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AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed!

Joe Hedrick, LS, EIT Avatech Solutions


Learn how to take full advantage of the survey capabilities included in AutoCAD Civil 3D. In this session, we will dig into the tools, tips, and techniques that will make any land surveyor successful. We'll focus on field coding and collection; processing and adjusting survey data; creating topographic surveys; and stakeout. This class will benefit surveying- and civilengineering professionals, as well as CAD managers. Attendees should have a general working knowledge of Civil 3D.

About the Speaker:

Joe is the professional services manager for Avatech's infrastructure solutions group, where he provides Autodesk civil-engineering/survey implementation consulting services. Joe has over 15 years of experience in land surveying and civil engineering, encompassing field-data collection, site design and layout, residential subdivision design, and land planning. He is an EIT and a licensed land surveyor in Virginia, and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering Technology from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed!

Survey Overview & Interface Users of the survey functionality within Civil 3D will find an entire palette in toolspace dedicated to survey functionality. To ensure this palette is visible, go to the SURVEY pull down and select OPEN SURVEY TOOLSPACE.

It is from this interface that most of the field to finish routines are exposed. Just like the rest of prospector and settings, you right click your way through this tab. Everything done from the survey tab will affect the Survey Database. Explained in much greater detail further in this document, the Survey Database is an extremely powerful feature that sets Civil 3D apart from the rest of the competition on the market today. Also, keep in mind that there are several other survey type features scattered in other areas of Civil 3D. Points, Point Groups, and Surfaces functionality can be found and accessed from the PROSPECTOR tab of toolspace.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Field Collection Techniques Automatic linework and symbol insertion is extremely powerful and can save quite of bit of time in the office completing the final topographic drawing however the field crews are the key to success. If the site is collected the appropriate way following the rules, then when imported into Civil 3D, it will accurately draw out with little manipulation from the office technician. If the field crews are inconsistent and dont follow the rules, then more time will be spent in the office manipulating the data to complete the survey. Field collection can be broken down into two parts: point features and line features. Below, each of these topics is explained along with the areas in Civil 3D that are applicable. One common item that must be remembered in both areas is that consistency in the field is key. You can configure the software to match existing field codes however the survey crews need to consistently use them. Point Features: Point features are those objects that can usually be located by a single shot. Examples of point features are manholes, power poles, light poles, building corners, and ground shots. Inside Civil 3D, Description Keys are the mechanism that link a survey field point to an expanded description, symbol, and label all placed on the appropriate layer to match existing corporate CAD standards Description Keys should be developed inside of your Civil 3D template so they will be present as new drawings are created. To get started, go to the SETTINGS tab of TOOLSPACE and expand the POINT collection. Right click on DESCRIPTION KEY SETS and select NEW. This will launch a dialog box that allows for the new key set to be named. Once it is named, it will show up under the collection.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Once the key set is created, right click on it and select EDIT KEYS

This opens the editor panorama where individual keys can be created and configured

The CODE will be what the survey crew types into their data collector in the field as the point is collected. The POINT STYLE will link a symbol to this key. The FORMAT column is how full descriptions are configured. By default, $* is in this field. This means that however the code is typed in the field, the description will be the same when imported in Civil 3D. The ability to change or modify the descriptions is a very powerful feature of Civil 3D. For instance, for a light pole, you may configure the code to be LP however when this is imported in the office, we can expand that description to read Light Pole.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! One important note is that Civil 3D keeps track of both descriptions and never overwrites what is collected in the field. The description the field crew keys into the data collector is called the raw description while the expanded or rearranged description is called the full description. Under point label styles, either one can be configured to display.

Wildcards can be placed in the keys so that multiple field codes can be used by the same description key. For example, may people will collect the size and canopy of a tree in the field but it is still a tree. In this case, we would type into the data collector TR diameter spread space delineated. Inside of Civil 3D, the description key could just be TR* which means anything that starts with TR will be picked up by this key. Also, the space delineated items included are called parameters which you can scale and rotate as well as label by.

So in the field, if the survey crew collected an 8 tree with a 14 canopy, they would type in TR 8 14. You can use the FORMAT column in the description key to rearrange this into something more descriptive and meaningful.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! In this case, you can start the label with $1 or the diameter parameter. Next, the mark as well as Tree ( are just plain text typed into the field. Then we use spread or $2 parameter. The rest of the label is just plain text. Finally, we can scale and rotate based on the parameters as well. Depending on whether you want to scale the block based upon its diameter or spread, you can pick the appropriate parameter number.

In this example, the block will be scaled based upon its diameter or parameter 1. Notice you can also give it a fixed scale factor or scale based upon the drawing scale. Keep in mind, you can use a combination of these options. Finally, make sure you check the box to scale in the XY direction. A completed description key file will look similar to the following:

Line Features Line features are objects that usually need a string of shots to accurately define their position. Examples of line features are tops of curbs, flow lines, tree lines, and marsh lines. The software will connect the dots automatically based upon certain designations that are entered before and after the field code in the description. It will only connect points with the same description; therefore it doesnt make any difference on how the area is surveyed (i.e.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! cross-section method or feature method). The only assumption is that the field crew collects the points in an order that will correctly draw the feature. Basic Line Codes The main command entered to begin drawing a line is B (B followed by a space and the field code). B prompts the software to begin drawing a line. You only use this code once per figure at the start of the figure. Also, place a numeric identifier at the end of the field code to make the figure unique. An example of this would be B EP1. Remember, the software only draws lines between points of like descriptions. If you are collecting in a cross-section method, and you are collecting edge of pavement (EP) on each side of the street, it is necessary to code them as EP1 and EP2. This way, the software will not draw lines zigzagging across the street. As long as each line is coded uniquely, the software will correctly draw lines between the points. The next command is C3 (C3 followed by a space and the field code). This command tells the software to start drawing a curve. Curve points are obtained in groups of three. When collecting a curve, enter C3 plus the figure code in the description of the PC point (ex. C3 EP1). The next two shots MUST be the midpoint and then the point of tangency of the curve. They are coded just as the figure code. If the curve cannot be defined with only three points, obtain three points on the curve, slide over about 0.1, and take another group of three shots (the first shot in that group will have the C3 prefix). This process can be repeated as many times as necessary, but curve shots MUST be in groups of three. Also note that while multiple lines can be collected simultaneously, once a curve is started, it must be finished before shooting a point on another line.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed!

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! There are two different ways figure codes can be entered and the method you choose will depend upon the type of data collector you own. If you have a collector that doesnt have a notes feature (i.e. HP48 with a SMI card), then the figure codes are placed in the point description. If the collector has the notes feature (i.e. TDS Ranger), then the code is placed as a note prior to the shot being taken. Depending on the type of collector and conversion routine, you may be able to use either method. Advanced Line Codes Although the B and C3 codes will get you started with collecting linework in the field, there are more codes that can be incorporated depending on the situation. Abbreviation R (point number) MCS MCE CB CR E CLOSE BLD CLOSE RECT (offset) END Full Command Recall Description Recalls a point number Begins a curve with more than 3 points Ends a curve with more than 3 points Closes and ends a figure adding a final vertex Closes and ends a figure adding 2 vertices Ends a figure

Figure Prefixes are the mechanism that links the linework to the appropriate layer in the drawing. Unlike description keys, figure prefixes are stored outside of the drawing in a FDB file. When importing the field book file, make sure to select the appropriate figure prefix library in the dialog box

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed!

To get started creating them, go to the SURVEY tab of TOOLSPACE and expand the FIGURE PREFIX DATABASES collection. Right click and select NEW. This will launch a dialog box that allows for the new database to be created. Once it is named, it will show up under the collection.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Similar to description keys, right click on the new figure prefix library and select NEW to add individual entries.

Keep in mind that these are prefixes. This means that wildcard characters arent necessary. In the example above, the EP code will suffice for EP1, EP2, etc. Also, you can predefine whether or not the figure will act as a breakline when added to a surface. The figure style controls the appearance and layer properties of the figure. They are found under the SURVEY collection of the SETTINGS tab of toolspace.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Creating the Survey Database One of the first things to do prior to converting or importing anything is to create the survey database. The survey database will be the container for all of the raw observation data collected in the field. If you are utilizing Autodesk Vault, this is automatically done when the project is created. If you arent utilizing Vault, then right click on SURVEY DATABASES from the SURVEY tab of TOOLSPACE and create a new local survey database.

Once the database has been created, make sure you check the database settings to ensure the units are correct! Out of the box, it defaults to International Feet instead of US Survey Feet.

Also inside this dialog box, you can manage other settings like angular and distance precisions, measurement type defaults, and traverse analysis defaults.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Converting to the FBK format Despite the make and manufacturer of data collector you use, the RAW data file will get converted to the Autodesk FBK format prior to being imported into Civil 3D. Autodesk has partnered with several equipment manufacturers to convert and import FBK files

Trimble Link, Leica X-Change and Carlson Connect are three plug-ins that can be downloaded free of charge to extend the Civil 3D functionality to communicate directly with these collectors. In many cases, you can upload/download directly to these collectors and skip the software that shipped with them. Trimble Link can be downloaded at: Leica X-Change can be downloaded at:
Carlson Connect can be downloaded at:

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! For all other data collectors, you can use Survey Link to communicate with the collector and convert to the FBK format. A long time companion of Land Desktop, Survey Link is now available for Civil 3D. Dependent on Civil 3D service pack 2, Survey Link can be downloaded from the Autodesk Subscription Center.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Importing FBK Files Once the FBK file has been created, it is ready to be imported into Civil 3D. Select the appropriate survey database and make it current. Right click on the NETWORKS collection and select NEW. Once the new network has been created, it will appear in the tree.

Networks can be utilized several different ways depending upon the workflow of your organization. Networks are ways that the site collection can be divided up in the field. The list below outlines some possible uses for multiple networks: Some organizations establish control prior to collecting any topo or sideshots. In this case, the control traverse could be treated as one network and the topo or sideshots treated as another network. Many times a project requires more than one day of field work. In this scenario, each day of fieldwork could be treated as a network. At times, companies will send multiple crews so that larger projects can be completed in less time. In this scenario, networks could be created for each field crew per day.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Once the network has been created, right click on the appropriate network and select IMPORT FIELD BOOK

Pay careful attention to options in the resulting dialog box. Make sure you select the appropriate figure prefix database as well as double check the rest of the options they match your expectations. Beyond this dialog box, Civil 3D will start importing the FBK file and populating the observation database. Depending on the settings, you may see the interactive graphics as the file was collected in the field or you may just see a progress bar in the lower left hand corner of the screen.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Observation Database As the fieldbook file is imported, the observation database is being populated. Civil 3D stores the raw angle and distance field observations as well as instrument setup data. This is beneficial because if errors are made in the field, many times it is easier to change them in Civil 3Ds grid like interface and having all downstream content dynamically update. The alternative is to go back to the fieldbook file, make the necessary changes in the text file and reimport. From the SURVEY tab of TOOLSPACE, if you expand the network collection, you can start to see the observation data.

Right clicking on a particular setup and selecting EDIT will open the SETUP EDITOR. From there, you can edit properties specific to the individual setup like instrument height. If a change is made, all shots made from this setup will be updated.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Right clicking on a particular setup and selecting EDIT OBSERVATIONS will open the OBSERVATION EDITOR. From here, you can edit the individual shot properties like target height. If a change is made, all points and figures affected will be updated.

Autodesk Survey Extension Starting with the 2007 version, Autodesk released the Civil 3D Survey Extension. This utility extends the existing Survey functionality in Autodesk Civil 3D 2008 by automating the process of defining a traverse's station values before performing a traverse analysis and translating a Survey Network. This utility was updated in October. The most recent version can be found on the Autodesk Civil Engineering Community site and can be downloaded for free.

Stakeout Tools Once a proposed design has been completed and approved, the project can be shifted back to the survey department to be staked out in the field. Civil 3D 2008 provides several tools to help generate points along the proposed design and create stakeout reports for the field crews. Once stakeout points have been generated, radial stakeout reports can be generated from the REPORTS MANAGER found in the TOOLBOX. Simply right-click and select EXECUTE on RADIAL_STAKEOUT to start the routine.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed!

After putting in the required occupied and backsight points as well as the stakeout points, the stakeout report looks similar to the capture below. Since this report is XML based, the layout can be easily customized to include point descriptions, a company logo, etc.

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Recently, I discovered some add-on tools written by Richard Sincovec of Edward-James Surveying Inc. Richard has created an entire suite of routines to help extend the functionality of Civil 3D from a surveyors perspective. His tools can be downloaded along with the source code free of charge at A few of my favorites are highlighted below

StakeFeatures - This routine allows a feature line to be staked out at an offset

LotCorners Creates points at the corners and geometry points of all lots in one or more sites

CV218-4: AutoCAD Civil 3D: Survey Exposed! Conclusion Civil 3D 2008 provides an entire suite of tools that allow surveyors to function in their day to day job routines. Whether its translating field collected data into topographic maps or calculating stakeout points on a proposed design, Civil 3D provides tools to get the job done faster.