Autodesk Civil 3D 2021.1 First Impressions

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Fresh off the heels of the release of AutoCAD 2021.1 is none other than Civil 3D 2021.1. Like the AutoCAD update, the Civil 3D 2021.1 update introduces general fixes to the software while also adding some handy new features too. Traditionally the fall update, or “little-r” release as I like to call it, introduces several handy new features, but nothing spectacular. I find Autodesk traditionally saves flagship new features to the spring release when we advance to the new version number.

A pleasant surprise to me with Civil 3D 2021.1 is the introduction of what I consider a flagship new feature in the form of Project Explorer. With it, you will gain several new ways to interact with, modify and report upon the design elements that comprise your model. Moving on from Project Explorer, we find several smaller, but no less handy new features introduced to Civil 3D. For me, my favorites are the new Feature Line tools, but the work you do will undoubtably influence what your favorites are. Let’s jump in to explore some of the features you will find inside Civil 3D 2021.1.

Project Explorer

The flagship new feature of Civil 3D 2021.1 is Project Explorer. If you have followed Autodesk news over the last year, you may recall that Autodesk acquired Project Explorer from 3AM Solutions in the UK. As a point of reference, 3AM Solutions is the same company Autodesk acquired DynamiteVSP, now known as Civil View, from back in 2010.

Project Explorer gives you a whole new way to review, analyze, and edit your project. With it, you can explore model elements without worrying about the documentation overhead of Civil 3D. For example, you can review the profile and cross sections of a road design entirely in Project Explorer without touching profile views and section views.

Additionally, Project Explorer provides several simple, but often wished for features. Among my favorites is the ability to set a constant pipe run slope. Beyond that, Project Explorer also extends the conventional reporting abilities of Civil 3D. With it, you can generate customizable reports, generate dynamic AutoCAD tables (not to be confused with Civil 3D tables) from Civil 3D data, and more.

From my limited beta use of Project Explorer, I really like what I see. This is undoubtably a tool that I am excited to put into the hands of the end-users I support to see how they begin integrating it into their daily workflows.

A few things to note about Project Explorer. While Autodesk is advertising it as part of the Civil 3D 2021.1 update, it is not part of the Civil 3D 2021.1 download. Instead it is a separate download and install. The reason for that is Project Explorer is only available to subscribers of the AEC Collection. If you only subscribe to Civil 3D as an individual product, Project Explorer is not available to you. Additionally, for those with multi-user licenses, you will likely need to generate a new license file to gain access to Project Explorer.

Feature Line Editing

Beyond Project Explorer, some of my favorite features inside Civil 3D 2021.1 are the Feature Line enhancements.

New Insert Points At Crossing Locations command.

Civil 3D has long placed a split point PVI where two Feature Lines intersect. While this has helped make sure intersecting Feature Lines share a common elevation, split point PVIs do not allow you to edit or specify an elevation. The new Insert Points At Crossing Locations command will insert a regular PVI or Elevation point where two Features Lines intersect. As a PVI or Elevation Point like any other on your Feature Line, you gain all the same editing capabilities as the other PVIs and Elevation Points in your project.

New Set Grade/Slope Across Feature Lines command

Think of this as a supercharged Similar to the Set Grade/Slope Between Points command. Where the Similar to the Set Grade/Slope Between Points command is limited to a single Feature Line, the new Set Grade/Slope Across Feature Lines command allows you to set the grade or slope across multiple Feature Lines. The only requirement to make this work is the Feature Lines must share a PI or Elevation Point at their intersection. This is where the previously mentioned Insert Points At Crossing Locations command can come in handy; placing those PI or Elevation Points if they don’t already exist.

New Set Corridor Baseline Elevation by Reference command

Similar to the Set Feature Line Elevation by Reference command, the new Set Corridor Baseline Elevation by Reference command allows you to set the elevation of a point on a feature-line based corridor at a given grade or slope from a specified location. While I haven’t seen too many people adopt Corridors for full parking lot design, I have noticed more feature-line based corridors for various site elements. For that, I see this new Feature Line editing command to be a great addition to Civil 3D.

Pressure Networks

Civil 3D 2021 was already a big release for Pressure Pipes, but Civil 3D 2021.1 extends that even further. Among my favorite Pressure Pipe additions is new Add/Move/Remove Vertical Bends. With it, you can interact with vertical pipe bends the way you probably always expected them to behave. You can place bends, move the bend by sliding its location along the pipe run, and if you remove the bend, everything heals back in place. This simple functionality has long been a pain point of mine when using Pressure Pipes in Civil 3D, and certainly a feature that will make Pressure Pipes more useable for users.

Fixed Issues

Beyond the new features found inside this release is a lengthy list of issues Autodesk has fixed. You can find the complete list of issues fixed by consulting the Civil 3D documentation, but some highlights include.

Autodesk Collaboration for Civil 3D

First introduced to Civil 3D 2020, Autodesk continues to make improvements to Collaboration for Civil 3D (formerly BIM 360 Design and Collaboration for Revit). While the initial introduction of Collaboration for Civil 3D added essential functionality to the software, it did omit some important functionality. Civil 3D 2021.1 closes many of those gaps by adding support for Sheet Set Manager data files (DST). Now when you upload a DST file to BIM 360, all sheets that are part of that Sheet Set will also be uploaded to BIM 360.

In addition to the new Sheet Set Manger functionality, Civil 3D 2021.1 also adds support for Civil 3D Reference Templates. If you are using Civil 3D Reference Templates on a drawing you upload to BIM 360, the Reference Template will also be uploaded to BIM 360. Likewise, as others open that drawing, the associated Reference Template will be downloaded.

A Note about BIM 360

To continue using BIM 360 services after installing Civil 3D 2021.1, you will also need to update the Autodesk Desktop Connector application.

In Summary…

Project Explorer is something I would consider a major new feature for Civil 3D. While I wish its licensing was a little less confusing for Civil 3D users, it is a feature I am pleasantly surprised to see added to the “little-r” release. While I hoped the tool would be added to the 2021.1 release, I did not expect to see it until the 2022 release in the spring.

Beyond that, the Civil 3D 2021.1 update is what you are come to expect of the fall update to Civil 3D. Autodesk has added several small but significant new features to the current release of the software. As such, I see the update as one worth taking the time to download and install on your machine.

For me, the Feature Line tools are among my favorite new features found inside the release, but it is likely you’ll find your own favorites. Go give Civil 3D 2021. 1 a try and let me know what your favorite new feature is in the comments below.

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