Design visualization has had a significant impact on the architecture, building, civil engineering, and construction industries. Even more so, the practice is an essential component of the building information modeling (BIM) workflow, helping multidisciplinary teams to grasp the totality of a project quickly and literally “see” the big picture.
Today, design visualization is transforming the lives of forward-thinking civil engineers and enabling civil design teams to evaluate alternatives more clearly and accurately, detect errors earlier when they are less costly to fix, communicate design intent during planning and zoning meetings, and even win more work.
So why isn’t everyone doing it? The common assumption is that design visualization is a complex and time-consuming task best left to visualization experts, whose fees can be prohibitively expensive. Many also believe that visualization belongs at the end of the design process, after all decisions have been finalized, to avoid frequent manual updates to the visualization as the design evolves.
The good news is that these assumptions are false. For civil infrastructure projects, visualization tools belong in the hands of engineers and designers who can use them throughout the design process — from early conceptual planning to detailed design.
Today, civil engineers can access software tools that make it easier to incorporate visualization into their project workflow. For example, Autodesk software tools — in particular the combination of AutoCAD Civil 3D, the Autodesk Civil Visualization Extension, and Autodesk 3ds Max Design — are helping civil engineers reap the benefits of visualization.
The Autodesk Civil Visualization Extension (formerly known as Dynamite VSP) offers a simpler way of bringing an AutoCAD Civil 3D model into 3ds Max Design. Faster visualization is achieved through a simplified user interface in 3ds Max Design, which can be used even by those with limited knowledge of the software. Building material choices are assigned and managed automatically by the Civil Visualization Extension, while a template-driven approach helps automate the process of populating a scene with 3D content such as streetlights, guardrails, and cars. Because content in the Civil Visualization Extension retains a dependency on the paths of imported alignments and feature lines from AutoCAD Civil 3D, projects can be refined in the visualization as they evolve and road alignments or other details change — all with just a few mouse-clicks.
Civil visualization workflow in action
Oranjewoud, a consultancy and engineering firm in the Netherlands, got its start in land management about 50 years ago. The organization has since grown into more than just an engineering consultancy firm. It has developed into an all-around partner, operating on both a local and international scale. Oranjewoud’s fields of activity range from urban development, mobility, construction, and property to rural development, water, the environment, safety, sport, and recreation.
The company began using AutoCAD Civil 3D for road and highway design in 2005, before incorporating Dynamite VSP in 2007, and 3ds Max Design in early 2009. Originally, Oranjewoud purchased Dynamite VSP and 3ds Max Design so that its engineers could more cost-effectively produce animations at the end of the design process. The company liked the simplicity of the workflow, as well as the fact that its engineers could be up and running after just one day of training. Once the engineers at Oranjewoud became familiar with the workflow, it didn’t take long for them to recognize the benefits of using the software for visualization throughout the design process as well.
Oranjewoud has completed several projects using the AutoCAD Civil 3D > Dynamite VSP > 3ds Max Design workflow, but one in particular stands out: a $3.2 million project to create a 3.7-mile shortcut between two highways in the southern Netherlands. The alignment included an interchange with two connecting roundabouts, as well as a new road with a tunnel or bridge to accommodate an existing railway.
While working on the shortcut project, the team explored several iterations before agreeing on a final design. Throughout this process, the team’s engineers regularly used visualization to help optimize their design.
Visualizations were used to verify connecting heights of roads, bridges, and certain other elements of the design. If the engineers noticed an aspect of the design that needed to be modified, they simply switched back to AutoCAD Civil 3D to help make the necessary adjustment, then ran an update to the 3ds Max Design visualization via the Dynamite VSP plug-in to make sure the correction fixed the problem.
Using visualizations early in the design process for several design interations enabled the engineers to see which elements worked best for the driver in different situations. It helped the team to see how drivers would experience objects, such as buildings and signs, in the environment as they drove on the road. While most of the iterations produced were on-spec, this experiential component of the design process helped them to understand which design was best.
Once the design was finalized, the team rendered a fully animated presentation to help show its client how the road would look and perform using the same visualization they had referred to throughout the design process. The Dynamite technology enabled the engineers to work in AutoCAD Civil 3D as they normally would, and more easily deliver an accurate animated visualization by harnessing the robust toolset of 3ds Max Design through the simplified Dynamite interface.
The Oranjewoud team’s original goal was for its visualization workflow to help the company deliver final design animations at a competitive price. It delivered that, and much more. Quickly visualizing projects throughout the design process has given Oranjewoud a competitive advantage it never expected. The company is now producing optimal designs faster, and spending less time making changes and doing rework on existing projects.
It is true that visualization was once complex and cost-prohibitive, but technology has taken away many of the hurdles that once kept civil engineers at bay. If you’ve tried visualization before and thought it was too hard, now is the time to try again.
Remco Bastiaans is the senior designer at Oranjewoud. Adam Strafaci is the senior industry marketing manager for infrastructure at Autodesk, Inc. For more information about the civil visualization workflow presented in this article, see Autodesk’s white paper at www.autodesk.com/civil_vis_whitepaper