Moving to Carlson from Civil 3D®

January 31st, 2012

˜Carlson is about getting the job done”

John Prevette of Gooden & Associates, a six-person surveying and design firm in Hope Mills, North Carolina, recentlyJohn Prevette, PLS, Gooden Associates Inc. moved over to using the Carlson Civil Suite 2012, which is made up of Carlson Survey, Carlson Civil, Carlson Hydrology and Carlson GIS, in the company’s design work after five years of using Autodesk’s Civil 3D (versions 2008-2012). He had previously used Land Desktop (beginning in 2005) and before that had been a C&G user. C&G became a part of Carlson in 2000. John is a licensed professional land surveyor and does much of the design work for Gooden & Associates. He is also responsible for most anything computer-related in the office, which makes him the de facto CAD manager. Here’s what he’s found since he started using Carlson in November 2011:

describe the imageWe have three people in the office–me, my uncle (the president of the company) and a draftsman. Our work consists mostly of boundary, topographic, and as-built surveys, as well as design work. We’re not an engineering firm, so we don’t design water, sewer, or anything that requires an engineering license. But we do a lot of site design and subdivision design, so we definitely have a need for a good civil design software package

I really push my software to its limits and I try to get as much out of it as possible. When I was first introduced to Civil 3D, I was immediately impressed. The potential was phenomenal. Although the learning curve seemed pretty steep for civil design software, I decided to jump in. After about six months I was able to wrap my mind around many of the concepts and I began to really excel with the program. I was able to do far more than I had done in Land Desktop. I also accepted the limitations of Civil 3D believing the tools that I needed would be developed with the next release. But the tools never came. Each new version did have lots of bells and whistles. Unfortunately, most of the bells and whistles broke my work-flow and I spent many hours trying to figure out how to undo the problems the new release had created.

One of the problems that has always existed in Civil 3D is the grading routine. It has improved significantly over the years, but it’s still far from where it needs to be. As any Civil 3D user will tell you, when you’re trying to create a complex surface model with the grading tools, the software will almost always crash. My frustration with the grading object is what actually cinched my decision to end our Civil 3D subscription. I needed to layout a parking lot and I was trying to find a way to accomplish that without using the grading object.

I searched the Autodesk University website and I found a class that had been presented at a one of the AU seminars. The class discussed how to grade a parking lot without using the grading object. I thought I finally had my answer. The presenter utilized the corridor object — which is normally used for roadways — to create the model. He created a centerline, a profile, and a clever cross section that would be integrated into the corridor. The class was about an hour long, but about halfway through, I realized it was just ridiculous to go through all those steps to get the software to grade out a parking lot.

A few months later, I attended a Carlson seminar where I watched Scott Griffin [Carlson Director of Civil Sales] lay out a complex parking lot in less than 15 minutes. It even included curbed islands, which is completely beyond the scope of a corridor-created parking lot in Civil 3D. Carlson will do the things that I needed it to do.

Impressed by Carlson staff

The technical aspects of the software certainly played a major role in the decision to purchase Carlson Civil Suite. But that’s not why I first considered the program. I honestly thought that Carlson was a tiny software company that couldn’t possibly compete with Carlson Civil Suite is powerful, yet easy to useprogramming expertise of the folks at Civil 3D. That opinion was turned on its head when I met Butch Herter [Carlson Director of Hardware]. Our company had been looking into robotic total stations and a salesman stopped by to demo one for us. Butch happened to be riding along with the salesman that day. Butch showed us the Carlson GNSS setup with the Carlson data collector. I was extremely impressed at how well Butch knew the product — I could tell this was his baby — and how well he knew the needs of the surveying community. That attitude and excitement spoke volumes to me about the company.

I then asked about the actual desktop software. He removed any doubts I had that Carlson could compete with Civil 3D. I immediately started researching and comparing the two programs. I was put in touch with a Carlson dealer, and I continued asking questions. We made the decision to go with Carlson Civil Suite, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been really impressed with everyone from Carlson — the support staff, the sales people — and the entire company mindset.

You read everywhere that Carlson tech support is excellent. I can’t stress that enough. It’s as if once you buy a Carlson product you become part of the family. I’ve even made a couple of suggestions and they’ve always been eager to listen. They seem to trust what I have to say and they really listen.

Passing the crash test

Perhaps the biggest difference between Carlson and Civil 3D is that Civil 3D uses ‘custom objects.’ These are things like roadway corridors, pipe networks, surface models, and grading objects. Even the profile grid itself is a custom object. The purpose of a custom object is to allow for dynamic updating. If I grip-edit a road centerline, this would automatically revise the road corridor model, which would automatically update the finished grade surface. The problem is that grip-editing a complicated custom object will often crash the program for no apparent reason. And, unfortunately, there’s no easy way to trouble-shoot a delinquent object. I was constantly falling behind on deadlines because Civil 3D would crash so often. I’ve spent scores of hours reconstructing my models as a conglomeration of smaller pieces so as not to overwhelm the software. Without a doubt, the biggest advantage to Carlson is that I don’t have to constantly worry about a looming fatal error. Just to set the record straight, Carlson does ‘dynamic’ updating without a single custom object.

Another huge problem with Civil 3D is its incompatibility with other software. The custom objects often keep drawing files from opening correctly in other programs. The Civil 3D file can be converted to standard .dwg, but this destroys all data contained within the custom objects. Before we purchased Carlson Civil Suite, our draftsman was using Land Desktop. For the projects we worked on together, I had two separate drawing directories — one for my Civil 3D drawings and one for his Land Desktop drawings. I can’t describe the relief that Carlson has brought by allowing us to simply share our drawings.

I should also mention that during my research into Carlson, I noticed that the pro-Civil 3D users were proclaiming that Carlson uses multiple databases for drawing data and Civil 3D contains all the data in a single .dwg file. Carlson states that since the data is outside of the .dwg file, the data isn’t corrupted if the drawing crashes. While the Carlson response is good, it doesn’t quite get to the heart of the issue. The fact is, Civil 3D does require multiple files. I discovered this early as I tried to convert a Land Desktop project to Civil 3D. All of my surfaces, centerlines, profiles, cross sections, and corridors were in a single drawing file along with all my annotations. When I converted all this data to Civil 3D, the file became so bloated that it took nearly five minutes to switch between paper space layouts. Needless to say, I was devastated. Civil 3D now recommends that custom objects should be distributed across several files. So my typical subdivision design would be broken up into the following drawings: surveyed points, base linework, existing surface, roads, pipes, and pond gradings. In Carlson, I can design the entire subdivision in a single file. If a change needs to be made in Civil 3D I have to open the drawing that contains the custom object. In Carlson, I can edit the data from any drawing in the project.

Of course, there are still some things about Carlson that are not as spiffy as Civil 3D. One of these is the annotation feature. I’ve really grown to appreciate the Civil 3D annotation styles and I’ve been able to come up with some pretty creative labeling. I’ve talked with the folks at Carlson about the annotations and that’s one of the things they’re working on.

To me, the folks at Civil 3D seem chiefly concerned about creating a pretty-looking piece of software. The Carlson team, on the other hand, really seeks to understand what’s going on with the end user. At the risk of sounding cliche, Carlson is about getting the job done.

Non-complex — another way to say simple to learn

When I began using Carlson, I was pretty amazed at how non-complex its procedures are. But that’s not because the code itself isn’t complex. It is an extremely powerful piece of software. The program works with the way we naturally think about civil design. In fact, our draftsman has been able to pick up most procedures with almost no training from me. That’s unheard of in Civil 3D.  It’s actually been a little odd to layout my designs with something this easy.

I was talking about the software with my wife this week and I think the conversation pretty well sums up the benefits of moving to Carlson. We were sitting at dinner and I asked, ‘Honey, have you heard me complain at all about how much I dislike this software?’ She looked surprised and thought for a second. Then she simply replied, ‘No, I haven’t!’

It’s been a nice change.quotemarksright

—John Prevette III, P.L.S., Gooden & Associates, Inc.

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