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.
Fabrication Parts in Revit allow you to edit their connectors just like in CADmep. However, unlike CADmep, you can’t simply hover over a connector to determine if it’s C1 or C2.
So if you need to change a connector, you’re essentially guessing which one to change. Trial and error is at best 50% unless you’re lucky.
So how can you improve this “guessing” based workflow?
Thankfully I have a great network of people smarter than myself. I often get the credit for sharing the information but really, the credit belongs to those who show me. In this case, two of my industry friends showed me ways to improve the odds.
Method 1 – Slope
For this first method, credit goes to Liz Fong from MacDonald Miller. When you place a piece of straight pipe or duct, when you select it you’ll see a Slope indicator (< or >). This by default points to the C1 connector.
There’s a couple downsides to this approach that may apply in some scenarios….
This doesn’t work for fittings. Only Straight Pipe/Duct.
If you click the Slope Symbol, it changes direction and is no longer accurate.
This should really only affect Plumbing or sloped Grease Duct systems. Otherwise there’s not a lot of reason to change direction on a non-sloped system.
Symbol could still be accidentally clicked and reversed anyway and then be wrong.
Once changed, Slope symbol direction is remembered and there’s no good way to “reset” it.
Still, despite the downsides of this approach, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that even on a plumbing system, less that 50% of the slope symbols will be changed from their default. This alone makes this method better than a 50/50 guess like before.
Method 2 – View Cube/Viewing Direction
This next method takes slightly more work, but is almost 100% accurate. Credit for this method goes to Alina Y. from JH Kelly.
In short, from a 3d view, if you make sure the View Cube in the Part Editor window is aligned to the Revit View you’re in, the fittings is oriented in the same direction in the editor as in Revit. You can then select the connector in the Part Editor window and it highlights the connector end associated with it.
This method is almost fool proof and has a few benefits over the sloped method we showed earlier.
Works on Fittings in addition to Straight Duct/Pipe.
Slope direction doesn’t matter.
But we did say Almost. Where this method fails, is if the View in Revit is redefined.
When you set a new Front View, the view in Revit no longer matches the orientation in the Part Editor window as seen in the following image…
Luckily, this is easily remedied by simply resetting the Front View in Revit.
This method also works in Plan and Elevation Views with a slight twist. There’s no View Cube in the Revit window so it’s up to you to understand which viewing angle Revit is in. Next, you can make the View in the Item Editor match but when you look at a connector straight at the edge, you don’t see it highlight. You can then hold the SHIFT key and use the Middle-Mouse Button to slightly rotate the view so that you can see the connector that’s highlighted.
Here you can see what that looks like…
While not as quick and efficient as hovering over a connector in CADmep, either of these methods or even used in combination can increase your odds of changing the Correct connector on the first try.
While method #2 is more fool proof than method #1, there’s a reason I explain both and here’s how I’d use them both.
For non-sloped systems, the chances the slope symbol is reversed is very low. Because you’re likely selecting the part anyway to edit a connector, a quick glance is all you need to know which connector to change. Quick and easy for straight part on non-sloped fittings. No fuss. No muss. In this scenario, Method #1 is super quick.
For fittings and sloped systems, I would then shift to Method #2. Take a little more time, but it’s certainly quicker than being wrong 1/2 the time and then undoing the connector you just changed and then changing the other. That “trial and error” method results in 3 connector changes when you guess wrong. This is where Method #2 really shines…you get it right every time. If you’re Front View happens to be redefined, it’s easily rest.
Thanks again to Liz Fong (MacDonald-Miller) and Alina Y (JH Kelly) for their great input in coming up with these methods. They’re two of my favorite “Go To” people when I get stumped or need a little help orienting my thoughts.
If you use UNC pathing to get to your Autodesk Fabrication Database, you might find issues when trying to create Profiles if you use them. UNC pathing or (Universal Naming Convention) is where you specify a server and share vs a drive letter. You can see below, the Metric Autodesk Fabrication Configurations is using a UNC path…
When using this configuration, you can create a profile from the File drop down menu in ESTmep and CAMduct or by typing MAPPROFILES in CADmep.
Creating New Profiles
You go to create a new profile by clicking the Green button.
From here, the New Profile dialog starts with the default name “Untitled”. Notice also, the double leading forward slashes before the server name in the UNC path. (Yes, ‘little-stink’ is the server name)
When you start to type a profile name, the leading forward slashes get stripped. This is likely a bug. You can see that in the following image…
If you click the OK you’ll get an error that the profile can’t create the required folder.
However, the fix is easy. If you just add the leading forward slashes again, you” be able to create the profile.
It may be easier to see from a video. You can watch the process here…
One of the things that can make machine setup difficult in CAMduct is setting up the coordinate system. This coordinate system must reflect the actual configuration of the machine. Some machines can be reconfigured to swap the axes or set the origin to any corner. This lets you configure the machine to match the software. Others can’t be reconfigured and require you to configure the software to the machine.
It doesn’t really matter where the origin is on the machine, just as long as the configuration in CAMduct matches. Matching the machine isn’t difficult, just as long as you understand what’s happening.
Default Origin and Axis Orientation
In the Machine Setup Dialog, the default Origin is in the lower left. Take a look at the settings and note the X-Axis and Y-Axis directions.
From this configuration, here’s a simulation of the code that’s generated.
If this configuration doesn’t work for your machine, it typically means the machine has a different origin and/or Axis configuration.
This next configuration rotates the coordinates which results of the X-Axis and Y-Axis being swapped. It also looks like the Origin location changes given the picture, but that’s not the case. This is why Machine Setup can be confusing. This picture does NOT change the origin location. This will become clear shortly.
What you’ll notice here when looking at the code, is that the Part is Still oriented in the Lower Left Corner of the sheet. However, the X-Axis and Y-Axis are swapped. Additionally, looking at the code on the right, you’ll see how the Y-Axis goes into Negative coordinates. This also isn’t what most machines want, they typically work in positive coordinates but this is easily fixed which we’ll show a little later.
Here’s the last configuration. Again notice which way the Axes are oriented.
In this next configuration, the X-Axis and Y-Axis are reversed like before. But this time, the X-Axis is in negative coordinates where as the Y-Axis is in positive coordinates.
Fixing Negative Coordinates
What makes this hard, is that the setting in the dialog makes you think you’re moving the origin of the code. You are not. You’re merely rotating the coordinate system. This is critical when using a machine tool like a Lockformer or Vulcan that uses Trimble’s TookShop controller (formerly called Vulcan). Those are a couple of the most common machines where the X & Y Axis are reversed.
When you look at the simulations, the sheet is still oriented in the same location and the part starts in the same location on the sheet.
You can look at the configuration and see that the Rail is set to the long direction and the Beam is set to the Short setting. Remember this….it’ll be important in just a bit.
For this example, we’ll again use the 90 Degree rotated configuration (our second example) where the X & Y are reversed and the Y-Axis coordinates are negative. You can see in the code, that the Y-Axis is the LONG sheet dimension due to the rip cut along the Rail that’s cut at the end of the program.
Because the Rail Rip Cut starts at Y=0.0 and goes to Y-120.0, you can see that the Origin is still on the left side of the sheet not the right as the configuration screen suggests. Here’s a reminder of the Axis directions…
How, when you run a simulation on this setup, you’ll see the Y-Axis is still the long sheet direction, but they’re all positive coordinates.
Notice on the simulation that the part is STILL on the left side of the sheet and because we shifted the Origin to the right side the Rip cut along the Rail (long side) goes from Y=120.0 to Y=0.0.
You’ve now successfully swapped the X&Y Axis and corrected the coordinates to they’re all in positive units. From here, you can go back and finish configuring all your other preferences like where the parts get nested on the sheet, starting cut location, etc.