SITEOPS: Engineering Software for the 21st Century
By Rande Robinson
Have you ever thought about what civil engineering design software will look like in 2045? How about 2035? Or even 2025?
Just off the top of my head, here are a few suggestions of its features and capabilities:
- Web-based, CAD agnostic
- Uses free and existing forms of data
- Work in 2D and 3D
- Always be available and up to date
- Accessible from any device with an Internet connection
- Modular construction
That’s just to name a few. Though we can’t accurately predict what software of the future will look like or how it will work. I have been reviewing and playing around with a site design program that gives one a glimpse at the future of civil design software — today.
SITEOPS is that software. Developed over the past 10 years by its developer, BLUERIDGE Analytics. SITEOPS and BLUERIDGE Analytics were purchased this past fall by Bentley Systems, adding another powerful civil design product to Bentley’s stable of civil engineering software.
A SITEOPS information card I picked up at their office in Charlotte, North Carolina describes the product as follows.
SITEOPS is a patented, cloud-based evolutionary technology for the AEC industry that delivers cost-optimized conceptual site designs and estimates in hours instead of weeks.
- Rapid prototyping conceptual 2D layouts
- Cost-optimized conceptual 3D grading & piping
- Realistic simulation of vehicle movement
- Import of topographic data
That sums up SITEOPS’ basic capabilities and functions in a nutshell. SITEOPS is not a complete civil engineering package like Autodesk’s Civil 3D or Bentley’s InRoads. One should not consider it to be a competing or replacement product for any current civil engineering package but, rather, as a complement to them, and a starting point for large and small projects.
SITEOPS is cloud-based and will run on any computer or operating system that has a browser that supports Java. This means it will currently run on Chrome, Mozilla, Internet Explorer and Safari to name the major browsers. Unfortunately, this means it currently won’t work under IOS or Android since neither of these offer Java support. Although any Windows 8-based tablet such as the Surface works fine. I tested SITEOPS on all the previously-mentioned browsers except Safari, since I don’t own a Mac or want to load any more browsers on my PC.
The optimization engine that SITEOPS uses for its grading and hydraulic work runs on a Linux server residing in the cloud. The rest of the program is a Java program that runs on your computer in conjunction with the browser of your choice.
SITEOPS consists of four main modules: Layout, Grading & Piping, Topo Import and Swept Path Analysis. The cost for all four modules is currently $8,500 a year. The Layout module is required to run SITEOPS while the others can be purchased separately as you need them. The costs of the individual modules are:
- Layout — $3,000/year
- Grading & Piping — $3,500/year
- Topo Import — $1,000/year
- Swept Path Analysis — $1,000/year
As with most Bentley products, you purchase a yearly subscription for each concurrent license. The license allows multiple users access to the software on multiple machines but only one user can use the license at a time. This licensing model is great for firms that want to share a couple of licenses between several users or offices.
One interesting tidbit from the guys at SITEOPS is that 95 percent of SITEOPS’ current client base is Autodesk Civil 3D users. It will be interesting to hear what Bentley’s users think of SITEOPS. Even more interesting will be to see what Autodesk users will think of future versions. But enough background information. Let’s look at some of the interesting things SITEOPS can do.
Accessing the Software
To get started, fire up the browser of your choice and head to the SITEOPS website atwww.SITEOPS.com. Click the Login button in the upper right corner and enter your username and password.
This takes you to the SITEOPS welcome page where you can:
- Read messages from the SITEOPS team
- Find information on product updates
- View any recently completed optimizations
- Access the main menu
Before you get started using SITEOPS you might want to run the Java check routine to make sure that your PC/browser will work with SITEOPS. To do this, select Java Check from the help menu and wait for the results which will appear in a separate tab.
In my case, I should upgrade to the current version of Java when I get a chance. Being a version or two behind won’t cause any issues for SITEOPS. From the Welcome screen, go to the Project tab to access your projects. The Project tab lets you access or administrate your projects.
Select the project you wish to work on, making sure the information is correct and the modules you wish to load have a green check mark beside them. Then select the Basemap tab. From the next screen to appear, select the revision you wish to work with. This will kick off the loading and running of a Java app and bring up the Basemap Editor.
The Layout Editor
The only module you must have to run SITEOPS is the layout module which contains the Basemap Editor. The Basemap Editor at first glance looks like a generic CAD package with the now common “ribbon” interface.
While the Basemap Editor has some standard CAD tools, such as placing and manipulating points, circles and squares, its main purpose is to allow the user to create SITEOPS objects, of which there are four main ones.
Points: Allow placement of points to represent things such as bore holes, stormwater tie-ins or to break up paths.
Paths and Closed Paths: Can represent things such as roads or sidewalks.
Areas: Closed polygons representing features such as parking lots, buildings, easements, etc.
In other words, this isn’t your everyday CAD program — even though it looks like it at first glance. For example, to draw a parking lot, select the Layout tab to bring up the area commands. Select the Parking Lot Area icon. Then move the cursor to the drawing area and create the sides of the parking lot. Then open up the Properties tab on the right side of the screen and set the parameters for the lot. And finally select the Layout Solver button in the right corner. Voila! You have a parking lot with 734 spaces. It’s that simple.
To add a road into the parking lot or to change the direction of the parking aisles themselves is as easy as adding a path or two with the editor. If you look at Figure 8 you will notice that the angle of the parking lot spaces changed, as did the number of spaces, from 734 to 645. The true power here is the ability to play quick and dirty layout games. By defining your parameters you can quickly determine if you can get the required number of spaces in a given area. Then, export it out to a CAD program and create a plan sheet or two.
The ability of SITEOPS to export its information is crucial since it is not designed to create contract documents. It is designed to run through multiple design scenarios to determine the feasibility of a project. A quick look at the Import/Export menu shows the basic options that SITEOPS provides.
One thing that you might notice about this menu is that there is no export to .DGN. As mentioned earlier, 95 percent of SITEOPS clients are Autodesk Civil 3D users. Before Bentley acquired SITEOPS they saw no need to provide a .DGN export. The SITEOPS team is currently testing a .DGN export which will be added to the SITEOPS tool by the end of Q1. In the meantime, MicroStation can read a .DWG format almost as easily as it can its own .DGN format.
Another thing that I find fascinating about SITEOPS is how it can import topo and imagery from anywhere in the world to create an enhanced 3D design. For example, let’s look at how easy it would be to site a big box home improvement store next to my local Walmart.
- Create a new project in SITEOPS and open it up in the Basemap Editor.
- From the Import/Export tab, select Geolocate and key in your location into the Geocode Dialog search field. Zoom in on the area you wish to work with and select it by clicking on the Select Location button.
3. Then bring in the USGS topo information by selecting the USGS Topo button. Once it is loaded, bring up the imagery by using the ESRI Imagery button and you are ready to start designing.
Next, add a building and a parking lot. Run the Grading Solver to get a quick grading plan, quantities and cost information. The results will display at the bottom of the Landscape 3D Viewer.
4. One other amazing trick is that once you have a site set up and graded you can run the Utility Solver and have your drainage details added. SITEOPS uses the rational method to calculate the hydraulics from which it produces the piping and inlet locations, layout and cost. In my case, it shows I have a few issues (denoted by the red squares) that need attention. Let’s assume I fix my issues and get the grading and hydraulics the way I want them.
5. The final step would be to save the revision, exit to the project screen and submit the project back to the SITEOPS server to be optimized. This is where the power of the cloud comes into play and I think where a lot of money can be saved by the developer and owner.
This is all done on the fly. No other site design package that I am aware of can do this. To be fair, SITEOPS is specifically designed to do this while most other site design packages are designed like Swiss army knives. They do a little bit of everything rather than concentrating on a specific part of the process.
One also has to keep in mind that your results are only as good as the engineer or designer who is doing the work and how good the data is. For example, in my made-up project, I’m using imagery data from the web and USGS topo data. This is great for preliminary design and layout, but should not be considered for a finished product. You still need to do a design with actual verified survey data. Still, SITEOPS reduces the initial guesswork, allowing the engineer to spend more time on producing a great design.
SITEOPS is an easy program to use once you get a little bit of training and experience with it. One thing that I would recommend — and I can’t stress this strongly enough — is that if you decide to purchase and start using SITEOPS, spend some extra money and take a two- or three-day training class from them. It will be money well spent. I tried to dive right into SITEOPS using their online and downloadable training materials. It wasn’t pretty. After spending just a day at the SITEOPS office and undergoing a little bit of training, the program became much easier to understand and use.
As I mention at the beginning, SITEOPS gives one a peek at the future of civil engineering design software. In the hands of an experienced site engineer or designer it is amazing what SITEOPS can do. Whether SITEOPS will continue to exist as a standalone product in the Bentley portfolio, or become a powerful component of Bentley’s OpenRoads technology, the future for SITEOPS should be bright. It will be interesting to see what Bentley does with the program over the next few years, given Bentley’s new focus on data connectivity and optioneering. Combined with the resources and deep pockets that they can bring to the product, the sky is the limit.
About the Author
Rande Robinson is a part-time blogger, tweeter, author and “journalist” who, during the day works for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) as a Technology Support Specialist Advanced. Rande has more than 29 years of experience in information technology and construction, bridge and roadway engineering with two state departments of transportation.