Software Review: SiteComp Survey

A 2.275Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

It’s a simple name for an extraordinary program. SiteComp Survey does all the things that surveyors do; it just does them better. It does not require any other program.

First and most important is the fact that Survey is a point-based system. Every line or figure in the drawing is based on points in the database. There is no pointless junk in the drawing.

Figure 1 shows the SiteComp Survey screen. This is a GPS Control Survey set against a Dona Ana County Street Map. The text label coordinates are local coordinates. The real coordinates are NAD 83 in feet. There is quite a bit on the screen, but it is logically arranged into groups of functions.

At the bottom of the screen are three colored bars. The blue bar contains a prompt line, the grey bar is for input of commands or data, and the orange bar contains the results. The default prompt is for selecting points. By selecting a point, the point information is displayed– point number, northing, easting, elevation and description. If you select a second point, the point information for the "To" point is shown and the point number of the "From" point is shown, plus the bearing and distance. If you choose a third point, you see the point information of that point, the inverse between and the angle right back to the first point. If you want to be prompted for each step, you do the same thing with the inverse command under the COGO menu.

A fourth bar, although barely noticeable, is called the hint line. Here the programmers placed a comment when they thought users might need a hint as to how to use a command.

On the right of the colored bars are the northing and easting of the current cursor position and the current scale. Above the bars, from left to right, is the next available point number, a space to enter an elevation, and a space to enter a description for a new point. Note the interesting figures: #, N, E, EL, D. These turn on or turn off point numbers, northings, eastings, elevations and descriptions. You must use a screen refresh (ALT-Z) to see the change. Because they are so easy to bring up, it is rarely necessary to have the drawing cluttered with them when they are not needed. (Think about how many keystrokes it takes to do this in other CAD programs.)

Next on the line are icons for +V, FV, Contours, Fills, Figure Matches, English/ Metric, Grid-Snap, and QuickSnap (all icons are labeled if you hold the pointer over them briefly). If you have made a point filter or a figure filter, you can turn it on or off. You can also turn contours or fills on or off.

Matches is a very interesting routine. If you are on one layer and you want to extend or add to an object on a different layer, this feature allows you to add the new material to the object in its original layer, line-type, color, etc., without leaving the layer you are currently working in.

Grid Snap allows you to draw perpendicular and parallel lines when you need to. Quick Zoom speeds up all of the zooming commands useful in moving around large drawings. All of the Zoom command icons are grouped together on the left side of the screen, and no matter how much you zoom, the description text stays the same screen size.

All of the drawing command icons are grouped together above the graphics display window. Below is a brief description of what each will do.

"T" allows you to place text.

"C" is for Clusters, which is a group of figures created by inserting a job file (CAD equivalent of drawing) into another job file (drawing) using the Insert Cluster command. A job file can contain multiple clusters, each of which can be manipulated separately. (This is similar to what CAD users call a Block. There are many commands for handling clusters (insert, move to next cluster, move to previous cluster, rotate, copy, explode, and so forth).

"M" is for Models, which are a cross between a block and a symbol. Once created and saved, they are stored in a separate directory with a unique name and can be inserted in any drawing. The model can be up to 5000 arcs (arcs and lines); if there are closed figures they can be filled. Each model must contain a single snap point (insertion point). The model is treated like a point. The obvious survey use would be to insert building pads into a subdivision. Since they can be manipulated and modified, they can have many uses.

"S" is for Symbols. Forty-nine symbols are provided and can be inserted by number and desired size. If you choose the wrong size you can change the size of all of the symbols with one command.

"W" is for wireline. This is a quick way to draw figures by continuously connected lines (by picking the end points). You can also close the figure from last point to first point (a polygon which you can fill). You cannot fill polygons unless they close perfectly. A fast check for polygons, therefore, is to try to fill them.

The last four icons stand for New, Open, Save, and Print. The print command prints out at the scale in the lower right corner and shows an icon of that size so you know exactly what will be printed.

The next line of icons contains the Move command, Move Graphically (pick up the selected items and move them with the mouse), Copy, Copy Graphically, Create an Array, Offset and Offset by points (you can offset from two disconnected points and create lines offset from the nonexistent line between them). Other icons include Scale and Rotate, Fillet, and Extend or Trim.

The next icon, which allows you to split figures by snapping, deserves some special attention. Once you have created a figure, you have many ways to modify it. You can split it along any set of points, you can create polylines from consecutive points, erase figures, explode polylines and models, strip polylines (take out excessive points from inputted polylines) and modify just the points in the figure (change elevation, description, delete points and protect points from being modified).

The next icon is for reversing the direction of a line. Perhaps it was drawn one way and you want to station it the other way or you want the bearings in the opposite direction. You can reverse figures, curves and parcels. The next icon is for exploding polylines or models, and is followed by icons that allow you to modify points or figures by snapping to them.

The last set of visible icons has to do with drawing points. You can set points by traverse or by sideshot. You can move points, set points by distance and snapping the bearing, set points by distance along a figure or set points at even distances along a figure. Then there is set point at intersection, set point on line perpendicular to a point off line, show the perpendicular distance to a point off line, list points and, the surveyors’ favorite, hide the lines under a corner monument.

Above these icons is a status line that tells you what layer you are currently on, what pen number is assigned, and what line type is assigned to this layer. Then there is quick access to setting up point filters and figure filters. Finally there is quick access to fill editing.

Figure 2 shows the pull-down menu under File. The Go To shows four modes (actually four different integrated programs). So far we have been looking only at the Design Mode. The other things to note before we go on to other modes are Import, Export and Data Collector Utility. You can import AutoCAD (DWG and DXF) files, Field Data (*.raw) Files, MicroStation (DGN) files, Points (*.asc) and Land XML files. SiteComp Survey can export all flavors of AutoCAD from R14 up. The Data Collector Utility allows you to set up multiple data collector configurations.

The second mode is Contours. Figure 3 shows a contour screen. "Surface" refers to the TIN. Programs for creating TI Ns are fairly standard. This one, however, is very fast and creates accurate TINs without the time-consuming process of using breaklines. Another difference in this program is the ease with which TINs may be modified to fit the ground. For instance, in addition to all of the standard triangle manipulations, it is very easy to eliminate points that should not be defining the surface–such as fire hydrants and Softdesk points with elevations of -99999. It is also easy to correct mistaken elevations. Note the three "targets" in the contours in Figure 3. The one on the lower right one is real; the other two are busted elevations. Point and click and change the elevations on those points and the surface looks like the ground. Surveyors who have had to deal with contour surfaces in other CAD programs are going to love this program.

The next mode is Earthwork. Bring in two surfaces (I brought in the original surface and the corrected surface). Figure 4 shows cut and fill coloring (red is cut, green is fill, black is no change). There is fill because this surface still has the Softdesk points in at -99999 elevation. Notice that the pull-down menu starts with Strip Amount. This allows you to raise or lower the design to balance the dirt. You can set the Swell and Compaction factors to meet the conditions. You calculate volumes, Create Mass Diagrams and change cut and fill colors with the click of the mouse. This is the easiest earthwork program I have seen.

I like the Survey mode best. You can read in a survey file that already exists (the raw data). You can import raw data in the TDS format or the Leitz format. The latter is probably less used but if you ever have to, this is the easiest manual entry (yes, even easier than the old HP41). Figure 5 shows the manual entry screens. The program opens with the center screen, Occupy Point. Then you can zero the backsight or put in a known azimuth (left screen). Once the point is occupied, the shot screen comes up (right screen).

The adjustment menu allows you to adjust angles, Compass rule, Crandall rule, Least Squares, Find Bad Angle, Find the Error of closure, make no adjustment rule, commit set: 1, if committed, uncommit set, and commit all.

There are certain limitations. The error of closure is 2D so that the error in elevation is not calculated or adjusted. My views on the value of least squares adjustment of traverses are well known. Least squares adjustment of single-loop traverses is inferior to the Compass Rule because there is not enough redundancy in a single-loop traverse to make it of any value. Having said that, I think I know why the error of closure is 2D. Have you ever run a traverse of any significant size and gotten an acceptable vertical closure? I haven’t. In practice, if a surveyor wants good elevations, he or she uses a level. So why complicate the closure and adjustment with elevations? My other comment about least squares adjustment, is that the very name conjures up geodetic accuracy. That is great hype so long as you are not taken in by it. So use it, but never think that it is better than the Compass Rule adjustment for single-loop traverses.

The Bad Angle routine is shown in Figure 6. Notice that the percentage of error adds up to 100%. What is shown is the percent of the angular misclosure that each angle takes to balance the angles. This is a fairly even distribution. If one is way out, taking a very large percentage, you would suspect that it is busted.

Under the Edit menu, you have a onedeep Undo, a Clean up command that allows you to remove duplicate points or entire duplicate figures. You can delete figures on all but the active layer, delete points that are not part of any figure, delete all by window, and delete on clipped area.

Under the View menu are the zoom commands, layer commands, and listing commands (such as Layers, Figures by type, and current settings).

Under the Insert menu are mostly the draw commands, annotation and symbols.

Figures 7 and 8 show the long list of commands under the Modify, CO GO, Parcels, Topo and Clusters menus. A detailed description of each function could fill an entire second review. I list them for your inspection, and everything I can think of is there. Under the Text menu is a complete set of text manipulation commands. The Tools and the Settings menus give you complete control of the way SiteComp Survey operates.

For those who have spent years trying to find the ideal surveying program, I strongly recommend SiteComp Survey. This is truly one of the best survey programs I have ever sampled.

Joe Bell is licensed in California and New Mexico. He has been reviewing software for surveyors since 1982.

A 2.275Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

About the Author

Joe Bell

Welcome to Joe Bell's Corner... Joseph Huxley Bell, III was born in El Paso, Texas in 1933 and raised in Alexandria, Virginia. He obtained a BA in English Literature from George Washington University in 1956 and an MD from the University of Virginia in 1960. He interned at Walter Reed General Hospital, served three years at Fort Riley, Kansas, and completed a one-year residency at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He practiced medicine in Southern California until 1976. Bell developed a love of hiking and mountain climbing, having served for five years on a mountain search and rescue team. He also spent several years technical rock climbing. He continued his education by returning to school to study computer science. During that time he went to work as a chainman for the City of San Bernardino and fell in love with the profession of surveying. For three years he published The Survey Calculations Journal. He obtained his survey license in California in 1981, was employed as a deputy county surveyor for the County of San Bernardino. In 1991 he accepted an 18-month contract in Egypt where he worked in the adjustment of field work. He was then given the responsibility of creating a computer-based Land Information System for all of Egypt. Upon returning to the U.S., Bell worked in private industry, for the New Mexico Highway and Transportation Department, and in his own GPS-based company until his retirement. He has been a reviewer of software since 1982, and continues to do so in his retirement. Bell currently lives and writes in New Mexico with his wife, Felicity, and his son, Mitch. He is a chamber music enthusiast, first violin of the Rio Bravo String Quartet, and concert master of the New Horizons Orchestra.
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