I am not sure whether this question belongs here. I think it belongs more to Geo-technical, but anyway, I just give it a shot.

During earthwork development, earth terrain has to be cut ( if the terrain is higher than platform) or fill ( if the terrain is lower than platform) in order for the construction of platforms such as roads, housing area, pond and whatnot. Usually, one would have to make sure that the cut and fill within a development area is roughly the same, in order to reduce the import or export of the soil.

The process of calculating the height of the platforms with relative to the terrain so that the cut/fill is roughly the same is called auto-balancing.

How do engineers ( or earthwork software) do the auto balancing in practice?


The algorithm is fairly simple. In a nutshell, it searches different possible platform elevations, computes the cut volume, dumps that into the fill area, and checks whether there is any left over or lacking.

In detail, the algorithm deals with a digital representation (TIN or grid) of an idealized surface which we can think of as the graph of an integrable function f of the location coordinates (x,y) having area measure dA. The cut/fill operation is performed within a defined region: a measurable set of coordinates, call it R. Any proposed platform elevation z determines a net cut-fill value equal to the integral over R of (f(x,y) - z)dA. This is a strictly increasing continuous function that diverges to +Infinity as z gets large and diverges to -Infinity as z gets very negative, so therefore it has a unique zero for some value of z.

Based on this analysis, all the software has to do is (a) be able to compute such integrals, which are volume estimates, and (b) find the zero of a continuous function of one variable (z). The former depends on the method of representing the surface. With a grid one would use a Riemann sum or possibly (for greater accuracy) a 2D generalization of the Trapezoidal Rule or Simpson's Rule. With a TIN, the surface is broken into triangular patches and the volumes are computed with standard formulas for prisms and pyramids. Root finding also is standard and simple to carry out: see Numerical Recipes for best practices and code. The Secant Method works just fine but Newton's Method might converge faster for many surfaces (an important consideration, because each function evaluation can require some effort).

  • Has anyone done this in ArcGIS? I'm thinking of attempting to make something in Model Builder.
    – ndthl
    Nov 21 '13 at 9:03

I think it depends on what type of platform.
Also, AFAIK in most good software you can change the method used, to auto-balance, as either locked elevation or equalize-cut/fill.
In the case of roadway the superelevation determines platform elevation and the cut/fill is variable.
I don't know a lot about this area as it has been 10 yrs since I was in this arena.
But, you can probably find some information here on the autodesk website. Civil users guide.pdf
And Civil3d Tutorial.pdf
Also, the Skill Builder site may have something for you.

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