Creating Density Maps with FME for Tableau

Liz Sanderson
Liz Sanderson
  • Updated

FME Version

  • FME 2022.0


Density Maps are a great way to visualize data quickly. In this exercise we will go over how to create three different kinds of density maps; HexBin, Grid, and Dot Grid. All three of these map styles combine similar points into a bin. We will create all three maps in one workspace using bookmarks to toggle each workflow on and off.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Prepare Data

1. Open a blank workspace and add a CSV reader

Add a CSV reader with the following input:

Reader Format: CSV (Comma Separated Value)
Reader Dataset: ...\business_licenses.csv

If you are using FME 2020 or newer, confirm that the Attribute Definition has x and y, set to x_coord and y_coord, respectively. By default, FME will map X/Y or Latitude/Longitude attributes to the x_coord and y_coord data types. If you are using FME 2019.2 or older, set the attribute definition to Manual and manually set the data type accordingly. This will tell FME to display each row in the CSV as a point - for more information, see Using the Reader parameters in the Converting from CSV Data article. 

2. Reproject to UTM83-10

Add a Reprojector transformer, and set the Destination Coordinate System: to UTM83-10. Connect it to the CSV Reader.

3. Remove null geometry

Add the GeometryFilter to remove any points that do not have a latitude and longitude. Set the Output Types to Filter to Point. Connect this to the Reprojector.


Part 1: Hex Bins

4. Add the HexBinner Transformer

The HexBinner transformer is a custom transformer. It creates hexagonal features that enclose point feature input. They aggregate data into a grid and can be used for further analysis.

We are going to create a HexBin that is one kilometer in size. Add the HexBinner to the workspace, you will notice that it is green, while the other transformers we’ve seen before have been blue. When a transformer is green it means it is a custom transformer. In the parameters for the HexBinner, change the Tile Size to 1, and ensure that the Units are set to Kilometers.Connect the Input port to the Point Output port on the GeometryFilter.


Set the Tile Size to 1 and ensure the units are set to Kilometers

5. Inspect the results

With feature caching enabled, run the translation up to the HexBinner by selecting the transformer and clicking the Run to This option. In the Visual Preview Window, you should see a grid of hexagons. If you click on a hexagon, you can see how many business licenses are in each hexbin.


Inspect the HexBinner Transformer in Visual Preview. All the points appear grouped in hexagons

6. Determine which businesses are in each bin

We would like to determine which businesses are in each bin, not just a count. To do this we will add the Counter transformer. For the Count Output Attribute, name it HexBinId, then accept the defaults for the rest of the parameters. Click ok. Connect the Counter to the HexBinner Output port.

Next, add the PointOnAreaOverlayer to add the HexBinId to each of the points. Connect the Counter Output port to the Area Input port on the PointOnAreaOverlayer. Then Connect the GeometryFilter Point Output port to the PointOnAreaOverlayer Point Input port.


7. Write to .hyper

Add a Tableau Hyper writer and set it to your Outputs folder, also set the Feature Type Definition to Automatic...

Change the Feature Type properties, name the table HexBins, and the Geometry to tde_polygon. Click ok.

Connect this writer to the Output port on the Counter Transformer.

Then right click on the canvas click "Insert Writer Feature Type...". Add another writer for the point data. Name this one Businesses and change the geometry to tde_point. Connect this writer feature type to the PointOnAreaOverlayer Point port. Finally, to tidy up the workspace and allow us to enable/disable this translation, add a bookmark from Hexbinner onwards. To create a bookmark, select everything you would like to add to the bookmark and then right click on the workspace and click Insert Bookmark.


Final translation layout, ensure your writers are pointed to the correct output ports

8. Run translation and view data in Tableau

While running the translation, if you encounter a Rejected Error, either connect a logger to each Rejection Output port, or in the Navigator > Workspace Parameters > Translation > Rejected Feature Handling, set it to Continue Translation.

In Tableau, join together both the HexBins and Businesses tables. In your sheet, double click on the geometry measure from the HexBins extract. Then drag _numPoints to Color to color the HexBins by the number of businesses in each.

A hex bin map completed and styled in tableau.


Part 2: Grid Map

9. Disable the HexBinner Bookmark

Right click on the Hexbinner bookmark and click disable (shortcut: CTRL+E). Now when we run our new translation, this translation branch won't run.

10. Add 2DGridAccumulator

Add the 2DGridAccumulator to the Point Output port on the GeometryFilter.
In the parameters set both the Column Width (ground units) and Row Height (ground units) to 500. This will be the size of our grid. If you have time, try setting it to 250 or 750 just to see what the results look like.
Then set the Type of Grid to Create to Polygons. This will create a square grid with lines. Again if you have time, experiment with Points (Corners) and Points (Centers). Once you have set your values, accept the defaults for everything else, and click ok.


Set Column Width and Row Height to 500, and set the Type of Grid to Created to Polygons

11. Inspect the results

Run the workspace up to the 2DGridAccumulator and inspect the Grid Output port to view the results. In the Visual Preview Window, under the Display Control, click the properties for the 2DGridAccumulator_Grid. If the Display Control window is not visible, you can enable it in the Visual Preview window by clicking the following button: DisplayControl.png

Then change the Fill Opacity to 0, and increase the Pen Width to 3. Click ok. If you would like to add a background map, click on Tools > FME Options.

Zoom in to see the background map inside each of the individual squares of the grid.

Inspect the 2DGridAccumulator in the Data Inspector. Change the drawing styles to view the background map


Change the Pen Width to 3, and the Fill Opacity to 0

12. Determine how many points fall within each grid square

Now we need to determine how many of our business license points fall within each grid square. To do this we will add the PointOnAreaOverlayer.

Open up the parameters, let's change the name of Overlap Count Attribute to NumPoints. Click ok. Connect the Area Input port to the Grid Output port, and the Point Input port to the Point Output port on the GeometryFilter.

13. Keep only the attribute NumPoints

We are only interested in the attribute NumPoints, so we will add the AttributeKeeper transformer to the Area Output port on the second PointOnAreaOverlayer. The AttributeKeeper works just like the AttributeManager, but it is more efficient if you only want to keep certain attributes. Open up the AttributeKeeper parameters, then under Attributes to Keep, select NumPoints.


Only keep the NumPoints attribute

14. Inspect the results

It is a good idea to double-check your results after adding or subtracting attributes to ensure that the data you want is present and you've removed the data you don't want. Run the workspace up to the AttributeKeeper and inspect the feature cache with Visual Preview.

Confirm in the Table View, that the only attribute is NumPoint and that it has values. You might have to scroll to see values other than 0 since our grid covers ocean, there will be a lot of zeros.

15. Remove grid squares with zeros

As you can see, there are a lot of zeros. We have no need to display those, so let's remove them to tidy up our grid. Add a Tester transformer to the Output port of the AttributeKeeper. Then set it to Numpoints > 0. Now our grid will only display squares with values other than 0.


16. Write to Tableau

Finally, we need to write our grid to Tableau. Right-click on the workspace canvas and click Insert Writer Feature Type, then change the Table Name to GridMap, and set the Geometry to tde_polygon. Finally, connect it to the Passed Output port on the Tester transformer and run the translation.

17. Add Bookmark

For this branch of the translation, we will only bookmark our writer called GridMap, this is because we will reuse all of the other transformers for the Dot Grid Map translation. Select the writer and either right click on the canvas to add the bookmark or use the keyboard shortcut ctrl-B .

18. View grid map in Tableau

Open up GridMap.hyper in Tableau. In a new sheet, double-click on the geometry Measure to show the polygons in a map. Then drag NumPoints to Color to show the density of businesses in the area .


Grid Map styled in Tableau


Part 3: Dot Grid Map

19. Add a CenterPointReplacer

For the final map, we will be reusing all of our transformers that are not already in a bookmark. Ensure all the other bookmarks are disabled.

To create the Dot Grid Map, we only need to add a couple of things to our previous translation. Add a CenterPointReplacer transformer to the Passed Output port on the Tester. This will find the center point of the polygon square we created with the 2DGridAccumulator and turn it into a point.


Complete translation for the Dot Grid Map. Add the CenterPointReplacer after the Tester

20. Add Feature Type Writer

Right click on the canvas to Insert Writer Feature Type, then change the Table Name to DotMap, and then change the Geometry to tde_point. Click ok and run the translation. Add another bookmark containing the CenterPointReplacer and the DotMap writer.

21. Open the DotMap in Tableau

Open up GridMap.hyper in Tableau. In a new sheet, double-click on the geometry to create a map. Add NumPoints to Size. On the sidebar, a legend with the sizes appears. Double-click it to open the size properties, increase the minimum and maximum dot size to increase the exaggeration. To change the appearance of the Dot Map, create a color grouping for NumPoints then add it to Colors.



Dot Grid map styled in Tableau. Map shows both the color and size scale for the number of businesses

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