Is Your Land Development Desktop Getting Long in the Tooth?

Is you LDD getting long in the toothSurveyors, by nature, are conservative and are loath to change when they have a functioning system-and I agree with them.  I am still using Office 2007-it does what I need and I don’t need the learning curve associated with a newer version and I sure don’t need the annual fee of Office 365.

Many LDD users are still using Windows XP and must upgrade to Windows 10 when they buy new hardware.  LDD may no longer be an option.  Autodesk solution is the survey extension to Civil 3D which they rent for $2,100 each and every year.

It is hard to justify renting a full design package when what you want is an easy to use, highly functional survey package.

Introducing Stinger TOPO

Stringer TOPO – originally written to enhance the survey functionality offered in LDD has been upgraded to work with Civil 3D, native AutoCAD and BricsCAD. It is certainly worthy of consideration as an Land Development Desktop replacement.

What I like about Stringer TOPO

  • Familiar functionality
  • Similar user interface and workflow
  • Compatibility with all standard data collectors
  • Very nice, feature rich survey import features
  • Support for numeric and alpha-numeric survey codes
  • Well thought out process for assigning layers, symbols etc to imported survey data
  • Exceptional point code connection functionality (this is where the name Stringer originated)
  • Ribbon, menu and command line interfaces
  • Efficient surface creation engine (AutoCAD and BricsCAD)
  • Tools to automatically connect codes and to identify crossing breaklines
  • Simple way to define contourable and non-contourable points
  • All standard COGO point, traverse, labeling functionality
  • Support for Civil 3D, AutoCAD and BricsCAD – an AutoCAD alternative
  • A one time purchase price of $745 and the flexibility of upgrading when you want.

What I Would Like to See

While testing Stringer TOPO I was able to communicate with the Product Manager – Jason Coghlan on a regular basis.  I was quite surprised at how willing his team was to make enhancements to address the US market. Below is a summary of the improvements I have recommended based on my own experience and feedback from existing and potential users:

  • Provide a tutorial that new users can follow when evaluating the 30 day free trial
    • You can stumble through with your own data but you will miss a lot without this
  • Modify forms to accept both azimuth and bearings
  • Replace all references to kerbs with curbs and pits to manholes (minor but annoying)
  • Add some parcel creation and labeling functionality similar to the Civil 3D functions in AutoCAD and BricsCAD versions

I am sure there will be more down the road but this relatively small list is pretty much all that is required for a full feature, reasonably priced survey package. You can download a  free 30 day trial here.

Digging a Bit Deeper

Stringer TOPO will run with AutoCAD or Civil 3D but the real value comes when you run it with BricsCAD.  BricsCAD is the modern version of AutoCAD that is 100% compatible at the DWG level.  It has its own LISP engine which is significantly faster than AutoCAD and allows you to load your own CUI and LISP applications if you have them.  You can learn more about BricsCAD here.

Stringer Connect

This easy to use module reads data directly from the vast majority of data collectors.  It scans for and alerts you to incorrect point codes, provides an editable spreadsheet style form with all of shots clearly identified and provides a simple graphical view of the survey.

Stringer Connect UIA nice feature is that you can apply a coordinate file containing state plane coordinates that will automatically transform the survey from a local projection to state plane.

Stringer User Interface

The ribbon style user interface places all key features in a single panel. Some of the very useful functions are described below .ribbon1

 

ribbon2

ribbon3

Stringer also fully supports menu and command line inputs.

 

Defining Contourable Points

Defining which points to use for generating contours can be problematic in many applications.  Stringer TOPO provides a simple form that allows you to use wild cards to define contourable points.

Building Surfaces

Stringer TOPO uses the same powerful surface engine as Civil Site Design. You have all of the tools you need to specify contour intervals and colors, manage your TIN and analyze elevation and slope ranges.

Connecting Survey Codes

Stringer gets its name from its ability to automatically connect (string together) individual survey codes based on field or office defined connection numbers.  This intuitive interface allows you to quickly connect field codes and generate both 2D and 3D breaklines.

Crossing Breaklines

Finding crossing breaklines cannot be easier. A single menu pick identifies all crossing breaklines allowing you to make the necessary corrections to ensure proper contouring.

Those Tricky Curb Returns

Many survey packages allow users to create 3 point curves for curb returns and other curved features. Stringer Topo improves on this process by automatically creating an updated TIN for that more accurately reflects the associated surface.

contoursbeforecontoursafter

3 Point Building Outlines

Although pretty standard, this functionality reduces the time an effort required to capture and draft building outlines. These outlines can then be used as breaklines to eliminate contours passing through buildings.

Re-order /Connect Points Based on Distance

This is a really nice feature.  Often, crews accidentally pick up points out of sequence creating on screen spaghetti. This function reorders the points automatically based on the distance from a user specified point.

Manual Traverse Supporttraverseform

Not all survey data comes from instruments.  Stringer TOPO provides a form for manually entering field notes and survey plat information.

 

 

Utilitiesstringerextras

In addition to the standard survey functions, Stringer TOPO contains dozens of specialty routines to assist in detailed drafting and labeling.

Posted in AutoCAD, BricsCAD, Field Survey Software, Land Development Desktop | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Autodesk Rental Model May Result in Local Governments Wasting Money in the Future

toilet2 I recently had an interesting discussion with the GIS/CAD manager for the wastewater division of a large U.S. city. He raised a number of interesting observations of their changing software needs:

  • The city has migrated to the Esri Government model and is no longer using Autodesk products for geospatial data capture or daily GIS maintenance
  • His division is using Autodesk products for engineering design. Roughly
    • 1/3 for manhole, gravity sewer and force main design and rehabilitation
    • 1/3 for lift station rehabilitation and maintenance
    • 1/3 for treatment plant maintenance, modification and rehabilitation design
  • The AEC collection provides much more software than his organization will ever use. For example, he does not believe that his team will use Revit in the foreseeable future because of its complexity and training requirements.
  • He is concerned about Autodesk’s long term strategy for software maintenance suspecting that the maintenance and subscription (rental) pricing will eventually converge and that perpetual licenses could be eliminated.
  • He has been following BricsCAD closely as he believes that BricsCAD with 3rd party applications could represent a significant savings to the City from reduced software costs and lower hardware costs.

5yearcostAs an example, his group has deployed 20 AEC Collection licenses  primarily to provide CAD access to geospatial data.  This basic functionality can be replicated with BricsCAD and Spatial Manager.

The savings to the organization (when compared to Autodesk’s subscription pricing) of converting only 10 of his AEC Collection licenses  is $10,600 in the first year and a whopping $84,500 over 5 years.

 

The 80/20 Rule Applies

A key observation was that his “organization only needed 20% of the core functionality 80% of the time.”  Different users have different CAD needs – the classic example of selecting the right tool for the job.

That option has, however, been removed by Autodesk as it forces collections upon users.  For example, why is the annual subscription for AutoCAD Map the same as that of Civil 3D?  Given the option, of course users will select Civil 3D, even if they have no intention to use it.  This adds additional bloat, complicates deployment processes and increases hardware requirements.

It would be interesting to know how many other local governments find themselves in a similar situation.  Will we start to see mixed deployments of AutoCAD and DWG compatible applications like BricsCAD or IntelliCAD?

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Value in Site Design Software = Productivity+ Ease of Use + Cost

 

man-of-valueAutodesk’s move to a subscription only pricing model, combined with backward compatibility issues with Civil 3D 2017 have caused many users to evaluate the true value of Civil 3D to their organization. Many are now considering alternatives for the first time.

Here,  we compare Civil 3D to Civil Site Design a promising, feature rich road and subdivision design alternative that works as an add-on to Civil 3D or independently with both AutoCAD and BricsCAD.

Productivity

Productivity is a measure of how quickly users can complete a design and generate design drawings. Each hour reduction in design time adds directly to a civil engineering firms bottom line.

Rather than using tutorial videos, I  created a preliminary design of a complicated 20 road subdivision, complete with curb returns in less than 1 minute. This unedited video can be viewed here.

Bottom line, Civil Site Design connected all of the roads, with curb returns and optimized profiles in under a minute on a $699 notebook with 8 GB of RAM.

Ease of Use:

Ease of use is a measure of how quickly a user can become productive with a product. It comprises:

  • An intuitive user interface
  • Design automation tools
  • Easy access to task based on-line training

New users to Civil 3D require extensive training – a 4 day introductory course is common.  Compare this 11 part Civil 3D intersection design video series  to a comparable 4 part Civil Site Design Advanced Intersection Design Video.

The design automation tools in Civil Site Design are also impressive.  When you create a road, the software gives a best fit, but editable profile in a separate window. There was no need to create separate profiles in the drawing for each alignment. The built in vertical grading editor allowed me to balance cut and fill automatically for each alignment.

Bottom line, the intuitive interface, design automation tools, provided tutorial and on-line e-learning tools allow users to quickly become productive with Civil Site Design.

Direct Costs:

While productivity and ease of use are the critical issues in software selection, cost is often a key motivator. Civil Site Design provides  users with  $2,885/seat in direct savings over  a 3 year period when compared to Civil 3D and provides a perpetual license.

1 Year Commitment 3 year Commitment
Civil 3D $2,100 $5,670
Civil Site Design $1,995 $2,785
Savings $105 $2,885

A secondary  benefit of Civil Site Design with BricsCAD is that high performance workstations with specialized graphics cards are not required.

Summary

Civil 3D has emerged as the de-facto standard for road design and highway design. Being the standard has some key benefits, particularly for inter-operability between organizations. It does not, however, mean that Civil 3D users are receiving true value.

Civil 3D users fall into 3 broad categories:

  1. Those who have invested in training and have incorporated the technology into their internal workflows. These users are generally comfortable with Civil 3D and are reluctant to change
    • These users gain immediate productivity benefits with Civil Site Design for Civil 3D.
  2. Those who have purchased Civil 3D but use it infrequently and have not received recent training. These users are the most frustrated. They attempt to use Civil 3D for a design but run into one stumbling block after another.
    • These users will see immediate benefits with Civil Site Design on Civil 3D, AutoCAD or BricsCAD
  3. Smaller firms who have never purchased Civil 3D because of the cost but must still perform road and site designs. These firm often use manual processes to generate their design drawings.
    • These users will see an immediate return on investment with Civil Site Design running on either AutoCAD or BricsCAD
Posted in Civil 3D, Road Design, Site Design | Tagged ,

Civil 3D 2017 is not Backwards Compatible

Many Civil 3D users will be surprised to learn that Civil 3D 2017 is not backward compatible to earlier versions.  This will hurt many firms who purchased subscription for some but not all of their Civil 3D licenses to  maintain compatibility with external clients.

Dave Simeone, Senior Product Manager – AutoCAD Civil 3D, gave the following explanation for Autodesk’s rationale for not maintaining backward compatibility.

“Civil 3D Object Format – Yes, we made the hard decision to update our objects for Release 2017. This enables us to properly implement the improvements in the initial release AND also provide us a platform for some things that we’re hoping to deliver during the year.”

Moving data from 2017 back to previous releases is still achievable, however, not directly using Save As on the drawing. The Civil 3D data aspects need to be transferred via other methods, such as LandXML.

If users want to maintain compatibility with Civil 3D 2017, they must either:

  • Pay the annual subscription on existing perpetual licenses or
  • Pay the $2,100 annual rental for new licenses or older seats not on subscription or
  • Look for alternatives that support LandXML.

Although AutoCAD and Civil 3D are proven products and industry standards,  there is a lot of resentment towards Autodesk amongst their user base:

  • Perceived high cost
  • Resentment over forced annual payments (subscription or rental)
  • The complexity of Civil 3D and the long learning curve.

I quoted an experienced Civil 3D instructor in an earlier post:

” I love it (ie Civil 3D), I can use it, but still face all the issues listed. I stand by that out of all the users, 5% can actually use it, even after all these years. In the end, it costs everyone that tries to use it, more money than what they are doing already. I’ve made a living off of it being so difficult to use, only to be left tired of all the complaints and 2D usage of C3D!”

 Has Autodesk’s pendulum swung too far away from customers and partners leaving an opening for entrepreneurial competitors?

  • BricsCAD , priced from  $680 for a perpetual license,  offers all of the functionality of AutoCAD  with DWG, LISP, CUI and command line compatibility. It is gaining a groundswell of enthusiastic users amazed by its small footprint (190 mb) and its blazing speed.
  • Civil Site Design is a 3rd party application, originally developed as an add-on to Civil 3D, now offers equivalent functionality and more for less than the annual rental fee of Civil 3D. A single license will run with Civil 3D, AutoCAD and BricsCAD on the same computer.
  • Stringer Topo ($745) is a solution for surveyors, many of whom are still using 10 year old versions of Land Development Desktop and have no low cost way to upgrade.
  • Spatial Manager is a powerful geo-spatial tool that adds much of the functionality of AutoCAD Map to BricsCAD for as low as $129.

Rather than focusing on developing great, reliable, efficient software Autodesk has evolved into a self centered marketing juggernaut.  When Autodesk could not deliver new or updated products addressing vertical market needs,  users were enticed into purchasing poorly integrated product suites that they did not need or use to drive short term revenue.

Anecdotally, many users are furious with Autodesk.  The frustration is most evident in the smaller civil design firms who require highly functional design software at a reasonable cost.  With modern tools, supported by detailed on-line how to videos these firms have an opportunity to dominate the highly competitive local market as discussed here.

Larger firms do take advantage of the functionality offered by the more advanced features such as InfraWorks  because large projects often require the analysis and visualization tools offered.  One hypothesis I have heard is that Autodesk can do very well servicing only these large accounts.  What will happen to Autodesk when these firms begin to look for complementary alternatives offered at a much lower cost?

In the early days of my career, I joined a mid-sized civil engineering firm that dominated the smaller local government market in Alberta, Canada.  They not only provided engineering services to towns and cities but were often retained as the city engineer.

And then the oil boom happened.  The firm and its affiliates grew from 150 staff members to over 2,500 providing services largely to the oil patch.  Fees from local governments were low in comparison to those from the oil companies and resources were gradually shifted to the oil patch despite pleas from many employees to not abandon the vary clients who sustained the company in its formative years.

When the oil boom burst in the early 80’s, the company was downsized to under 150 in a matter of months.  Survival was made more difficult because much of the solid base that the company use to have was gone.

Autodesk may be making a similar mistake:

  • Providing a product mix of poorly integrated applications
  • Ignoring basic bug/feature fix requests in favor often esoteric new features
  • Encouraging/forcing users to purchase suites
  • Moving from a perpetual license model to a rental model
  • Placing marketing ahead of the original software development culture that Autodesk was founded on
  • Ignoring the very customers that established a firm foundation for the company
  • Decimating their once strong channel and now competing directly against the remaining resellers with their own on-line store

An interesting twist in the Autodesk story is the recent change in the Board of Directors as a result of activist investors.  Ralph Grabowski provides an in-depth  analysis of this and the future of Autodesk products in his upFront.eZine newsletter.

 

Posted in AutoCAD, Civil 3D | Tagged , , ,

Small Civil Design Firms Can Dominate The Site Design Market!

Smaller civil engineering firms have the regional knowledge and relationships with local developers to allow them to win significant subdivision design projects.  Their goal is to deliver a quality design  at a reasonable, profitable fee – to dominate their market!

Dominate Your Development Marketing with Civil Site Design

Dominate Your Local Development Market with Civil Site Design

To achieve this, these firms require design software that significantly increases their efficiency and  allows them to deliver quality designs faster with minimal training.

Site design software must be:

  • Available at a reasonable cost.
  • Useable from day one with minimal training.
  • Able to quantitatively reduce the time required to deliver accurate design drawings.

Autodesk’s Civil 3D is the de facto standard for road and highway design in the United States.  It is a powerful collection of proven tools that have systematically evolved over the years. Civil 3D users tend to fall into two broad groups:

  • Those who have invested the time and effort to fully learn and understand Civil 3D. These users are keen supporters.
  • Those who find Civil 3D expensive and too complex to use effectively. They have made the investment in the software and training but are not realizing the benefits they expected.

I found the following quotation from an experienced Civil 3D user and instructor on Linkedin to be quite revealing:

” I love it (ie Civil 3D), I can use it, but still face all the issues listed. I stand by that out of all the users, 5% can actually use it, even after all these years. In the end, it costs everyone that tries to use it, more money than what they are doing already. I’ve made a living off of it being so difficult to use, only to be left tired of all the complaints and 2D usage of C3D!”

Civil Site Design from Civil Survey Solutions has taken a different approach.  Originally marketed as Advanced Road Design, it was an add-on to Civil 3D designed to simplify and automate the generation of road designs. That anyone could successfully sell such an add-on to an already expensive product is indicative of the benefits it offers.

Now Civil Site Design has evolved into a feature rich site design application that continues to work with Civil 3D but also runs on top of AutoCAD and BricsCAD significantly reducing the overall cost of the software.  The chart below compares the 5 year cost of Civil 3D rental versus Civil Site Design running on top of BricsCAD.

Civil 3D - Civil Site Design 5 year costs

A smaller firm will realize a 5 year savings of close to  $7,000 per license. Imagine the savings in larger firms with 20 or more licenses. Firms who have not invested in Civil 3D will recoup the cost of the software in their first design.

But there are even more significant benefits than cost alone – productivity:

  • Training costs are minimal. With extensive on-line video’s and tutorial files, users can begin designing roads and sites after 8-16 hours of self training. A Civil 3D training video series is 48 hours long.
  • With the automated road design tool, a preliminary design for a 10 road subdivision can be generated in less than 5 minutes.
  • With real-time rendering integrated directly with your design, designers can immediately visualize a design, perform line of sight analysis, drive throughs and create videos instantly.
  • Personalized support from developers who still care about you.
  • Data sharing allows multiple users to work on different design components simultaneously with real-time updates amongst users.
  • BricsCAD and Civil Site Design are noticeably faster and more stable than Civil 3D even on lower cost computers

Civil Site Design is not going to replace Civil 3D in the short term.  But if you are a smaller civil engineering firm that wants to dominate your local market or if your organization is not realizing the full benefits of Civil 3D, spend a few minutes to review this overview video and consider downloading the free 30 day trial available at the Civil Site Design website.

Posted in AutoCAD, BricsCAD, Civil 3D, Road Design, Site Design | 1 Comment

Save $6,825 Over 5 Years From the AutoCAD Rental Program!

Like many software companies, Autodesk is moving to a software rental model.  Although this approach is common for new cloud based solutions, will it be accepted by AutoCAD users who are accustomed to owning their desktop software?

The chart below shows the savings that AutoCAD rental customers can achieve over a 5 year period by switching to BricsCAD.  You save $810 the first year and your savings increase to a total of $6,825 after 5 years. Multiply that by the number of licenses you have – and you can realize a significant impact on your bottom line.

5YrCosts

But what is the risk?

DWG compatibility:

BricsCAD is 100% DWG supporting files back to version 2.5.

Functionality:

BricsCAD has all of the functionality of AutoCAD and much more. Learn more.

End User Training:

BricsCAD has virtually the same interface as AutoCAD and will even load your custom menu files. Users are fully operational in the new environment in minutes. A recent BricsCAD adopter commented:

“I have the BricsCAD link and just installed it on my machine.  After about 5 minutes of changing some settings it already feels like home.  You were right, it feels the same as AutoCAD”

Customization:

BricsCAD will load and run your custom AutoLISP functions without change.  If you have developed ARX applications, these can be configured for BricsCAD with a simple recompile.

Performance:

You will be stunned at how fast BricsCAD runs compared to AutoCAD even on low cost notebooks.

What Do the Pro’s Say:

Ralph Grabowski, a preeminent technology author, celebrating 30 years of reporting on CAD, provides all if the information you need in his 300 page BRICSCAD for AutoCAD Users eBook.

3rd Party Applications

With its free 3rd party developer program, Bricsys is developing an ever growing network of developers. Read these reviews the survey and civil markets.

Take Away

The potential impacts of change are always a concern amongst owners, CAD managers and users. Unlike other AutoCAD clones which focus on price, BricsCAD eliminates virtually all of the risk at a cost savings that can’t be ignored.  It certainly deserves the few hours of effort required for an evaluation Download a 30 Day Trial Here.

 

Posted in AutoCAD, BricsCAD, Road Design, Site Design

What Will You Do When Autodesk Abandons DWG?

The thought of Autodesk abandoning DWG never really occurred to me until I read Ralph Grabowski’s interview with Neil Peterson – President of the ODA (Open Design Alliance).  The ODA  is an organization of 1280 firms that support the development of the Teigha toolkit to allow members to read and write DWG files amongst others.

Will Autodesk really abandon DWG?

Will Autodesk really abandon DWG?

Q: Autodesk is pinning their future on running all their software on the cloud and licensing only by subscriptions. Will this affect you?

A: Autodesk is leaving a void by doing this. They do not have a cloud offering compatible with their desktop software. We are different in that we are providing a technology, while they are providing a service. People can build on our system; they cannot build on Autodesk’s [cloud services].

In our view, the cloud has to be compatible with the desktop, and so we can reuse all our desktop stuff on the cloud [like civil or architectural custom object support on servers], instead of making an incompatible leap to something else. For some reason, Autodesk is unable to use its own DWG library for [Web and mobile-based] AutoCAD 360, and so has to rewrite it. For us, all that needs to change is the user interface; everything else of ours should work on both the client and the server sides.

My Read:

We are fortunate to have organizations such as ODA and firms such as Bricsys and Civil Survey Solutions that provide real, cost effective alternatives.

It will be interesting to see when engineering firms begin to break the handcuffs that Autodesk has traditionally used to keep the design industry in check.

Is Autodesk FUD the reason many firms are ignoring BricsCAD – an effective AutoCAD alternative at 15% of the cost or Civil Site Design – a civil site design add on to Civil 3D, AutoCAD and BricsCAD?

Read the full interview here.

Pauli Carmody / Foter / CC BY

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