Hands On: FME Suite 2003 X2 from Safe Software, Inc.
Professional Surveyor Magazine - September 2003
Joseph H. Bell, LS
The FME Suite 2003 X2 is a Feature Manipulation Engine. The Suite consists of FME Workbench, FME Universal Translator, and FME Universal Viewer. The principle program is the FME Universal Translator. From that program, you can access the other two programs in the Suite. For simple translations, FME Universal Translator will handle most any translation. The FME Workbench is used for complicated translations such as joining files with different extensions during the translation. The FME Universal Viewer allows you to view files in virtually any format.
There are hundreds of supported formats. Figure 1 shows the first page of the supported formats. The format you will notice right a way is AutoCAD DWG/DXF. Notice that in some cases the FME Universal Translator may only either READ or WRITE the format, but it most cases it will do both. Some of the other formats of note for the surveyor are dBase III files, DLG (digital line graphs), DTED (digital terrain elevation), ESRI , GEOCITY, GIF Image, IDRISI Vector, Intergraph MGE, Leica IDEX, Macromedia FLASH, MapInfo, Microsoft Access, MicroStation, Oracle, PenMetrics, TIGER/Line, USGS Digital Elevation Model, and Vector Markup Language, just to mention a few.
How well does it work? I converted a shapefile from ArcGIS into an AutoCAD drawing file by simply selecting the parcel map for Dona Ana County and selecting DWG as the output format. The whole process took about a minute. Figure 2 shows the parcel map drawing in AutoCAD with the FME Universal Viewer. I brought the drawing up in AutoCAD to make sure the parcels were correctly drawn. As you can see in Figure 3, they are. All the parcels are geo-referenced in the county's mapping coordinate system. All of my surveys in this county can be geo-referenced and then converted back into shapefiles. FME Suite 2003 X2 also can do all of the coordinate conversions forward and backward including any user-defined custom coordinate system.
When the planner comes in and says, "Your map has to be in our coordinate system," no problem. Unfortunately, that is where the fun begins. Let's say your measured parcel does not fit the map parcel, and a mapping technician asks you to change your coordinates to fit his parcel. Then you get to educate him about the difference between field measurements and rubber-sheeted parcels fitted into the county's excellent control.
You can batch process all the files you need and either merge them (if they all have the same coordinate base) or create separate individual files in the new format, if the source files all have the same extension (format). If they have different extensions, then you can go to the FME Workbench.
FME Workbench is truly remarkable. You can set up a translation that can handle just about anything. For the surveyor, one Workbench Transformer that caught my eye was AreaCalculator. This calculates the area of a polygon feature and adds it as a new attribute (printable).
FME Workbench gives you absolute control over hundreds of special translations. I selected the four shapefiles in the county database and indicated that the output would be an AutoCAD drawing file. Figure 4 shows the initial FME Workbench screen. On the power bar there are several icons. There is a group which starts with a selection arrow, a pan symbol, magnification symbol and de-magnification symbol and a view all symbol exactly as they are in AutoCAD. Next to these are some that are not from AutoCAD. There are two disk symbols with opposing arrows, one for adding source datasets and the other for adding destination datasets. Next is a dropdown list with a red arrowhead for adding new feature types. The next is a page symbol which allows you to add a comment or annotation to clarify anything that needs clarification. Next is a "k" which multiplies the source dataset by a constant before creating the destination dataset. The next is a little greenish symbol that will insert a Visualizer transformer within the workspace to start the FME Universal Viewer. The next symbol, a stick box with two green dots and a red dot in the middle, will auto arrange the layout on the screen. The next four icons are for alignment and the last two are for expanding or collapsing the attribute feature types (show or hide).
At the bottom is the log of all that went on in the reading of the source file. At the left is the Navigator. Visible are the parameters and some of the feature types. The main screen shows the source types read in from the shapefiles and the destination types that will be created in the drawing. The data types I did not wish to translate have had the connection line deleted. I also changed the names of some of the destination attributes to suit myself just by right clicking and using REname.
The real interesting part of the FME Workbench has to do with Transformers. There are 154 Transformers. These are not all that are available. For details about the rest you have to go to online help or read the manual, Functions, Factories and Transformers (available at their Web site). Figure 4 also shows a small portion of the transformers. I selected the Gallery tab in the Navigator (on the left side of the screen) and the expanded the All folder. Notice when I selected a transformer that a complete description appears in the window below the list. You can see additional information by pressing the "F1" key. You can drag and drop a translator over to the workbench screen. You can also use the output of one transformer as the input of another transformer. The output of a transformer can be sent to more than one destination. Like all very powerful programs, Transformers has a bit of a learning curve. There is not only lots of documentation, there are many movies available on-line to help you become proficient. These movies are fast moving and very detailed. You will want to play the movies more than once and have documentation at hand if you are a good lone scholar, but if you can afford the time and money, personal hands-on training is available.
Figure 5 shows why field surveys will not fit your county's database. I still think it is useful to be able to convert your Parcel maps into ESRI shapefiles and put them into your county's database for your own use. An infinite amount of information can be linked to your drawings so inserted in the GIS (contact information, contracts, even financial information, etc.).
FME can work in Intergraph's GeoMedia, Microsoft's MapPoint 2002 and ESRI ArcView Extension. I would love to see this program in the hands of the young and up-and-coming surveyors who will make the inroads into that part of GIS for which they have a statutory obligation. You can download a 14-day trial version at www.safe.com. There you will also find vast amounts of documentation and many movies that will show you step by step how to make this suite sing.
About the Author
Joseph H. Bell, LSJoe Bell is the owner of SCJ GPS/GIS Consultants in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and was the Software Reviewer for the magazine.
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