Beware! – Revit & Desktop Connector

If you use BIM360 Design (formerly “Collaboration for Revit” a.k.a. C4R) along with the Autodesk Desktop Connector, you should be aware of a common mistake that can lead to data loss.

BIM360 Design or C4R as the older version is called, is used to store Revit models in the cloud on Autodesk’s BIM360 platform. BIM360 Design using the BIM360 Docs platform as storage platform. C4R on the other hand uses the older BIM360 Team for storage of the Revit models.

While you could (can) upload your Revit models via the web interface to either storage platform, Revit would not see these files. They needed to be enabled for Collaboration and uploaded through Revit. This process made changes to the Revit files which enabled collaboration from BIM360 Design/C4R.

BIM360 Design/C4R collaboration is enabled and files uploaded using the Collaborate ribbon in Revit.

while Revit models need to be uploaded this way, there was no other way to upload other files types besides the web interface. Even if you did upload AutoCAD, IFC, Navis or other files types that Revit can link, there was no way to link these files into Revit from the BIM360 platforms. If you linked them from your server, the other members of your team without access to your server would not have access.

Autodesk Desktop Connector was created for this purpose. While you can’t link a non Revit file type into Revit directly from BIM360, you can use the Autodesk Desktop Connector to sync those other files types locally to your computer. Any other team members also using the Autodesk Desktop Connector would then also have access to those same files and the links would be identical.

What’s the problem?

The common problem that comes up when using BIM360 Design/C4R along with the desktop connector is Autodesk’s unfortunate choice in using the same icon for both products.

Depending where you see the icon, you get different results. If you click the one that references BIM360 collaboration services you’re good. If you click the one that references the Autodesk Desktop Connector, bad things can happen.

When a file is enabled for Collaboration and you open it through the Autodesk Desktop Connector, Collaboration is disabled and the file is configured as a local file or central file like you’d typically use of a file server. When this happens, the file is seen as being different and will not sync back to the BIM360 platform.

What this means then if that you have two different version of the file. One stored locally from the Autodesk Desktop Connector and another cached locally when opened from BIM360 Collaboration service (BIM360 Design / C4R) When you look at BIM360 Docs or BIM360 Team portals, you only see one version.

How do I know I’m using the correct Icon to open my Revit file?

Depending on the particular versions of Revit and their update versions, your install of Revit may appear different but the underlying concepts are the same. For these images, Revit 2018.3.2 and 2019.1 were used.

When opening a Revit model from 2018, you’ll see the “B” shortcut in the left. This is the proper way to open BIM360 Design/C4R enabled files. BIM360 Design and/or C4R sites will be listed depending if you have been given access to projects within those sites that use 2018 version of Revit.

Revit 2018 Open Dialog when accessing BIM360 Collaboration models.

When opening a Revit model from 2019, you’ll also see the “B” shortcut in the left. The same as with 2018 versions, this is the proper way to open BIM360 Design enabled files. BIM360 Design only will be listed because 2019 doesn’t use BIM360 Team/C4R. If nothing is displayed here, you may not have been given access to projects within those sites that use the 2019 version of Revit.

Revit 2018 Open Dialog when accessing BIM360 Collaboration models.

The other place you may see the BIM360 icon is from My Computer or other shortcuts that look at your local system. The following image shows 2018 when using the incorrect shortcut because it instead points to the Autodesk Desktop Connector drive on your computer.

Revit 2018 Open Dialog when accessing the Autodesk Desktop Connector Drive

And once again, 2019 versions of Revit are similar. On clue is that here, even though 2019 doesn’t support C4R, they are listed here. This is because you’re not accessing via Revit’s collaboration tools, you’re simply accessing a special local drive on your computer that’s syncing everything in the BIM360 platform completely independent of Revit.

Revit 2019 Open Dialog when accessing the Autodesk Desktop Connector Drive

More clues when opening Models from the Recent Files List

If you’re trying to open Revit models using the Recent Files list, there’s a few subtle clues that tell you if you’re opening a collaboration enabled BIM360 model or simply opening a model from the Autodesk Desktop Connector drive.

The following image shows Revit 2018 with a BIM360 Design/C4R model correctly. Notice the drive letter in the path as well as the “Cloud” image in the thumbnail.

Revit 2018 with a Recent File that uses BIM360 Collaboration

The following image shows Revit 2018 with a Recent File that was accessed incorrectly from the Autodesk Desktop Connector. Notice the path will point to your Users folder on your computer and there’s no “Cloud” image on the thumbnail.

Revit 2018 with a Recent File that uses Autodesk Desktop Connector

Similar to 2018 but formatted differently, Revit 2019 displays the same details in it’s Recent Files. The following image is 2019 showing a recent file opened correctly through BIM360 Collaboration tools.

Revit 2019 with a Recent File that uses BIM360 Collaboration

And one more image below that shows a recent model opened incorrectly from the Autodesk Desktop Connector.

Revit 2019 with a Recent File that uses Autodesk Desktop Connector

Additional Clues

Looking at some of those subtle options can easily be overlooked or forgotten. Especially in the daily stress of production and deadlines. There are a few more obvious clues that can tell you if you’re opening your Revit models correctly.

For starters, when you open a BIM360 Design or C4R model properly in Revit, you’ll see a nice status dialog indicating that the files is being opened and sync’d locally.

Opening BIM360 Models Properly Displays A Status Dialog

On the other hand, there’s a major red flag when you open the files incorrectly though the Autodesk Desktop Connector. When you open the files incorrectly, you’re prompted to work on the model temporarily or save it locally as a Central Model. If you see this dialog, you know you opened the file incorrectly and should click the Cancel button.

Revit Model Opened Incorrectly from the Autodesk Desktop Connector

If for some reason you or another user did open the file incorrectly, you can use the Autodesk Desktop Connector icon in the Windows System tray to review the pending actions. There will likely be warnings when reviewing the connector’s syncing status tasks. Note however that that lack of pending tasks with errors does not mean a file can’t been opened incorrectly. Any number of other actions could have overwritten the local copy or cleared those actions.

Autodesk Desktop Connector Pending Actions With Errors

Another subtle clue is that if you look at the collaboration hubs and you see multiple projects that use different versions of Revit between them, you know you’re opening the models incorrectly. The Autodesk Desktop Connector display all projects, regardless of Revit version being used because it;s independent of Revit. When opening files correctly for BIM360 collaboration, Revit 2018 will only see 2018 project versions and Revit 2019 will only see 2019 project versions.

Again, if you don’t see differently projects that use different Revit versions, that does not mean you’re opening them properly. You merely may have been granted to projects of only one Revit version. But if you do see multiple projects you know are using different versions of Revit, it;s a sure sign you’re opening the files wrong.

Two Projects Using Different Versions of Revit Listed Together is a Red Flag

Best To Avoid Using The Dropdown

The last word of warning is with using the drop down list in the Open dialog. Depending when and how you’ve accessed Models, neither BIM360 icon may be present, one or the other may be present, or both BIM360 icons may be present. Because they have no description, its hard to tell wich does which.

The following image shows the Dropdown list expended with both BIM360 icons displayed. One will take you to the proper BIM360 collaboration tools and the other, incorrectly to the Autodesk Desktop Connector.

BIM360 Collaboration and Autodesk Desktop Connector Icons Look Similar.

Because of this very subtle difference, it’s likely a best practice to not use them ever. If they don’t show up on your system, don’t worry. They typically won’t display until you’ve first accessed the corresponding My Computer or BIM360 shortcuts on the left side of the dialog.

BIM360 Integrations

If you’ve ever wonder who’s integrating with Autodesk’s BIM360 Platform there’s a list online. This is more important than ever with the number of solutions out in the market. When you select one, you’ll want to know if you’re creating another digital silo. Autodesk integration list is a good way to see if your net solution can be leveraged with your existing BIM360 accounts. 

https://integrations.bim360.autodesk.com/ 

View CAD Files Without Software

Did you know that Autodesk hosts a free Online Viewer that supports most of the Autodesk file formats? Simply browse to https://viewer.autodesk.com/ and sign in with your Autodesk ID (free to register)

While not all functionality is available that you’d expect from their native applications, the online viewer does boast support for an impressive 50+ files formats. For a full list of file formats supported, check out this Knowledge Base article…https://tinyurl.com/AutodeskOnlineViewer

Step 1:

Browse to the viewer URL….https://viewer.autodesk.com/ 

Step 2:

Log in using an Autodesk ID (free to register)

Step 3:

Wait for you file to be uploaded and processed. Or close the page after uploading and wait for the Email with a link to the model when it’s finished processing on Autodesk’s servers. Here’s a link to one of the Autodesk Revit samples models I uploaded… https://tinyurl.com/AutodeskOnlineViewerTestModel

Step 4:

View you model and/or send a link to others.

Autodesk Fabrication: Best Practice #7

Don’t work in a Live Sync’d Database

This warrants a little explanation.  Many companies have multiple locations and need to sync Fabrication configurations between those sites. Other companies have their Fabrication configuration copied locally to the users system from a central network location.

To keep from having to manually keep different sites or local computers up to date, it’s natural to look so some of the many technology solutions like Microsoft’s One Drive, Box.net, Dropbox, Google Drive, DFS Replication etc. 

Here’s the problem….most of these solutions sync files in their own order and time frame. You often can’t control when they sync. When using CADmep, ESTmep or CAMduct, just using the software can cause the program to read back from the database files. Many of the database files reference each other using indexes. Take for example, the Specifications and Materials….both of those database areas refer to each other.

When changes are made, what happens is the files get updated where you make the changes, but the two files that get changed, may sync somewhere else at different times. As you’re using the software, if it happens to reread some of the database files when some are sync’d and others aren’t, this can cause unspecified problems.

One of the more common issues is when a system you’ve drawn changes to a completely different system. Have you ever had a Cast Iron No-Hub waste line all of the sudden day it’s Supply Air 2″ Positing Water Gauge?  This is our of sync syncing issues is often the result.

How do you work around this? Try to find sync solutions that allow more control, like after hours sync. I personally like an old batch file running RoboCopy as it allows a lot of control and I can have it fire up when the user logs on. They can also manually run it during the day if I push our a critical update otherwise the get the update tomorrow when they log in. When syncing servers from different sites, I schedule it to run after hours. 

This issue is most common w/CADmep, ESTmep and CAMduct. Because Revit loads and stores your services, it doesn’t read back to the database unless you explicitly tell it to reload the services so it’s risk is greatly reduced to the point where I wouldn’t worry about it.

Now, there are people that are doing local Sync’s in real time. My prior firm, we had some…let say…”creative folks” who would take liberties with the database if they knew it was local. As such, I used Windows OffLine Files to sync a local copy but make it look like it’s still on line. This is a Sync’d local copy and goes against what I recommend above. However, we forced it to rescan frequently so when there were changes, they were small, just a few files and they’d sync quickly about the same time. Larger changes involving a lot of files can open up your risk window to having issues.

If you’re going to use life syncing utilities, proceed carefully and watch for unexplained issues. Making large changes after hours and smaller changing during working hours can help.

And if you’re considering using Window’s Offline Files, prepare for a long learning curve and experiment with yourself first. Offline Files have little control from the User Interface and is best managed with Group Policy.