Subassembly Composer – Part 1

Autodesk Labs has released another handy tool for Civil 3D, the new Subassembly Composer.  It’s basically a tool that automates the programming of custom subassemblies.  You can download it from here.  It comes in a zip file and contains both a 32 and 64 bit version, as well as samples.  The first thing that jumped out at me as I went to install the 64bit version it is that it requires Microsoft .NET Framework 4 and SQL Server Compact 3.5 SP2.  Once the prerequisites were installed, installation was very straight forward and fast.

The Subassembly Composer contains is it’s own interface for building subassemblies – it does not run inside of Civil 3D.  The interface of the program is very similar to Navisworks and the .NET interface.  Note that the .NET studio is what you would use to create subassemblies manually.

The Subassembly Composer really feels like a visual programming language, which makes it very easy to learn.  One of the downsides of this is that complicated subassemblies will quickly grow to an unwieldy size.Personally, a difficult concept for me to grasp at first was how to draw arrows in the between elements.  When you hover your mouse over a building block, four gray rectangles will appear, one for each side.  Click and drag on one of these rectangles to connect the blocks.

One of the greatest advantages of the Subassembly Composer is how easy it makes it to get your subassemblies into Civil 3D.  I thought that this was the most difficult part of programming assemblies in .NET.  With the subassembly composer, all of your changes are saved in a .pkt file that can easily be imported into Civil 3D.Note that this subassembly still needs the .dll file.  When you import the .pkt file, it will automatically create that file for you in the proper location.  This means that deploying custom subassemblies company wide is not a trivial task.  Each computer will need to have the .dll file to work.In conclusion, does the existence of this tool mean that you will be creating custom subassemblies more than you use the stock ones that we’ve grown to love?  My guess is that you will not.  It is a still a lot of work to create a subassembly, just much less than programming it yourself.  Can you use this tool to get you out of a jam where the stock assemblies will not suffice?  My feeling is that the answer is yes, but provided that it’s used wisely.  Note that the tool is still in the “lab”, and not intended for use in production.

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