AutoCAD Civil 3D: 10 Tips for Setting it up for use in Land Surveying

AutoCAD Civil 3D

AutoCAD Civil 3D

In the Beginning

This is the beginning of a series of posts about setting up and using AutoCAD Civil 3D in your land surveying work. I know from the many conversations I’ve had with other professional land surveyors and mapping professionals that there is some confusion, and certainly a lot of frustration, with setting up and using AutoCAD Civil 3D.

Setting up and learning to use AutoCAD Civil 3D can be a daunting task, but it is well worth it once you’ve configured it to your company standards and learn to use, at the very least, some of the basics. I speak from experience and I know full well that you have a lot (A LOT) of setup ahead of you. I also went through this rocky experience, so I hope to make this a less painful experience for you.

Learning to use AutoCAD Civil 3D has not been as simple or as trouble free as I would have liked. However, I think it is unfair to lump all of the blame on AutoCAD Civil 3D. In all honesty, part of the problem with setting up and using AutoCAD Civil 3D is that it does require a lot of initial setup which is dependent upon your professional land surveying practice having standards in place.

A Brave New World

So,  you can look at this initial setup of AutoCAD Civil 3D as a negative or you can take a positive approach and use the setup of standards as a holistic overhaul of your surveying standards and procedures. And, this is where I shall start.

For you to follow this series and get the most benefit, I want you to first accomplish the following review of your land surveying practice:

  1. Decide where your digital project files will be stored. You absolutely need to have a standardized and reliable system in place to store and retrieve digital project files (hard copies, too) like AutoCAD Civil 3D drawings, field books, blocks, GIS data, images, letters, emails, etc.
  2. Decide where you will store your Survey Database files. This is the central repository for all of your survey database information including Networks, Control points, Traverses, etc.
  3. Decide where you will store your Equipment Databases. This is where you enter and store the information about your surveying equipment to use in adjusting your field data.
  4. Decide where to store your Figure Prefix Databases. This is where you enter and save the information which allows you to automate the drawing of line work when you enter your field data into the Survey Database. This also goes for where you will store Linework Code Sets.
  5. Organize your Point Descriptions. Now is the time to look at your automated field collection processes and develop one set of point codes to be used by all field surveyors and office CAD designers. This can really be the hardest part in setting up AutoCAD Civil 3D if you don’t already have a good point code list. In addition to nailing down standard point codes, take some time to organize them into similar groupings. You probably use codes to describe points that are for existing, proposed or set features. There are codes for utilities, buildings, fences, walls, roads, topo…. I think you get the idea. It is a simple concept, which is often skipped or not adhered to consistently. Believe me when I say that it is the point which drives AutoCAD Civil 3D for land surveyors and will make or break you. Do this once, do it right and then use your point coding system without any exceptions. Adding codes is fine. Failing to use the codes should be grounds for serious discipline, if not immediate termination.
  6. Identify the appropriate symbols to be associated with your points. I can’t tell you how many plans I’ve looked at over the years, whether during preliminary review or by other land surveyors, with inconsistent or missing symbology.

    AutoCAD Civil 3D Layer Manager

    AutoCAD Civil 3D Layer Manager

  7. Begin to think about how all of this information can be stored in AutoCAD Civil 3D by layers. No, I do not agree with putting everything on one layer, which anyone who chooses to do so should be flogged. Yes, it does take discipline to adhere to a layering scheme and separate your data onto unique layers, but the return on investment is immense. Not only will you be able to work faster and more efficiently in your AutoCAD Civil 3D drawing but you will also be more profitable when you need to go back and revise a project. There are built in layering systems within the AutoCAD Civil 3D drawing templates which I will cover in a future post, but please do not look at these until you first give a go at organizing your layering needs.
  8. Review how others, like clients, architects and engineers, use your digital work product. While your proposed system of point codes, layer names and drawing standards may be the most efficient thing to do, if your biggest clients or their consultants can’t or won’t accept it, then it doesn’t matter. In fact, this has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced since I began using AutoCAD Civil 3D. Too many clients and consultants, in my opinion, are using outdated software and use their AutoCAD software as if it were a manual drafting tool (snap, what’s a snap?).
  9. Treat this process as a project unto itself. Start an AutoCAD Civil 3D / Surveying Standards folder (Digital and hard copy). In this folder develop and keep track of your standards and document everything. You should also keep track of your time like any other project. If you have project management software, use it. I did and it really helped to keep everything organized and the process on track. And, by all means, solicit input from everyone within your organization; they may have quite a few good ideas up their sleeves and will adopt the new standards more readily if they feel invested in the process.
  10. Take the time to setup your basic AutoCAD settings and preferences before you do anything with the AutoCAD Civil 3D functions. You’ll have enough on your plate finding and understanding all of the new AutoCAD Civil 3D commands and features that you won’t want to be wasting your time looking for the things you are already familiar with using.

When I converted to AutoCAD Civil 3D, four or five years ago, I was lucky in that we were in the midst of a companywide evaluation and organization of our land surveying procedures and standards. I initiated this project because while we used fairly standard field codes and drawing standards over the years, I realized that having more strict and defined standards would speed up and enhance training  and increase efficiency and profitability, too.

Looking for a Shortcut?

I’m in the process of final edits on an AutoCAD Civil 3D drawing template which will soon be available for purchase. Let me know if you are interested in this as it will save you countless hours of work setting up your own templates. You should, however, follow these posts so that you will understand how to use AutoCAD Civil 3D and make minor revisions to my template, as necessary.

Stay Tuned!

In the next installment we’ll delve into some of the basics of AutoCAD Civil 3D and put your standards project into action. Soon, we’ll be beyond the setup stages and you can begin to use AutoCAD Civil 3D efficiently and profitably in running your professional land surveying business.

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Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

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4 comments on “AutoCAD Civil 3D: 10 Tips for Setting it up for use in Land Surveying
  1. HANK LENGFELLNER says:

    Please ad my home email too.

  2. Gregory Letts says:

    Your tips and comments are spot on. Order in 3D is a must, keep the tips coming. I would be interested in the template when it is ready for release.

  3. Jay Tyson says:

    Does your template comply with the National CAD Standards?

  4. Profile photo of admin admin says:

    Comply? By National CAD Standards are you referring to the AIA standards? Why is it that we have architects deciding how we should be working and charge for that pleasure? But I digress.

    This is an area I’m working on. I believe that it may, however, I first created these a few years ago and I’m sure that along the way I tweaked a few layers to make more sense, if not to all land surveyors, then at least to my business and practice. Some revisions are needed to revise and/or eliminate a few client specific layers/symbols, too.

    I’ll provide a list of the final layer structure for review: I think you will find it satisfactory for most needs. The real benefit here, besides a well organized and understandable layer structure, is the integration with Civil 3D Point Styles, Label Styles and Groups.

    I would also entertain creating a custom template if anyone is interested in that.

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