Accessing Spatial Data in CAD Without AutoCAD Map

AutoCAD Map is an extremely powerful tool supporting spatial projections, topology, thematic mapping and more. But it is expensive at $5245.  I was searching for a low cost alternative that  provides the most commonly used spatial data management features at a reasonable cost.

I had the pleasure this week of putting Spatial Manager(SPM) through its paces. Spatial Manager is provided in three versions Desktop, AutoCAD and BricsCAD.

I tested SPM with BricsCAD Pro, a $650 package that offers all of the functionality of AutoCAD and more because a number of our clients are looking for complementary seats to costly AutoCAD Map and Civil 3D licenses.

The Bottom Line

At $299, Spatial Manager provides users with everything they need to add geospatial functionality to BricsCAD.

  • Easily import and export Esri SHP files.
  • Adds projection information to the dwg files.
  • Import and export from a wide variety of formats including KML, Open Street Maps and DGN
  • Import from CSV and GPS devices
  • Import from ODBC data sources
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Excellent web documentation and videos
  • Rapid email response to submitted support request

Although I have a few wish list items for future releases, I give Spatial Manager  5 stars for ease of use, functionality and return on investment. Combined with BricsCAD Pro, for $949 you get exactly what you need for spatial data management at less than 20% of the cost of AutoCAD Map.

Test Environment

One of the stated advantages of BricsCAD is that it will run effectively on lower performance computers.  This is a huge advantage if end users do not have to upgrade their hardware as part of a software upgrade.

I used an HP Beats 15″  notebook, 8GB Ram, Windows 8.1 and an AMD quad-core processor ($599).

Test Data

Many applications run well with smaller data sets.  I really wanted to put SDM through its paces with a large data set.  Pinellas County provides free access to it GIS data.  This includes:

  • A parcel SHP file (317,000+ parcels) complete with attribute data
  • A road centerline SHP file (57,000+ segments) with attribute data
  • A complex SHP file containing municipal boundaries

Data Loading Results

The results of the data loading tests are summarized below:

Municipal Boundaries

The municipal boundaries in the County are extremely complex with many interior polygons.  I elected to have this file loaded as solid filed polygons on separate layers based on municipality name.

The dialog was easy to follow as shown below:

Spatial Manager settings for importing municipal boundaries

Spatial Manager settings for importing municipal boundaries

Themed municipalities after importing using Spatial Manager

Themed municipalities after importing using Spatial Manager

The output was exactly as expected. The application loaded 1,200 solid filled polygons, with associated Xdata and themed by municipality name in under 10 seconds.  Note that the SPM also loaded standard coordinate system information and stored this information in the drawing file.

Road Centerlines:

The road centerline SHP file contained 57,000 polyline segments. Attribute information contained attributes such as name, start and ending address ranges, owner, number of lanes, segment class etc.

For this file, I elected to have SPM load the segments and separate them by segment class.  This allowed me to easily separate the network by classifications such as major arterial, collectors, local roads etc.

The same user interface is used. In this case only the options for polylines are presented to the user. I simply selected the segment class field for the layer separation.  The entire file was processed in under 4 minutes. The results are shown below:

 Road Centerline  SHP file loaded into BricsCAD

Parcel File

The Pinellas parcel.shp file contained over 371,000 parcels complete with attribute data. I used SPM to load the data with EED attached to each parcel:

The process took a reasonable 5 minutes to process yielding the following drawing:

 Parcels

Loading the same file without EED took 2.5 minutes.

XYZ Points File

The points file loading process allows users to select the points file and define a block to be used when the points are placed.

The user interface is a simple and intuitive.

As the name suggests, this process only loads a file containing x,y and z coordinates.  If you need to also load attribute data, you must use the ODBC interface with an Excel or MS Access database.

ODBC Data

I was testing this key feature using Excel 2007 with BricsCAD/SPM 64 bit versions.  I am sure many users would make the same mistake!

Excel 2007 is a 32 bit application.  The ODBC drivers are not available for 64 bit applications.  Your options are:

  1. Uninstall BricsCAD 64 bit and install BricsCAD 32 bit
  2. Upgrade to Excel 2013

The ODBC setup video demonstrates the process and I am certain that there is no problem with this implementation in SPM.  I will revisit this function in a future post.

AutoCAD Map Compatibility Test

Compatibility with AutoCAD Map is critical if BricsCAD/SPM are to be used as complementary seats.  Two basic tests were conducted to ensure that EED data created by SPM and Object Data created by AutoCAD Map were preserved as drawing files were shared between the two applications.

SPM EED Data Test

In this test:

  • The parcel shp file was imported into BricsCAD
  • The drawing file was saved and then opened with AutoCAD Map
  • A section of the dwg, representing a subdivision, was wblocked out
  • The new drawing was opened in BricsCAD and inspected to ensure that the EED data was preserved

The drawing files moved seamlessly through both applications with the EED remaining intact.

AutoCAD Map Object Data Test

In this test:

  • The parcel file from BricsCAD was opened in AutoCAD Map
  • An Object Data table was created and populated with default data
  • The entities in the drawing file were updated with the object data
  • The drawing was saved and then opened in BricsCAD
  • EED was inspected and was found to be present and unchanged
  • The drawing was saved in BricsCAD and then opened in AutoCAD Map
  • The Object Data was inspected and found to be present and unchanged

Again, data was moved seamlessly between the two environments with no changes.

KML Test

I was particularly curious about the KML/Google Maps interface of SPM.  This capability fits well with my earlier blog on using My Google Maps.

For this test, I exported a exported the subdivision drawing as a KMZ file.  Again, the interface was completely intuitive.  The results are shown below:

The KMZ file output of parcels from SPM displayed in Google Maps

The KMZ file output of parcels from SPM displayed in Google Maps

Nice Features

In addition to the excellent core functionality of the SPM, it has a number of convenience features that improve overall efficiency. These are signs of a well designed product with a focus on end user efficiency.

The shortcuts bar allows you to create shortcuts to commonly used folders.  This makes it much simpler than browsing out to find specific files.

The task manager, a recently added feature, allows you to save specific processes to allow automated updating in the future:

The short cuts user interface in SPM

The Shortcuts user interface in SPM

The Tasks tabs  in Spatial Manager

The Tasks tab in Spatial Manager

Features I Would Like to See in Future Releases

The SPM is a great product that does exactly what it advertises at a reasonable price. With any product, however, there are always wish list items Below are some suggestions that I believe would make the product even more efficient.

Limit Import by Area:

In the United States, users will often be importing SHP files that are provided by government agencies and will be interested in only a subset of the entire file. The ability to limit the area to be import to either the current display or a user defined window would be useful.

Limit Import by Field Value

Often, users will want to only import a subset of the data based on values stored in the attributes of the import file.  For example, limit the parcels imported based on the municipality name.

Ideally users would be able to select the field and then give the import criteria based on the field data type.  Standard criteria such as  >=, <=, =, contains, in should be provided.

Select Fields to Import

A nice feature would be the ability to select the fields to be imported from the source file.  Ideally, users would be able to change the field name during the import.  When combined with the Task Manager, this would be a very powerful feature.

Labels from Data/EED

This feature would allow users to define labels/text that would be created from the import data.  This could be done during import or as an add-on function that would allow users to create labels from the EED after data import.

Summary

Spatial Manager is a great product for those BricsCAD users who need access to external geo-spatial files such as Esri SHP files.

It does not, nor should it, try to replicate all of the features of AutoCAD Map.  It does, however, provide virtually everything that an average user would need to import geo-spatial data.

Advertisements

About Lance Maidlow

A professional engineer and solution architect with direct experience in a wide range of industries including GIS, water, sewer, power, transportation and oil and gas. Currently focusing on the optimization of design software and field data collection for utilities, local governments and their supporting organizations.
This entry was posted in AutoCAD, BricsCAD, Mapping and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.