I have a lot of people contact me and ask about software tools. They usually only know of some of them but not all of their options. Often they don’t fully understand what all they do or don’t do and how they may compare to each other.
So I figured I’d throw together a little summary of the better options that I’m aware of. There’s others out there but they’re really not penetrating the market or working toward integrating with other solutions near as I can tell. OR perhaps I’m just clueless and haven’t run across them yet.
I’ve listed the tools below in Alphabetical order to minimize suggestions of bias hopefully. But I tend to be pretty opinionated so take that for what it’s worth.
I’m sure everyone I’ve listed below will have issues with my descriptions to some degree and that’s ok. While I personally know many of people involved with these companies, I’m not an expert on their solutions. I highly recommend you talk to all of them and ask them your specific questions.
Note: I have not listed machine tool specific software like TigerStop‘s TigerTouch or Watt‘s new 3dPP Software. If you have tools like those, you likely already have those software options available to you and are familiar with them.
Other tools specific for Duct fabrication like Autodesk Fabrication CAMduct or Trimble ToolShop (Vulcan) are not covered because the Sheetmetal trades have been using them for years and are quite familiar with them.
The last thing to note is that just because a few solutions have an ‘X’ in the same column does NOT mean they even come close to addressing that category the same way or equally as well. Just that the tool helps with those major/broad categories I’ve listed. These tools do much more than I outline, I’m just covering some of my major observations. Review software demo’s and workflows closely.
Allied BIM is a great group of guys. They’re a little smaller than some of their competitors but don’t let that fool you. They integrate with more variety of machine tools than their larger competitors. So what do they do?
Fabrication Center – This is your production management system. Helps you keep track of what you’ve fabricated, what’s in process and what’s in the pipeline.
Fabrication Desktop – This is a machine control application that integrates with their other tools. It’s a huge upgrade to what you’d get out of the box from TigerStop or Razor Gauge.
Fabrication Tools – Help automate model and drawing production, spooling, etc. all in Revit. (you know, all those things Autodesk should have done but didn’t).
Allied BIM also sells machines last I knew. I’ve seen one of their setups and I tell you…if you want “White Glove” treatment and support….these are your guys. I don’t know anyone else installing a camera so they can remotely watch and assist your team on the shop floor. As they started out as a set of in house tools as a fabricator, they’re also the only company I know who’s run by guys who actually worked production. They’ve also recently partnered with ATG USA (Autodesk Reseller) to help support their sales efforts.
While a well known Autodesk reseller, they’re the new kid on the block competing against eVolve MEP. It’s hard to describe but while they’re competing against eVolve Mechanical, they’re approach to tools they’re building seems quite different. I’m pretty impressed with what they’re doing and where they’re going. General feel is instead of big complicated commands that you use once in a while and do a lot, theirs are more a suite of simpler more elegant tools that you’re going to use again and again putting money back in your pocket.
Here’s a few offerings under the “BIMrx” branding…
BIMrx Core – A lot of general Revit management tools.
BIMrx Fabrication – Modeling automation and efficiency. Focus here is on Fabrication ITM workflows.
BIMrx Fabrication DBS – Don’t have a Fabrication ITM database? Here’s one you can just buy vs build yourself.
BIMrx MEP – Modeling automation and efficiency. Focus here is on RFA/Family workflows.
Microdesk has other offerings too but they’re not focused exclusively on MEP so I’m not going to cover them. I do however encourage you to take a look.
Formerly known as WebDuct, they started out as a field ordering tool for Ductwork and other materials. Their Ductwork workflows have various integrations to CAMduct, ToolShop(Vulcan), PractiCAM, etc. But don’t let their Sheetmetal origins fool you. They’re a material logistics tool (pipe, consumables, tools, etc.) that integrates into a number of ERP systems used by MEP contractors like Viewpoint, Coins and others.
One of their more recent additions is an online duct builder which might be a good competitor to GTP’s FieldOrderZ. But because of their field logistics focus, they’re not really competing against Msuite, Stratus Connect2Fab or Allied BIM….yet. There are customers of those products that also using BuildCentrix.
One of the new players in the Fabrication Content space is ENGworks Global. They build a lot of content directly for manufacturers. If you download content from a manufacturer, there’s a good chance it may be theirs. In early 2023, they’ve announced their product Fab360. This is their offering of a full blown database for Autodesk Fabrication. I’ve not personally reviewed their offering due to an NDA with another firm operating in this space (not on this list). None the less, don’t dismiss this casually. There’s a couple very well respected Fabrication experts associated with this company in recent years so I would expect this to be a quality offering.
eVolve MEP is a company and suite of tools spun out of Applied Software. Applied Software ended up picking up Fabrication support after TSI’s demise when they acquired Enceptia (formerly DC CADD).
Their bread and butter (among other things) are tools to help model authoring, spooling, hanger placement, etc. Once again, this is a company that really shouldn’t exist except for Autodesk’s inability to listen to customers. They’ve built all the things you’d need and more to model with ITM content in Revit in contrast to Trimble’s RFA/Family based SysQue. On the ITM side, Microdesk is really the only major competitor with MSuite’s FabPro and Victaulic Tools taking a good sized bite of the apple too.
eVolve Electrical – Electrical based model authoring and automation. Not sure but I think this is RFA based.
GTP’s Stratus product is another one of the big competitors in the production managements space. Their differentiator IMO started as a focus on machine tool integration but as other’s have caught up, it’s become their ability to highly customize the system. This makes it a bit unwieldly to manage but if you master it, you can make it do a lot of things nobody ever envisioned and things their competitors can’t do. This flexibility also makes it a little easier to incrementally implement IMO as opposed to a larger more encompassing rollout common with other software implementations.
Here’s some of the products GTP offers…
FieldOrderZ – This is a newer offering designed to facilitate ordering materials and even field based sketching of fabrication. It does intigrate w/Stratus but can also be used standalone.
GTP Connect – This tool is designed to facilitate procurement from models.
Stratus – This is GTP’s production management system. Works with CADmep or Revit as well as both RFA and ITM content. While GTP doesn’t have Spooling solution inside Revit, you can Spool completely within Stratus.
Syclone – This is a tool used to import PCF file into Revit to generate a model. PCF is a format that can be exported from a number of applications to exchange piping component data.
Wireworks – This is GTP’s model authoring tool but it’s specific to Electrical only. content in Stratus. There is no equivalent for mechanical that I’m aware of.
HangerWorks Pro is a Revit Add-In to help with Hanger placement and modeling. It was originally written by GTP for Dewalt. It then disappeared for a while and it’s just recently resurfaced again but completely rewritten by the developers at MSuite from my understanding. I’ve not seen what the new rewrite looks like but do have a demo scheduled.
MEP Track is another new production management system on the market. But it’s not like any other. Developed with a smaller contractor in mind, its production management without breaking the bank. It uses exports from CAMduct and ESTmep and leverages the data to enhance your production management capabilities. But don’t let their smaller budget conscious focus fool you. MEP Track integrates with CAMduct and your duct fabrication process way more than any of the other 1″big players” in this space.
Manufacton was really one of the first ‘Production Management’ solutions available in the industry. I’ve been told their original founder was from Autodesk and a lot of their funding came from some Autodesk insiders. However, unlike their 2 primary competitors at the time (MSuite and Stratus) they really seemed to struggle to gain market share in MEP. When I had my demo, they weren’t even able to tell me who any of their MEP customers were…I ended up telling them who they were.
Ultimately they looked for a buyer and were acquired by Vizz Technologies. I’m not familiar with Vizz Technologies or where they’ve taken the product since. However, it still appears to me to focus more as a high level, generic (not MEP focused) production management tool. Executive management may really like it but it doesn’t appear focused as much on the end users in Detailing or the Shop like you see with Allied BIM, MSuite, Stratus. Still, it’s worth a look of you’re looking for a solution to help manage your shop.
MSuite is one of the big players when it comes to production management. If you’re looking for a solution and don’t look at them, you’re not doing your due diligence. They have a number of things they do but the big differentiator of MSuite in my opinion is their incredible focus on productivity. If managing the labor (productivity/scheduling) for your fabrication and install is your focus, there’s nobody that does it better IMO.
I hear a number of Union contractors dismiss Msuite claiming they’re not allowed to “track labor” but I find this a bullshit argument and excuse personally. There’s a number of union contractors using MSuite including some of my friends working at one of my competitors locally. I’m more than happy to put you in touch with a number of users if you think production tracking and scheduling is an issue.
Here’s a high level list of some of their tools…
BIMPRO – This is MSuite’s set of tools for Model authoring. Spooling automation, Hanger Layout and more.
FABPRO – This is MSuite’s production management system. Track everything your shop fabricates and have complete visibility to the labor effort it takes. Works with both RFA and ITM workflows.
FIELDPRO – This is MSuite’s tool for tracking in the field. What’s been received…what’s been installed.
While MSuite has it’s roots in MEP, you’ll also see they’re making more headway in the industrial space than their competitors (IMO) near as I can tell. If you also do industrial work….take a serious look.
In a further boot to their credibility and playform, on May 13, 2022 MSuite announced they were acquired by Stanley Black and Decker. I’m expecting to see development excelerate even more with Stanley backing this suite of tools.
PypeServer is a little more difficult to explain. Most are familiar with it is from it’s early days as the programming and control system for Watts pipe profiling machines. But it’s changed in recent years and you’re likely not as familiar with who they are today.
Watts has since moved to using their own software 3dPP for their new machines. 3dPP looks to me like an almost identical clone (a very strong nod to PypeServer IMO). But PypeServer now supports a lot more machines…
At it’s core, PypeServer is most similar to a CAM program but yet it’s still quite different. So lets try to explain…
How PypeServer is different than other CAM programs from my perspective is their approach to a variety of things. For starters, most CAM programs output a CNC file for programming a part. PypeServer uses a database which can be used to recall production run parts or even queried to run reports on past production.
They also are starting to heavily leverage the cloud to facilitate data transfers eliminating the need to manage lots of files to program parts. One added benefit to this is it makes this a LOT easier to install a machine safely in your corporate network without having to add it to your domain and deal with antivirus or firewall issues that can affect machine performance. Instead, give it a connection to the web and that’s all your IT needs to do.
Another key distinction is that most CAM programs at best import exports from other CAD systems. PypeServer goes out of their way to integrate with others. Their list of importers is impressive. Each custom tailored to the CAD system they’re designed for. The Stratus import as an example, works automatically without the need for any operator actions. This minimizes the work within PypeServer to program the parts.
Another example of this is the ever growing list of Addin’s for other CAD systems to export more streamline the workflow. For our industry, their Add-ins for AutoCAD and Revit will push data to the cloud where it’s easily imported into their products without the need for file management. Here’s a rundown of their core products…
PypeServer Connect – This is their Addin that exports parts from Revit, CADmep, Plant3d to PypeServer Lyte or PypeServer Enterprise.
PypeServer Lyte – This is their newest addition used to drive linear cutting equipment like TigerStop and RazorGauge.
In the interest of disclosure, I am on PypeServer’s Board of Advisors. That means that for whatever reason, the listen to my ramblings about the industry. They’ve not in any way compensated me to write this and I’ve not submitted anything written here for their review. These are just my thoughts…consider them bias or not as you see fit.
This company’s focus is field ordering of Duct and other accessories, hardware & material from the Field to Shop. Their application elminates the need for paper orders, spreadsheets, emails, faxes and phone calls for a more error free experiance eliminating the wasted time of traditional procurement methods.
I’ve been a big critic of Trimble for a long time. They’re history of buying multiple solutions, allowing them to get obsolete and then buying new ones always bothered me. However….I’m seeing signs of a new Trimble. A Trimble that’s interesting in bridging their solutions together and providing more open access via API’s an integrations.
So imagine my surprise to see their new Connect2Fab product in Tampa this January at the MEP Innovation conference. This looks like it’s going to go head to head against GTP’s Stratus, Msuite and Allied BIM.
So it’s new and that likely means it’s not as mature as some of their competitors. But it looks good and is impressive for just getting out of the gate. Considering all the other things Trimble offers in the market, this should be considered a real threat to competitors and a viable option for contractors.
Trimble’s other main tool is SysQue, their Model Authoring offering. Unlike eVolve Mechanical that’s focused in ITM/Fabrication Part workflow, SysQue is based on Revit’s RFA content. SysQue comes with it’s own content making it an attractive offering to many who don’t have the time, skills or money to invest in making their own.
Once again, this is a tool that shouldn’t need to exist except for Autodesk’s gross neglecte of the MEP contractor industry. But if you want to do fabrication modeling in Revit efficiently, you’ll need something so it’s worth a serious look.
Let’s face it…Trimble’s had everything they’ve needed and more to compete directly against Autodesk for some time. But their offerings didn’t integrate well and that wasn’t ever really a big strategy within Trimble. But that seems to be changing….from Detailing w/SysQue, Content (RFA & ITM), Submittal Management, Estimating, Collaboration and even ERP….imagine if (when) all that’s connected.
If Trimble manages to pull this off well and repair some of trust they’ve lost with some customers in the past, they’ll be well positioned to knock Autodesk flat on their ass IMO. Autodesk rarely shows up with a booth to any event with actual trades people in attendance. On the other hand you always see Trimble with a well staffed booth. I suspect you’ll see where this is going and how much traction it’s getting within 2-5 years.
BuildingData – This is Trimble’s Fabrication ITM content library. Hands down, the largest collection of ITM on the planet.
Connect2Fab – Trimble’s new Production Management solution for managing your shop from models.
EC-CAD – This is Trimble’s AutoCAD MEP based modeling tool (Formerly East Coast CAD)
MEPContent – This is Trimble’s AutoCAD Block, IFC and RFA content library.
SysQue – Trimble’s Revit Addin for Model Authoring
Note: In the interest of disclosure, I’m not a user of SysQue and RFA content for MEP fabrication modeling. I use ITM content. That said, a lot of folks think I’m anti-SysQue. That’s not the case. I actually was involved in it’s early beta testing/development at a past employer. It’s a perfectly valid tool and is the right tool for many companies. The only thing I was ever against were some of the early marketing tactics like “Native Revit” and other bullshit sales tactics which for the most part have ceased now that Trimble acquired it.
Victaulic Tools is another interesting software offering. They’re not really a software company trying to capture the fabrication modeling market. Rather they built the tools in large part for their own BIM Services group and they sell them for a very modest cost to customers. Regardless of which tools people buy, they often also buy Victaulic tools due to it’s low cost and very helpful utilities.
Virtual Building Supply (VBS) provides ITM content for Autodesk Fabrication users. Whether you work in CADmep, ESTmep, CAMduct or Revit with Fabrication Parts, if you need ITM’s added to your database, VBS is a good source of high quality content. If they don’t have what you need, reach out and they’ll quote you to build it. Unlike many other content providers who provide “subscription” content services, VBS content is a “buy it once” model.
VBS also will provide a full database if you are in need as well. They’ll even manage your database. So if you need a full database or just a few ITMs, they’re well worth looking at.
So that’s my list of many of the major software tools available. There is no perfect solution. Many can be used alone or in conjunction with the others on the list. Some are even both competitors and partners with each other.
I really encourage everyone to look at all these tools if they address the issues they’re trying to solve. Just don’t get caught up on buzzwords. There’s a lot of users in the industry that will give you the pros and cons of each of these tools.
Autodesk has undergone numerous modifications to its licensing models over the years, leading to increased costs for customers. However, there are now three new developments that make it easier to reduce licensing costs, especially for those who previously used Network licenses. These developments are:
The elimination of FlexLM Network Licensing
The introduction of a new, consumption-based Flex Licensing
The integration of analytics into the Account Management Portal
By leveraging these changes, it is now possible to reduce licensing costs in a more cost-effective manner. Let’s take a closer look at each of these developments and understand the opportunities they provide. Numerous customers have reported savings of up to 30% on their renewals by implementing these concepts.
1) FlexLM Elimination
Autodesk made changes to its licensing model with the elimination of FlexLM Network licensing, offering a 2-for-1 trade-in of existing network seats to named user licenses. This resulted in reduced visibility on individual software usage and, in some cases, caused customers to become over-licensed. The absence of clear usage information prompted customers to purchase additional seats at full cost as they expanded their staff, leading to the likelihood of customers with large pools of network licenses having more licenses than necessary.
2) Rollout of ‘Flex’ Token Consumption Licenses
Autodesk introduced Flex licensing as a replacement for FlexLM. With this model, you buy a volume of tokens. Each product has a set token cost. Usage consumes tokens per day per user per product. The same person can use different versions of the same product or a different computer without consuming additional tokens. Only using a different product or on a different day will result in additional token consumption. No cost is incurred if the product is not used. This licensing model is more cost-effective than full-cost assigned licenses for part-time users, although less flexible than previous network licensing.
3) Usage Analytics
Autodesk recently made license usage analytics available to all customers, not just those with Premium Support. These analytics let you monitor how your Autodesk licenses are being used among your users. Although they may not have the same level of data accuracy as FlexLM, they still provide valuable information to help you determine if the Flex Licensing model is more cost-effective for a user compared to a dedicated named user license.
However, to effectively compare costs with named license products, you need to consider the usage mix of products in a Collection. The Autodesk Management Portal’s Usage Reporting displays product usage but can be difficult to understand with a mix of products used by the same user. Some resellers offer PowerBI reports but still face the same challenge.
A better approach is to examine past usage and assign a theoretical cost under Flex licensing. You can easily compare this number to a named user license to determine what’s best for a given user.
I’ll share a simplified process. Those with basic Excel knowledge should be able to perform the analysis. For more detailed instructions and an opportunity to learn something new, I’ll also provide a step-by-step guide using Excel’s Power Query feature. There are various methods to gather the data, but many Excel users are unfamiliar with Power Query. I suggest giving it a try, as it quickly streamlines data collection with a short learning curve. Plus, using Power Query, you can easily update source data for instant updates.
Analysis Steps – High Level
To perform an analysis, here are the high-level steps to follow:
Get a Usage report from Autodesk’s Management portal, selecting the option that reports daily usage for users over the entire last year.
Open the report in Excel, remove unwanted columns and keep only the user’s name/email, product, date of usage.
In another tab, create a Rate Sheet using the data from Autodesk’s website, including the product, number of tokens and daily cost.
In the Rate Sheet tab, search and replace extra data in the daily cost column to leave only the dollar amount.
In the Usage tab, add two columns for the number of tokens and cost.
Use VLOOKUP to find the product in the Rate Sheet and import the related data into these columns.
Create a Pivot table and adjust the data fields to display total cost for each user.
Compare the “theoretical” Flex cost with the cost of a full license for easy evaluation.
That’s it. You can ow see which users are “Cheaper” under Flex than the cost of a dedicated named license.
Analysis Step – Detailed w/Excel Power Query
If you want to learn Excel’s PowerQuery or have a more detailed explanation, this section is for you…
Go to your Autodesk Account Management portal. https://manage.autodesk.com Here you’ll see Usage Reporting (A) if you’re an Account Admin. You’ll want to change the duration for the full year (C) and make sure you’re looking at the correct Team (B). This then displays high level stats and more detailed drill down information further below. Click the Export button (D) to export usage data.
When you get to the Export page, you’ll see there’s a report being generated automatically. This is the with “Usage Report” in the category. You do NOT want this report. This is a summary report. Instead, you’ll want to use the options at the top of the page and generate a ‘Usage’ report. If you select all options, you’re report will say “All” although for this purpose, those other data points aren’t needed.
Download this report when it’s finished generating.
Note, you can get to this Export page from the “By Product” section too.
Start Excel and create a new Spreadsheet in the same place you downloaded your usage report. In the new spreadsheet, create a Token Rate sheet consisting of the product name, number of tokens and daily cost. You can copy and paste this from Autodesk’s site linked earlier. Clean up the data and rename the spreadsheet tab something meaningful. When you’re done, it should look something like this.
Now we’re going to use Excel’s Power Query functionality to merge in our exported data. The benefit of doing it this way is that you can replace your export later with new data and not have to do all these steps. It’s merely referenced into the Spreadsheet you’re working in. Select Data (1), Get Data (2), From File (3) then From Excel Workbook (4).
Select your usage report that you downloaded from Autodesk (1) then click Import.
Next, Excel will examine your spreadsheet for data sources. Select the “Usage” Tab (not Users) and click “Transform Data“.
This brings up the Power Query Editor. Here’s where Power Query makes it very easy to clean and scrub your data step by step so you don’t have to alter the source data. This means you an update your source data anytime, and Power Query will perform the same cleaning steps.
Next, we’ll start removing columns we don’t want. Right-Click on the header of the first column and select Remove to remove that column. You’ll notice on the list of steps on the right, there’s another entry added.
When your done, you should have only the following columns remaining…“first_name”, “last_name”, “email”, “product_name” and “day_used”. We could go further, but for now, let’s see what this looks like. Click Close & Load to import this cleaned up data into your Excel Spreadsheet.
Excel closes the Power Query editor and loads your cleaned up data into your spreadsheet. It’s not actually “in” your spreadsheet, it’s referenced from the usage report you downloaded from Autodesk and Power Query cleaned and filtered it before displaying it. You could replace the usage report 2 months later with newer data and this spreadsheet can then be refreshed to show you the latest information.
Next, we’ll add a few more columns. To get back to the Power Query Editor, Right-Click on the Connection in the palette on the right and select Edit.
The first column we’re going to add is one that concatenates the “first_name”, “last_name” and “email” fields together. This isn’t really needed, but I like to see both the name and email. This will help combine them in the Pivot table we create later. The name is helpful to know who the user is, but Autodesk accounts done times it’s easier to use the email. That’s why I use both. Especially if your company’s email format only includes the first letter of a name.
To start this process, select Add Column, Column From Examples then From Selection.
In this step, select the columns you want to combine. Here it’s “first_name” (1), “last_name” (2) and “email” (3). This tells Power Query which columns you’re going to pull from. Next, Double-Click on the header of the new column on the right (4) and edit the column’s name to “user_data”. Next, Double-Click the first open cell below that header (5) and start typing an example of how you want the data to look. Here, I type “Emma Thompson / Emma.N.Thompson@pretendinc.com”. Power Query is looking at the columns I selected earlier and the example text I typed to determine which fields to combine along with any extra data like the space or slash I’m using for formatting. Next, press Control-Enter to fill the examples in the rest of the cells. Once complete, click Ok (6) to insert the new column.
You’ll see the column added to the Power Query Editor. Next, let’s load that back into Excel. ClickHome then Close and Load to load this query into Excel.
Now that you’re back in Excel, you can see the data column that was added. Your source data however is not altered. Next, we’ll need to create another query for our Rate Sheet tab. This is just raw data. It’s not intelligent so we’ll make a query of it to give us more power.
To do this, we’ll make it a Table so Power Query can more intelligently pull data from it. Select the Rate Sheet tab (1) in your spreadsheet. Next, Click Insert (2) then Table (3). Excel should find all the data in the sheet and automatically enter the range into the popup dialog when you can click OK,
Excel turns your data into a Table which is a more intelligent object. From here, we’ll rename the table to something more intuitive. Click Table Design (1) then in the Table Name edit box, type “RateSheet”.
Next, let’s make a new query of this table. Select Data (1), Get Data (2), From Other Sources (3) then From Table/Range.
You’ll see Power Query brings in this table into the editor. Notice on the left in the Query palette the name RateSheet. This was a result of renaming the Table earlier otherwise you would have had a generic name that wasn’t as intuitive. You can rename Tables later but Power Query doesn’t see those renames and it’ll break your query.
We really don’t need to do anything with this query on the RateSheet. It’s there really for the next step where we merge those two queries together. Right-Click (1) on an open area of the Query palette. Select New Query (2), Combine (3) then Merge Queries as New (4).
From the merge dialog, select Usage (1) in the first dropdown list. Next, select the product_name (2) column. This is the data we’re going to use to lookup in the RateSheet. Next, select RateSheet (3) in the dropdown list and then the Product (4) column. Finally, we’ll tell it how to merge the tables by selecting Left Outer (all from first, matching from second) in the Join Kind dropdown list. Once everything is configured, ClickOK (6).
If you scroll to the right (1) you’ll see the new column we added from the merge. On the left, Right-Click on the Merge# query and rename it to PivotData (2) so it’s more meaningful. Next, select the newly added column RateSheet (3). You’ll see that the data in the cells says “Table”. This merged in the entire row into a single table in that column. We want access to that data so it’s expend it by selecting Transform (4) and then Expand (5).
You’ll get a dialog asking which columns you want to expand out of that table. We’ll unselectProduct (1) because we already have that in the usage data. We’ll leave Tokens (1) and Price (1). Clear the RateSheet text from the Defsult column name prefix (2) edit box than click OK.
You can now see the Tokens and Price columns added to this query. This really just looked up the value in the product_name column in the Usage query, found the corresponding value on the Product column of the RateSheet query and pulled in it’s Token and Price data.
Next, we no longer need some of the columns. Scroll to the left (1) and right click on the first_name(2) column and select Remove. Repeat for the last_name and email columns to remove them. This will clean up the data out Pivot table will use.
We’re finally done cleaning, filtering and augmenting our data. Let’s click the Home tab (1) and then Close & Load.
We’re now back in Excel and our last two queries were added as separate tabs. You’ll see that we have a tab named RateSheet (no space) and Rate Sheet (with space). The one with the space was our original data we turned into a table. The one without the space is our query of that original. In hind sight, we perhaps could have named it RateQuery to make it more intuitive. You could try to rename it now and see if it breaks your queries. If it does, you could try fixing or deleting and doing them over. Or you could leave it which is what I’ll do.
We’ll hide the unneeded tabs by using Right-Click and selecting Hide for the table Rate Sheet (1), RateSheet (2) and Usage (3). Next, we’ll make out Pivot Table be selecting Insert (4) then Recommended Pivot Tables (5).
In the Recommended Pivot Tables dialog, you can scroll through and pick one that looks close. I rarely do that. Instead I just pick one and worry about modifying it later. Here I pick the first one (1) and then click OK.
Here, you can see out beginning Pivot Table. It’s not too far off but we can improve it. For now, we’ll just rename that Sheet1 tab to something more meaningful like Analysis Pivot by right-clicking on the tab and selecting Rename (1).
To update the Pivot, just drag fields from the PivotTable Fields section (1) to the Filters (2), Rows (3) and Values (4) sections. If you add to the Filters section, it shows up on the Pivot Table. I tend to leave it blank as I can more easily filter multiple values elsewhere (I’ll show later). I’ve also formatted the entire Price column to display as currency.
The fields I have in Rows are user_data, product_name, days_used (Year) and days_used (Month). Note that in our Pivot data we only had a date field. Excel automatically adds multiple fields to help you group dates. If this doesn’t happen, remove ALL the date fields from the Rows section and re-add the days_used, You should get multiple fields added. I typically remove the Quarter and Day.
For the Values column, I’ve added Tokens and Price. Once I get all the fields I want, I then do a little work on formatting. For starters, I make Column C/Price (5) formatted as Currency.
Next, lets Right-Click on the product name data (1) in the Pivot Table and select Expand/Collapse (2) then Collapse Entire Field. This collapses everything down to the Product level.
Remember when I said I prefer to filter a different way? Here, I can filter the products I want in my Pivot. Products that don’t use Tokens and aren’t in the Rate Sheet don’t appear (in case you were wondering). We’re not concerned with that. If they aren’t available with Flex licensing, there’s no need for analysis.
But if you look at the following image, you can when you hover over the product_name field there’s a little down facing triangle. Click on that to get to our filtering.
In the filter dialog, I’m going to shut off all products (1) that are not in the AEC Collection as well as any product that uses zero tokens (see your token rate sheet). The remaining product I have (yours will be different) are AutoCAD, AutoCAD MEP, AutoCAD Plant 3D, Fabrication CADmep, Navisworks Manage, Recap Pro and Revit. You could leave on the zero token products if you like, I just didn’t want to type them all here! Once done, click OK (2).
Next, I collapse all the data in the Pivot Table down to the user level (1). This was shown earlier in Step 28. At this point, you see the yearly total for all users in terms of both Tokens Used and the Price you would have paid if those users were theoretically on the Flex licensing model over the last year.
As you can see, Flex is a much more expensive licensing model for users who would be full time. The cost in the US for a full AEC Collection license is about $3000 annually. So anybody under that price would have been cheaper on Flex…maybe. Remember that “2 for 1” Network trade in Autodesk did? Those license are discounted significantly. Those discounted prices nee to be taken into consideration too. You may have users cheaper on Flex if they had a full dost license, but not if they were using a discounted license.
To help me run these scenarios, I add a Threshold price at the top (2) that I can plug a target number I’m looking to compare against. A new AEC Collection is $3000 so I build in a safety margin and use $2500 as my number. Anyone under $2500 I move to Flex. But I can also put in $1200 and see how somebody would compare to a discounted license.
The last little “nice” thing I do that’s not required uses the threshold number I entered earlier. I then use Conditional formatting to color the values to more easily see what should and should not got to Flex.
Select Home (1), Conditional Formatting (2)then Manage Rules…(3)
In the Conditional Formatting Rule Manager dialog, make sure This PivotTable (1) is selected from the dropdown and then click New Rule (2).
In the New Formatting Rule dialog, select All cells showing ‘Sum of Price’ values (1), then Format only cells that contain (2), next set Cell Value (3) to Less than (4) for the cell =$C$1 (5) which is where you place the Threshold value you want to use. You can then change the Format (6) to Green and click OK (7). This will highlight all cells below your Threshold value indicating they’re likely Safe to move to a Flex license.
Repeat Step 33 and 34 to make another rule but change it to Greater than or Equal to (4) and the Format(6) to Red then click OK.
When you’re done, your rules should look like this. Click OK.
You’re done! Your data should look like this. You can now play with Filters, the Threshold dollar amount you want to use as your reference. You can even expand in and drill into each users data. Play with the Pivot Table values and experiment to get the data how you want.
Hopefully this was helpful. I was able to save over 30% on my Autodesk renewal this year by analyzing license usage by performing the following…
Check which users can switch to Flex.
Count dedicated license users who can’t move to Flex.
Buy 75% of the tokens needed for the Flex users.
Drop unneeded full cost product licenses.
Retained unneeded discounted licenses
Eliminated products completely if Flex covered all user needs
I kept extra discounted licenses from the 2-for-1 trade-in, which offer deep discounts till 2028. It’s hard to find discounts, let alone multi-year ones, so I believe these will cover future full-time user growth.
Some other companies I spoke with have also reduced their desktop software licenses by almost 1/3, using Flex for part-time users.
To run analysis using new data, just overwrite the report with the new data in the same format. Then, open your analysis spreadsheet and refresh all queries and pivots. I hope this helped you save and learn some Excel Power Query! Good luck!
Autodesk University 2022 is a wrap. First live event since 2019. This year, it moved from Las Vegas to New Orleans. Folks had a lot of mixed feelings about this event. Including victimization of some attendees. I won’t rehash what someone else has done so for a good review of how the “Event” went, give this 20 minute recap a watch. Neil Cross does a bang up job recapping this poorly organized event. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StEtDbUxHV0
New Orleans – The City
I’ve been to New Orleans before. Stayed at the same hotel in fact. New Orleans Hilton Riverside. It was about a decade ago. Really enjoyed the city so I was looking forward to going back.
Honestly, I really like the city….much more so than Las Vegas. The Architecture is amazing. Neighborhoods rich with character and culture. Great music and most of all, some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had. I find the people in general are warm and kind. I think my ride from the airport was the the best Lyft ride I’ve had of any city. Linsey was a pleasure to converse with during the trip.
While my Monday arrival was warm, the weather the remainder of the week was pleasant. A result of Hurricane Ian pulling cooler air from the north. I think we lucked out that it wasn’t hotter and more humid.
Now while I personally like the city, it is well known as a corrupt and violent city. If you listened to the video link above, you’ll know this crime affected several attendees. People drugged and mugged. Robbed at gunpoint and knifepoint. One attendee was stabbed. Even the legendary God Father of Autodesk Fabrication CADmep had someone try to pick pocket him. You can see his post here.
Knowing all this, I would go back to New Orleans…the city. Perhaps I’d view it differently if it happened to me. But while I grew up very rural, I did grow up with a lot of violent crime. By the time I graduated high-school I’d had over a dozen connections with people being killed. While I don’t make excuses, I do have an understanding of the effects of poverty. Perhaps that’s why I still felt comfortable in New Orleans. I grew up around people like this. The good and the bad. Frankly, I felt WAY more safe walking around in New Orleans than I do in Seattle. For me, New Orleans is an upgrade. Your mileage may vary.
New Orleans – The Convention Center
The New Orleans Convention is the 6th largest in the US. Despite that, I don’t think it was built to host a single large event…rather multiple smaller events at the same time. Halls were narrow leading to over crowding. 20 minute line to get up the escalator the first day. Remaining days people seemed to self adjust.
But the convention center is LONG and narrow. Not stacked like in Las Vegas. Took forever to get anywhere. With room attendants not letting people in early, it led to even more crowded halls.
Even the rooms themselves were typically smaller. Much harder to “Sneak” in or out if the class wasn’t what you wanted. A more frequent even this year than most.
While convention center food is never top notch, even in Las Vegas, it was particularly low quality here. A surprise considering the quality of feed elsewhere in the city. One morning, the breakfast burritos were so starchy it made a McDonalds seem like a Michelin 5-Star Restaurant.
Bottom line, if they continue to have AU at this convention center as it’s rumored to be, it’ll have limited success. This just is NOT the venue to host Autodesk University IMO. The facility and services are just not up to par.
Expo hall was what you’d expect. I’d venture to say half the space was utilized by Autodesk. Mostly wasted IMO. There’s only a couple places where I’d typically go to meet the product teams. The rest is of no value to me. Taking meaningless surveys or other low value activities Autodesk marketing thinks are worth while. Letting users think they’re impacting direction while nothing meaningful changes. Nothing that’s going to improve your professional life IMO.
Expo hall ran out of food within the first 30 minutes of lunch on the first day. No refills of the buffet tables like you see in Vegas. As lunch started 1/2 hour before the General Keynote ended, everyone came out to an empty food line. This means the remaining days people left the Keynotes early to ensure they were fed.
One disappointing thing was finding the UA’s Trade Exhibit was micro managed. They wouldn’t let them operate much of it. GTP’s Stratus booth was right down the row. Both with people walking by not quite getting the connection unless you were from the MEP Trades yourself. Not sure if this was the Convention Center Legal or Autodesk Legal but it was a missed opportunity in my estimation. Especially considering a few years back Titan’s of CNC were throwing chips from their CNC equipment. Had they showed the Tigerstop running from Stratus and hearing the buzz of copper or PVC cutting….it would have drawn people to the back where they were stuffed and really connected the dots IMO.
For the most part, any booth worth seeing was hard to see as they were very busy. I tried going to DiRoot’s both multiple times only to find them overwhelmed with interest. Other booths seemed pretty slow. I stopped by one booth from a vendor from Finland. After 15 minutes of a demo and them talking, I still didn’t know what they hell they did or what he was saying. Ironic considering I grew up in a part of the Michigan listening to Suomi Kutsuu (Finland Calling) on Sunday morning television as a kid. The US’s only Finnish language programming.
Classes / Sessions
Sessions this year were absolutely abysmal IMO. That said, the speakers were generally high quality and presented well. It was just the topic selections were utter rubbish. To the point I almost didn’t bother attending AU at all. Ultimately, I remembered that its the networking and face time w/Autodesk product managers not the classes that have me coming back.
Still, every AU there’s some good classes. This year, anything worth taking was full. As one long time Autodesk University speaker told me, they’ve never had their sessions repeated before. Their take was there was nothing worth taking so everyone signed up for theirs.
Another former coworker texted me…
“I felt Tuesday sessions were sub-par so went on a walking food tour of the city instead”
I ended up either skipping or walking out of all but 4 of the sessions I had scheduled not counting the panel I was on.
In years past, a group of industry insiders would help select sessions. This year, I’m told it was Autodesk Marketing. This meant that most sessions were beginner or sales focus. As Neil Cross put it…”Thought grandstanding”. Even the descriptions were misleading on many. This is the type of tone many set…
“As a company, it’s our mission to help solve the global climate crisis…..” followed by a lot of nonsense and the last sentence being something like “Learn how we use Autodesk Docs”.
Part of the problem is also the session “voting” after the original RFP’s. Those self promoting their sessions with a large LinkedIn network get voted up vs. voting merely based on merit. I was added to an Autodesk Panel at the last minute this year. None of my proposals were selected. I’m ok with that. I actually don’t like “teaching” the sessions. I do it as I feel it’s important to give back to an industry who’s helped me. If others don’t feel my content is worth while, I’m ok not teaching. But the way some instructors self-promote…they’re clearly in it for their ego in teaching at AU and less for the attendees. I think this contributes to a decline in session quality. You really want someone’s session selected because their Grandma voted it up?
If you look at many of the sessions, clearly the San Francisco Bay area “Woke” crowd and Autodesk Sales Idealism was who and what Autodesk Marketing was targeting. Here’s some of the key phrases you saw littered about the titles and descriptions….
Not that these aren’t good topics….but this is a Tech conference is it not? It’s now primarily a “Beginner” and “Sales” conference. Very little on how to actually do things. A session of how the software/services can fall short and what to do about it is clearly not on the table any longer.
And lets get real…after 2-1/2 years…we’ve all figured out how to remote work or we’re likely out of business. We don’t need another class on Remote F’ing Work.
All I can say is that if you attended half of this crap, you were are guaranteed to be well prepared to solve everything from World Peace to Feline Leukemia this next year.
Oh, and not to mention, there were no computer labs. Given they handed all registrants a Covid tests to self-report, I can only assume the lawyers shut down the hands on labs.
Reviewing My 4 Good Classes….
As I said, there were 4 sessions I didn’t walk out of. I’ll review them here….
This session was presented by Mark Flayler of IMAGINiT. Mark did a fantastic job explaining the options for Revit and Inventor interoperability and how it’s changed over the releases. If you’re working on toward industrialized construction or manufacturing for construction, this session is a must.
While Inventor and Fusion 360 don’t have the user base programs like Solidworks have, you’re just not going to be able to touch the functionality Inventor has with Revit interoperability. You need to reference Revit inside Inventor to design something going into a building? It’s there. Want to export what you designed in Inventor to use in Revit? It’s there.
If you’re doing fabrication or manufacturing drawings and models outside of Revit for construction, you need to review this material. That said, Fabrication Parts in Revit don’t import worth a shit inside Inventor. That wasn’t discussed in this session rather that’s my contribution. But for everything else, it should work great.
This session was presented by Robert Manna of dRofus and James Mazza of Stantec. If you read up on any of Autodesk’s big announcements regarding their rebranding Forge to Autodesk Platform Services, this session was a good preview of the direction Autodesk is headed regarding your design data. Robert and James gave a great overview of how you’d go about using the Data API’s.
Not a coder? No worries. This session wasn’t full of syntax and code snippets. It was higher level discussion how you would use the API’s not demonstrating actually coding them. If you’re not a coder, there was still a lot of value here IMO.
This session was presented by Eugen Taranov and Melanie Thilo both of Autodesk. It covered the topic of Model Based Definition. As Manufacturing typically leads a lot of trends you see in AEC by 2-3 decades, I’m always game for a good Manufacturing session.
If you’re new to MBD (Model Based Definition), it’s about embedding the manufacturing data within a model so that it can be fabricated without a human needing to read a drawing.
What interested me about this session is that I’ve long stated that I thick AEC is headed the wrong direction be jamming every piece of data within a 3d model. Revit is not SQL server after all. You can read one of my prior posts here about this. MBD seems to contradict my view of where AEC is headed. As such, it created a dilemma in thinking that I wanted to sort out.
Having sat through the session, I now have a more firm view of MBD and I don’t see any conflict with my thinking. MDB isn’t about embedding ALL data within a model, rather manufacturing specific information that needs to be communicated. My view that AEC is placing TOO much data within models is not in conflict with MBD in my eyes.
One realization I came to is that MEP is already doing “Lite” versions of MBD with tools like Stratus, M-Suite, Allied BIM and Connect2Fab. I say “Lite” because MEP doesn’t need high-precision tolerancing descriptions like GDT or finish information communicated the same way manufacturing does. None the less, it’s important to realize it is a form of MBD which is a validation on the direction we’re headed. The only real disappointing part is Autodesk themselves is not enabling Digital Fabrication for MEP. They’ve done their best to fragment the workflows and it’s 3rd parties providing these services. Most of the fabrication data Autodesk creates for MEP is not even accessible in Revit and is completely ignored in the Construction Cloud let alone their Industrialized Construction initiatives.
This session was presented by Claudia Calderon Quintero and Josh Churchill both of SSOE. This was literally the ONLY session at AU that covered anything related to Autodesk Fabrication. I wasn’t expecting much. Autodesk Fabrication has a pretty tight knit community of experts who’ve known each other for decades. Anyone speaking on Autodesk Fabrication that isn’t a known name is highly suspect.
That said, I was very surprised at this session. From an A&E perspective, they covered the topic very well. I’ve listened to Autodesk Fabrication presentations over the years with a lot of partial or incorrect information. But Claudia and Josh had a really rock solid presentation. Everything I heard was detailed, accurate and presented very well. I’m really impressed as well in their ability to get up to speed with Fabrication Parts as it’s not an easy thing to learn on your own when there’s not a lot of resources.
The essence of their presentation was using Fabrication Parts to create a “Specification” for industrial or process piping. As they said, anyone can make a “fabrication” level model with Revit Families…but anyone can also mess with those families. By using Fabrication Parts in Services, it get’s Revit a lot closer to a “Spec” driven design like you’d typically see in industrial piping with Plant3d with the content a little more protected from incorrect manipulation.
The key learning point here for me was the value of Fabrication Parts for a firm who’s NOT actually fabricating. I’ve struggled to see the value of Fabrication Parts for an Engineering only firm. Claudia and Josh easily explained this value to me. Something that having my head stuck in the actual “fabrication” and “construction” prevented me from seeing. Great job and great class.
Things We Can’t Do
Despite all Autodesk’s self proclamations of greatness and the legions of fans, there’s more holes in Autodesk’s strategy than a block of swiss cheese if your an MEP contractor. Here’s a few highlights of my observations from an MEP Contractor’s perspective….some will apply more broadly to other trades/domains.
Industrialized Construction, Inventor and Revit
One of my highlights of Autodesk University is to see the “Manufacturing Informed Design” team at Autodesk in the Expo Hall. I’ve spent 30 years straddling Construction and Manufacturing asking for this. It’s finally coming. Everything Autodesk has done to date seems to have been “Design” focused….pushing unbuildable design to Fabrication, Construction and Manufacturing. The Manufacturing Informed Design group flips that around…putting the PRODUCT front and center. This allows the Manufacturer or Fabricator to control how their product is used in Design….the way it always should have been.
Sure you can make a Revit family that represents a product. But anyone and everyone can mess with the RFA. You’ve can’t receive this model back and have any sense of reliability that’s it’s something you can manufacture from. What the Manufacturing Informed Design team does, is to make sure nobody in Revit can mess with your product. If your product is configurable, the consumer (Designer) is directed back to Autodesk’s web portal where they can control ONLY the aspects of the product the Manufacturer allows.
While the initial release will focus on Products produced in Inventor, there are plans to expand the “authoring” to other platforms like Fusion 360, Revit…perhaps even Solidworks and others. They want to make the logic authoring agnostic using code blocks similar to Inventor’s iLogic for configuration. In my opinion, this is the single most important step they could make toward “Productization” in construction.
So what’s the catch? Beta is estimated to be next year. That likely means 2024 Revit will be the first version (if not later…or even at all) that will have this capability. Except that means we’ll realistically be able to use this about 2027/2028. This industry loves to stay on old Revit versions and Autodesk now allows use up to 5 versions back. This means it’ll be 2028 by the time you find defects or functional limitations of 2024 versions. Except they won’t fix 2024 four years later…those fixes will come in 2029/2030 versions which you’ll start using about 2033/2034. That’s a 10 year development/feedback cycle. It’s just not sustainable. Keep this in mind when they tell you the industry is going to completely transform to products within a few short years. The tools just aren’t there to facilitate this in a wide scale manner.
Industrialized Construction and Fabrication Parts
As you can tell from the Inventor/Revit interoperability class I reported on earlier and the Manufacturing Informed Design group’s initiatives…Inventor is a key part of Autodesk’s Industrialized Construction Strategy.
Except that the vast majority of large MEP Fabricators are using Fabrication Parts. Fabrication Parts can be exported and brought into Inventor….except they look like shit and are unusable for manufacturing in the Inventor environment. Inventor and Fusion 360 are Solid Modelers. Fabrication Parts are NOT Solids…they’re surfaces. Poor quality surfaces at that. That was intentional…to keep AutoCAD/CADmep performant. Because Fabrication Parts know what they are (Pipe, Elbow, Tee, Valve, etc.) they have the proper data to fabricate from and don’t need heavy detailed graphics. You can place 10x more Fabrication Parts in Revit than RFA’s before seeing the same performance impact.
Until Autodesk bolts Fabrication Parts into Inventor (and I have no knowledge they’re even considering this) you’ll have to wait for the Manufacturing Informed Design team to allow Revit Authoring of Product. Who knows when that will be and when it does happen…what are the chances they even know how to manipulate a Fabrication Part? Most of Autodesk’s own Revit experts don’t even know what a Fabrication Part is let alone comprehend their value. Of the hundreds of data points Fabrication Parts hold…even their own Construction Cloud knows virtually nothing of the data. In short, the firms who have digitally fabricated from 3d models for nearly 30 years (MEP Contractors) are largely shut out of all Autodesk’s Industrialized Construction technology strategy.
Speaking of Fabrication Parts…
I asked about the MEP Fabrication Data Manager Sync. The Technical Preview of Autodesk’s Cloud based Fabrication configuration manager. A 7+ year initiative that’s still not usable in any practical capacity. I asked when it would be “Done”.
“Who’s to say it’ll ever be done. Perhaps it keeps evolving.”
Fair enough. So I followed up…When will it evolve enough that MEP contractors will willing use it?
“Who’s to say it’s even going to be for that type of customer?”
That speaks volumes. Add to that the ONLY session at Autodesk University on Fabrication Parts in Revit was from an A/E firm that doesn’t build or fabricate, it’s another data point suggesting Autodesk doesn’t have a plan for MEP Contractors. Or they simply think they’ll all cease to exist in a “Productized / Industrialized” construction economy. Certainly MEP Contractor’s will need to evolve…but we’re not going away. Great opportunity for someone else to enter the market IMO.
Another focus of Autodesk is Cloud Enabled Data Exchanges. You don’t download or export a spreadsheet to order from Amazon.Com or to book a flight. This makes a lot of sense in many if not most ways. It’s the first step of breaking down those old obsolete concepts and barriers like “files” which have long outlived their usefulness. With so much work to do in this area, it’s unlikely Autodesk will make Fabrication Parts part of these data exchanges anytime soon….if ever. Products like GTP’s Stratus jump through huge hoops to mine the data they do. These exchanges aren’t anywhere close to possible in Autodesk’s Platform Solutions today. It’s my hope that these Cloud based data exchanges evolve enough to start breaking down those “version incompatibility” walls between Revit versions which will shorten that 10-year development cycle. At least that’s my hope….if I were to have any.
A Bridge to Nowhere
One of the Autodesk Construction Cloud (ACC) highlights is it’s “Bridge” functionality. It allows you to link/sync multiple ACC Accounts between customers. Except that it only works on “published” models in Docs. It doesn’t work on “Live” models with BIM360 Collaborate Pro like it needs to. It also doesn’t work on the “Data”, just the “files”. This limits the effectiveness of ACC which is why most BIM360/ACC projects I see are complete train wrecks in terms of their use of existing functionality and configuration. People using Desktop Connector to access non-collaborated models or host Central Workshared models that aren’t in Collaboration.
Rumor has it Autodesk is reworking Desktop Connector. I’m sure that’ll inject just as many problems as it solves. Autodesk simply doesn’t have robust feature sets in their products any longer. Merely enough features to keep you on the hook as they have guaranteed annual revenue now.
Given everything I’ve seen and heard….and 30 years of observing the industry and correctly predicting much of what has really transpired, I have a few predications…
Autodesk’s Cloud enabled Exchanges will eventually be monetized. You’ll pay for everything eventually. Pay to author…pay to report…pay to export.
Autodesk will become the “Facebook” (Meta) of Design/Construction/Manufacturing data. That means everything you think of when you think Facebook….the good and bad.
An API first strategy is NOT in the cards. Data Exchanges will always be limited compared to what Autodesk can do with them. This will allow them to control and maintain their market position limiting what others can do or and controlling how much they must pay.
Old school data exchanges will eventually go away and everything will be required to use the Cloud to facilitate data exchanges. I don’t like it on principal but it makes sense and needs to happen.
3rd party developers traditionally thought of as Autodesk competitors will some day be customers to facilitate their interoperability with Autodesk.
Industrialized Construction will not be as wide spread or come as quickly as Autodesk says. Autodesk will be the biggest limiting factor in this due to products suffering a drought of features and depth.
No need to cover the positive predictions….I touched on them earlier and Autodesk does a good job promoting them all on their own. They don’t need my help. My value is providing a more realistic perspective and timeline….IMO. Let’s hope I’m wrong on many of my predications.
I’ve been seeing a recent trend in project teams. An increasing use of Autodesk Desktop Connector to link Revit Cloud Models. While it can and does work (sometimes), it’s a real bad idea and should be avoided unless absolutely needed. The reasons are subtle and nuanced. But those nuances are a make or break in terms of success.
I’ll try to explain as best I can. I’ll even give you steps you can do to reproduce this issue yourself. But first, let’s go over why Desktop Connector exists in the first place.
A Brief Desktop Connector History
Autodesk’s first attempt at a proper Cloud workflow for Revit was called Collaboration for Revit. It later became BIM360 Design and today is called BIM360 Collaborate Pro. Same idea…take a Revit model and manage it in the Cloud from Sync’d local data. Practically speaking, it’s a cloud version of Revit Server.
Back in those early days, you could link to other Revit cloud models. But Revit supports other types of links besides RVT files. So people would link to file servers. But in a collaborate environment, other teams didn’t have the same file servers or folder structures. Those other linked files linked DWG’s or IFC’s would break. So like the good technologist’s they are, BIM Managers started using services like Dropbox across the product team. Those non-Revit files were linked from there so the links would be common across of team members.
As a result, Autodesk later acknowledged the value in doing this and released it’s own ‘sync’d drive’ tool called Autodesk Desktop Connector. So that’s why it’s there. It’s intended to link non-Revit files or Revit files that are NOT cloud models.
One could argue that Autodesk should have just made Collaboration for Revit work with those other files types. I agree and it’s a nice thought. But it’s likely not the case because the Revit files you see on BIM360 Docs (now Autodesk Docs) are NOT the same files as are used by Revit’s Cloud collaboration tools. You can read more about that here (https://www.darrenjyoung.com/2022/03/29/the-2-sides-of-bim360-acc-docs/)
The False Alure of Desktop Connector
When I see Desktop Connector misused, the reason I’m given is usually the same. “We don’t want to Live Link models“. That’s to say, they don’t want to see daily changes from the other project teams in real time.
So that sounds reasonable. But if people would use BIM Collaborate Pro ‘properly’ this actually solves this problem and in a much more flexible way. BIM Collaborate Pro when setup and used properly allows 3 separate workflows or a combination of any of them….
Link to Live Models
Link to “Shared” copies of Models (only updates when the model owner chooses to share)
Link to “Consumed” copies of Models (only update when you consume a shared copy)
Yup. That’s it. Complete flexibility on how you link to other Revit Cloud Models. In short, if you’re linking to get away from updates you don’t control, it’s because you’re not using the BIM Collaborate Pro properly. More accurately, whoever is hosting the project did not set it up properly and you’re a mere casualty caught in the cross fire. Something most sub-contractors are very familiar with.
The True Appeal of Desktop Connector
There’s really another reason people use Desktop Connector for Revit Cloud models. A result of Autodesk’s flawed logic that everyone on the project should be on the same platform, same project and same account. While it makes sense at a high level, it also means all other project teams who aren’t the hosting company are limited to the willingness and/or capabilities of the hosting company.
Taking that into account, one aspect of Desktop Connector is that you can link ‘between’ BIM360 or ACC (Autodesk Construction Cloud) accounts. That is, you can link files in your account, to project files in another team’s account. This cross account linking is NOT available in BIM Collaborate Pro with Cloud models or Cloud Workshared models but it is in the Desktop Connector.
When you put this all together, this means companies can link to files from other companies but still control their own models on their own account. And they’re not live linked either. This is why we’re seeing a proliferation in Desktop Connector usage with Revit Cloud Models.
The new Autodesk Construction Cloud has some “Bridge” functionality designed to facilitate this. I tested the Bridge functionality when it first came out. It didn’t work as required, expected or as advertised IMO. It may or may not have improved since then but that’s not the point of this article. The point of this article is about linking to Revit Cloud models from Desktop Connector. Why it’s problematic, not a recommended best practice and why it should be avoided.
The Desktop Connector Problem
To demonstrate the problem, we’ll use two separate sets of 3 Revit files each linked to each other within the set like the following…
Set 1(problem set)
Test – 1.rvt(Link to Test – 2.rvt & Test – 3.rvt)
Test – 2.rvt(Link to Test – 1.rvt & Test – 3.rvt)
Test – 3.rvt(Link to Test – 1.rvt & Test – 2.rvt)
Set 2(working set)
Test – A.rvt(Link to Test – B.rvt & Test – C.rvt)
Test – B.rvt(Link to Test – A.rvt & Test – C.rvt)
Test – C.rvt(Link to Test – A.rvt & Test – B.rvt)
Each Revit model is a Cloud Workshared Model. (a standard Cloud Model would function the same for this issue). You can tell they’re Cloud Models be viewing them in Revit’s interface like shown in the following image…
If any of the Revit files were not Cloud Models, they wouldn’t appear here in Revit but would appear from the BIM360 or ACC web interface. You can see in the following image, those same files are listed in the web interface. They were all published so the version in Autodesk Docs displays the same contents as is available in BIM Collaborate Pro.
So far, all seems fine. The files you see in the BIM360 or ACC interface are the same ones that are available in Desktop Connector. Now here’s where the issues starts to manifest itself.
Take a look at what happens when we try to download the Revit Models from the web interface. Set 1, the numerical set download as ZIP files. Set 2 on the other hand, that alphabetic models download as Revit files.
Perhaps you’ve seen this before. I know many users who assume that the ZIP file downloads are there because the Revit files contain links. Because a non-linked model always downloads as an RVT. Other users think it’s part of the whole “Share/Consume” workflow of BIM Collaborate Pro. Both explanations are technically incorrect.
The following image shows the files and their downloaded names. Keep in mind that each set is a model collaborated in the Cloud the exact same way and linked the exact same way. In fact, they themselves are not linked from the Desktop Connector either. They’re linked properly through the “External Resources”. Aside from the files names, they are identical in every way.
Further Proof – RVT Doesn’t Mean RVT
To further complicate matters, Desktop Connector displays all the files as RVT files even though some are ZIP files. Here’s how to test that out. First, we’ll use Windows File Explorer to select and copy all the files to the desktop. You can see the first hints of something being wrong in the following image…
Notice that all the files are named RVT just like was displayed in the Web Interface of BIM360 / ACC. However you can also see the icons are different between the two sets of files. The Revit files display their preview. The others display the icon because if the RVT extension because it can’t find a Revit preview. So let’s test our theory that some of these are actually ZIP files named wrong.
We’ll rename all the files to the ZIP extension and attempt to open them. The following images shows the renamed files. It also shows happens when you attempt to open the ZIP for one of files from Set 1 (Test – 1.rvt, Test – 2.rvt & Test – 3.rvt).
You can see when attempting to open the file TEST – 1.rvt.zip (remember we renamed to a ZIP) it shows the contents. It contains the Revit file and the links that Revit file uses.
Now let’s try the same thing with another file. This time. we’ll use the file Test – A.rvt.zip from Set 2.
You can see that despite renaming the file as a ZIP file, Test – A.rv.zip will not open and displays no contents. That’s because it is indeed not a ZIP file.
Summary of the Desktop Conector Problem
To summarize what we just saw, the web interface to BIM360 / ACC as well as Desktop Connector showed that all the files were RVT files. But upon testing with 2 different methods (web download & copy/rename from Desktop Connector) we can see that the two sets of files are not the same.
Set 1 is comprised of ZIP files despite showing their name as RVT and Set 2 are actual RVT files.
We can perform one further test to see if this is the case, We can start a new Revit file and try to link one of each set from the Desktop Connector. The following images shows just that…
You can see we were able to successfully link Test – A.rvt (from Set 2) using the Desktop Connector. But when we try to link Test – 1.rvt (from Set 1) we get an error, Failed to open document.
Again, this is because despite what you see (the RVT file extension), the file is actually a ZIP file. This is the root of the problem with using Desktop Connector to link Cloud Models. Linking non-cloud Revit models is not a problem. More in that in the next section when we cover “How” and “Why” this happens.
The How and Why
The issue of when BIM360 / ACC is using a ZIP file vs. a RVT file behind the scenes is actually quite predictable and a little controllable. So let’s take a look. It might be a little difficult to understand but we’ll try explain anyway. We’ll then follow-up with the steps to do it yourself.
At the root of the issue is that the Cloud model Revit uses is a separate file that the one you see in BIM360 / ACC Docs and Desktop Connector. You choose when to “publish” the one that shows up in BIM360 / ACC. And here’s where it starts to get complicated. We’ll use the names of the samples models to make it a little more clear.
If you have cloud model Test – 1.rvt open, and you link to cloud model Test – 2.rvt, if cloud model Test – 2.rvt has changes that are unpublished to BIM360 / ACC Docs when you publish Test – 1.rvt to BIM360 / ACC Docs, Test – 1.rvt will be a ZIP file.
On the other hand, if you link to cloud model Test – 2.rvt and it’s latest version is published to BIM360 / ACC Docs then when you publish Test – 1.rvt and download it, it will be a RVT file.
Did you catch that? Whether a Cloud model ends up as a ZIP vs. a RVT depends on the Publish Status of the Cloud models it links when you publish it.
Let’s look at that visually. The below image shows the 3 models from Set 1. Notice how none of them have the current version published. When you publish one of these, or even all three of these you’ll end up with a ZIP file.
Again, the issue is that you linked a cloud model in Revit when that cloud model had unpublished changes. Even if you published all of the models now, you’ll still get ZIP files with downloads and Desktop Connector. That’s because when they were published, there were unpublished changes which made them ZIP files. Further publishes will always make more ZIP files because they now reference Cloud models who’s Published versions are ZIP files not RVT. Yea…that’s a bit complicated. Just know that once you start getting ZIP Downloads, they’ll stay that way. From here on out, there’s only one way to fix it which we’ll get to momentarily.
How Not to get a ZIP
Now here’s where the process get’s slightly different if you want a RVT. The difference here is when you go to link the Cloud model, you need to make sure the file(s) you’re linking don’t have unpublish changes when you publish it. So when you have Test – A.rvt open, make sure Test – B.rvt doesn’t have unpublished changes, if it does, Test – B.rvt needs to be published beforeTest – A.rvt. Then when you then publish Test – A.rvt it will download as an RVT and Desktop Connector will be a ‘real’ RVT file.
So that sounds simple. Just make sure when you link the cloud model that’s it’s most recent version is published. But it’s not that simple. At any point in the future if one of the linked files is not published when you publish the model, you’re back to the ZIP file again and it stays that way. Until you fix it.
Unzipping the ZIP
If you ever link a cloud model that has unpublished changes you’ll end up with ZIP files. Further more, if at any point you publish you model, any one of the linked cloud models has unpublished changes, you’ll get a ZIP file again. And it won’t get fixed again easily.
This is why you should NOT link to cloud models from Desktop Connector. Because you’re relying on the author to understand this and know what to do. In fact, in the course of a real project, it’s damn near impossible to make sure you’re not going to get a ZIP. You can’t control when the project teams make changes and publish.
However, if you do want to fix the ZIP problem, here’s the process.
Open your Revit model and “unload” (not remove) and cloud model links. Save/Sync and publish the model.
Repeat Step 2 for all of the linked Cloud model. Make sure none have the links loaded.
Once all models have their links unloaded, republish them all.
Reopen one of the models and reload the links. Save/Sync the model. One model only.
Now Publish the model and wait for publish to complete before doing any more models.
Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the remaining models.
So that’s the process to “fix” the issue. Each model needs to be republished with none of the cloud model links loaded. You then open one, sync and publish each model. If you do save/sync more than one model before publishing again, you’re back to the ZIP files.
Try It Yourself
This issue is a bit nuanced…what makes a ZIP files vs a RVT. An even when its a ZIP, The web site and Desktop Connector misleadingly tell you it’s an RVT. And if you do have it working, it’s still fragile and breaks easily. Which is why it’s recommended to NOT use Desktop Connector to link to Revit Cloud Models.
If you really want to understand the issue, it’s best to try it yourself. You can do it with just 2 files. Here’s how. Follow these steps exactly.
Step 1 – Create file A in Revit and save as a Cloud model or Cloud Workshared model.
Step 2 – Close file A.
Step 3 – Create file B in Revit and save as a Cloud model or Cloud Workshared model.
Step 4 – Close file B.
Step 6 – Open file A and link file B using the “External Resources” (not Desktop Connector)
Step 7 – Save/Sync file A and close.
Step 8 – Open file B and link file A using the “External Resources” (not Desktop Connector)
Step 9 – Save/Sync file B and close.
Step 10 – Publish both files so their latest version appear in BIM360 / ACC Docs.
Step 11 – Try downloading with model from the web and you’ll see they’re zip files.
– – You’ve now recreated the process which makes the ZIP files – –
Step 12 – Open file A and unload the link to file B.
Step 13 – Save/Sync and Close file A
Step 14 – Open file B and unload the link to file A.
Step 15 – Save/Sync and Close file B.
Step 16 – Publish both models. (when you publish doesn’t matter with links unloaded)
– – Both models are now published with no Cloud model Links. This clears the ZIP issue. – –
Step 17 – Open file A and reload the links to file B.
Step 18 – Save/Sync and Close file A.
Step 19 – Publish file A and wait for it to complete before continuing. This is important. It’s linked to a file B. While file B has no links loaded, it has all it’s changes published (the critical step)
Step 20 – Open file B and reload the links to file A.
Step 21 – Save/Sync and Close file B.
Step 22 – Publish file B and wait for it to complete before continuing. This file is linked to file A which does have links, but it also has all of it’s changes published too.
Step 23 – Try downloading the models now. You should get a RVT file instead of a ZIP.
– – Both models are now published but are now accessible from Desktop Connector or downloadable as RVT files – –
It sounds like a lot of steps but it’s fairly quick to do. Perform these steps and you’ll get a better idea how the issue. Any time you have changes in multiple models before you publish, you’ll see the ZIP show up. If you change and publish a single model at a time, you’ll have RVT files. But also note, once you get the ZIP files, you’ll need to unload the links on all the files, republish and then open, reload and publish one at a time to clear the issue.
So that’s it. If you understand the issue, you’ll see how easy it is to have the ZIP issue show up. And that’s when linking from Desktop Connector breaks. And in the course of a project, it’s easy for others doing what I’ve explained above to break YOUR link to THEIR model when you use Desktop Connector.
So don’t use it to link Revit Cloud models if at all possible. If you’d like further reading on this, check out these Autodesk Knowledge Base articles…
As many of our IT systems have moved to the Cloud, the promise of a “Single Source of Truth” seems further away that it ever has. Our data was always generated by multiple applications. But it was still stored on your servers. And related data was often in the same folder structure.
With Cloud based systems, you’re data is now locked in another company’s servers. Or is it?
Anyone Can Code – But They Don’t Need To
One of the great things about the technology landscape today is there’s a lot of solutions that allow non-programmers to create applications and integrate systems. If you can create a flow chart and have some logical thinking skills, you can built an app. You can build and integration. All without writing code.
I tend to think of these systems in 4 different groups. Those are No-Code, Low-Code, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and Integration platforms. It’s often hard to draw lines between them because they have many of the same attributes and often overlap in functionality.
I’m not a technical purist or a trained IT professional despite a career in tech. So here’s my “unofficial” stab at how I define those classes of software.
No-Code platforms are just what the names implies. A system that allows you to built an application, or database with forms and a workflow or even a website without any coding skills. They typically have drag & drop controls or widgets that can be configured to do what you need. Even to pull or push data to other systems.
Low-Code platforms are a little more misleading. The name implies you need to code….maybe. It’s not always the case. They often allow a lot of the same aspects of a No-Code platform but extend functionality with the optional ability to use code. But again, not always. Some of the Low-Code platforms do require coding. That “Low-Code” can very from simple syntax to more comlpex or even complicated. It could be based on an existing language or may even proprietary to the platform. Do you research carefully. But don’t let it deter you from using a Low-Code platform. It’s a lot lighter lift that hard core software development.
RPA (Robotic Process Automation)
RPA platforms are what the name implies….software robots. However don’t get too excited. Many people hear “Robot” and they think all finds of complex amazing workflows and interactions. That’s not the case…each RPA application is a little more narrowly focused. Think of an automotive assembly plant. Lot of robots. But each does a very limited set of tasks. A robot doesn’t make an assembly plant….an assembly plant is made of many robots, manual tasks and other technologies. RPA is similar….more task, data or workflow specific. Often mining data or running AI/ML analysis on those data sets.
Integration Platforms, sometimes called iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service) are platforms designed exclusively for the purpose of integrating other systems. Many No-Code/Low-Code platforms even include iPaaS functionality. They may have built it themselves into their product or they just may incorporate another technology to serve that purpose for them. As an example, TrackVia is a No/Low-Code platform. They also offer integrations but use Workato for that purpose.
Integration platforms usually offer a number of “pre-built” connectors that aid in connecting to other systems. Those connectors eliminate your need to know how to code to connect to another system.
Using those connectors, you build your logic based flow, often visually to define how those systems interact. As an example, if you wanted a Slack notification everytime someone posts a file to DropBox, you’d use a Connector for Slack and Dropbox and configure their interation yourself. If there’s not a pre-built connector, they can typically be built as long as the system you want to connect to has an API. If you don’t have a coder, no worries. These Connectors are fairly easy to contract out to a developer.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to offer blanket guidance on how to pick the platform you need. It may even require multiple applications. But here’s some rules of thumb….
If you want an Application, something that has a more complex user interface or workflows, No/Low-Code is likely were you want to look. If you have simple, repeditive or data heavy tasks RPA bots may be a good option. And if you want to connect other existing systems, an Integration platform is what you’re looking for.
Licensing is another area of concern. You may need to pay “Per Application” or “Per User” or “Per Integration” or “Per Task”. Your license may even be a combination of these factors and more. Ask lots of questions and think of every loophole you can think. Does your integration generate PDF’s? Is there a cost per page? Per file? Is there a limit to the amount of data the PDF can print? Questions like these will be bery helpful in determining your overall cost. It’s rare someone buys into a solution and it costs less than they think. It’s usually more. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s providing more value than you expected. But plan accordingly.
Selection can also be daunting. Especially if you look at my list below. How the hell do you parse through that? Especilly when I tell you I’ve left a lot off the list? More niche platforms designed around only an industry or two.
It’s really not that hard. Look at the list. I’m sure some names will pop out at you. Do a search for “Low-Code” or “No-Code”. See what names keep popping up. Do a search on a specific platform and a serch engine will aften list “Ads” for their compeditors. If there’s no Ads taken out against them, that may be a smaller player. Crunchbase can also tell you a bit about the company….how much funding they’ve recieved…number of eplmoyees, etc. But with a landscape this large, expect some to disapear…maybe go out of business or perhaps be aquired. SAP in particular seems to be snappnig up a lot of them.
So with that in mind, here’s a list to get you started. I make no claims to it’s accuracy. Do you due dillegence.
ESTmep seems like it should be easy to calculate things like Area and Weight. A couple of the major factors in cost. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s difficult to understand “Where” numbers are coming from. Here’s a few tips for troubleshooting.
Eliminate Wastage and Costing Adjustments
Make sure Normalization is turned off for costing. You can do that here…
Next, eliminate any Wastage factors. Here’s what that might look like…
Create a Neutral Takeoff
There’s so many adjustments and factors that reporting properties it’s hard to tell what all makes up a number. The best way to find out what makes up a number is to make a Takeoff that eliminates as much of the factors as possible so you start with the core properties.
You can do this by adding Duct with simple numbers…12″ x 12″ x 12″. Duct with no connectors and no seams to eliminate allowances and sealant. Sizes that either don’t use stiffening or a purpose built specification that eliminates stiffening.
In my test, I created 20 pieces of Straight Rectangular Duct, You can do other fittings or Round/Oval too but start with the simplest and once you get dialed in and understood, you can expand to Round Straight or Fittings, etc.
Qty of 1
12″ Width x 12″ Depth
24″ Width x 24″ Depth
Qty of 2
12″ Width x 12″ Depth
24″ Width x 24″ Depth
Takeoff in ESTmep can sometimes list “Many” properties for Area and Weight or Quantity. When you add them, they typically just list “Area” or “Weight” making them unclear what they are. You can customize the takeoff Description to reflect which property it maps to. This way you can add them all and see the differences.
Test Various Quantity Units
Each Property in Takeoff also has the ability to change the Qty Units. Here’s the 3 settings you have can reflect what Area and Weight is displayed. Here’s what those settings look like…
Here’s the results of those settings on my sample duct…
You can see “Per ITem Qty” gives you likely the closest to what you want. Exept it doesn’t take into account the Quantity of fittings. Quantity of 1 vs 2 is the same Area/Weight for the respective sizes.
“Per Item Rate” seems to be furthest from what you’d think. It’s really a ‘Per Ft’ value.
Lastly, the “Total Item (extn)” gives you most likely what you want and also taking into account the quanities of fittings.
Now that you have sample data and simple numbers, you can start doing the math. Look at the material and gauge and find the weight or area and see how your numbers respond.
Once you get comfortable that the numers are correct, start by adding in Seams or Connectors and see if the ancillary weights get added as you expect. Note that you’re numbers may be a little “off” based on Seam or Connector allowances and notching. Try adding only one thing at a time.
If you want to test how Wastage or Costing methods apply, you’ll want to go back to simple duct…No Seams…Connectors….Stiffeners, etc.
Keep things simple. Experiment. Check the numbers. Remove one of the factors and add another and try again. Then combine factor and verify your data is adding up properly.
Unfortunately there is no easy path or roadmap. But by starting with simple datasets and incrementally testing added features or factors, you can start to get a better picture of where your values are coming from.
In ESTmep and CAMduct, if you use the 3d View and stretch duct to add pieces, you end up with duct that has zero Area & Weight. This also means you have zero cost for that material.
This is a confirmed issue that’s been around forever. I’ve tested from 2016 thru 2023 and can reproduce in all versions.
Here’s what that looks like…
The good news is, there’s a quick fix (workaround) you can deploy to update the weight and area. Using Notepad, you can make a quick COD script that updates the ITM’s. Below is what your script should look like…
So, which this doesn’t “Fix” the issue, it does work around it fairly easily. Just run the process before running and reports or data exports.