Civil 3D & Generative Design – What Are The Possibilities?

Recently, Engineering.com posted an article in regards to a new generative design tool for CAD, CAE and BIM from Autodesk. While this is honestly something that can sound extremely beneficial, let’s take a look into what the future of land development could be, should something along these lines make its way into a product such as Civil 3D.

In Autodesk’s internal pilot project, Autodesk prepared over 10,000 layout possibilities based upon input and design parameters. However, these layouts were for an office space, which is a great starting point for a generative design tool. While this may be an architect’s dream, we ask, in what ways can this be applied to a product such as Civil 3d?

To begin, when thinking of generative design, we may lean more toward using the process in order to find ways to build products that use less materials, yet still provide the same, if not more structural integrity. However, if we apply generative design to civil engineering, currently there are only a few specific areas that could truly benefit. The areas that we see are most likely to benefit would be bridge design, site layout, and grading design.

Starting with bridge design, the benefits of using generative design could have a tremendous effect on transportation projects. The process would come into play during the design of bridges, providing wide ranges of designs which can use different materials and lower material quantities than that of a standard design. Autodesk defines generative design as mimicking nature’s evolutionary approach to design. Taking this definition to mind, could mean seeing bridges that more closely resemble natural structures. For example, bridges that may resemble lattice structures similar to those found in bones,  bee hives, coral and other natural occurring structures.

Next we mentioned site layout and grading design. While these may not sound like something that could truly benefit from generative design, we feel this could truly benefit the civil industry in several ways. These two items are tied to one another in many aspects, and both can determine whether the other fails.

Lets start by talking about site layout specifically. How many times has a customer asked to have a site layout prepared that not only provides the largest number of lots, yet also minimizes the amount of streets in order to minimize construction costs? More often than not unfortunately. So if we take a broader look at generative design, civil engineers would be able to easily prepare site layouts which make use of property extents in manners that we normally may not think of. This especially works when solely thinking of site layouts on a 2D manner, yet we must understand that an idea that works on a piece of paper may not actually work in the real work due to many constraints, such as terrain, existing developments, traffic flow, and more.

Now, let’s tie site layout and grading design together and talk about how these two are intertwined. As we mentioned, just because you are able to prepare a site layout that efficiently uses the overall boundary of a project, now you must take into account the topography of the site. This sometimes can completely ruin the overall feasibility of a project when taking into account items such as import/export of materials, natural/man-made washes, site slope, and wall designs. If generative design could be applied to grading design, could we truly prepare more efficient designs that not only meet customer demands, but also minimize a sites impact on the existing surroundings?

When you start to think about all of the work and calculations that go into preparing a site plan that optimizes site layout and grading design: minimizing retaining walls, minimal street coverage, balanced earthworks, accounting for compaction and swelling, and finally add in items such as fissures, faults, or other naturally occurring items. This may seem as though it may be an impossible feat, yet as restricted as this sounds, we are able to prepare layouts and grading that can ultimately provide customers with designs that work both financially and in construct-ability.

While we most likely have several years before we will most likely see even the earliest and most rudimentary implementations into end user software such as Civil 3D, the possibilities look to be endless. One question to ask though as well, is at what point will land development become less of an industry and more of an online process in which you don’t really need designers?