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…
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.
I see a lot of people confused about how BIM360 Docs / Autodesk Docs works when used with BIM360 Design or BIM Collaborate Pro and Revit. It doesn’t help any that Autodesk repeatedly refers to ‘Single Source of Truth‘ as one of the benefits. While BIM360/ACC does help provide a ‘Single Source of Truth‘, it’s not quite as simple as it seems.
There’s 2 Models…Not 1.
Yes, you heard me right. There’s actually 2 models and a virtual ‘Fence‘ between them. One used by BIM360 Design / BIM Collaborate Pro and another completely separate model by BIM360 Docs / Autodesk Docs. This graphics might explain it a little better…
How Things Really Work
Before anyone creates anything, Docs has no files. The following images show BIM360 Docs on the feft and Autodesk Construction Cloud on the right. This will help you see subtle differences however things really work the same.
Next, you model something in Revit and Initiate Collaboration…
Once Collaboration to the Cloud is Complete, if you look at BIM360 Docs / Autodesk Docs quickly you’ll see the file shows up as Version 1 (v1). At this point, you can’t click on the file to view it. Autodesk’s system is merely creating a placeholder while it continues to process the model in the background.
If you wait long enough, you’ll see that the files then update as Version 2 (v2). Once they’re listed as v2, they can be clicked and viewed in the Cloud. Despite saying v2, you really only initiated collaborate once from Revit. v1 was the initial file placeholder and v2 is the finished model that’s processed.
One reason for the confusion is that this v2 model shows up automatically. The common assumption is that it’s the same model as the one you opened in Revit. But that is NOT the case. The v2 model is actually a ‘Processed Copy‘ of the model you had open in Revit. That’s why it took a little while for the v2 model to show up in Docs.
The next time you open the models in Revit, you can see that it shows the models as ‘Latest Published‘. Note that you should be opening the models through BIM360 Design / BIM Collaborate Pro and NOT from the Desktop Connector. More about that later. For now, you can see the models listed when you try to open them in Revit.
If you open these models, they would look exactly the same as those viewed from Docs on the Web. The next thing that happens is people change the model and Sync to Central. This will continue for the entire development of the model. Pretty normal stuff.
Despite syncing changes to the cloud, if you view the models from the web interface of Docs, they’ll still say v2 and show the original published model.
In fact, if you were to close and then try to reopen the model from Revit, you might notice that it now says there’s an ‘Update Available‘. Note: You might need to click the ‘Refresh the current project‘ icon in the upper right to refresh the status. If you haven’t browsed to a different folder/project or restarted Revit the project status cache might be stale and need the refresh.
When an update is available, YOU as the model author can choose when to push those changes to BIM360 Docs / Autodesk Docs. This is why there’s really ‘two sides‘ to models in BIM360. It’s intentionally this way to put you in control. You can control IF and/or WHEN to release your changes to the rest of your team for viewing. After all, you don’t want them to view your partial updates while you’re still working through issues.
You can choose to update the models right from that same interface. Click the ellipsis button to the right of the file entry and select ‘Publish Latest‘.
Once you select to publish the latest version, you’ll be prompted for a confirmation with some added details. You’ll then see the interface in Revit show it’s processing. Once it’s finished processing, you’ll be able to open the model again in Revit. If you look back at BIM360 Docs / Autodesk Docs once processing is done, you’ll see the file(s) there are now listed as Version 3 (v3)
At this point, your web view of the model in BIM360 Docs / Autodesk Docs is the same as when you open it in Revit. That is, until you make more changes and Sync to Central again. Once you have new sync’d changes, you’ll have to publish to Docs again. But only when you’re ready for the rest of the team to view the model.
BIM360 / Autodesk Desktop Connector Warning
It should be noted that the Desktop Connector displays what’s in BIM360 Docs / Autodesk Docs. It does NOT give you access to what you’re currently modeling in Revit with BIM360 Design / BIM Collaborate Pro. This may be perfectly well what you want when linking in a model from another team. But if you want their Live updates, you’ll want to Link from BIM360 Design / BIM Collaborate Pro.
Note that Design Collaboration does have advanced features for collaboration. It’s beyond the scope of this post but highly recommended you look into it.
I hope this helps you understand a little better about how BIM360 Docs / Autodesk Docs does and doesn’t relate to BIM360 Design / BIM Collaborate Pro. Just remember, it’s NOT the same model, it’s a published copy. The only time it shows up automatically in BIM360 Docs / Autodesk Docs is when you initiate collaboration for the first time in Revit. All other Sync to Central updates won’t show up in Docs without an intentional Publish by you or another team member.
On March 23, 2022, Autodesk released the “MEP Fabrication Data Manager Sync – Technical Preview”. That same day, I posted to several sources a warning regarding a risk in using this tool. In this review, I’ll go over the risks shortcomings as I see them along with what background I can share that’s not covered under NDA. I’ll also address Autodesk’s public response to my warning.
What is the MEP Fabrication Data Manager Sync?
Let’s start with a little background. What is the MEP Fabrication Manager Sync? This is a tool designed to Sync your Autodesk Fabrication configuration from the Cloud to your local system.
But Configuration isn’t in the Cloud you may say. Well, that’s part of the plan too.
Why would we want to do that?
The Autodesk Fabrication configuration is complex and powerful but also fragile and bug ridden beast. Because of this it’s difficult for Autodesk to make changes and fixes. If you recall, in their last big restructuring, they terminated many of the developers who were customer advocates and knew the code. So attempting to advance just about anything it to the ‘Next Level’ risks injecting a LOT of defects into the products we use. If you’re a Fabrication user, you all know what I’m taking about. You’ve lived it.
Enter their ‘Cloud’ strategy to put the Configuration in the Cloud. There, they can put it in a safe environment, refactor it, rewire it and surround it with digital bubble wrap to product it’s integrity.
This has actually been on the “Public Revit Roadmap” for a long time. I believe it even predates the existence of the public roadmap.
This strategy is one reason why Revit Fabrication parts had had little added development other than token improvements since about 2018. Lets face it, if they were to build it from scratch today, they’d do it differently then it was 20 plus years ago when CADmep came out. Makes complete sense what they want to do.
But as anyone with even the slightest electrical charge in their skull knows, you can’t put the configuration in the Cloud and have a Desktop product access it and hope to have any shred of performance. Hence, the “sync” tool to pull it back down.
So to summarize, Autodesk’s Cloud strategy for Fabrication is to push it to the Cloud where it can be protected and enhanced but not used. And then they’ve built a tool to sync it back down locally for use in Revit only….for piping only….only for your company…only if you never need a new fitting…only if you don’t use ESTmep, CADmep or CAMduct.
What’s Wrong with FDM?
There’s a long list of things wrong with what was released. Here’s a high-level overview.
Major Issues and Limitations are NOT disclosed.
FDM is NOT Disclosed as “Beta” or “Not for Production”
Estimating/Labor data easily distributed to others with no ability to recall it.
Only a single “owner” of a configuration with no way to change the owner.
Anyone can easily upload your Configuration and use or share it with anyone.
No new Parts, Seams, Dampers, Stiffeners, Supports, Ancillaries, etc.
Once uploaded, no way to “Re-Upload”
No interoperability to CADmep, CAMduct or ESTmep
Limitation & Issues Disclosure
There’s a lot of limitations with FDM and the Sync tool. Do NOT make the assumption that their list of limitations and issues in the help file are in any way near complete or comprehensive. There’s so little covered that it makes it appear the problems are trivial. They are not. It’s embarrassing how little effort they put into documenting this. You really need to read everything and infer a lot based on what’s said and not said. This is the only way to get a full picture and use this product with minimal risk.
Is FDM a Beta or Complete Product?
You may have seen Autodesk product manager Martin Schmit’s response to my post that FDM and the Sync tool are Beta and shouldn’t be used in production. You can see them here…
The description in the Autodesk Desktop App does NOT say or mention ‘Beta’. So no, it’s not listed as a Beta here. Other Technical Previews in other products didn’t provide ‘Beta’ notices either of the ones I saw.
During install or once installed, review the ‘Terms of Service’ in the Sync Tool. It contains 2,709 characters / 501 words and not a single instance of the term ‘Beta’. Not listed as a beta here either.
The initial help file/Release Notes contained 14,290 characters / 2,698 words and again, not a single instance of the term ‘Beta’ in the initial release. In fact, under ‘What is a Technical Preview’ it stated the following…
“Tech Preview applications are considered complete and ready for use, but are made available on a preview basis so you can get early access before a broader rollout to all customers.”
It’s since been updated (likely because I called it out) to read…
“Tech Previews provide early access to pre-release or beta features for evaluation.”
But while it now contains a single ‘Beta’ term, it simply states that generically. A “Technical Preview” contains “pre-release” OR ‘Beta’ features. Nowhere in there does it state that this FDM is indeed a ‘Beta’.
The Blog Post also mentions that “Pre-release OR Beta” is what a ‘Technical Preview’ is and does NOT actually state that this is indeed beta. Merely that a Technical Preview may contain some Beta features. That’s a far cry from the entirety of the product being considered Beta.
There’s a link in the terms of service to Autodesk’s general ‘Terms of Service‘. That page contains 67,123 characters / 12,3871 words and contains the term ‘Beta’ merely once. Here in section 12 ‘Trial Versions’ the term ‘Beta’ is listed along “Not for Resale’, ‘Free’, ‘Evaluation’, ‘Trial’ and ‘Pre-Release’ terms. It’s a generic document that does not refer specifically to this Technical Preview. And it merely says that ‘Beta’ is one of many ‘Trial Versions’ that are governed under the ‘Trial Versions’ legal limitations. So yet again, it’s NOT listed as a beta here.
One of the YouTube videos linked the blog post mention using the Sync tool to distribute your database ‘Across Stakeholders’. This is not something you’d suggest for ‘Beta’ software or things you shouldn’t use in production. It implies collaboration…across stakeholders.
Am I being a bit picky? Perhaps. But the fact is that after 6-7 years of work on this, it’s still sloppy and incomplete. And unless you fully read everything and make a lot of conclusions based on interpretation and reading between the lines, the average user has no idea the risks they’re taking.
Where’s the Risk?
The risk is Autodesk’s repeated gross negligence in providing tools that expose your price and labor data. This is the 3rd avenue Autodesk has given users tools that provide easy access to your price and labor data. The other 2 avenues for this occurring still exist today with no acknowledgement from Autodesk.
Giving you a tool and telling you its to help you easily collaborate with users without generic sync tools implies you can collaborate with it. But if you add collaborators, you aren’t told that they have access to your cost and labor data. If you saw Autodesk’s public response to my initial post, you can see them hide behind the rather weak “you’re in complete control of sharing” statement.
I suppose you can give a powerful and dangerous tools to any unsuspecting person and them blame them for the carnage they create. But it would seem to me, any firm that is intent on being your partner would have a responsibility to disclose risks associated with the tools they provide.
Here’s the only warning Autodesk provides…
A mere generic warning upon sharing is NOT enough. There’s no link to details or context. From a user’s perspective a generic message like that could merely be a blanket ‘CYA’ legal statement as virtually anything a user shares could be considered ‘Sensitive’. Further, take into account that the Web based FDM shows no Cost or Labor data, it doesn’t let you add or manipulate it. This would easily suggest to a user that Cost and Labor are NOT included. Especially considering their own documentation says Cost and Labor are ‘Future’ considerations.
FDM Configurations are downloaded to this location…
Browse within these folders and into the Databasefolder and you’ll see COST.MAP, FTIMES.MAP, ETIMES.MAP and SUPPLIER.MAP. Once shared with another user, the Configurations owner can NOT pull them back. All it takes is copying this database to a new location and add it to ESTmep and you’re Price and Labor data is hacked.
This is a Known Issue yet it’s not disclosed in the ‘Known Issues’.
Only One Owner
A Configuration can only have one owner. It also has no way to be changed without Autodesk’s back end assistance….maybe. Again, a limitation you’re not told of. If whoever manages your configuration leaves and you’re up a creek.
Any because Autodesk accounts are tied to Emails, they have full access to your configuration even after they’re gone. It’s yet another security risk for which YOU are not able to manage or control.
Easy End User Manipulation
Again, there’s no control you’re allowed for users. If you install this tool to your user’s system so they can consume a configuration you shared, they can upload and share it with anyone they want. Super easy and you’ll never know. Yes, they could always give your database to someone anyway, but it’s a very intentional act and requires some technical knowledge. This sync tool merely looks like an easy way to collaborate with little warning about what the consequences really are.
Database Coverage Limited
There’s not a lot you can so with FDM at this point. You can make new services, templates, materials and specifications. But you can’t copy an ITM or make a new one. You can’t edit the product list of an ITM. Can’t make Ancillaries, Kits, Dampers, Supports, Stiffeners, Notches. Support Specs, Service Types, etc. You can’t edit Labor or Price. You can’t edit service types, custom data, oval stretch outs, etc. So there’s not a hell of a lot you can do. You can’t really manage your database. Additionally, there’s no capability to bulk edit even those things you can edit in FDM. It’s certainly not going to be faster to edit your database. At best, trivial edits are allowed. Any other use is going to be burdensome.
No Way to ReUpload
Once you upload a configuration, you can make some limited changes there. But not everything. Everything else you need to edit in CADmep, ESTmep or CAMduct. And once you do, there’s no way to upload your changes. Your only option is to delete the Configuration on FDM and loose any changes you made there.
So now you have 2 independent vectors for editing your database. One partial (FDM) and one complete like you always have. And there’s no way to reconcile those.
Now Autodesk will tell you they’ll be adding more. But judging from how they’ve implemented Fabrication Parts in Revit, they’ll never finish it according to YOUR expectations. They’ll get it to where they’re happy and call it good.
No Fabrication Interoperability
There’s NO interoperability with CADmep, ESTmep or CAMduct. And there’s no plans to near as I can tell. Read what they’ve pushed out. Their sole focus is on Revit. If they get to Cost and Labor it’ll be under the assumption that Estimators will use Revit to quantify their estimates. I can’t imagine a world where a mechanical estimator will use Revit to take off estimates. Another stupid half baked idea.
To add insult to injury, Revit does not report ‘Node to Node Length’ in Reports…it doesn’t work. So Autodesk’s official solution is to export an MAJ and run your reports from there as outlined in this KB Article. So for products they don’t want to support, they seem to be the solution to everything wrong with Revit as well as FDM.
I’ve had far more systems produce install errors than those that actually install properly. They knew of the error I reported it before release.
Well, a couple things. For starters, when you upload a configuration you can see the errors it contains. Ironically, they’re things that are perfectly allowed in Fabrication, just not FDM. You can use the Invalid Data portion to review the data errors. Autodesk’s own Configurations (all of them) are not even compliant as shown here…
One of the other good things about FDM is the ability to more easy visualize how your data is connected. Using their Relationship Manager you can see how your data is connected. This is good for new users as well as existing users who want to see things like which parts are connected to a material or connector or service template.
What else? Well, I can’t really think of anything. FDM is just not ready. And until you can edit your entire database in FDM, it can’t really be used. But that falls on deaf ears. They want input on what to “do next”. But that won’t increase usage. And if this takes another half decade, it’ll likely never get completed. That’s a LOT time in Autodesk years to have a project survive and get funding if it’s not used.
The Fabrication Database in the cloud has been done before. It was there and much more complete. I saw it. It was previewed at Autodesk University years ago. But it never saw the light of day. They killed it. It wasn’t built on Forge. So they did it again and built it on Forge. But Forge wasn’t ready or capable. So it took 6-7 years to get where we are today. Half assed and incomplete. A year into the project they said it would take another year. I told them it would be at least 5. I was wrong. It took longer. And it’s still not usable. It’s poorly documentation and so disjointed in their messaging that it risks your data.
They have no strategy or end game for how to work in EST or CAM. Now they want your input into what to do next. Except it’s obvious if they listened to everyone they ignored for the last 5 years. Their exclusively Revit based strategy has no promise for you any time soon. Worse yet, it lacks vision and doesn’t even strategically align with where Autodesk is going. That’s not just my opinion, it’s that of several insiders I’ve spoken with too. Their strategy is based on a 20 year old software called Revit.
So kick the tires if you like. But don’t install this garbage for anyone else. And for the love of God, don’t share your configuration with anyone else.
Lastly, if you want to know what you should or should not do with it, you can’t rely on the documentation. Apparently Autodesk’s official guidance and policy is buried in a single blog post per their response to me.
Autodesk Flex is Autodesk’s replacement for Network Licensing (FlexLM). Network licenses were supposed to go away a couple years ago. However Autodesk pushed back a lot of their plans and policies to make life a little bit easer when Covid hit.
While many customers had already been arm twisted into changing prior to the timeline extension, that offer still exists today. If you haven’t taken advantage of it, you will need to before it expires on your next renewal before Feb 7, 2024.
What is ‘Autodesk Flex’
Autodesk Flex is a ‘Token’ based system. Each product has a certain number of ‘Tokens’ it costs when you use them. Launching a product consumes that set amount of tokens and gives you access for the day to that product for that user on any computer. If you launch multiple products, each product will consume it’s daily tokens upon launch for that user.
You assign ‘Flex’ to a user in the accounts portal just like any other product and it lets you run anything Flex has available.
You can also pick and choose which products you want to allow Flex to use if it’s helpful to not allow everything. An example would be that maybe a user needs Revit all the time, but Navis Manage only some of the time. You can give them a dedicated license of Revit and configure Flex to only be used for Navis.
(Note: This example is only if you have separate Navis and Revit licenses. AEC Collections come with both so this configuration isn’t valid in that scenario.)
Tokens are pre-purchased in set increments. They’re currently $3/token. Tokens will expire if unused for a year. You can add to your pool of tokens any time. Oldest tokens are automatically consumed first.
Autodesk has a token calculator that helps you estimate the number of tokens you need for a given product. That calculator is here…
You’ll see the cost difference between Flex and a dedicated Named Standalone license is about 85 days. If a user uses a product about 85 days a year, a Standalone Named User license is a better option.
When you get to Collections…it gets a little more difficult. Collections don’t have a Token rate so you’ll need to add the tokens for the products you use. The examples above are assuming you’re 2 products a day. You’ll see the cost benefit of Flex drops to 60 days. But it’s also more complicated…if you run three products one day and only one product another, the formula gets pretty complex. You’ll need to estimate how many times a user will use each product in the collection a year and add up the costs.
When Does ‘Flex’ Make Sense?
So what does this mean? Flex is really a benefit for users who use one or two products infrequently. The more days a product gets used and/or the more products that get used by a user, it might be better to consider a Named User license to a Collection.
On the other hand, if someone uses a product every day but only for a few minutes, Flex just doesn’t work. Tokens are consumed on a Daily basis regardless if you use it for 5 minutes or 15 hours in a day. In that way, Flex does not come even close to the old FlexLM network licenses.
Do your math carefully. Estimate conservatively. You can easily spend MORE on Flex than you would a Named User Subscription. As an example if you used AutoCAD 5x a week for 50 weeks a year, it’ll cost you $5,250 annually compared to $1,775 for the subscription.
It’s Not All Roses
There’s several issues with Flex that are not well known or discussed. You really need to understand how Flex works to keep from getting bit. Here’s some of the major areas of concern that you should be aware…
Not All Products Available – Flex allows you to run most products but not all. Some of the products that are commonly used infrequently like Fabrication ESTmep and Autodesk Point Layout are not part of Flex. I routinely hear Autodesk and resellers say you can “run anything you want” but that’s simply not true.
Cloud Products Not Included – This doesn’t seem like a big deal but consider the case of Revit. You can run Revit on Flex for someone who needs occasional access. But if your data is on BIM360 or Autodesk Construction Cloud, you’ll still need a full desiccated license of BIM Collaborate Pro.
No License Timeout – The old FlexLM Licenses could be configured to automatically check in their license if the product sat idle for too long. Flex does NOT work this way. If you have users that leave their products open when the leave, you’re racking up Token utilization over the weekend or while they’re on vacation. You’ll definitely need to train your users to CLOSE unused products at the end of the day.
Reporting – You can get Token reporting for Flex licensing. But user level reporting that isn’t in aggregate or data usage exports of daily details, you’ll need to have a Premium subscription.
Autodesk Flex is a great option for people who use a product occasionally.
Autodesk Flex is NOT a good option for people use use products frequently but for short durations.
You can easily exceed the cost of a dedicated license with Flex is you’re not careful.
Proceed slowly with Flex. Start small. Watch usage frequently.
Those of you who used CADmep, CAMduct or ESTmep prior to it’s acquisition by Autodesk remember when all the reports were in one folder. Once Autodesk took over, they moved to a system where each product used a separate subfolder for their reports. After all, ESTmep is likely using different reports than CADmep and yet different than CAMduct. Here’s what your configured reports folders now look like (you may not have all products/folders). Notice how each product has it’s own older.
The reality is, many reports are helpful across products. This means you need to make the same report multiple times or copy it from one folder to the others. This leads to duplication of data and a chance than one of the copies gets changed different from the others.
Consolidating All Report to a Single Folder
It’s commonly asked if it’s possible to configure the different Fabrication product to use the same folder. The answer you always hear is No. Technically that’s correct. You can’t configure Fabrication products to look at the same folder. However….
You CAN configure Windows to make multiple folders look at the same folder. It’s just done at the Windows level with a feature called Junction Links.
So lets walk through how to configure CADmep, CAMDuct and ESTmep to all look at the same reports.
Step 1: Find Where Your Reports Are Located
Using CAMduct or ESTmep you can pick Help -> About or type AppInfo at the command line in CADmep. You can then scroll through the window to see where the Reports are located. Alternatively, you could use the Edit Configuration utility to find this folder as well.
Note that this screencap was done in ESTmep so you see the ESTmep subfolder. The mis folder is actually the root where all your reports are.
Step 2: Copy All Report Folders to a New Folder
The next step is to copy all the reports from the various product specific folders to a new master folder location to store the reports. In this case, we’ll call it (Master) just to make it super obvious. Notice we also deleted the folders for CAMductComponents, Tracker and RemoteEntry because I’m not using them. You can choose to include them if you need them,
Step 3: Backup and Delete the Original Reports Folders
When you’re done, you should back a backup of the product specific reports folders elsewhere incase you want to go back to the original config. Once backed up, you need to delete the original product specific reports folders. When you’re done, your reports folders will look like this…
Step 4: Create Junction Links for the Product Folders
Here’s where we do the magic. Windows allows you to create what’s called a Junction to other folders. A Junction is just another virtual folder that looks at the contents of another. Junctions are how Windows has a “My Documents” folder that really points to “C:\Users\<Username>\Documents“.
To create a Junction you need to open a Command Prompt with Administrative permissions. One that’s done, you use the MKLINK command to make a Junction Link to a Junction Target. The syntax looks something like this….
MKLINK /J "link folder" "target folder"
Here’s a screencap of my DOS Command Window where I make Junction Links to the (Master) reports folder…
When done (if Successful) you’ll see those product specific folders again for CADmep, ESTmep and CAMduct. But this time, you’ll notice the icons are slightly different and look like a shortcut icon even though the folder acts like a regular folder.
Here you can see a side by side recording of the process happening in real time…
Step 5: Use Fabrication As Normal
Once you have the junctions created, you can use your products as normal. Each fabrication product looks to the folder specific to it, which Windows redirects to the file in the (Master) folder.
One thing to note, is that when browsing the (Master) and product specific folders, the only clue that these are Junction Links is the Shortcut looking arrow on the icon. If you don’t know what’s going on, it would appear that you have 4 folders each with the same files. But if you try to delete the files in one, they will indeed disappear from the other folders too. After all, these folders are Links back to the Target.
Here’s a recording of all 4 folders show at the same time. You’ll see that changes to any one also happen to the others. You may need to Refresh the views to see the changes but they indeed are seen from the Target and all Junction Links. This means that while there’s 4 folders showing the same files, they only take up the size on disk in one folder.
Junction Links work well for letting all (or some) of your Fabrication products use the same list of Reports. But there are a few noteworthy items to be aware of….
Junctions Links and Point to Targets on a different DRIVE or FOLDER as long as it’s on the SAME machine. You can’t make a link to a target from a computer to a server for example.
If you access your database from a network location, you need to make make the links from the server so your IT Department may need to get involved. Your local software when accessing the server share will honor the junctions it sees on the server.
If you don’t know what’s going on or look closely, it appears you have duplicate data. Make sure you don’t delete things from one folder thinking they’ll still be in the others.
If you want to undo this setup, you should delete the Junction Links FIRST just like any other folder before deleting the Target folder. If you delete the Target first, the you’ll have trouble deleting the links.
IF you Sync your database from a master source location like Dropbox or using a utility like Robocopy, the Junctions are NOT copied, but are instead copied like regular folders. There may be some special utilities that copy the junctions but I’ve not found them. So what is 4 views of 1 copy of a file on a network, when synced to your local system becomes 4 copies of the files in 4 folders. For the most part, it’s not an issue as you manage from the master source location. None the less, this nuance is worth mentioning. Most Sync utilities do NOT recognize the special nature of a junction and treat them just like a folder.
I have a lot of people ask how Pricing, Laborand Product Information (ProdInfo) works in Autodesk Fabrication. It’s a simple concept once you understand it. But it’s also rarely illustrated graphically so I’ll attempt a more graphical explanation here.
At it’s core Product Information requires the use of an ID, sometimes referred to as a Database ID. Pricing and Labor can be handled two separate ways depending how you need to price and labor your items. One of those ways is using Product ListedPricing and/or Labor. When using Product Listed Prices or Labor, you also use an ID.
Generally speaking, 100% of your parts should have and ID. ID’s should also be unique without a very good reason for duplication. There are a couple good reasons to duplicate ID’s across content but we won’t get into that here. If this article is helpful to you, those reasons would only serve to complicate the issue at this point.
Product Information & Product Listed Prices & Labor
When you have an IDassociated with your ITM content, that ID serves as the “Glue” to tie together all the other database tables in Autodesk Fabrication. An ITM with an ID, looks up that ID in the Product Informationdatabase to find the related product information. IT also does the same for Pricing, Fabrication Labor and Installation Labor.
The following images shows where the ID is stored in your ITM Content. For ITM’s which are NOT Product Listed, you simply type the ID into the “Code” field from the Properties window.
For Product Listed ITM’s, it’s handled slightly different. You add the ID column to the Product List and add the ID’s there. When you add a product listed ITM to your model or takeoff, the value of the ID for the size you select gets automatically placed in the “Code” property. When that ITM is merely sitting in your library on disk, the value here doesn’t matter. It can be blank or any one of the ones in the Product List. Adding the ITM to your model then updates it to the proper ID.
Product Information or ProdInfo for short lists additional data about the fitting or item. The following image shows the related data in ProdInfo with the ID column outlined.
In addition to standard product information, you can also change to a Supplier view of ProdInfo where you can add additional columns for any other types of data or numbers you want to track. The following image shows some added data fields like UPC Code and Harrison HPH codes.
The following image shows a Product ListedPricing Table. The ID is outlined. Here’s where you can add pricing information to the ID of the ITM. Note, the term Product Listed Price here is a little confusing because “Product Listed” prices can apply to non-product listed ITM’s. While an ITM may not contain a “Product List“, the pricing table is still a “List of Products” that are referenced by ID.
Labor (Fabrication & Installation)
In the same way Price List’s work, Fabrication and Installation Labor work in a similar way. Product Listed labor can apply to any ITM, Product Listed or not as long as it has an ID. The following image shows Fabrication labor but Installation Labor works identically.
Breakpoint Pricing & Labor
A second way to specify Price and Labor doesn’t require ID’s because they’re not looked up from a list. These would be Breakpoint Price and Labor tables. With this type of Price or Labor table, you build a 1d or 2d Breakpoint Table that uses the part’s size as a guide to look up the proper price or labor rate in a matrix.
The following image shows a Pricing Breakpoint table. You can make more than one breakpoint grid and have each apply to a different material if you have the need.
Labor (Fabrication & Installation) Breakpoint
Similar to a Price Breakpoint, you can make a matrix for Labor as well. With LaborBreakpoints, you can also make more than one matrix and have it apply to various properties of the item labor is being applied to like Insulated or Non-Insulated.
Finding the Right Price & Labor Tables
While all you need for ProdInfo is an ID on an ITM and matching ID entry in the ProdInfo Database, Price and Labor need an extra step.
Price and Labor can have multiple tables to help you organize the values or even manage the price for the same item from multiple suppliers. To handle this, you set the tables in the ITM properties. This is true for both Product Listed ITM’s as well as Non-Product Listed ITM’s.
Setting these tables tells Fabrication which table to look in to find either the ID or the Breakpoint table which uses size and property criteria to apply to the ITM.
The following image shows where those tables are configured in the Costing tab of the ITM properties.
M-Rate is were the Price of the material comes from. This is set typically for bought items where you pay a set price. If you leave this set to “None“, material pricing would be calculated on a “Price per Pound” formula based on the material weight. This is typically done for Fabricated Sheetmetal fittings where the weight of the Sheetmetal is calculated based on area and gauge and then priced per pound. For piping or bought items, this table would typically point to a table that contains the pricing.
F-Rate is where you select the Fabrication Table to use to look up the Breakpoint Table or ID if Product listed labor. This is most commonly set to “None” for Piping items or other bought items where you just buy them but don’t fabricate them. It’s usually set to a specific table for Sheetmetal fittings which you fabricate and want to calculate fabrication labor.
E-Rate – This table is for Installation Labor. The “E” in “E-Rate” stands for “Erection” if that helps you remember. This will be set for most contractors who are installing duct or piping. It would typically be set to “None” if you were a fabricator only selling to others who install.
Hopefully this helps give you an idea how pricing, labor and product information functions (at a high level) in Autodesk Fabrication. There’s a lot more strategy and nuance you can get into but this is a good place to start understanding the basics of how it all works.