How GIS Data Integrations Impact Civil Engineering

How GIS Data Integrations Impact Civil Engineering

Innovation occurs where there is a desire to apply new thinking to existing challenges. Though the advance from 2D CAD documents to 3D modeling for civil engineering has not evolved as rapidly as architecture technology, MG is proud to help move the needle.

This document considers some of the ins and outs of integrating GIS and civil engineering to your benefit. Here, we will look at the following.

  • ArcGIS Example Applications
    • How content is created, saved, and shared (prepared) for use in Autodesk civil products.
    • Examples of some of the ways data are collected and made into consumable content.
    • The type of advanced analysis a GIS analyst might provide.
  • Infraworks Example Applications
    • How ArcGIS data can be accessed and connected to the Infraworks contextual model.
    • How ArcGIS data can be configured and themed in the contextual model.
    • An example of how data can be presented to creatively represent the type of complex analysis a GIS Analyst can develop.
  • Civil 3D Example Applications
    • How ArcGIS data is accessed, connected, and consumed in Civil 3D.
    • How to publish data back to ArcGIS for reuse in other parts of the value chain.
    • The continued use of data in Civil 3D and save back functionality available in Infraworks and Civil 3D.

Most importantly, understand that your imagination is your only limitation. The possibilities of integrating GIS data into civil engineering have never been more readily-accessible to engineers and designers. Connectivity and tools open a world of opportunity for firms who seek reliable, actionable insight from their GIS data that already surrounds projects on many levels.

ArcGIS Example Applications

When a user signs into ArcGIS Online they see their user type and assigned permissions. In the case of this document, the user type assigned is Creator and the permissions are for a Publisher, which will enable a user to do everything discussed subsequently. The Publisher role allows users to save and share developed content. The subject example used concerns a new housing development intended to be developed in Spokane, Washington.

The goal is to dig into existing, retrievable GIS data surrounding development. We will also show how this data shapes the developer and designer’s understanding of what’s possible in the early planning phases of a project.

The example begins by creating a map of the Spokane property by typing in the names of the intersecting streets that surround the project site to pinpoint the location. First, identify the area of concern and then save it as a map. As new data is added to the map, it is brought in as a new layer of information overlaid on the map.

When complete, the output can be shared with others who can see the map with the added layers but cannot manipulate the data themselves without the appropriate user types or permissions.

Esri’s Living Atlas is a collection of data sets drawn from large packaged sets of data that typically take their content from a national or global level. In the Living Atlas, users can conduct keyword searches to discover data of interest. Example data sets within the Living Atlas include:

  • Known soil conditions to see what soils exist on a site
  • NOAA survey control points
  • FEMA flood plain information
  • The national bridge inventory
  • …and many others.

You can add each of these layers of information to a map in just a few mouse clicks, processes that would have previously taken hours to research and manually overlay.

While the Living Atlas does not contain specific local data available from sources like the City of Spokane, in many cases the City’s published data can be sourced through ArcGIS. For example, as of this writing, the were 579 layers of GIS data available in ArcGIS, all of which could be applied to the subject map.

Among them for example, the City of Spokane’s water main data is easily retrieved and applied to the map to indicate where utility connections will be required on the property.

Pro Tip: If you find quality data from a particular source, you can click on the administrator’s profile to see what other data sets they have published. Doing so, you can potentially uncovering a wealth of useful and reliable data from a single source.

By adding the City’s water mains to the map, you insert valuable and informative data that can be used for planning purposes. Of course, for design, the exact locations of the water mains surrounding the site would be subsequently verified to account for the in-place reality. But, for planning purposes, this saves a significant amount of time and effort without the need to engage a utility locator.

The locations of the City of Spokane’s fire hydrants around the site are also potentially useful in planning and can also be inserted from ArcGIS through a variety of single-click processes. Once the water mains and fire hydrants have been added, the map can be published and shared with others within the organization or affiliated with the project.

In Infraworks, this information is easily added by clicking on “Add GIS Data Source” in the toolbar ribbon. If you are already signed-in to the ArcGIS account, the data will populate immediately. Otherwise, log in to ArcGIS to allow gathered data to be reflected in the civil engineering model.

Infraworks Example Applications

In Infraworks, the layers of GIS data can be turned on and off independently, allowing all imported layers or only those desired to be visible. In this example so far, both water mains and fire hydrants have been added into the model. But, Infraworks has also to be told how each feature should be modeled to reflect the three-dimensional reality of the item.

For the pipelines, selecting “Pipes” is the obvious choice. How to render data like the fire hydrants is initially less obvious. Yet, choosing furniture makes sense when the user understands how Infraworks models data. Clicking on the “Add to My Design Project” button, these two sets of data are now rendered within the 3D model. In the conceptual view, the pipes are rendered as lines on the ground and the fire hydrants look 3D realistic when rendered as furniture.

Pro Tip: Make sure to consider and apply the correct dimensions to items like pipes that come in many different sizes. If the pipe diameter is in inches, then make sure to use inches rather than feet.

There are numerous external sources of importable data beyond Ersi’s Living Atlas available via ArcGIS Online, or directly from internet websites. Building on the example of our project in Spokane, WA, there are data sources available through the City of Spokane’s website.

For example, from the City’s online GIS data page, stormwater mains, manholes and inlets, and sanitary mains and structures can be imported into a map. When pulling data from such sources, there are often options on how it is downloaded — as either a shapefile or a geodatabase file.

Pro Tip: A geodatabase file has more storage capacity. Multiple users can access the database at the same time. And, tools and queries can be run faster on a geodatabase than on a shapefile. Use a shapefile when you only want to read the attribute table or when simple tools or processes are needed.

Geodatabase files contain deeper pools of information than shapefiles, including different feature classes. Download a geodatabase file to your computer and save it for later. Once the geodatabase is stored on the local computer the original download does not need to be preserved and can be deleted.

However, if the user wants to do more complex data analysis in a program like ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Pro, then the data may need to be extracted from the compressed zip files. For basic actions and analysis, the data does not need to be extracted from the compressed file.

Once saved to the local computer, the geodatabase zip file is uploaded to the model via the “Add Item” button. Choose “File Geodatabase” as the file contents to match the item type taken > Select “Publish the File as a Hosted Layer” > title it appropriately >and add tags for users to search.

For publishing purposes, users can add a summary and description of use that will help other data users, like co-workers and project partners, know what the data is for and what they should and should not do with it.

Once stormwater and sanitary gravity mains, associated structures, water lines, hydrants, and other desired appurtenances are added to the map as layers, users can go into the details and turn off the fire hydrants and water mains. Then, only the new information is visible to verify that the import process was effective.

In another example, relevant zoning data from the City of Spokane’s Online GIS page is gathered and imported. In this case, just like with water and sewer infrastructure data, it can be extremely useful to look at the data table available in ArcGIS Online to understand geodatabase’s specific attributes.

To look at the details of a complex data set like zoning information, click on the data table’s legend to see the table’s attributes to better understand the information that resides within the data table. In this case, the zoning descriptions used by the City of Spokane are the main interest. To render them distinctly in the model, choose a style.

Enter the “Change Style” button, and then select a drawing style. In this case, by selecting “Zoning Description” as the primary attribute associated with the data, all 23 of the different zoning descriptions used by the City of Spokane are connected to a different color. Now, when the data populates the map, each zoning area is rendered in a different color with its description potentially visible for consumers either in the model itself or in legend form associated with the colors present for each zone in the model.

Back in Infraworks, using the “Autodesk Connector” button, the zoning information from the geodatabase found using ArcGIS is added to the map as a coverage area by choosing that feature type in Infraworks. Once the data comes in, it will need further definition so the map can contextualize the data distinctly.

Create a theme using the “Feature Themes” selection tool on the display panel. Label the theme ‘zoning,’ then select the feature class zoning geodatabase and assign the zoning descriptions as the property to be modeled. Tell the model how many different types of zoning descriptions to model by inserting the Number of Rules.

In this case, the Number of Rules corresponds to the 23 different zoning designations used by the City of Spokane. Next, add a color range to the output so that each of the 23 different zoning types renders independently on the map. This allows the zoning data to be shown in context with the rest of the Infraworks model for presentations, broader group analysis, or decision making.

Advanced Infraworks Example Application

In the next example, the desired data analysis is a bit more complex and likely benefits from incorporating a specialized GIS Analyst. Here, Property Sales information taken from Spokane County’s website will be included.

Looking at property sales information from a specific year, the data identifies the final sale value of each property sold that year. Using this data, a Hot Spot analysis will be generated by using the gross sale prices in the data set to create an analysis in ArcGIS Online.

This function allows the program to do a spatial analysis of each property and cross-reference that with property sales information to identify areas within the City where the largest groupings of high-value properties are sold in the given year. Again, the program assigns individual colors to the categories of sale and the resulting map shows the largest concentration of high-value properties as red and the largest concentrations of low-value properties as blue.

Once this information is published to ArcGIS Online, the analysis becomes available to be incorporated into the content map as a new layer of information. Within the content map, when the data is brought in, a feature type for the information must be defined. In this case, “Buildings” was selected.

In configuring the data so the layer renders in a visually understandable way, roof height was used to model the seven different types of property values defined in the data set. By doing so, the data renders the most expensive properties as the tallest in the 3D model.

Once a theme is added to these values and the color range is configured to correspond to the seven different categories of property values, the model renders this layer as vertical building heights, correspondingly colored from most valuable to least in a way that is easily understood by users. This type of visualization exemplifies the tremendous range of possibility that exists in these programs.

Essentially, if you can think of it and there is reliable data to quantify it, it can almost certainly be added to a 3D model and presented visually.

Civil 3D Example Applications

Going back to ArcGIS Online, the stormwater outfalls and gravity mains brought in from the City of Spokane’s data sets previously have been incorporated. Within the map, this data can now be leveraged by zooming into the map to reveal the specific development parcel and selecting it as an area of interest.

Once the area of interest is selected, the maps and previously incorporated content become available. Now, the outfalls, the mains, and the inlets are brought in. Once again, define the feature type for each element so the model understands how to render it. When these elements are brought into Civil 3D they are going to be real pipes and real structures.

The schema mapping dialogue box comes up for each element. If there are attributes in the data set that can be connected to items within the Civil 3D template, connecting them will allow the program to model the data correctly.

Using the “Prospector” toolbar, the new data sets are selected and revealed within the map to identify what was just brought in and where it resides in the model. In this case, the objective is to develop a preliminary understanding of what utility infrastructure exists from the previous phase of development and where new connections can be anticipated in this phase of development.

Again, before construction commences these elements will be field verified but this is very helpful for planning purposes.

The Power of Publishing from CAD Back to ArcGIS

This level of modeling also subsequently contributes to developing the required As-built documentation that can be published for the new pipe network being created and then turned over to the City once the project is complete. The City will then have everything exactly as it is in the field including invert elevations, the slopes, and the structures that the pipes are connected to.

Subsequent, newly-designed features created in the Civil 3D model can be published out, such as alignments, parcels, features lines for pond grading, and the new stormwater pipeline network. Within the pop-up wizard, each ArcGIS Category must be defined as a visible data type such as polygons for parcels, lines for pipes, and points for structures.

The ArcGIS Layer Name for each item should also be made specific to the subject project so they are easily distinguished from similar infrastructure assets from previous non-project elements. Similarly, a project-specific service name should be assigned, and useful summary information and tags should be added to help others within the group understand and search the data later.

Under advanced settings, the user groups that can access the data should be defined to make sure the right people can get to the data in ArcGIS Online.

Once published, going back to ArcGIS Online and looking at the new content is useful. This will produce a file geodatabase and a feature layer. The file geodatabase does not necessarily need to be kept, as it takes up space in the ArcGIS Online account. It might be best to just keep the feature layer rather than both.

When the new feature layer is added to the map, the new parcels and features lines are visible. It is worth noting that within the draw order, features will be drawn on the map in the order they were brought in. To make sure everything needed is visible the draw order can be changed by dragging items up or down within the order. If the parcel lines are on top of structures, for instance, the structures are hard to see. Changing the order so the structures are on top is logically beneficial.

Going to the “Show Table” command in ArcGIS Online, the data within any layer, and the attributes of each data set are visible. For example, looking at the pipes that were brought in, within the attributes all the data set properties associated with the pipes taken from the City of Spokane’s website are visible.

The same is true of structures and all other imported data sets. Some of the imported data sets may be more information-rich than others based on the amount of information available from the source. However, within ArcGIS, additional attributes can be added, if needed, to further enhance what was modeled in Civil 3D or Infraworks.

Drawing from the NCS Template

The final feature to explore is to create a new drawing from the NCS template that came with the program. First, establish a coordinate zone for the drawing. A warning will appear if a coordinate zone is not established because since this is geospatial data and the drawing needs to understand where the data is being placed.

In Civil 3D using the “Connector” button on the Insert tab, the Spokane map and the data features gathered from ArcGIS Online are brought into a new drawing in Civil 3D. These include stormwater pipes, parcel data, detention pond feature lines, structures; all added to the actual Civil 3D drawing.

Again, in the case of pipe network data, the schema mapping dialogue box appears, where pipes and structures can be mapped to particular attribute data. Once this is done, the gathered data is now in the Civil 3D drawing and available for use in other Civil 3D drawings elsewhere.

The data appears as actual Civil 3D parcel objects, pipeline network parts, and the actual feature lines, in this case for a detention pond. Changes can now be made within Civil 3D that can be again saved back to the data source in ArcGIS Online.

For example, the original stormwater pipeline data set does not account for dispersing water into the new detention pond onsite. By moving the outfall structure over to the detention pond, the drawing reconfigures the stormwater pipeline. Once this information is saved back to the ArcGIS Online data set, the reconfigured pipeline is incorporated into the original pipeline data.

A pop-up box will appear confirming the intention to overwrite the ArcGIS Online data before it accepts the change to prevent unintended data manipulation. Once the project is constructed and complete, the new pipeline data set can be transmitted back to the City of Spokane through the As-built documentation process so their data can be updated with data of incredible precision harvested directly from the CAD model.

Over time, gathering data this way, from private sector and public sector engineering teams, project after project, the local jurisdiction’s data store will become ever more accurate and detailed, exponentially enhancing the available As-Built data needed for future upgrades and development throughout the jurisdiction.

Key Takeaways

There are an abundance of possible take-aways from all of this. The most important thing to understand is that your imagination is the only true limitation.

  • Anyone can create and curate connections to GIS data including designers. Engaging a GIS Analyst is always recommended for more complicated tasks and data analysis.
  • ArcGIS accounts (or seats) for each user, and correctly assigned user types and roles are required, except in the case of accessing high-level, publicly available data or exporting to a geodatabase file.
  • These processes make GIS workflows in Infraworks and Civil 3D much easier.
  • The potential new platform uses are virtually endless. For instance, these processes allow users to develop fully-realized ArcGIS features within CAD drawings via “as-builts” for pipe networks and other features that have evolved during design and construction.

As one of the AEC industry’s leading Autodesk partners and product suppliers, MG is on the vanguard of process integration. With offices and training centers located in 12 states, MG combines broad expertise in professional best practices and software solutions to discover new efficiencies that benefit the people doing the work.

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