It’s not a lot, but there are some improvements in Revit 2019.2 for Mechanical Contractors using Fabrication Parts. Martin Schmid, MEP Product Manager with Autodesk, explains more with some great video examples on the Revit Blog.
If you use BIM360 Design (formerly “Collaboration for Revit” a.k.a. C4R) along with the Autodesk Desktop Connector, you should be aware of a common mistake that can lead to data loss.
BIM360 Design or C4R as the older version is called, is used to store Revit models in the cloud on Autodesk’s BIM360 platform. BIM360 Design using the BIM360 Docs platform as storage platform. C4R on the other hand uses the older BIM360 Team for storage of the Revit models.
While you could (can) upload your Revit models via the web interface to either storage platform, Revit would not see these files. They needed to be enabled for Collaboration and uploaded through Revit. This process made changes to the Revit files which enabled collaboration from BIM360 Design/C4R.
while Revit models need to be uploaded this way, there was no other way to upload other files types besides the web interface. Even if you did upload AutoCAD, IFC, Navis or other files types that Revit can link, there was no way to link these files into Revit from the BIM360 platforms. If you linked them from your server, the other members of your team without access to your server would not have access.
Autodesk Desktop Connector was created for this purpose. While you can’t link a non Revit file type into Revit directly from BIM360, you can use the Autodesk Desktop Connector to sync those other files types locally to your computer. Any other team members also using the Autodesk Desktop Connector would then also have access to those same files and the links would be identical.
What’s the problem?
The common problem that comes up when using BIM360 Design/C4R along with the desktop connector is Autodesk’s unfortunate choice in using the same icon for both products.
Depending where you see the icon, you get different results. If you click the one that references BIM360 collaboration services you’re good. If you click the one that references the Autodesk Desktop Connector, bad things can happen.
When a file is enabled for Collaboration and you open it through the Autodesk Desktop Connector, Collaboration is disabled and the file is configured as a local file or central file like you’d typically use of a file server. When this happens, the file is seen as being different and will not sync back to the BIM360 platform.
What this means then if that you have two different version of the file. One stored locally from the Autodesk Desktop Connector and another cached locally when opened from BIM360 Collaboration service (BIM360 Design / C4R) When you look at BIM360 Docs or BIM360 Team portals, you only see one version.
How do I know I’m using the correct Icon to open my Revit file?
Depending on the particular versions of Revit and their update versions, your install of Revit may appear different but the underlying concepts are the same. For these images, Revit 2018.3.2 and 2019.1 were used.
When opening a Revit model from 2018, you’ll see the “B” shortcut in the left. This is the proper way to open BIM360 Design/C4R enabled files. BIM360 Design and/or C4R sites will be listed depending if you have been given access to projects within those sites that use 2018 version of Revit.
When opening a Revit model from 2019, you’ll also see the “B” shortcut in the left. The same as with 2018 versions, this is the proper way to open BIM360 Design enabled files. BIM360 Design only will be listed because 2019 doesn’t use BIM360 Team/C4R. If nothing is displayed here, you may not have been given access to projects within those sites that use the 2019 version of Revit.
The other place you may see the BIM360 icon is from My Computer or other shortcuts that look at your local system. The following image shows 2018 when using the incorrect shortcut because it instead points to the Autodesk Desktop Connector drive on your computer.
And once again, 2019 versions of Revit are similar. On clue is that here, even though 2019 doesn’t support C4R, they are listed here. This is because you’re not accessing via Revit’s collaboration tools, you’re simply accessing a special local drive on your computer that’s syncing everything in the BIM360 platform completely independent of Revit.
More clues when opening Models from the Recent Files List
If you’re trying to open Revit models using the Recent Files list, there’s a few subtle clues that tell you if you’re opening a collaboration enabled BIM360 model or simply opening a model from the Autodesk Desktop Connector drive.
The following image shows Revit 2018 with a BIM360 Design/C4R model correctly. Notice the drive letter in the path as well as the “Cloud” image in the thumbnail.
The following image shows Revit 2018 with a Recent File that was accessed incorrectly from the Autodesk Desktop Connector. Notice the path will point to your Users folder on your computer and there’s no “Cloud” image on the thumbnail.
Similar to 2018 but formatted differently, Revit 2019 displays the same details in it’s Recent Files. The following image is 2019 showing a recent file opened correctly through BIM360 Collaboration tools.
And one more image below that shows a recent model opened incorrectly from the Autodesk Desktop Connector.
Looking at some of those subtle options can easily be overlooked or forgotten. Especially in the daily stress of production and deadlines. There are a few more obvious clues that can tell you if you’re opening your Revit models correctly.
For starters, when you open a BIM360 Design or C4R model properly in Revit, you’ll see a nice status dialog indicating that the files is being opened and sync’d locally.
On the other hand, there’s a major red flag when you open the files incorrectly though the Autodesk Desktop Connector. When you open the files incorrectly, you’re prompted to work on the model temporarily or save it locally as a Central Model. If you see this dialog, you know you opened the file incorrectly and should click the Cancel button.
If for some reason you or another user did open the file incorrectly, you can use the Autodesk Desktop Connector icon in the Windows System tray to review the pending actions. There will likely be warnings when reviewing the connector’s syncing status tasks. Note however that that lack of pending tasks with errors does not mean a file can’t been opened incorrectly. Any number of other actions could have overwritten the local copy or cleared those actions.
Another subtle clue is that if you look at the collaboration hubs and you see multiple projects that use different versions of Revit between them, you know you’re opening the models incorrectly. The Autodesk Desktop Connector display all projects, regardless of Revit version being used because it;s independent of Revit. When opening files correctly for BIM360 collaboration, Revit 2018 will only see 2018 project versions and Revit 2019 will only see 2019 project versions.
Again, if you don’t see differently projects that use different Revit versions, that does not mean you’re opening them properly. You merely may have been granted to projects of only one Revit version. But if you do see multiple projects you know are using different versions of Revit, it;s a sure sign you’re opening the files wrong.
Best To Avoid Using The Dropdown
The last word of warning is with using the drop down list in the Open dialog. Depending when and how you’ve accessed Models, neither BIM360 icon may be present, one or the other may be present, or both BIM360 icons may be present. Because they have no description, its hard to tell wich does which.
The following image shows the Dropdown list expended with both BIM360 icons displayed. One will take you to the proper BIM360 collaboration tools and the other, incorrectly to the Autodesk Desktop Connector.
Because of this very subtle difference, it’s likely a best practice to not use them ever. If they don’t show up on your system, don’t worry. They typically won’t display until you’ve first accessed the corresponding My Computer or BIM360 shortcuts on the left side of the dialog.
Revit 2019.2 Update was released today. Of particular interest in 2019.2 is the addition of Revit Cloud Models which allows users to host Revit models in the BIM360 platform even if not collaborating. Kind of a BIM360 Design/C4R “LITE” so to speak. That description of Revit Cloud Models is likely a little misleading so I recommend a more robust (but still not entirely clear) explanation on the Revit Blog.
You can download the update from your Autodesk Accounts Portal…
Or you can download and install from the Autodesk Desktop App…
You can see a list of issues fixed and new features from this link.
When you build Autodesk Fabrication content, you may have noticed one of the properties “Cost Type“. You can see this setting is shown in the following image.
If you do some searching online, you may run across an explanation for some but not all. As Autodesk explains in it’s online help….
- Normal – Reads the Material, Fabrication, and Installation tables to generate costs of all materials, fabrication labor and installation labor.
- Supply Only – Reads the Material and Fabrication tables to generate the same costs of material and fabrication but NOT installation. (You’d typically use this if you are fabricating for others outside your company.)
- Free Issue – Reads only the Install table when calculating costs.
This leaves two remaining values that can be set. These are not documented by Autodesk. These two serve the same purpose…
- Demolition – Used as a filter for Labor table value sets
- Relocation – Used as a filter for Labor table value sets
Using these values would allow you to build a labor table for relocation that would include uninstall and reinstall time. You could also use the demolition value to build a labor table for removal only of an item.
While you would think these only would apply to an install table, these filter values are also available for the fabrication table. At the very least, this opens up the possibility of using it in creative ways to serve whatever purpose you like.
It’s sometimes easy to miss new things. This is why I want to point out something that was added in 2015. CADmep now has an APPHELP command. You can typeÂ APPHELPÂ at the command prompt to bring up CADmep’s help system.
If you’re online, the help is pulled from Autodesk’s web site from the following URLs…
When you’re not online, “APPHELP“ loads the help system that’s installed locally. You can find it in these folders…
- C:\Program Files\Autodesk\Fabrication 2015\Help\index.html
- C:\Program Files\Autodesk\Fabrication 2016\Help\index.html
- C:\Program Files\Autodesk\Fabrication 2017\Help\index.html
- C:\Program Files\Autodesk\Fabrication 2018\Help\index.html
- C:\Program Files\Autodesk\Fabrication 2019\Help\index.html
But what if you’re using CAMduct or ESTmep? No worries. The other products work the same way. Instead of typing APPHELP, type F1 on your keyboard or use the Help pull down menu.
Only One Concurrent Database Administrator at a Time.
If you use a shared database (such as on a network location), you’ll want to lock down who can edit the database and restrict that to a single concurrent user. Many areas of the Autodesk Fabrication database are large tables. If two or more users have the ability to edit those tables at the same time, you’re asking for problems. That is, the last user to edit the database wins and the other looses their changes.
Here’s how that happens….
User A logs in with full administrative permissions.
User B then logs in with full administrative permissions.
At this point, both users are on the same page because they both loaded the database into the computer’s memory.
Now lets say, User A creates some new materials and connectors for some content they are building. At the same time, User B creates a new service and exits.
User B now has their new service written to the database on the server. That’s good. But User A doesn’t have those changes, they opened the database before those changes were made. When User A exits the database, what’s in memory on their computer gets written back. This is their new connectors and materials, but also the original list of Services without User B’s changes.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to create a separate user account used only for Database Administration work and limit it to a single concurrent user. To do this, use the “Configure Users” program that comes with all of the Fabrication products. The following image shows the setting that allows a single concurrent user and all the settings this account could (should) have.
Now if you look closely, you may notice I typically have a couple other Admin accounts in there. Once users are setup, you typically don’t need to mess with them again so I create a separate account only for this purpose but you wouldn’t have to, it could be combined with the “DatabaseAdmin” account.. This is the “UserAdmin” account shown in the image. I also restrict this to a single concurrent user and guard it’s password to only a few select people who really understand how the Fabrication Database works.
For every rule, there’s an exception and you’ll also see a “ReportAdmin” account. This account is NOT restricted to a single concurrent users and here’s why…
When you edit most database settings, you’re editing a large database table with lots of entries. When you edit a report, you’re editing a single file for that report only. The chances that two or more people will edit the same report at the same time is very small. This means multiple users can create multiple reports at the same time and each will save to their own file.
Much like Reports, content (ITM files) are separate file based and will most likely not have more than one person editing the same ITM at the same time. This means you could also create a separate “ContentAdmin” account that lets you setup and delete folders only (no other permissions). Alternatively, you could combine both of the Report and Content accounts into a single “PowerUser” account that does both like in the following image…
Using a less restricted account like this allows more people to create Reports or Content without creating a bottleneck in your workflow. Those creating ITM’s won’t be able to create new connectors or materials or other settings, but they can make new ITM’s that point to existing database entries. This will help you scale your content building activities when you get a last minute request for a large library of pipe fittings. Your primary database admin will use the restricted “DatabaseAdmin” account to create the needed materials and connectors, and you can then have a large number of users making ITM’s using the “PowerUser” account in a safe manner,
Based on a lot of years experience, I’ve been told many times by people that they are careful to not have two or more people go in at the same time and don’t need to restrict their accounts. But I can also tell you, the more I make sure it can’t happen with these restrictions instead of letting them assure me it doesn’t happen because they’re “careful”, the less “unexplained” problems and corruption I see.
If you’ve ever wonder who’s integrating with Autodesk’s BIM360 Platform there’s a list online. This is more important than ever with the number of solutions out in the market. When you select one, you’ll want to know if you’re creating another digital silo. Autodesk integration list is a good way to see if your net solution can be leveraged with your existing BIM360 accounts.Â
Did you know that Autodesk hosts a free Online Viewer that supports most of the Autodesk file formats? Simply browse to https://viewer.autodesk.com/ and sign in with your Autodesk ID (free to register)
While not all functionality is available that you’d expect from their native applications, the online viewer does boast support for an impressive 50+ files formats. For a full list of file formats supported, check out this Knowledge Base article…https://tinyurl.com/AutodeskOnlineViewer
Browse to the viewer URL….https://viewer.autodesk.com/
Log in using an Autodesk ID (free to register)
Wait for you file to be uploaded and processed. Or close the page after uploading and wait for the Email with a link to the model when it’s finished processing on Autodesk’s servers. Here’s a link to one of the Autodesk Revit samples models I uploaded… https://tinyurl.com/AutodeskOnlineViewerTestModel
View you model and/or send a link to others.
ActiveX is a framework developed by Microsoft in 1996 which adapts earlier concepts of COM (Component Object Model) and OLE (Object Linking and Embedding). Most people may think of this as Visual Basic (pre .Net era) programming.
This was supposed to fade away as Microsoft moved to the .Net based languages so Autodesk pulled support in the shipping versions of AutoCAD years ago. It was however still available as a separate download for a limited time but that time never arrived. Microsoft kept it around and still today, Autodesk supports VBA, a version of Visual Basic embedded within the Application over half a decade later.
If you’e not interested in programming AutoCAD in VB or VBA but do use AutoLISP, I’d encourage you to keep reading, this article is still for you.
Enabling VBA in AutoCAD
If you want to take a stab at VBA programming in AutoCAD, you’ll need to install the Visual Basic Extension. The extension can be downloaded for 2016 – 2019 versions of AutoCAD from this link….https://tinyurl.com/AcadVBAInstaller
VBA Help for the AutoLISP Programmer
Now, with AutoCAD’s help now Online, you might be tempted to think that it’s the most robust help you can get from Autodesk. Simply typing “F1” will bring up AutoCAD’s help and browsing through the developer documentation, you can find documentation of AutoCAD’s ActiveX Object Model like seen in the following image.
Looking at the above image, the graphic of the Object Model contains no hyperlinks. And there’s no documentation on the Methods, Properties and Events typically available for this type of programming.
If you’re programming in VBA, the VBA Editor has tools for helping navigate this model or provides a lot of Auto Complete functionality when typing code. This doesn’t help anyone trying to program ActiveX from AutoLISP.
This is where the Offline Help comes in. You can access the OffLine Help download page from within AutoCAD by clicking the down arrow next to the question mark in the upper right corner of AutoCAD and then selecting Download Offline Help to download and install the help system.
You can also click the following link….https://tinyurl.com/Acad2019-OfflineHelp to go to the AutoCAD 2019 Offline Help download page as shown in the following image.
Configuring Offline Help
Once installed, you can configure AutoCAD to use the Offline version of Help by typing Options at the command line and clearing the toggle in the following image.
Once configured, typing “F1” will access the Offline help. One of several added pieces of Documentation which includes the ActiveX Developer’s Guide, is the ActiveX Reference Guide. You can see the graphic of the same Object Model documentation as before, but this one is hyperlinked to documentation of the Objects as well as lists all of the Methods, Properties and Events.
While all of documentation is written with the Visual Basic programmer in mind, the organization of the ActiveX object model and everything else is where you can get all the documentation you need to help translate the function calls to their AutoLISP syntax. When you make a call to (vl-load-com) in AutoLISP, you have access to over 2000 additional AutoLISP functions with a VLR- prefix. These functions are all documented here in the ActiveX Reference Guide in Visual Basic syntax.
In a future post, I’ll explain how to translate the Visual Basic documentation to AutoLISP syntax. If you don’t want to wait, review the ActiveX documentation found in the AutoLISP developer guides…it’s all in there!
One Final Note: You do NOT need to install the VBA Extensions in order to program w/ActiveX from AutoLISP. Just install with Offline Help and you’ll have everything you need.
It’s been a couple weeks since Autodesk University so I thought I’d reflect and recap some of my thoughts.
For starters, I don’t often toot my own horn but I was right. 5 Months ago, one of Autodesk’s Technical Marketing Manager’s posted to LinkedIn how Autodesk University was “Joining forces” with the MEP and Structural Fabricators be eliminating the Monday MEP & Structural Fabricator’s Forum Monday pre-conference with the rest of Autodesk University and replacing it with the “Connect and Construct” pre-conference.
I commented then that this was marketing spin, that there would be less focus on Autodesk Fabrication. I was right. I typically run into 120-130 people every year at Autodesk University. This year I don’t think I broke 80. I’d say only 10% of the MEP contractors I typically run into were there this year. As expected, there were many less Autodesk Fabrication sessions and a lot more BIM360 sales pitches.
You can read the original LinkedIn post and my comment here. It did get me a private Email from Autodesk asking why I was negative toward the event that I was speaking at. As I told them, I’m not negative, but I do feel obligated to correct misconceptions they’re spreading. My industry peers are expecting Fabrication technical content as they’d received in the past and they weren’t getting it this year. Most elected to go to Applied Software’s MEP Force conference instead or skip all together.
There were some compelling keynotes from what I heard (I skip most, too crowded and I can watch online after if I hear they were good), but if you’re a larger progressive MEP contractor, you really didn’t learn a lot from the Connect and Construct summit IMO. They still are trying to tell people that BIM is something we should be doing and we should be using BIM360 this or that. A lot of promises of what the future holds…mining intelligence from your models. I couldn’t help but think…”We had that with Autodesk Fabrication but you broke it by not finishing Revit’s Fabrication Parts and stopping development of CADmep, ESTmep and CAMduct.
Overall, I think the week as a whole was better than last year. I skipped many of my scheduled classes as I was busy talking with others in hallway conversations. This is really why I go and where I get the most value.
If you’re interested in reviewing any of the material presented at Autodesk University, all the 2018 sessions are now online at this link.
- Seems to be a lot of 3rd party activity in the MEP contractor space finally after Autodesk’s acquisition of MAP fractured the market. Both GTP’s Stratus product and FabPro1 are making some compelling workflow applications. I’m also aware of about 5 or 6 different Revit based spooling tools either released or nearing release.
- Biggest issue for 3rd parties in the MEP contractors space….Autodesk’s lack of enhancing the underlying Fabrication platform. They’e laid off anyone that knows what we need and why…only 4 programmers remain from the original MAP team rumor has it. Most of the 3rd parties have larger teams focused on MEP than Autodesk does now.
- Seems to be some increasing acknowledgment by Autodesk that they screwed up a bit with the MEP contractors. It remains to be seen if they do anything about it. There’s several things in play that I can’t speak to (NDA) but I remain hopeful at some point things will start moving again.
- Seems to me more people looking to get into the ITM content space. Iv’e had so many conversations I can’t recall what I can and can’t say so I won’t go into details. We’ll see how it goes….it’s a tough platform as the content is not agnostic and highly dependent on each company’s configuration. Recall what I said about 3rd parties hampered by Autodesk not enhancing the Fabrication platform? This is a perfect example.
- Outside of the MEP Fabrication world, lot of talk about automation. Hailing from Manufacturing myself, I’ve seen parallels coming for years. Manufacturing leads construction by 10-20 years in just about everything…Parametric modeling, Lean, Product LifeCycle Management (Mfg’s “BIM”). Nice to finally see after spending most of my career working for Manufacturers of construction products and not working for a construction firm manufacturing.
- Most striking takeaway….the large volume of contractors employing their own programmers. One General Contractor of about 3000 employees had 10 full time programmers. And it’s not limited to GC’s….a lot of my peers in larger MEP contractors have full time programmers. I suspect this trend will continue as Autodesk is moving too slow and the data each firm really needs is highly unique to their blended data (in and out of BIM).
- Forge Devcon (formerly Dev Days) was interesting. The Monday developer conference Dev Days was always my highlight of AU. Then others started piggy backing onto Monday…Conceptual Design Forum, MEP Fab Forum, etc. Working in MEP I had to attend. While I’m disappointed the MEP Fab Forum went away, I’m also glad as I was able to attend some Forge Devcon sessions. That reminds me, I need to start getting back into development.
- Less technical and more “Whitepaper” or “Customer Stories” than ever. Seems like a lot more sessions showing you what people are doing but not how they are doing it. Maybe this is what people really want but I really miss some of the hard core technical content you use to get. It’s still there but in less quantities….or I’m just bad at selecting sessions to attend.
- Not sure I’ll speak again after over a decade of doing so. There’s less technical sessions…I prefer doing those as opposed to the philosophical “here’s how BIM should work” type of classes. The products our industry needs and uses Autodesk doesn’t promote and they audience is just not there. I could talk about Revit but it’s the same as it was last year with minor improvements. Nothing that would fill a 60 minute session unless I wanted to show all the 3rd party tools and custom code you need to write to finish where they left off. I’ll likely submit a few proposals next year anyway. We’ll see where it goes.