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ImageAutoCAD Map 3D 2008 is the latest version of the popular engineering GIS program available from Autodesk. This product has been continually refined over the year’s with new functionality added each version. This is no exception for 2008 with several new features added to the program that bridge CAD / GIS integration possibilities. AutoCAD Map 3D has shifted in recent times to provide more value in terms of GIS functionality. Built upon the AutoCAD engine, this product is also a core member of a series of products forming a strong CAD-based foundation the company labels ‘engineering GIS.’

AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 from Autodesk bears the company’s new name for the product which previously carried the company name in the product title. This name supports the fact that the product is built on the same AutoCAD foundation as AutoCAD itself, similar to other products in the Autodesk lineup. Technically then, one might say that AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 extends AutoCAD, and it does, significantly. While the product supports CAD design work flows readily, it is also capable of providing geographic information system (GIS) functionality in relationship to CAD acquired data.

This means GIS data and CAD data can coexist within this environment together. This latest version builds on the GIS functionality adding spatial operators such as ‘joins’ and ‘buffering’ to the feature list. This product even includes a digital booklet available within the program entitled ‘GIS Skills for Engineers’ which is designed to familiarize engineer’s with GIS. This is not a light read, it is well documented and includes work flow examples with explanations. The benefits of integration should also not be overlooked when considering work flows for many design organizations. In most cases individual clients and businesses are accessing one or more servers or data warehouses. This means they connect to different products and data types, but it also means that different work flows, such as those used by architects, engineers and field personnel may also be present. Autodesk Map 3D 2008 is enabled to participate and share data with them as well.


Data into the organization
CAD data is created through the design process. When new infrastructure such as roads, pipelines and buildings are being created, there is a good chance that you will find CAD software being used to create them. It is oriented specifically toward designer’s needs and includes capabilities which enhance and speed the design process. The link of CAD to GIS begins to address the unique functionality that is required for managing and operating infrastructure, including spatial tasks. The combination of the two enables planners and manager’s to perform their tasks all within one framework.

To enable this, both CAD and GIS data are often stored in similar databases. Oracle and Microsft SQL Server are two of the most common databases being used for this purpose, however, open source databases such as MySQL, Postgesql and others are in use. The advantages of operating CAD and GIS tasks from a similar database or similar databases across a network, is also important because it is the link to financial systems, ERP and other other IT related systems.

But to achieve this level of functionality, a product needs to be capable of accessing those data warehouses and the format types within them, then integrating that information into one common view. That is where AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 comes in. The software is able to import / export a wide number of different data types and formats. AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 has been updated to include Oracle and new imagery formats, for example. Others include (see Figure 1):

  • ArcSDE middleware
  • Oracle Spatial
  • MySQL
  • Microsoft SQL Server ODBC (open database connectivity)
  • ESRI SHP Files
  • Spatial Data File (SDF)
  • Raster Files (JPEG, JPG2K, MrSID, TIFF, ECW, DEM, ESRI Grid, DTED and NITF)
  • Web Map Services (WMS) Web Feature Service (WFS)
  • Arc/Info coverages
  • MicroStation DGN format
  • Generalized Markup Language (GML)
  • Ordnance Survey MasterMap (DNF)
  • Vector Product Format (VPF-read only)
  • Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS)

A key positive factor for this software is the ability to import standard Autodesk design files which are in DWG format, and to export them. It is this file format from Autodesk that is recognized in the design field. I was able to connect to a number of different file formats and import them. In addition, I was able to connect to a WMS server based in Australia.


In practice, Autodesk identify’s users at one of 5 stages along a value chain or continuum of use, and for which the product can be implemented used, or to transition a user or organization to higher levels of integration.


  1. AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT – user’s who are limited in terms of coordinate systems, import / export functionality and multiple user access.
  2. User’s wanting expanded access options – who have a need to work across several times at the same time with other GIS data. These user’s require coordinate systems and need basic drawing cleanup for geometric errors.
  3. Need for Spatial Database Files (SDF) and FDO Data Access Technology – users are beginning to move toward SDF file formats which store geometry and attribute information together. At this stage, user’s are also becoming involved with MapGuide Enterprise and MapGuide Open Source software.
  4. Integration of spatial database functionality with both CAD and GIS data integrated.
  5. Increased collaboration, model and design and better security. Product extending to Topobase and built on ORACLE or Microsoft SQL Server.


Essentially then, this software is designed to provide user’s with a pathway toward higher levels of integration – connecting CAD to GIS. It is critical to understand that many existing CAD users have hundreds if not thousands of DWG files. Therefore, developing a route for these existing (and future) data to be used with GIS information means value is being added in both cases. I was able to integrate and merge several types of data within AutoCAD 3D 2008 and I was also able to import files from AutoCAD Civil 3D.


Publishing and representation
AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 provides both a 2D top down or planimetric viewpoint and a 3D oblique angle capability (see Figure 2). For 3D viewing, a Position Locator will show the viewing angle and distances. The colors of the tool may be changed as needed. The tool enables a quick 3D movement around a landscape. 3D viewpoints may be pre-selected and preset. As well, one can begin to think about other Autodesk products like Revit at the level or stage 5 of the integration process. That product has been enhanced for Building Information Management (BIM). The latest version provides enhanced energy modeling and the ability to model construction better – both spatial functions that would work together with AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 drawings. Since Autodesk launched its own ‘Plant Solutions’ group in January of 2007, one might expect that Plant Design and visualization will also become more prominent in the AutoCAD Map 3D product in the future. I was able to use the OGC Web Map Service (WMS) standard to access 339 layers of the Australian Natural Resources Atlas readily, and then pan easily and quickly (see Figure 3). New for this version of the software are enhanced buffering capabilities. This also includes the first capabilities of this software to perform ‘intersection’ (called Location Conditions in this software) – the ability to query across intersecting topology and to write, for example, a new file based on the relationships of one layer to another. As previously mentioned, geo-referenced DWF files can now be published and an entry for publishing to MapGuide is also available in the Tools panel of the Display Manager.

By adding capabilities to ‘join’ database files and expanding upon the buffering capabilities of the software, AutoCAD Map 3D now moves decidedly more toward improved GIS functionality with these basic spatial operator inclusions.


Metadata and schema
The Metadata tool in this version of the product is new. I was able to display metadata from the Australian example simply by selecting the Metadata command from the Tools menu (see Figure 4). As shown in the Map Explorer, the metadata is presented from the WMS server and the WMS layers are also present. New schema can be created from within Autodesk Map 3D 2008 by selecting the Schema command. Users can choose to create a SDF or SHP format schema which will include the Feature Class, Feature ID and Geometry together with logical properties.

Because AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 is originally oriented toward engineering tasks, many users will be interested to use this software for such transformation of original DWG drawings into features, suitable for storage in GIS applications. On the alternate side, files may be exported to DWG format suitable for use where other design files are being used. This is a big step forward for this product. It is one thing to be able to transform geometry, but ultimately, feature classes will include attributes that describe objects and these must be labelled and integrated in a standardized way.

Standards are important, but also; given that numerous layers of data can now be integrated together in the product, then the ability to ensure their original property’s are also included, will be necessary. This option bridges that gap while ensuring feature sources can be edited quickly. The software conforms to the US Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) metadata standard, but I am informed that European Metadata Standards will also be included in the product shortly.



Leveraging Open Source
Autodesk was principally involved in the Open Source (OSGEO) foundation establishment not long ago. Their substantially participation has led toward the complete open sourcing of the Autodesk FDO technology. More recently new graphics capabilities and functionality have emerged with the FDO being extended to Oracle functionality. Already this product supports MySQL, an open source database familiar to the open source community, but it doesn’t include PostgreSQL support which would be welcome since that database product is spatially enabled.


New for 2008 in this product, however, is the inclusion of the open source graphics library Geospatial Data Abstration Library (GDAL / OGR). It should be mentioned that if users are going to be accessing data through different FDO providers (anyone can write a FDO), then it is important to use an FDO provider which matches the FDO application programming interface (API) version in use (E.g., Autodesk MapGuide Enterprise 2008 uses FDO build 3.2.2) – MapGuide Enterprise will also have its own FDO.


AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 is significantly faster than the previous version of this product. As this software continues to integrate disparate data stores, cross GIS and CAD functionality and become oriented toward increased image presentation capabilities, then speed will become very important. I found this version of the software to be much faster. Tabs have also been added to the Task Pane, allowing users to switch between Display Manager, Map Explorer, and Map Books with a single click.


Reviewer Positives
AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 is a step toward better CAD / GIS data integration. Improved import / export handling means DWG files can be included inside integrated work flows and GIS feature classes can similarly be exported into design files. The enhanced buffering and joining functions, put two of the most common GIS functions inside this software and Autodesk has taken the first steps toward intersection analysis. Speed is substantially improved in this version of the software. The ability to work with metadata and schema are also new and easily implemented.


Reviewer Negatives
While MySQL is added in the FDO of this product, and Oracle and Microsoft SQL are also able to be imported readily, one wonders when PostgreSQL import will be included. Why not include a full copy of MapGuide Enterprise with a one-click install with this software? This would allow users to build and deploy a full solution in one step from end-to-end.


Reviewer Summary
AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 has come full circle and is maturing as a CAD / GIS integration software. Its capabilities integrate measurement and geographic coordinate data, empowering users to work in new ways and to design with a wider view, using new approaches and models. The documentation for this product is very good. It includes tutorials and online examples. Autodesk has also spent some time documenting work flows in an easily understandable way, enabling users to understand how this product can be used. While the software does not have all the capabilities a GIS software has, it should be recognised that this software brings strong CAD functionality and presence into the GIS world.


Jeff Thurston has reviewed leading geospatial technologies internationally for over 10 years. This review includes the first integrative evaluation efforts with chart presentation and can be seen in the downloaded version.


Product: AutoCAD Map 3D 2008
Manufacturer: Autodesk
Primary Market: CAD and GIS
Tutorials: Included
Online Information:

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