey application. Then you’ve got to hope there won’t be interoperability bumps exporting that data to your CAD application. And if by some miracle you’re on speaking terms with the GIS people, you then have to keep your interoperable fingers crossed when you pass your CAD files over the GIS application those gurus are using. The bottom line: it’s a time-wasting, error-prone mess that’s a nightmare for IT (multiple apps to purchase, update and provide training for).

2.5D CAD – Most civil engineers today are doing what I call “Two and a half” D, not true 3D CAD. They’ve been building terrain models for 20 years, but for many the concept of a 3D model, well, that’s still a new thing.

Surveyors as Hunter/Gatherers Only – In my 15 years in the “dirt,” I’ve seen the old school surveyors resist working with computer-based tools. Many are content to come in from the field, hand off their data to a CAD team member, and walk right back out to the field. Most don’t see themselves as potential CAD people, and frankly, that’s criminal. Who’s better-qualified to make terrain models than the person who actually walked the ground? Survey people are phobic about CAD. Or, if you have an advanced surveyor doing CAD they typically are doing only 2D work, stuff like cadastral data – just the basics.

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New School – Survey/CAD/GIS Integration

From many to one – if you adopt a single survey/CAD/GIS integrated solution you can get more from your survey team, eliminate interoperability hassles and make IT and management happy. One application means less software to buy, manage, maintain and train on. Everything gets streamlined.

Surveyors Step Up – In a Civil 3D based shop the surveyor comes in from the field with his data collector, sits down on a PC with Civil 3D, downloads the raw survey data into Civil 3D, does any post processing needed, and creates one of two things: a terrain model and/or cadastral information. He/she then passes the baton to the Engineering/Design team. Wait, we just eliminated an “old school” step. The survey data did not have to go through a survey specific piece of software for data reduction or automatic placement of symbols with points (or putting points on their own layers based on the point description). All the surveyor’s data can be accessed on Civil 3D by the engineering team without translation. With people who know the site making the terrain models on an integrated application there are going to be far less stupid errors made in the design process stage.

Smooth Handoff from Engineering back to Surveyors – With accurate cadastral or terrain model data waiting inside Civil 3D, the engineers can quickly do their magic and pass back data for traditional construction field staking, or, if you’re really hip, Civil 3D (with its integrated AutoCAD MAP) can generate data to guide GPS-based machine control systems. In fact, you can literally export the proposed verified terrain models from Civil 3D that the engineers would have made to a GPS machine control enabled earth mover. What a way to save time and ensure greater accuracy!

As-Built Data Perfect for GIS – With Civil 3D the engineers can create “as built” data that’s perfect input for the GIS team.  After all, who’s better positioned to create the GIS data than the Civil Engineers and surveyors who input to Civil 3D the cadastral and topographical data in the first place? The answer is nobody, but the scheme falls apart unless you eliminate the step of passing data to a separate GIS application. You can with Civil 3D as it is built on top of AutoCAD MAP – which is a GIS application – so you can import and export to and from any industry standard GIS format. And you can also associate attribute data with otherwise “ignorant” CAD information.  We’re not talking about AutoCAD, it’s all about generating intelligent data you can query.

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