GIS and CAD Integration

Mark Altaweel


The integration of GIS and computer-aided design/drafting (CAD) have operated as largely separate types of software, where CAD is used by the design, engineering, and architecture communities, although spatial relationships and components are often critical for this software.

An example of a truly integrated system, where CAD components and software concepts work with GIS data and structure is AutoCAD Map 3D. File structures in CAD, such as DWG files that store design data, can interoperate with GIS files, such as SHP files.

Raster data, such as GIS data created from satellite imagery, including DEM files, are used to create realistic terrain for CAD designed structures. Other commercial software includes Esri’s AutoCAD plug-in, which can allow AutoCAD, a common CAD tool, users to directly use GIS files without having to leave their CAD environment.

With increased interoperability, standards have now been created to facilitate use of each software seamlessly.

Free weekly newsletter

Fill out your e-mail address to receive our newsletter!

For instance, one issue that arises is one creates or designs a crane. If that crane is placed in a location that might have unstable terrain or could create a problem based on information with a GIS, then that information needs to be sent and indicated seamlessly without the user having to have too much input.

Using the semantic web

Increasingly the Semantic Web is being used as a way to facilitate interoperability through the use of Resource Definition Languages (RDL) or the Web Ontology Language (OWL). This is done through tasks that can be decomposed into sub-tasks, with these tasks then mapped to GIS or CAD operations.

This workflow then allows each software to discover the others’ services, allowing information and operations to be more seamless.[1]

Interoperability that preserves data between GIS and CAD systems

Other issues arise, including formatting data to be more usable in each platform’s set of tools. File format tools such as FME allow auto-conversion and preserve needed data, while removing unneeded data, so that objects in one platform can be more easily utilized in the other without a lot of manual editing.[2]

These tools have now made operations between GIS and CAD products much easier over the last few years, helping to bridge a gap that has been present for sometime between GIS and CAD.

CAD / GIS Integration software

FME Suite
FME Suite is an integrated collection of Spatial ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load) tools for data transformation and data translation. FME technology allows users to easily work with data in over 150 different formats. FME Suite consists of three major components: a graphical authoring environment (FME Workbench), a data inspection tool (FME Viewer), and a translation engine (FME Universal Translator) that can be run from within Workbench or as part of a batch system.

Guthrie CAD/GIS Software
Access to free CAD Viewer, conversion utilities and other CAD/GIS utilities.


[1] For more information on GIS and CAD integration and ontologies that enable seamless operations, see:  Karimi, Hassan A., and Burcu Akinci, eds. 2010. CAD and GIS Integration. Boca Raton: CRC Press, pg. 205.

[2] For more on FME, see:  Zhen, Liu, Changfeng Jing, and Xiuzhong Chen. 2012. “Files’ Conversion from CAD to GIS Using Spatial Data Conversion Tools Provided by FME.” In , 1939–42. IEEE. doi:10.1109/CSSS.2012.484.

Related Articles

Photo of author
About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.