Earthworks (engineering)

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Earthworks are engineering works created through the processing of parts of the earth's surface involving quantities of soil or unformed rock.

Shoring structures[edit]

An incomplete list of possible temporary or permanent geotechnical shoring structures that may be designed and utilised as part of earthworks:



Earth moving equipment (circa 1922)
Flattened and leveled construction site. Road roller in the background.

Excavation may be classified by type of material:[1]:13.1

  • Topsoil excavation
  • Earth excavation
  • Rock excavation
  • Muck excavation – this usually contains excess water and unsuitable soil
  • Unclassified excavation – this is any combination of material types

Excavation may be classified by the purpose:[1]:13.1, 13.2

Civil engineering use[edit]

Typical earthworks include road construction, railway beds, causeways, dams, levees, canals, and berms. Other common earthworks are land grading to reconfigure the topography of a site, or to stabilize slopes.

Geofoam is a new lightweight earthworks technique used to build a bridge overpass on weak soil near Montreal

Military use[edit]

Earthworks ditch and rampart in Germany - age prehistorical prior to 300 BC

In military engineering, earthworks are, more specifically, types of fortifications constructed from soil. Although soil is not very strong, it is cheap enough that huge quantities can be used, generating formidable structures. Examples of older earthwork fortifications include moats, sod walls, motte-and-bailey castles, and hill forts. Modern examples include trenches and berms.


Heavy construction equipment is usually used due to the amounts of material to be moved — up to millions of cubic metres. Earthwork construction was revolutionized by the development of the (Fresno) scraper and other earth-moving machines such as the loader, the dump truck, the grader, the bulldozer, the backhoe, and the dragline excavator.

Mass haul planning[edit]

Excavation of over 76 million cubic metres (23 million cubic metres of which was additional to the planned amount due to landslides) for the Culebra Cut, Panama canal construction photo taken circa 1907

Engineers need to concern themselves with issues of geotechnical engineering (such as soil density and strength) and with quantity estimation to ensure that soil volumes in the cuts match those of the fills, while minimizing the distance of movement. In the past, these calculations were done by hand using a slide rule and with methods such as Simpson's rule. Earthworks cost is a function of hauled amount x hauled distance. The goal of mass haul planning is to determine these amounts and the goal of mass haul optimization is to minimize either or both.[2]

Now they can be performed with a computer and specialized software, including optimisation on haul cost and not haul distance (as haul cost is not proportional to haul distance).

See also[edit]

Calculation software[edit]

Earthworks cut and fill map and estimation summary produced by Kubla Cubed.

The table below provides a list of software used in the engineering and construction industries to plan, execute and cost these earthworks.

Earthwork software is generally a subset of CAD software, in which case it often an add-on to a more general CAD package such as AutoCAD.[3]. In that case, earthwork software is principally used to calculate cut and fill volumes which are then used for producing material and time estimates. Most products offer additional functionality such as the ability to takeoff terrain elevation from plans (using contour lines and spot heights); produce shaded cut and fill maps; produce cross sections and visualize terrain in 3D.[4] The means by which volumes are calculated in software can differ quite considerably leading to potentially different results with the same input data. Many software products use methods based on triangulated irregular networks (TINS) and triangular prism volume algorithms, however other calculation methods are in use based on rationalizing elevations into high density grids or cross-sections.[5][6][7]

A few programs are specialised in earthworks transport optimization and planning the construction works.

Title Developer Stand Alone\Add On Operating System Calculation Method Imports Exports
12D 12D Solutions Stand Alone Windows TIN Prisms Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) ??
Cut+Fill R Goddard Stand Alone Windows & Linux with WINE TIN & Microgrid Points (csv) Also allows plotting points by moving mouse over bmp csv table of results & bmp of cut/fill area
n4ce Applications in CADD Stand Alone Windows Tin Prisms, Grid or Section Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines\Triangles\Alignments (.dxf, .dwg, xyz file, LandXML, MX Genio, Total Station Raw, GNSS) Sections, Reports, 3D model, CAD, CSV
AEC CutFill AEC Logic Add on for AutoCAD Windows Cross Section Cross Sections (AutoCAD XData) Cross Section (.dxf)
Terra Alpha Terra Alpha Inc Standalone Windows Solid 3D Modelling with AutoMesh (New) Points(dxf) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf) : DXF File with Text (without Z value) Cross Section (.dxf) : 3D Model : Cut/Fill Layout and PDF Report
Civil 3D Autodesk Stand Alone Windows TIN Prisms Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) Surface (.dxf, .dwg)
Carlson Takeoff Carlson Software Stand Alone or AutoCAD Add on Windows TIN Prisms or Grid Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg, .pdf) Reports (.pdf, excel)
Earthwork 4D AGTEK Stand Alone Windows High-Density Cross Sections through TIN Surfaces Points (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .dgn, .xml) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .dgn, .xml, .kmz, .kml, .pdf) : Route Alignment Data (station-offset text file, .dxf, .dwg, .dgn, .xml, .pdf) : Surface TINs (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .dgn, .xml, .tn3, .ttm) Points (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .xml) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .xml, .ln3) : Route Alignment Data (station-offset text file, .cgo, .xml) : Surface TINs (pnez text file, .dxf, .dwg, .xml, .tn3, .ttm) : Reports (.csv, .xls, .kmz, .emf, .wrl .pdf)
Business Centre HCE Trimble Stand Alone Windows TIN Prisms Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) ??
InSite SiteWork InSite Software Stand Alone Windows TIN Prisms Points (dxf, dwg): Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg, pdf) BIM Surface (dwg, dxf), Trimble, Leica, TopCon, LandXML, Reports (pdf, Excel)
Earthworks OnScreen Tally Systems Integrates with MS Excel Windows ?? Points,Contour Lines\Break Lines (.pdf) ??
ESurvey Earthwork ESurveying Softech Stand Alone Windows Grid Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) Reports (Excel)
Fast Terrain Diolkos3D Stand Alone Windows ?? Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) ??
Pizer Earth Pizer Incorporated Stand Alone Windows Cross Section Manual Input Cross Section (.dxf)
EarthWorkPro Planswift Plug-in for Planswift Windows Grid Manual Input Report (.csv, Excel, XML, HTML)
HEADS Site Techsoft Engineering Services Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points (xyz file) Surfaces (.dxf, .dwg)
MAGNET Office Topcon Stand Alone Windows ? .dwg, .dxf ascii, .csv, .dwg, .dxf
MAGNET Project Topcon Stand Alone Windows Mass haul optimization, project management Primavera XML
Masster[8] Egis ? ? Mass haul optimization
Nonio C \ DomusTerra Interstudio Stand Alone Windows & macOS ?? Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg, xyz file, QD3D) Surfaces (Domus.Cad, GDL, QuickDraw 3D, Quesa MetaFile).
NRG Surveys NRG Survey Systems Stand Alone Windows ?? ?? ??
Mudshark Brightbox Software Stand Alone Windows Solid Modelling from TIN,TIN Prism Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg, various image formats) : Contour Lines

(.dxf, .dwg, .pdf, various image formats)

Cross Sections (.pdf), Results (xml, Microsoft Excel), 3D .dwg/.dxf with results tags, image files of project.
Model Maker Systems Model Maker Stand Alone Windows Grid & Cross Sections ?? ??
KeyTERRA-FIRMA KTF Software Add on for AutoCAD & BricsCAD Windows TIN Prism Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg) : Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) Cross sections and cut & fill depths as contours or solid colors (.dwg, .dxf); txt report files; Surfaces (.dwg, .dxf, LandXML); Water volume depth graphs
Kubla Cubed Kubla Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points (xyz file, .dwg, .dxf, .xls, .xlsx), Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dwg, .dxf), Surfaces (.dwg, .dxf, LandXML) Surfaces (.dwg, .dxf, LandXML), Designs (.dwg, .dxf, LandXML) : Report (.doc, .pdf, .xlsx)
Earthworks Trakware Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points (.dwg), Contour Lines\Break Lines ( .dwg) ??
LSS DTM Software Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg, xyz file, LandXML, MX Genio) Surfaces (.dxf, LandXML, xyz file)
LisCAD LisTech Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) Cut & Fill Areas (.dwg, .dgn, LandXML)
QuickDIRT Constructive Computing Stand Alone Windows Grid Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf) Surface (xyz file)
SiteWorks/OS Vertigraph Stand Alone Windows Grid Points (xyz file, dxf, dwg), Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .dwg) Reports, Surface, Cross Sections (HTML .pdf, Word, Excel)
SCC Pro Software SCC Survey Stand Alone Windows TIN Prism or Grid support AutoCAD, Microstation, MX MOSS and LandXML support AutoCAD, Microstation, MX MOSS and LandXML
Cut & Fill Synergy Information Systems A component of Sage Timberline Office Windows ?? ?? ??
Terrain Tools Softtree Stand Alone Windows ?? Points\Contour Lines (LandXML, xyz File, Arc Grid) Surface (LandXML, .dxf, .dwg)
WinEx Master\WinEx GRADE Roctek International Stand Alone Windows Super High Density Grid Points\Contours (.pdf, .dxf, .dwg, Land .xml) Most Image Files, Field Point data Customer Reports and Excel .Docx, Land.xml, .dxf, .txt, .rtf, .txt
TraceAir TraceAir Technologies Inc Web-based SaaS web-browser Super High Density Grid Points\Contours (.pdf, .dxf, .dwg, Land .xml) Most Image Files, Field Point data Maps in .tiff, .pdf and reports in .xls
Causeway Estimating Causeway Stand Alone Windows ?? Points\Contour Lines(xyz file, .dwg, MX Genio, .pdf) Surfaces (.dwg, MX Genio)
Propeller Platform Propeller Stand Alone web-browser TIN Points\Contour Lines\Break Lines (.dxf, .ttm) Textured OBJ, DEM, GEOTIFF, DXF (3 resolutions), Custom Contours, Ortho GeoTiff, Ortho JPEG, Standard-Density Point Cloud, Compressed LAS
Viewpoint Earthwork Software Viewpoint Construction Software Stand Alone Windows & Mac OS Grid ?? ??


  1. ^ a b Frederick S. Merritt, M. Kent Loftin, Jonathan T. Ricketts, Standard Handbook for Civil Engineers, Fourth Edition, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1995.
  2. ^ "Earthworks cost optimization through mass haul planning". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  3. ^ "Taking the Measure of Methods for Estimating Earthwork Volumes - Forester Network". Forester Network. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  4. ^ "Vertigraph, Inc. -- Automating the Takeoff & Estimating Process". Archived from the original on 2015-12-15. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  5. ^ "How to Estimate Cut and Fill Volumes for Earthworks Projects | Grid Method, Cross Section Method, Earthworks Software". Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  6. ^ "Vertigraph, Inc. -- Calculating Cut and Fill Quantities : Modern Techniques and Best Practices". Archived from the original on 2016-01-31. Retrieved 2016-02-10.
  7. ^ Cheng, Jian-chuan; Jiang, Long-jian (2013-11-06). "Accuracy Comparison of Roadway Earthwork Computation between 3D and 2D Methods". Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. Intelligent and Integrated Sustainable Multimodal Transportation Systems Proceedings from the 13th COTA International Conference of Transportation Professionals (CICTP2013). 96: 1277–1285. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.08.145.
  8. ^ Sétra (March 2007). Sétra (ed.). Guide technique, Conception et réalisation des terrassements, Fascicule 1 : études et exécution des travaux (in French). Bagneux. pp. 49–50. ISBN 9782110946430.

External links[edit]