From city streets to drag strips to dams — An interview with Burns & McDonnell’s Frank Nelson

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  • Kansas City, Missouri, USA — When MicroStation Today caught up with Frank Nelson at the Mid-Continent MicroStation Community (MCMC) summer conference in Kansas City, he was swamped. In addition to his busy life as project manager for Burns & McDonnell, he also volunteers as a vendor coordinator for the MCMC and just had a grandson.

    Frank Nelson would like to introduce Wesley

    MicroStation Today: You have been in the design field for almost 35 years now, how has your role changed?
    Frank: In 1988, after 15 years of hand drafting and design, I purchased my first laptop with a 20MB hard drive and started learning drafting and designing in CAD. However, it was not until I joined Burns & McDonnell in 1998 that I encountered MicroStation and went from the world of AutoCAD to the world of MicroStation. I did have some adjustment time. About the time that I began to understand and become familiar with MicroStation V7, the Bentley folks took a quantum leap into V8. The introduction of V8 moved MicroStation from a good drafting/design platform to a great platform and from swearing at it to swearing by it. As a transportation/civil engineer, I have developed CAD designs in a dozen states and a couple foreign countries. These designs have included parking lots, city streets, state highways, sanitary sewers, a racetrack/dragstrip combination in Topeka, Kansas and roadway relocation for a water supply dam in Arkansas. I am a registered professional engineer in Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas.

    MST: What is your official position? What are some of the problems that you encounter in your position?
    Frank: My official position at Burns & McDonnell is Project Manager.

    Putting together a set of plans for a state highway department always requires an inordinate amount of quantities tables, drainage area/storm sewer tables, design data tables and miscellaneous tables. In one particular set of plans for a highway improvement project for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), there was a multitude of these tables and the scope of the project was continually changing (depending upon which ODOT manager had last reviewed it). Consequently, the tables were continually changing. I knew there must be an easier way than the old-fashioned way of copying parallel lines and entering text, then having to revise the entire drawing with every change. When I looked into importing the design spreadsheets, instead of drafting them into the drawing, I found that the spreadsheet import capabilities of MicroStation and Excel were entirely inadequate for the size of spreadsheets that the Oklahoma project required. Since Burns & McDonnell had Axiom’s MicroStation Productivity Toolkit, I decided to try Microsoft Office Importer. I was surprised and pleased. After I learned how to use Microsoft Office Importer, I could import our huge drawing-size spreadsheets with ease. The spreadsheets could be easily updated in Excel and Microsoft Office Importer’s linking capabilities would automatically update the table in the drawing. Additionally, if you took the time to set the spreadsheet up in a professional manner by formatting the cells, rows and columns, the result would be a sharp, professional looking table in the drawing. I was so pleased with the results that I presented a session on Microsoft Office Importer’s capabilities at our user group’s (MCMC) summer conference the next year.

    The CAD gurus at Burns & McDonnell taught a course on FileFixer. Using FileFixer to put the data back in the right places saved my sanity. It was extremely frustrating to have worked many hours on a design drawing in MicroStation and GEOPAK and having it “crash” on you. You can see the hours that you and your other designers have spent on that drawing flash before your eyes and can only imagine how the loss of this drawing will impact your project deadline. Fortunately, the CAD gurus at Burns & McDonnell did get FileFixer for us and taught us how to use it.

    I have begun using FileFixer for V8 on DGN files before I export them to the DWG format. Likewise, I use FileFixer for V8 on DWG files that I have imported into the DGN format. It is nice to have a tool like FileFixer for V8 that cleans up the loose ends that “get lost in the translation.”

    Another Axiom product that I have used to solve a problem is LearningBay’s MicroStation V8 Essentials. This self-paced, computer-based learning program has increased my productivity in V8 by teaching both the basics, as well as some good tips and tricks for using V8. MicroStation V8 was relatively new when I first went through the program. I also plan to go through Axiom’s LearningBay courses on GEOPAK Drainage and Site.

    As a project manager, I am also concerned about our design and detailing staff’s productivity on my projects. Most of them know how to use Microsoft Office Importer and FileFixer. However, there are many other tools in Axiom’s MicroStation Productivity Toolkit that could be of great benefit to our company if the staff were aware of them and knew how to use them. This August, we were fortunate to have Axiom’s Mr. Greg McKinney come to our MCMC summer conference. The day before the conference, I invited Mr. McKinney to come to Burns & McDonnell and give us a brief overview of all of the other tools in Axiom’s Toolkit. The luncheon session was packed. In addition to Greg’s interesting and informative presentation, the attendees were enthusiastic about the potential uses for these new tools. We appreciated Greg’s visit and his presentation. He also provided copies of Axiom’s excellent brochure “Time-Saving Tools for the Overworked MicroStation User” for all of the attendees.

    Frank Nelson speeds up projects with FileFixer and Microsoft Office Importer.

    MST: Where would you like to be in ten years?
    Frank: Retired. Maybe teaching and playing with CAD and dabbling in design on a part-time basis.

    MST: What do you predict will be the “next big thing” in CAD?
    Frank: What I’d like to see as the “next big thing” in CAD is for Axiom to put together a self-paced, computer-based LearningBay program on MicroStation Productivity Toolkit and other tools. It was nice to have Greg come to tell us about all the tools, but unless my staff can get trained on them, odds are they won’t use them to their fullest potential, if at all. Like every tool, whether it’s a simple claw hammer or a multi-million-dollar jet fighter, the productivity increase that the user gets from that tool is directly proportional to the user’s capability to use that tool. Training increases capability, which in turn increases productivity.

    MST: Thanks, Frank.

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