Point/CounterPoint: Should Survey Firms Adopt Civil 3D?

I’ve owed this conversation to one of my students in San Diego for a few weeks now- and since we are on a roll with our Point/CounterPoint discussions- why not this one?

Survey is built into Civil3D now, but is it really a solution that our purely survey and mapping clients can sink their teeth into?  Who has tried it?  What are the alternatives?

So- I need some Devils, their Advocates and otherwise to pipe in with their experiences, successes, heartaches and opinions… (this means you EMU and JR!)




  1. MAnderson says:

    This is a good question to ask.

    Why use the Survey Database? This is a question, I have asked. If our Rangers data collectors and field crews can reduce data to coordinates in the data collector, Why do I need to use the Survey Database?

    We are still toying with it. I have at least figured out how to import TDS files into it with Carlson Connect. I just don’t know why I want to be able to do that yet.

  2. Dana Breig Probert, EIT says:

    I personally think it is overkill for what most firms, especially the purely survey and mapping firm, would take advantage of. but perhaps it falls into the same category as the whole “are you in this with two feet” idea… i don’t know.

  3. I started to opine last night on this issue, but the breathalyzer kicked me out.
    I’m guessing that the cost to go to C3D for small survey only firms is too steep. It takes a while to recover the initial cost of the software and the training of this product in a limited environment.
    I was actually tracking Jason’s evaluation piece on Carlson to get a feel for what that offered.

    In a full service environment, which we try to be, it just makes sense to start and finish a project in the same package.

    Full blown Civil3D with a small piece of survey software included probably not the most cost effective solution for Survey firms.

    But in order for that to work the survey firm that undercuts the designer firms staking bid is going to have fun trying to get usable information from the firm that has it.

    I guess in the end I agree with you, I don’t know either.

  4. Dana Breig Probert, EIT says:

    and i am not just talking about small firms… there are a lot of relatively large firms out there that act as the survey department for big companies in a subcontractor role. their concerns are compatibility related…. as well as being seen as not behind technologically.

  5. How come I have to agree with you all the time?
    The subcontractor role in a large firm hits a little too close to home.
    But by the same token, every different part of an organization has to contribute, and if it is more cost effective to do it another way, then so be it.

    Man Law.

  6. SBoon says:

    My 2 cents.

    It really depends on who processes your survey data. If I accept coordinate files, or even fieldbook data from the field crew then I lose the ability to check their work. I started my career in the field, and I routinely deal with multiple surveys from a project. I prefer to look at raw observations so that I can assess how the work was done. There are some very good survey processing packages out there, which can receive data from many types of data collectors and which have processing options that Civil3D doesn’t yet offer.

  7. SBoon says:

    Actually I’m hoping to convince Jason to evaluate Microsurvey, which is the package that I use, after he has finished with Carlson for comparison.

  8. Stephen R. Sherrill says:

    I agree that Microsurvey is at least worthy for consideration as an alternate to Autodesk for surveyors.

    There are some issues with Civil 3D that should concern a surveyor. There are problems labeling recorded bearings and distances along with the field data from a survey. There have been a few work arounds suggested but they require quite a bit of extra effort and the results are less than ideal. I am trying to accomplish this with a modified general line label that seems to work but it means creating a new label style for each course that needs a call referencing a deed or plat. A related problem is when when there is an accumulated rounding between overall distance and the accumulated reported lengths along a given course. There is no means provided to override the program label so I must again resort to my above method, only in this case the missing dynamic update feature for the label is an issue that must be remembered.

  9. jrizzo says:

    Our survey dept uses Terramodel. They are quite happy with it, but they have their eye on Civil 3D simply because it uses DWG files. They have seen demos of Civil 3D and for the most part they like what they see, but they are not particularly motivated to switch because they don’t really see a significant improvement over the models & drawings that they currently produce in Terramodel. They may end up switching eventually, but it is probably going to take a bit of prodding. To be honest, our surveyor’s choice of software doesn’t really matter to the engineers, since they would still maintain a publisher/consumer relationship with the engineering groups even if they were on C3D. It would be nice not to have to deal with translated drawings, though.

  10. Jason Hickey says:

    Wow, I leave for a week and this is what you come up with??? A guy needs some warning so that he can prepare for something like this.

    OK, my thoughts. Remember, my start in this industry (once I came in the office from the survey field crew) was survey drafting. I have quite a few opinions on this argument.

    Let’s start with the program itself. From an end-user productivity standpoint, yes, I think Civil 3D is a perfect fit for a survey firm. I think back to the hours I spent creating accurate existing ground surfaces, and the ease with which that job can be done today. Now, from a company owner point of view, that’s a different story. I have two issues with a survey company making the total switch to Civi 3D – #1 is the cost. $7500 +/- is a big price to pay for a piece of survey software. #2 is the interoperability issue, provided that I contract for an engineering company. If the firms that I work for aren’t using Civil 3D, then the nice surface object and dynamic behavior really isn’t that important anymore.

    With that out of the way, let’s talk about the whole survey database issue. Boy, this is a big one. I’m going to get a lot of unfriendly stares from the team in Manchester for saying this (ok, even more unfriendly stares than I’m getting for some of my other articles…), but I think that the survey database, while one heckuva incredible feature, is only going to be useful for a handful of surveying firms. Quite honestly, the majority of firms out there just download a PNEZD ASCII file and archive the raw data. The survey database isn’t built to deal with that very well. It’s the coolest thing since sliced bread in theory (and in execution), but it’s quite advanced for your average Joe Survey company. I see that as a very small part of why a survey company would want to implement Civil 3D.

    Now, to address some of the other comments:

    About Carlson – Folks, stay tuned. My comparison/review is a work in progress. I will keep updating it as time allows. For surveyors, I see it as being a very viable choice, especially if you don’t throw in the cost of the Civil tools. As a Civil design program, I’m absolutely not giving it the green light yet, and don’t forsee that happening. I’m sorry, but compared to the sleek Civil 3D interface and operation of the software, it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

    About Microsurvey – I’d love to look at it, provided I can talk them into an evalutation version of the software. Let me see what I can find out, and it may be next after the Carlson novel (scheduled to end sometime in the year 2035.)

    About the shortcomings of Civil 3D for surveyors – I agree, and have quite vocally shared my opinion with the team in Manchester. One major shortcoming (which is huge with me, and others) didn’t seem to make it onto the list for the next release (maybe they’ll mention it this next week in Vegas…) I can’t say what, but it’s a vital part of this discussion.

    So, in my case, the jury is still out. When I go and talk to purely survey companies, I really have to do some homework before I make a suggestion to them. I can’t go in and make a blanket “use Civil 3D” approach until I know exactly what it is that they’re trying to do.

    And I’m almost tapped out for the night. Leaving at 3:30 AM tomorrow morning for the airport. See you all in Vegas!