ESTmep Underlays – Auto vs Individual Placement

Do use use PDF Underlays in your ESTmep takeoff? Do the Pages come in all at once on separate tabs and layers? Or do you have to place them individually and make the tabs/layers yourself?

Maybe it worked one way for you and all of the sudden it seems to change to the other way for no reason. And despite looking, you can’t find a setting that changes this behavior.

What controls Auto Sheet Placement vs Individual is very easy to control, but it is hidden. Let’s take a look.

Individual vs. Automatic PDF Sheet Placement

This images shows a 7 page PDF with each page imported as an Underlay separately. Notice they are not on separate tabs and they’re all on one layer.

This next images shows what Automatic PDF placement looks like. Notice all sheets evenly placed in a row, each on a separate tab and layer.

So what’s the difference? What’s the magic setting? It all depends on how you select the “of type” dropdown when you select the PDF. This next image should explain it…

Let’s Look at Each Process

Place Sheets Individually One at a Time (of type = *.*)

Place Sheets Automatically All at Once (of type = *.pdf)

ESTmep – Troubleshooting Duct Area & Weight

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
      • 12″ Length
      • 24″ Length
      • 36″ Length
      • 48″ Length
      • 60″ Length
    • 24″ Width x 24″ Depth
      • 12″ Length
      • 24″ Length
      • 36″ Length
      • 48″ Length
      • 60″ Length
  • Qty of 2
    • 12″ Width x 12″ Depth
      • 12″ Length
      • 24″ Length
      • 36″ Length
      • 48″ Length
      • 60″ Length
    • 24″ Width x 24″ Depth
      • 12″ Length
      • 24″ Length
      • 36″ Length
      • 48″ Length
      • 60″ Length

Customize Takeoff

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…

Per Item Quantity

Per Item Rate

Total Item (extn)

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.

Validate Data

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.

ESTmep/CAMduct – Area/Weight Missing

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 Fix

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…

Once you create the COD script, it’s recommended you put it in the SCRIPTS folder of your Fabrication Configuration. From there, you can make a process that calls the script which will update all the ITM’s to their proper Area and Weight. The display on the Item Takeoff may not refresh. If so, just browse to another tab and back. Here’s what that looks 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.

Fabrication References – 2023 Update

Fabrication 2023 is out. I’ve updated all the reference information to include 2023 formats. As has been the trend the last few years, little has changed. Summary below…

Fabrication Reports – All One Folder

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.


Summary

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.
  • If you want to read more about Junction Links check out this article…https://www.addictivetips.com/windows-tips/create-delete-a-junction-link-on-windows-10/

Autodesk Fabrication – Profile Error w/UNC Paths

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…

Autodesk Fabrication: Best Practice #14

Eliminate All Broken Service ITM’s

Your services should not have broken links to ITM’s. Not only is it sloppy database management, it can slow performance of your database.

Use the Path Repair Tool to find (and fix) broken links in your services.

Right-Click and empty area of your Service Palette and select Path Repair Tool.

When you run the Path Repair Tool you’ll be asked to select a mapping file. You can click cancel and the tool will continue on. When it’s done, you’ll have a list of broken paths copied to the Windows Clipboard that you can paste into a file.

From this file, you can then create a mapping file. The mapping file is merely a text file in the format….

OLD PATH/NAME,NEW PATH/NAME

So the data you paste from the clipboard is good starting point, it lists all the broken paths. There may be duplicate paths listed if the path is used in multiple service templates. It’s ok to remove the duplicates.

Simply ass a comma after the broken path name and enter the new, corrected path. Once done, you can save the file and use it when you run Path Repair Tool again. It’ll then go and fix all those broken paths.

NOTE: This repair technique does NOT work if you have commas in your folder or file names. (See Best Practice #11)

Autodesk Fabrication COD Object Model

I’ve added graphics to better illustrate the Autodesk Fabrication Object Model for COD Scripting,

If you write COD scripts for CADmep, ESTmep or CAMduct, this can help you better understand how the various properties and objects are structured when you write your code.

If you want to learn more about Fabrication COD Scripting and how to use these resources, register for MEP Force 2021 and look for my Fabrication Scripting sessions.

You can find links with the other Fabrication COD Language Reference items here…

Fabrication COD Scripting Language Reference

Individual Object Models can be directly accessed here…

There’s also a link to a printable PDF of the Object Models….

Autodesk Fabrication 2022 Updates

Autodesk Fabrication 2022 marks a decade that I’ve been updating various documentation for the program. As usual, in recent years not a lot has changed but there are a few changes. Here’s a review of the changes for the data I track…

Script Library Updated / Enhanced

COD Script Library was updated for JOB and LIBRARY Scripts. You can download them for free here. Here’s a summary of changes.


Script Consolidation

In the past, there were 69 to 75 COD Scripts to export all the various properties to separate TXT files. Properties that have multiple entries per ITM like Connectors or Seams are still exported to separate files because the data columns don’t line up between them and there are multiple lines per ITM.

All other properties where it’s a single property per ITM like Spool or Material have all been consolidated to a single script and single TXT file. The WriteAllMiscProperties(Job).cod and WriteAllMiscProperties(Library).cod scripts are where you can extract all other properties so no matter what combination of properties you want, there’s less data files to sort through or scripts to run.


Improved Script Properties Display

The properties scripts were displayed script settings before running the script. They still are but additional properties are displayed where appropriate along with some additional properties the scripts now support (both covered later). In addition to the additional items, you’ll note that clicking the No button no longer cancels the script. Instead, clicking No takes you to the Advanced Configuration (also covered later) where you can change some of those settings.


Advanced Configuration – Scan Folder (LIBRARY Scripts Only)

By default, the script looks to the root of your ITM Library folder of your database. This value can now be changed to point anywhere else. You may want to point to a folder of ITM’s outside your Configuration if that’s where you store your ITM’s. You can also scan further down the folder structure so you can perhaps skip exporting Duct ITMs but instead scan and export Piping ITMs.

Here’s what this looks like. Note that the path may use forward slashes ( / ). You can however paste a new path that uses backslashes ( \ ) and it should still work. There’s no option in COD Scripts to allow you to browse to a folder so make sure you type or copy/paste carefully.


Advanced Configuration – Export File (JOB and LIBRARY Scripts)

Similar to the Scan folder configuration, you can now also change the default export file name and location. Specifications for specifying paths are the same as above.

Also note that while you CAN specify “CSV” as the file extension, I recommend using “TXT“. When Excel sees a CSV file, it just opens it without giving you the ability to specify how data is interpreted. Using a “TXT” extension makes Excel prompt you for “How” the file should be read like which character is used as the delimiter or defining which columns are Text vs other data types.

Some numerical data or values can be interpreted incorrectly by Excel if you don’t explicitly tell Excel to treat them like Text. A good example of this is the size 1-1/2″ or 1-1/4″. Excel thinks these are dates and will display them as 1/1/2012 or 1/1/2014 respectively if you don’t explicitly tell Excel to treat them as Text. Using that “TXT” extension on the export file is a safe guard against this issue.

A lot more detail that you likely wanted but hopefully it’s helpful, here’s what that looks like….

Note you may see an extra slash character between the path and file name. This is can happen if your MAP.INI (Edit Configuration Utility) includes or doesn’t include an ending slash. I may add code to clean this up later but COD Scripts and Fabrication seem tolerant of this extra slash so no need to worry about it (or edit it out if you like).


Advanced Configuration – Folder/Path Wildcard (LIBRARY Scripts Only)

Instead of editing the folder you’re going to scan, alternatively you can specify a wildcard to use to limit which folders to export data from. As an example, you could specify *WELDBEND* and properties will only be extracted for ITM’s within folders containing the name “Weldbend”. Wildcard specification is not CaSe SeNsItIvE. By default, the wildcard is ( * ) to extract from all folders. Here’s what that looks like…


Advanced Configuration – File Wildcard (LIBRARY Scripts Only)

Just like the Folder/Path Wildcard specification, you can specify a wildcard for which ITM files to extract properties from. As an example, you could enter *PIPE* and you would export only from ITM files that contained the work “Pipe”. Again, the wildcard is not CaSe SeNsItIvE. You can use both Folder and File wildcards to very narrowly specify your data export scope. Default wildcard is an ( * ) to extract from all ITM files. Here’s what that looks like…


Advanced Configuration – Delimiter (JOB and LIBRARY Scripts)

Data exports by default use a Comma ( , ) to create a Comma Separated Value file. If your Fabrication Database uses commas in folder names or ITM file names this can cause data fields to shift in Excel when opening the export file. If this is the case for you, you can specify a different character to use to separate the data fields in the export file. The Pipe ( | ) character is always a good “rarely used” character for this purpose.

As a side note, it’s not a good practice to have commas in folder or file names. You can read more about that here. This option is really here in case you’re stuck with commas and haven’t fixed them yet.


Advanced Configuration – Max Custom Data Index (Only Scripts that export Custom Data)

Only used for scripts that export Custom Data, you can specify the maximum Custom Index value. Unfortunately, COD scripts have no ability to determine how many custom data entries you have or which index numbers are used without jumping through some hoops. To work around this, you need to specify the maximum Custom Data Index value. The script will then loop through all those numbers and find which ones contain values and remembers them. It then exports only those custom index values so that the script runs efficiency.

By default the script uses 5000 as the maximum index number. But as you can see from the below example, the maximum index number is 10000 so we need to specify that. We look at all 10000 possibilities (it goes fairly quick) and takes note that there’s only 8 indices used and then extracts only those 8 from the ITM’s. In the past, the script would loop through all 10000 for each ITM really slowing things down. Now, even if your largest number is 6 or 7 digits (not recommended) the script will still be fairly quick.

Here’s what that Delimiter Character configuration option looks like…


Summary

In the past, if you didn’t like the export files names, where they went, or wanted to change the scope of which files or folders you extract data from, you could have always changed the COD script code yourself. You now shouldn’t have to. Hopefully this makes running these scripts a little more flexible and user friendly.