3 Reasons CAD won’t cut it for transportation anymore

by: Drew Olsen | 08/15/2016
Estimated Reading time: 7 - 12 minutes

If you’ve been paying attention the last several months, you’ve noticed that Autodesk has been talking more about advanced technologies and the future of making things, but maybe you have not yet connected how these topics relate to why traditional CAD won’t cut it in the future. CAD won’t help you be a leader in designing future transportation systems. When I say future, I don’t mean somewhere far, far off in a distant date. The future is already happening; and technologies are already in place and evolving that can improve your design workflows in ways maybe you only imagined possible for movies and video games.

To give you an idea of what I mean by advancing technology, consider the three eras of technological disruption.

  • In the early days of CAD, Autodesk was the disruptor in the Era of Documentation where we moved 2D drawings onto a computer with AutoCAD. This was the first era of disruption for CAD vendors. And we led the way…
  • The next disruption was the Era of Optimization which we are in today. This is about using powerful 3D models and intelligent model based workflows not just for viewing but as the basis for all project designs, using visualizations, simulations and analysis consistently to truly optimize a design before ground is ever broken. (By the way, Autodesk was not the disruptor in this era; we had to respond to it and we did so aggressively). Developing expertise in this Era will open the door for you into the next Era. And I know some of you in the civil space, are just now considering this.
  • The new era that we are entering (and leading) is called the Era of Connection.  This era is all about connecting people, processes, and information across the project lifecycle. Here we see owners mandating BIM, design processes that are more connected, looking at design in context with simulation and analysis, connecting design to construction and more connected O&M. More on this era here.

You’ve been plodding along on projects in Era 1 (CAD documentation) and the occasional testing of the waters in Era 2 (optimization).  That’s worked for you, but the industry is advancing now to era 3 (connection) and you aren’t even committed to era 2 (optimization). Let’s face it, I don’t like change either, but this change is happening whether we like it or not. This technology shift is why you can no longer have the philosophy: ‘If it isn’t broken – don’t fix it’.

Why traditional CAD (era 1: documentation) isn’t enough

Here are three reasons I think that is the case:

  1. In-context design will improve design – you can’t do that in era 1.
  2. Design accuracy can start much earlier – speeding detailed design workflows later – better decisions means improved project outcomes – this is era 3 talk here and you aren’t anywhere near that yet.
  3. Your competition is squarely in era 2 and a few of those firms are moving to era 3.  Do you really want to get left behind?

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

1. In-context preliminary engineering improves design

The ability to obtain aerial photography and terrain of your project with minimal effort is priceless when it comes to getting a quick start on your project and looking better and more knowledgeable than your competition. So, what – everyone uses Google right? But is that going to be enough?  With advancing technologies you can use free source data, often accessible with the tools and you get highly detailed representations of the built environment.  As you can see in the video below the process to bring in free, data-rich information is easier than ever.  Add to this, other project information (CAD or GIS) and bam, there’s your quick start.

Quickly and easily convey design intent and analysis results in a real-world, contextual environment, increasing stakeholder buy-in and team decision-making. Efficiently access and integrate data from multiple sources into a highly accurate 3D model. Automated, rich, 3D model building capability using Model Builder for InfraWorks 360, combined with cloud technology and vertically specialized functionality gives you a tool to confidently envision the full potential of a project. InfraWorks 360 empowers cross-functional teams to make decisions where and when needed. Use data to address the problems that concern residents.

Why you should care: You get the equivalent of one-button push to start a project. It’s a faster way to get in front of the stakeholder to advance reviews to the next level.

2. Design accuracy starts in preliminary engineering

Traditionally, all design is precision design because you had CAD tools and that’s it. But some questions you couldn’t answer until you were deep into the design process. But now you can get to the right level of accuracy when you need it by obtaining planning level data quickly and building out more detail and accuracy as you move to the detailed design phase – getting insights to design through analysis that once wasn’t possible without a lot of leg-work from you.  And, starting this earlier doesn’t mean rework once in design phase – you can use that information without wasting time working through the calculations.

First, you can incorporate rapid data acquisition technologies, like LiDAR scans – right into your design workflow. Working with raw point clouds or the intelligence extracted from these advancing technology take design to the next level, as seen in the video below.

Second, as you consider that transportation is evolving to a systems versus single project approach, think about how this could affect your design project. You may need to see how your single project affects, or is affected by, the surrounding environment  What if you could model and analyze the ability for people to get where they need to go, not just measure congestion or level of service of traffic? Starting with the right project context is critical. Analysis and simulation brings a whole new level of information that can be used to make better decisions much earlier.  It isn’t just about optimizing designs – which is still important. It’s instead about having the insights to predict behaviors, use and potentially outcomes.  As you design a roadway, you consider insights for interchanges or urban streets. Analysis tools exist today that help you make better decisions and then pass that information on to design. Leverage the model to design more attractive, economical and sustainable transportation alternatives by evaluating the impact of designs to movement of buses and trains, autonomous vehicles, walking, cycling and other modes of travel using Traffic Simulation and Mobility Simulation. But you can’t keep using traditional CAD and benefit from this.

Why you should care: In context design that starts in preliminary stages – the layering-on of accuracy as you go – helps you waste less time once you are in detailed design.  Less time can improve costs and give you overall project efficiency gains. 


Same ol’ CAD? Same ol’ results! It’s time to move beyond traditional CAD to more integrated workflows. The “Beyond Bentley” webcast series demonstrates how to connect people, data and analytics for better project results. Discover how you can get better insights to design earlier without changing design tools. Register now.

 3. Competitive advantage and traditional CAD: these don’t belong in same sentence

Look around you at your biggest competitive design firms – are they using BIM and some of the advancing technologies to work smarter, to get more valuable input early in the process? If so, they are taking work from you.  The race is on – both from a technology and engineering service provider perspective – to help infrastructure owners obtain vast amounts of information on their systems.  Owners are being required to manage assets in new ways – have more detailed information, including models.  And these advancing technologies are a perfect fit to fill this need and provide you with the opportunity to be the leader.

Why is the industry marching in this direction? Where is this all headed?  The ideal state is a workflow that semi-automates the extraction of pertinent information from these point clouds to enrich the data that owners are required to report.  The video below gives some insight on the technology direction with the extraction of terrain, vertical point features, and ultimately linear feature extraction.

Why you should care: You can have competitive differentiation and use this to your advantage to win projects; and it helps you with retention of engineers that grew up on 3D modeling, virtual reality, and the most advanced tech in video games. They expect that their jobs will allow them to use the most advanced technology.

I’ve given you a few reasons you need to consider moving beyond CAD (or Era 1).  In the eBook: 5 Ways to keep your engineering firm from becoming obsolete, these reasons and more are given for why you should consider a change.


Download a free copy.

Five reasons why you should move beyond traditional CAD


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