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!
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.