GIS to CAD - why does no one use Solidworks for GIS data?

figmit used Ask the Experts™
I am wondering what is the main reason why a search in google "ArcGIS to Solidworks" yeilds zero results?  

What is so inherently better aboutAutoCAD versus Solidworks for modeling large geographical areas? And along the same lines, why is AutoCAD always used when exporting GIS data into a CAD environment?

Any insights in to my general questions appreciated!

Watch Question

Do more with

Expert Office
EXPERT OFFICE® is a registered trademark of EXPERTS EXCHANGE®

Because, frankly, Solidworks is a bloated piece of crap, and there are many more users out there using AutoCAD.

More users using AutoCAD = more demand for ArcGIS->AutoCAD.

Solidworks is a 3D Parametric Modeler, whereas AutoCAD is a 3D digital drafting environment.  Your working space in AutoCAD is nearly limitless - your digital environment can be on the scale of miles.  Most parametric modelers are designed to work on the scale of feet.

Parametric modelers also have accuracy limitations, due to the nature of their modeling kernels.  AutoCAD can maintain a high degree of accuracy, so that you could put a golf ball on a to-scale drawing of an entire county's topography and be confident it's located properly.  

The short answer might be that it's a matter of scale.

Using Solidworks for verifying and manipulating GIS data would be like traveling cross country on a tricycle.  You might get there eventually, but you'll be sorry.


fjudd99 -

thanks.  however, if the only issue is scale, then it isnt really an issue at all. afterall, we can just say a foot is actaully a kilometer and model  geographic space from there.  Your comment about solid works working being parametric makes sense though.  I happen to know that Solidworks is able to work with whatever scale system is given (example km).  I see the main issue here might be accuracy of such an extrapolation based on the kernels you take about.  What order inacrruacies are we talking about here? Also, if an innacracy of a few meters is not an issue (for example if the end goal is to make a general cartographic product), then would a solidworks versus CAD route make any other difference?
OWASP Proactive Controls

Learn the most important control and control categories that every architect and developer should include in their projects.

While you can work with whatever scale you'd like in Solidworks, or any parametric modeler, if you provide a high density of data across a large scale you'll quickly run into resource issues.  If you have a path that is one mile long, and you provide a data point outlining that path every foot, that's 5280 data points just to describe that one path.  As your resolution decreases, you'll have fewer data points and performance would improve, but at the cost of accuracy.

I think there may be some practical, if not absolute, limits to the size of models in Solidworks as well.  I saw a reference to a limitation of 1000 M (or 1 km) recently being removed for *assemblies* in Solidworks.  I could be wrong, but it makes intuitive sense to me as a long time parametric CAD user.

To get adequate performance in Solidworks you might have to go with a very coarse resolution.  If your task can live with that resolution, then you could potentially use something like Solidworks to achieve it.  

Another consideration is that while Solidworks uses a predefined set of units for objects, AutoCAD uses a more general idea of 'drawing units'.  In Solidworks if you draw something that is 1 'unit' long, you have to specify what that unit is, in a unit the system understands.  It has to be an inch, or a mm, or a km.  If you wanted to say a foot was a kilometer, then every number you put into Solidworks would need to have that conversion made before it was entered.  In addition, the accuracy of the model will be limited.  I couldn't find a published number for Solidworks, but it may be something on the order of .01 mm.  That accuracy is fixed; if you 'scale down' your input data, that accuracy is going to shrink significantly.

Compare that to AutoCAD, where a drawing unit is whatever you want it to be, and accuracy is held out to 8 decimal places.  If your decide a drawing unit is 1 km, then you can still be accurate to .01 mm.  If you had taken measurements using a rubber chicken, then your drawing units could be the length of said chicken and your drawing would still be to the proper scale.  Knowing the conversion between the length of the rubber chicken and any other desired unit of length, you can quickly and easily integrate other drawings into yours, or vice versa.  


fjudd99: thanks - good info just one more clarification that i think will clarify everything:

by saying solidworks is a parameteric modeler does this mean that it cannot handle scaling of vector data? in other words if i have a road - in GIS software (and i assume CAD software), the computer does not load all the detail at once, but rather only loads it as you zoom in to optimize memory resources.  With solidworks being "parametric" does it mean that it does support this type of optimization when the input is non parametric (like the shape of a road?).  In other words, while it can load the road data, it would be unable to optimize how it works with it as a memory resource in any way?

I don't think there's any automatic, dynamic loading and unloading of data like what you'd see in GIS software.  While Solidworks might load only part of the data to start, and to some extent automatically manage what it retains in memory, to a large extent you would need to control what is loaded and when.  To do so, you'd have to atomize the data and split it up into multiple documents (or objects within documents) to control what is loaded.  For example, you might have to create a road in 10 ft segments.  

The term parametric when applied to Solidworks refers more to the ability to define geometric and numeric relationships between geometry, which would lead to a model based on your design criteria.


thanks. one additional thing - you said:

"I don't think there's any automatic, dynamic loading and unloading of data like what you'd see in GIS software. "

Does AutoCAD have this capability? if not, how does AutoCAD differen from Solidworks on this point?

thanks again

While AutoCAD doesn't dynamically load or unload data either, it's capable of handling more data simultaneously, and thanks to layers and layer states it has finer control over what you see and when you see it.

Do more with

Expert Office
Submit tech questions to Ask the Experts™ at any time to receive solutions, advice, and new ideas from leading industry professionals.

Start 7-Day Free Trial