One User’s Question about InfraWorks 360 – “What’s it Really For?”

by: Eric Chappell | 08/03/2016
Estimated Reading time: 6 - 9 minutes

Back in April, I received a very sincere and insightful e-mail from Mr. Jeremy Matthei, PE a Senior Project Engineer at Midwestern Consulting. In a nutshell, Jeremy wanted to know this about InfraWorks 360: and I quote, “What is it really for?” He articulated his question in a way that made me think that a good portion of the members of the Autodesk civil community were asking themselves the same question in the same way. I provided Mr. Matthei my best answer via e-mail and while I was writing the response I couldn’t help but think what a great blog article this discussion would be. I asked Mr. Matthei if I could share this discussion and he agreed. My plan was to basically rewrite the story and quote parts of our discussion.

It’s taken me a few months but I finally found a little bit of time to begin writing this article. After reading Mr. Matthei’s question and my response, I think that there’s no rewriting necessary – the discussion speaks for itself.

The following is Mr. Matthei’s e-mail, unedited:

Hi Eric:

I’ve seen your posts and Bobby del Rosario’s on the Autodesk blog about the new Infraworks and Civil 3D. And I have a question: How is someone supposed to use Infraworks as advertised? What is it really for?

From everything I’ve seen, Infraworks is primarily for early-stage conceptual layouts and rough-level visualizations, incapable of detail, and incapable of contract documentation. Yet, it is gaining advanced water spread calculations at inlets, and other isolated advanced capabilities like this that don’t seem to fit the main capabilities. It also is incapable of high-quality graphics for which 3DS or photoshop would be the main target program.

Then Civil 3D has the capability for more detailed design, contract document preparation, though many of the new aids for this are being placed into Infraworks—which would require extensive importing and exporting to function. Complicating the picture further is the Revit Site Designer which seems to have some of the long-requested Civil 3D wishes like curb objects, sidewalk objects, and paving outside of corridors, but it’s also underdeveloped, and you can’t cut non-straight-line profiles or do vertical profile exaggerations in Revit, either.

From the Autodesk blog posts Monday, I get the following:
AutoCAD Civil 3D 2017 helps streamline legacy 2D or traditional design software workflows, centralize the management of design and drafting standards, and better integrate with Autodesk InfraWorks 360.
InfraWorks 360 is Autodesk’s BIM platform that enables parametric model-based planning and design of civil infrastructure in the context of the real-world.
Now replacing software is well and good. It happens all the time. But if Civil 3D is “legacy”, what is the replacement? As far as I know you can’t do detailed design or documentation in Infraworks or Revit Site Designer. Or is that now possible?

Jeremy A. Matthei, PE

And here is my response, again…unedited:

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for asking this question – it is a very important one to have answered, and one that I asked myself a few years ago when the product was called Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler.

InfraWorks 360 is intended for preliminary engineering in a very visual environment where ideas and results can be easily communicated. It is also great at creating context within which design ideas can be communicated. It is intended for the early part of a project when the design is changing rapidly and needs to be communicated frequently and readily. Once the design “settles down” and the design team and stakeholders seem to have a clear idea of where it’s going, the design can then move into Civil 3D for detailed design and documentation. Of course, no project is this simple or linear so there will always be iterations of going back and forth or using either product for a special purpose that was not encountered on prior projects.

As time goes on, you should see the product evolve in such a way that it is able to handle more and more detailed engineering tasks. Some of these capabilities were easily accomplished now (like spread calcs on an inlet) so they seem a bit out of place at the product’s current state. As for high-level visualization, in an effort to keep the product simple and easy to use, the visualization tools are also simplified. For example, the lighting system consists of a single source (the sun). Enabling individual, configurable light sources would add a considerable amount of sophistication to the program. We don’t want our InfraWorks 360 customers to have to be experts in visualization to get a decent rendering.

As to the use of Legacy, I don’t believe the statement you highlighted refers to Civil 3D as legacy, rather it refers to 2D workflows as legacy. Civil 3D is not a legacy program and we are fully committed to continuing its development as a current, cutting edge product. InfraWorks 360 is not and will not be a replacement for Civil 3D. The two are intended to work together and complement each other, something I believe they do quite nicely when each is used as intended.

As for detailed design, there are certain tasks that you can perform in a fairly detailed manner in InfraWorks 360. For example, road design has quite a bit of functionality and if you see what we’re doing with Component Roads (preview) you can see that there is even more to come. On the other hand, site design (as you’ve pointed out) has enough functionality to only do rough layout and grading. As time goes on, you’ll see the evolution of more design tasks in InfraWorks 360 until they meet and eventually exceed where we are with roadway design currently. For now, using site design as an example once again, you’re going to have to jump to Civil 3D sooner for site design than you would have to for road design.

I hope this clears things up for you. One of our biggest challenges is helping our customers understand where InfraWorks 360 “fits in”. People often assume that InfraWorks 360 is a replacement for Civil 3D so they want to take Civil 3D out of that box and put InfraWorks 360 in it. InfraWorks 360 is not Civil 3D – it’s really its own thing that does something that no other product does. Think of a tablet. A tablet isn’t a bigger phone or a smaller laptop, it’s a tablet. InfraWorks 360 is InfraWorks 360. It’s not a replacement for anything. Just like a tablet is the perfect intersection of portability, power, and screen size; InfraWorks 360 is the perfect intersection of design, visual communication, and analytics.

Let me know your thoughts and reactions to this response. I’d like to post a version of this question and answer to one of our blogs. Let me know what you think about that too.


Eric Chappell
Civil Community Evangelist

If you had questions about the purpose of InfraWorks 360 prior to reading this article, I hope the discussion that Jeremy and I had was helpful in clarifying that for you. I want to publicly thank Mr. Matthei for asking this question in such an intelligent, open-minded, and constructive manner.

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