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Data Prep and Takeoff Questions

Question asked by Alan Sharp on Aug 2, 2019

I got this email from a user in UK today and I thought that it raised some good points and some good "learning" opportunities. There was one defect, a few things hat can already be done and a couple of great little enhancement requests that I thought I would share. The customer questions are in Black, the responses in Blue


  • When creating a new object and you select a layer that is currently turned off, you should see the little amber warning light. I do find this doesn’t always show in all circumstances though. It would be beneficial to just click on the amber warning to turn the layer on. As it presently stands, I have to search through all my layers to find the correct one and turn on.


 Love the idea of clicking the Amber Light to enable a Layer - this will work provided you don't have a locked View Filter in play - have submitted the request as an enhancement


  • In relation to the above, we work on large projects that run over several years in cases. No matter how organised I am with referencing new data being imported (design changes, progress surveys etc), there eventually becomes a vast number of layers. Could there be a search box introduced to help navigate to the correct layer?


A search function in VFM has already been tabled as a need -  would like to see a wild card to also reduce Layers that are shown - so if for example you use OG- as Original Ground Prefix to all layers, you could enter OG- in the search and it would reduce the Layers and Layer Groups to just your OG Layers while that text is in the search window - this way you could reduce the Layers and Groups visible while doing different types of work. If it remembered your last 20 searches for example - then you could preset all your search criteria (FG-, UTIL-, OG-, SHEET- etc.) and select from a pull down list as well. Agreed that VFM / Layer Lists get to be a challenge. Filter control is critical for the future


  • The surface slicer tool is really useful. When there’s a number of different surfaces displayed at once, it is necessary to select a surface and go to properties to identify which surface is which. However, the pick box only becomes available after clicking the ‘Surfaces’ button and selecting cancel. Can this be changed so that the pick box is available as soon as the Surface Slicer window appears?


When you use Surface Slicer, it asks you to pick the From and To fields and then shows you the slicer view. The focus of the command is now back in the pick From field. The software is expecting you to maybe do multiple From and To so it loops accordingly. When the Focus is in the From Field it is expecting the next click to be in the Plan View - however you in this case want your next click to be on a Surface Slice in the slicer view - that is a change of focus required - the no entry sign is saying you cannot pick From in the slicer view. To clear the From Focus, simply Left Click somewhere that allows you to "release the software's focus (what you have been doing is a long way round to doing this) - you can e.g. click in the free space at the base of the properties pane - that will clear the focus and then you will be able to click on the surface slices in the slicer view to review their properties.


Note also that the color of the surface slices in Slicer View are derived from the Surface Color property. This can help you to more readily identify a surface slice (from its color or material color once you have assigned Site Improvements) (as well as the shape of the surface or its position in relation to others. I for example use Medium Green always for OG, I use Red for FG, I use Light Brown for Stripping / Topsoil, and I use Orange for Subgrade. You can make the lines in slicer thicker if you want to by setting the Lineweight of Layer 0 to something other than 0 - on high resolution screens this can be helpful and applies to Profile, Section and Slicer type views.


We don't change the behavior here because a common use case is to do repeated slices to check out a surface, so if we change to make selection of surfaces possible directly, then the From focus will be lost and you would have to always check that to do another slice. I agree that this "Focus" is not 100% obvious to you as a user, and that doing what you want is also valid, however once you know how to clear focus this helps in many areas - for example when you select the properties of an object and change its layer - the Layer field is where the focus is so if you roll your wheel it will change layer - if you select another object it will take the layer of that object etc - so when you are done you have to clear the focus by clicking somewhere else - the left click in free space of the properties pane is a good way to do that


  • I use the coordinates window (bottom right corner) from time to time to check surface elevations and grades. In order to swap between interrogating different surfaces, I find the only way is to turn the desired surface on, select it, then I turn the surface off again to see the linework with ease. This doesn’t seem very streamlined and wondered if there was a better way to swap between surfaces or if you could introduce a quicker workflow.


When using the Coordinate Scroll (lower Right) the surface that is displayed is the last active surface - if you select a surface in Project Explorer that automatically becomes the active surface and the coordinate scroll updates immediately - you don't have to have the surface On either to see the elevations etc. The active surface is shown in Bold Text in the project Explorer


  • Define Areas of Interest – It would be useful to have an automated facility to present the defined areas on a sheet view for printing. The workflow at this present time involves creating closed boundaries, creating the defined areas of interest, then selecting each individual area to infill with colour and creating a sheet view. This can take sometime when you have many defined areas. A facility such as Validate Areas would be beneficial to create the shading in one click. The only hiccup with this would be the colour scheme, insuring there’s contrast between neighbouring areas. However, even if the colours do need to be adjusted, there’s a significant amount of manual work saved.


Defined AOIs - Each AOI hat you create becomes a "Selection Set" automatically. If you want to just see the AOIs - if you use a name convention for the AOI like AOI - ReWork Areas or AOI - Transition Zone (as per your Peterborough Job) then in the VFM if you ope the Selection Sets list (where it normally says "Everything" you can click on te Name Header and that will sort the list Alphabetically and your AOIs will appear together in the list  if you check them all and select Show Members of selected this will show just those objects graphically and you can apply that Selection Set with a View Filter to create your Drawing Sheet View Filter. Once you have the AOIs isolated - you can select them all and Fill Them in one step. Combine this approach with a Copy of the ALL filter which is Unlocked. Once al the AOIs are visible - you could also make an additional Selection Set of them all combined that could then be used in place of each one individually. Selection Sets are poorly used and understood but are well worth looking at as they save a ton of time when you get good at them.


  • Surface Boundaries – Another great tool which I use frequently. In the past I have attempted to use the Surface Clipping Boundary to limit the data exported. This was never that reliable though, with irregular results. I will have to test again though as this was in version 4. A more reliable method of limiting the data was to use the surface boundaries to temporarily reduce surface areas. The problem I have had on a number of occasions is finding which boundary line the surface is restricted to, in order to remove the boundary. When you have a lot of data, it can take a considerable amount of time to turn all layers on and attempt to identify which linework the surface is bounded to. A much quicker option would be to select the appropriate surface and select a button ‘Ignore all boundary lines’.  


If you run the Surface Boundary command, select the surface you are looking at and trying to find its boundary - you can tap "Select" and that will highlight all Surface Boundaries applied to that Surface Model - and then you can hit Remove if you want to take them off the surface. If the boundary is hidden, you can hit View only layers of selected objects and that will show them to you (in top of View Filter Manager - or you will see the properties in Properties Pane and then you can find the Layer and turn it on - if there is only one boundary object in the next release you will be able to hit Isolate and it will isolate the selected object layer even though it is turned off. If there are multiple Boundaries and they are all on the same layer you will also be able to use Isolate trick in next release to find them easily. You can also turn on Breaklines in Surface Properties and the Boundaries will be shown as red Lines on the Surface Model - that helps sometimes to find the Boundary Lines - but the above tricks are better.


Thanks Adam for allowing me to share the questions - all good input here.