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Civil 3D Users – Maximize Your Productivity and Save Money

Keep What You Like About Civil 3D

Keep what you like about Civil 3D! Upgrade the parts that are giving you grief.

This post has been updated and moved here.

BricsCAD is a clear alternative to AutoCAD, allowing users to opt out of the AutoCAD rental program. Steve Johnston (blog  nauseam) performed a very thorough analysis of maintenance vs rental options in a 4 part series and concludes:

DO NOT switch from maintenance to subscription.

Just don’t do it. It makes no sense to do it on any level. You would throw away your valuable perpetual license, of course, but that’s not all. Despite what Autodesk is implying in its sleight-of-hand marketing, subscription will cost you more money.

The alternatives for Civil 3D are less clear. Civil 3D is high end design software.  It has become a de facto civil design standard in North America. Engineering firms have invested heavily in:

  • Software including investments in suites/collections
  • Developing internal standards, styles and workflows
  • Integrating with state DOT standards
  • Staff training

Consequently, any decision to implement an alternative, regardless of software costs, has secondary impacts that may lock many users into the high costs of Civil 3D for the foreseeable future.

Civil Site Design, originally written as a Civil 3D add-on for automated road design, is the one option that provides immediate real benefits including stability and design automation to Civil 3D users while providing a path to independence from the Autodesk rental program, if desired, for as little as $995. Continue reading

Posted in AutoCAD, BricsCAD, Civil 3D, Civil Site Design, Land Development Desktop, Road Design, Site Design, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Most Civil/Survey Firms Are Not Well Served by Civil 3D

This post has been updated and moved here.

It is my belief that many of Autodesk’s Civil 3D users would be better served by smaller developers who are laser focused on the Civil/Survey market. Why?

  • Surveyors should not have to purchase a full Civil package to process their survey data. Many continue to use Land Development Desktop even though it has not been even supported since 2012 and are actively seeking alternatives.
  • Most of the small to mid-size civil engineering firm’s work is residential and commercial subdivisions. Civil 3D is corridor based (think highways). Even after 12 years, Civil 3D does not address the basics of subdivision design when compared to alternatives.
  • Autodesk’s planned integration of their rental and perpetual license maintenance programs will drive the annual price to a level that will cause many users to seek alternatives.
  • Most importantly – One of the basic tenants of business is that companies benefit from doing business with companies of comparable size.

Autodesk is listening to large civil firms who work on major projects- they drive the bulk of Autodesk’s AEC revenue.

  • Autodesk’s software rental program is attractive to large firms because they can write off these costs annually and can license software on demand as they staff up and down based on workload.

Autodesk is not listening to the small firms with few licenses – the very customers who drove Autodesk’s growth in its early years when it too was a small technology company.

Smaller application developers are much more responsive to the needs of surveyors and civil designers. They often better understand user needs and tailor their software accordingly.

So What are the Alternatives?

BricsCAD is CAD engine I examined in detail in my blog – Is BricsCAD a Real Alternative to AutoCAD.

  • In many ways better than AutoCAD and 100% DWG compliant
  • Priced at only $680 for the PRO version required by 3rd party developers
  • A commitment to end users and bug fixes that is unparalleled. BricsCAD V16 had over 20 point releases in 1 year incorporating both new features and bug fixes.
  • Leadership with a clear vision
  • A growing 3rd party developer network

Stringer Topo – for surveyors is a $745 application that runs with Civil 3D, AutoCAD and BricsCAD.

  • Written by surveyors for surveyors
  • Flexible with support for virtually all field instruments
  • On-line help, tutorial and videos
  • Great support system that is responsive to customer needs

Spatial Manager – provides access to GIS data in BricsCAD and AutoCAD for $229.

  • Powerful tools for importing GIS data into AutoCAD and BricsCAD
  • Responsive development team who will quickly correct bugs or respond to new feature requests
  • Excellent web blogs and help system

Civil Site Design – for designers is a $1,995 full feature civil design package that operates with Civil 3D, AutoCAD and BricsCAD.

  • Users with legacy versions of Civil 3D can continue to use the features they like while getting increased performance and more stability.
  • Feature rich civil design software with an extensive video support system
  • Extremely responsive support group with dedicated Webex support for users
  • Ambitiously adding new features such as the integrated Model Viewer and most recently the Satellite to Surface More are coming this year.

Let’s wrap with a comment from James Maeding on Steve Johnson’s blog – Autodesk Perpetual License Owners to get Screwed Big-Time.

“The interesting thing is $1,000 a year for Civil 3D maintenance subscription is pretty easy to justify. When you jump to $2,500 for rental, it does start to become something you think about. The first stage of minimizing Autodesk products has already begun with several civil companies I know. They stop giving everyone Civil 3D, and limit it to only those that actually use it. The rest get AutoCAD.

The next step is to get the AutoCAD users to BricsCAD, and the Civil 3D users to civil software for BricsCAD. The guys from Australia that write what used to be ARD, (now Civil Site Design) have adapted it to BricsCAD and US design patterns. That is a real alternative to Civil 3D, even if you use AutoCAD. The fact is, any software vendor makes Autodesk service look horrible. That is sad, as the technical people at Autodesk are great. The organization just got too big and now its all about pleasing internal review instead of true customer review.”

Posted in AutoCAD, BricsCAD, Civil 3D, Civil Site Design, Field Survey Software, Land Development Desktop, Road Design, Site Design | Leave a comment

Civil Site Design’s Satellite to Surface Feature is Amazingly Accurate!

This post has been updated and moved here.

Google Earth provides access to its elevation data with a free Google Elevation API key. Civil Site Design takes advantage of this feature with its new Satellite to Surface functionality. This feature allows you to select an area and the distance between grid points.  It returns a contoured surface integrated with the Civil Site Design software and an aerial image.

I was curious about the accuracy of the data provided by Google.  There were two potential use cases I had in mind:

  1. Conceptual/preliminary design for new subdivisions
  2. Accessing basin topography for flood plain analysis with HEC RAS 2

For evaluation purposes, I selected two sites:

  • Site 1 was a heavily treed subdivision in Dunedin Florida. For this site, I had originally downloaded and processed over 2 million LIDAR points from the NOAA website.
  • Site 2 was a proposed commercial subdivision in Lake County Florida where we had topographic survey data on a 100 foot grid as well as detailed surveys of existing infrastructure.

The satellite to surface feature generated surfaces for the two test areas in less than 10 minutes each.  The surfaces generated from the Google elevation data were amazingly accurate when compared to both LIDAR and survey data.

Continue reading

Posted in Civil Site Design, Elevation Data, Google My Maps, Mapping | 2 Comments

Is Your Land Development Desktop Getting Long in the Tooth?

This post has been updated and moved here.

Surveyors, 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




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.


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.




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


This post has be updated and moved here.

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

This post has been updated and moved here.

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 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.


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 , | 1 Comment