Thursday, January 5, 2023

Understanding Where to Host Your Autodesk Files For EDITING...

 I really wanted to title this, DON'T DO THIS...since I wind up spending an inordinate amount of time trying to explain this to the general design and construction public. Be aware that I'm presenting this from a layman's point of view, to help make it easier to understand why these issues occur.

The internet continues to change the way we work, but alas, we do not. We continue to try to do the same thing we did twenty years ago, thinking that everything happens in a static place where nothing changes. It's almost like trying to argue with the 30 year AutoCAD user, who bought a "perpetual license" and really thinks it's going to work just peachy for the next thirty years. Do yourself a favor - smother yourself with honey and tie yourself down wearing your swim trunks in an ant farm. This will be a much less painful experience than trying to convince you that yes, things do change.

Here's the real part of the story. While there are a large number of resources online that allow you to share files - from Facebook, Instagram and other sites where we share our pictures of our dogs, kids and videos of us trying to look cool while dancing in a street and not get run over by another car - to legitimate file sharing services such as OneDrive, Dropbox, WeTransfer, Google Drive, Autodesk Drive, iCloud, Box, Sharepoint...you get the idea. It's important to understand the differences of each of these services and the intent for how they are supposed to be used.

All of these offer a service of providing a backup space as well as the ability to securely share and transfer data and content between locations. But here's the rub - NONE of them are supported as a platform for EDITING Autodesk files. 

Let's get down in the weeds. In order for Revit, AutCAD, Civil 3D and other file formats to be managed correctly - when it comes to file locking, access, permissions and more - the files must live somewhere within a supporting operating system environment. AutoCAD hasn't locked its own files since 2007, and with Revit central models allowing multiple users in a single file, the permissions and access for the temporary files that constantly communicate with the central model are critical in order to prevent file corruption and lost data.

To do this, Autodesk has been publicly addressing this through their system requirements - for example, here is AutoCAD:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/autocad/troubleshooting/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/System-requirements-for-AutoCAD.html

Each item listed shows the support operating system, from Windows, to Mac and Linux environments. Revit also has similar system requirements:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/revit/learn-explore/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/System-requirements-for-Autodesk-Revit-products.html

Here's the key - communications between the location and file must be in an environment that is supported by SMB protocol - in short, this stands for Server Message Block. The versions of SMB, also known as dialects, align with the versions of Windows. With SMB 1.0 came support for the original DOS-based systems. This originated in 1984, and with each new release of the Windows OS ecosystem, a newer version of SMB was released. For example, Windows Vista and Server 2008 included SMB 2.0, while version 3.0 was associated with Windows 8 in 2012. SMB 3.1.1 was released with Windows 10 in 2015, and has been the baseline for both versions 10 and 11. 

If a program such as AutoCAD or Revit is supported on one of these operating systems, then it's supported by the corresponding SMB dialect.

Wait...Explain what SMB does!

So what does SMB do? TechTarget (techtarget.com) includes a great description about the definition of SMB here. The key description for how it works is:

"The SMB protocol enables applications and their users to access files on remote servers, as well as connect to other resources, including printers, mailslots and named pipes. SMB provides client applications with a secure and controlled method for opening, reading, moving, creating and updating files on remote servers. The protocol can also communicate with server programs configured to receive SMB client requests.

Known as a response-request protocol, the SMB protocol is one of the most common methods used for network communications. In this model, the client sends an SMB request to the server to initiate the connection. When the server receives the request, it replies by sending an SMB response back to the client, establishing the communication channel necessary for a two-way conversation."

Autodesk specifically references it's requirement to operate in this link:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/autocad/learn-explore/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/Support-for-non-Microsoft-networks.html

So Where Can I Work?

So here's the summary - NONE of these examples of file sharing services are properly defined/managed to serve as locations where files can be EDITED (that's the key phrase)

  • Sharepoint/OneDrive
  • Google Drive
  • Autodesk Drive (Yea, it's an Autodesk product, but not the right one for editing...keep reading)
  • DropBox
  • Box

Let's provide a little context. A user named Bob places an AutoCAD Drawing (.DWG) in a Sharepoint file location, such as \\myoffice.sharepoint.com\sites\myproject\files. He proceeds to use the Open command to browse to the Onedrive link to the file at this site through File Explorer, and opens the drawing in AutoCAD.

Any user that is a member or guest of the site, if they have access permissions, can see and open this file. But what they are opening is not this file, but a local, cached copy of the file where Sharepoint is the host location. Since OneDrive is basically the "desktop" version of Sharepoint, it will also be working on a cached copy of the file. The confusion comes from users that were using a traditional networked server that users accessed via a mapped drive or UNC path before moving to the cloud. In those cases you were opening the actual file.

The file on the site does not know that it needs to be locked - so on another computer a user named Pat also opens the file - but again, not the original but a cached copy. Pat's fast, and makes a few changes, and saves the file while Bob still is working on his file, because...well, he's slow. Bob's done and saves his changes - which don't include Pat's changes since they were not in the cached copy he downloaded. Now the files are out of sync, and Bob just wiped out Pat's work, and now everyone's mad.

What about using a DFS configured network?

Similar issues will occur when working in a DFS (Distributed File Service) Environment. In this case, the first "available" copy of a file is what is opened, as the files are "replicated" on other related systems within the network. Again, TechTarget has a great explanation of this type of system and how it works here.

Autodesk addresses DFS issues here:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/autocad/learn-explore/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/Distributed-File-System-DFS-support.html

How about using NAS/SAN appliances?

Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices are very similar to the external hard drives and USB drives we use now as a primary backup for many user's home or small office systems - and in some cases, can be used in larger enterprise solutions. They contain a built in hard drive that can allow users to have a shared location to store data, but can experience performance issues if too many users try to access the data simultaneously. Since their primary purpose is to provide basic data storage and backup, they typically cannot handle the constant traffic between Revit local and central files - and the more users accessing the files, the slower the system. TechTarget's full description can be found here.

Storage Area Networks (SAN) appliances are typically associated with high speed networks, and have improved performance over the traditional NAS device. TechTarget's description of a SAN explains how SAN is differentiated from a NAS appliance/system:

"The SAN interconnects all the disks into a dedicated storage area network. That dedicated network exists separate and apart from the common LAN. This approach enables any of the servers connected to the SAN to access any of the disks attached to the SAN, effectively treating storage as a single collective resource. None of the SAN storage data needs to pass across the LAN -- mitigating LAN bandwidth needs and preserving LAN performance."

So while skipping a LAN connection and behaving similar to a traditional WAN, it can provide users access from multiple locations without the pass-through throttling that occurs on a traditional WAN. There also some SAN configurations that do support SMB protocols, but it would be up to the vendor to validate this as well as support any issues that arise. Techtalk's full description of SAN systems can be found here.

The Autodesk article on the use of NAS and SAN appliances can be found here:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/revit/troubleshooting/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/Revit-support-with-network-file-servers-or-cloud-storage-solutions.html

What does this leave us:

- Windows 10/11 OS on your local hard drive - with the current supported versions of 2020-2023, all of these products are supported on Windows 10 and 11. Be aware that none of them will work on Windows 8.1 - and you shouldn't be using this version either, as it's no longer being updated by Microsoft, including security fixes. And yes, a MAC OS is supported, primarily in a Windows emulation environment.

- Window Server 2012/2016/2019 - check the specific version system requirements for Revit Server from the previous links above. Depending on the Autodesk software version, the server OS must be one of these versions. 

- Autodesk Docs/BIM 360 - Purpose-built to provide a cloud storage AND editing solution, this is best location to edit Autodesk documents. Newer releases such as AutoCAD and Civil 3D 2023 utilize a new Sheet Set Manager tool that bypasses the Desktop Connector application that normally manages the caching and file permissions between a local hard drive and the AWS-based "server" location. The rest of the time, it's the Desktop Connector tool that "manages" file access.

Be aware that programs like Revit are in constant contact with central files, regardless of where they are stored. Simple things, such as being aware that Bob has started editing an element (that's not in a checked out workset - better known as "borrowing"). If Pat tries to edit the same object - or edit anything in an MEP system or hosted object that is associated with and impacted by changes to the object - then they know right away, since "ownership" of objects is communicated via the temporary files associated with the project.

There's a couple of caveats here as well - if you are a single user, you can get away with using Autodesk Docs to edit drawings and work on non-central Revit models. If you are collaborating in Civil 3D, Plant 3D and Revit, and working with Revit central models, you need to have the BIM Collaborate Pro entitlement. This is over and above your software license subscription, but can provide an ROI very quickly when you have more than one user on a project.

I know we're going to have some folks disagree with this. You might hear about issues with Desktop Connector - yes, there have been some that Autodesk has struggled to fix, but at the same time, the application has improved dramatically over the last few years. For example, it works great with Revit, but you also need to make sure all users on the projects have the same build of Desktop Connector as well as the same build (not just version) of Revit as well. We're using it on hundreds of projects and rarely encounter a problem - but these only occur when users try to add links to content that's not in the project hub, or connected to one of these other sites. 

What about everything else?

That's easy - you can take the risk to use any of these platforms  (i.e. Panzura, Egnyte, etc. and the other file sharing locations listed above as examples). But when you lose changes...don't have access to the files...get file corruption...you're going to have to reach out to these providers to figure out the solution. The cost, time and effort invested in a platform or service that isn't supported by Autodesk is wasted when you don't start by taking a full look at how the design platforms developed today work, and how they improve the design and operational environment.

You also have Bentley's Projectwise platform but be aware that vertical applications like Revit, AutoCAD Plant 3D and Civil 3D also experience issues here as well. Autodesk Vault is also still available as a "behind the firewall" solution, but again, Revit does not play well in this environment. Both of these platforms utilize effective single file check-in/check-out features that prevent files from being edited by multiple users, but lose effectiveness when external files are required to be accessible at the same time.

In summary, do your homework BEFORE implementing your primary work platform, and understand the limitations/benefits for each first. And a great thanks to Techtarget for the easy to read and understand descriptions of each - hopefully they will help you as much as they helped an "old dog" like me.



Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Understanding Revit Category Uses for Component Families

 There are definitely some things that I love about Revit, that I consider a vast improvement on AutoCAD and 2D drafting. One of my favorites are the use of hard-coded categories instead of user defined layers. This makes standardization on a project much easier, but there’s also a ton of flexibility that can create issues for users. It helps to have a clear understanding of how the categories are to be used and see some changes Autodesk has made to expand the categories.

Every object in a project is divided in object style categories. Model, annotation, analytical model and imported objects represent the four primary object styles that can be edited and defined in a project.

Model objects are for physical representations of real-world objects. These include additional filters by these disciplines:

  •           Architectural
  •           Structural
  •           Electrical
  •           Mechanical
  •           Piping
  •           Infrastructure

 Autodesk has been expanded the default categories that are included, starting with the infrastructure discipline in 2021, then adding temporary structures, medical equipment and vertical circulation in 2022. The current release 2023 added Mechanical Control and Plumbing Equipment to help clarify and isolate these types from their previous categories.

By default, when a component family is defined, you select one of these categories for the overall model. Any solid model or imported object is automatically associated with the primary category, but you can also create sub-categories for the primary object style.

Be aware that not all of these categories are for model components – for example, system components include pipe and duct items as well as their associated insulation and placeholders. Ceilings and walls are also system families that are defined in the template and not as a family-based model component.

Another key item to note – users in the past switched between general model and specialty equipment based on whether the category was able to be “cut” for a section view. Revit 2023 now includes an “Enable cutting in view” option for Specialty Equipment families that eliminate the need to differentiate content based on this requirement.

Here’s a list of all of the primary model object styles (based on Revit 2023):





Each one of the model categories can include a subcategory. One way we use these is to help us refine the visibility of objects within a category. For example, electrical and mechanical equipment cover a wide range of family content:


A common use of a subcategory includes a clearance object, which is used in model coordination to help maintain areas that cannot be encroached per code requirements. Another use is to set the default 3D geometry so they can have different lineweight, color, patterns and materials assigned. By editing the solids in a family and assigning them to this subcategory, you can provide more specific settings for the visibility characteristics of a part and help isolate items in the same category.

Proper Uses and Assignment

Object styles provide multiple features that go beyond just visibility. While you can add sub-categories to expand visibility options, assigning the category also tells Revit about specific behavior a part may include. For example, electrical equipment covers any power distribution device, including power panels, switchboards, transformers and equipment switches. When a part type like this is assigned, Revit will automatically assume that a circuit or power connection is needed. If a connection is not made to the device, it will appear as an open circuit, letting the user know that it is available as needed.

The categories are assigned in the Family Editor under the Family Category and Parameters tool. When selecting different types of content, pay attention to the part type:



In this example, the electrical equipment category specifically references the part types that should be used. Equipment Switch, Panelboard, Switchboard and Transformer settings all include built in electrical data – so if a family is incorrectly defined in this part type, it could lead to Revit indicating an open electrical connection in error, when in reality the category is incorrectly applied.

So how do we select the correct category? To help with this, review this Revit Category Use document  to see recommendations for how we assign these, based on who the model element author (or owner) is, and what types of families would be typically assigned to these categories. In the long run, consistently using these assignments can help you create a cleaner and better organized project.

thanks - DB


Monday, March 14, 2022

It's Time for BIM After Dark with the Revit Kid!

Got an email a few months ago from Jeff Pinheiro, better known as the Revit Kid. I've been following his blog posts for years, and is one of the premier bloggers and experts on Revit that I've ever seen. He's had a veritable "who's who" of Revit hacks, instructors, developers and general gurus on the topics in our world that we hold so dear featured on his blog, therevitkid.blogspot.com



I'm incredibly honored that Jeff invited me to join him on his BIM After Dark program on March 17, 2022 to talk about Revit, specifically in regards to Revit MEP systems lab I've taught for years at AU, Perfecting the System. We're going to take a look and how systems can alter a designer's perspective towards the design tools in Revit, and how the four step process of system design can help them understand the tools and the workflow at the same time. We're also going to discuss the failure of current CAD tools in our world and how to overcome it with newer technologies and vision. We're going to wrap the session up talking about how the deliverables to our clients are changing (yes, we need to kill sheets and CAD standards).

I'm sure we're going to have a great conversation and some fun at the same time - so join us Thursday, March 17 at 9:00pm EDT! You can subscribe here:

https://www.bimafterdark.com/

Thursday, December 23, 2021

And the Year Ends...What's Your Gift?

I wanted to close out the year, which has been challenging and interesting at the same, by closing out my series on perspective. I had a chance to write from the heart this last article, and wanted to share it with my friends here. It's got nothing to do with technology, or BIM, or even CAD. It's about understanding and accepting the gifts we are given every day. Thanks for following, and hope you all have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Holidays!

The Gift Given...Not Earned or Deserved

Epiphanies are weird – they hit you at the oddest times, but help you express yourself in ways that don’t always come as needed. As a writer, it’s always tough to come up with the right combination of words. But in a quiet moment…like 4:00am when you wake up with clarity of thought…or taking a walk…or even in the shower, it’s always important to get these words and thoughts down. As we get older it gets tougher to accumulate it all and express it in ways that others find helpful, motivating, or insightful. My epiphanies came to me in a time when the season reminds us of the true gifts we receive that can’t be found in a store, online or wrapped in paper. 

They are gifts given, not earned or deserved.

Terri.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. As we approach the end of the year, you and I are celebrating our 26-year anniversary. You were a gift to me at a time when I was broken and hurt but took a chance on me and help me find the most important personal relationship in my life.

You gave me love, comfort and acceptance. You provided encouragement and support, along with the means to pursue a better life than the choices I had been making. Everything happens for a reason, and at that point in my life, you saved me. And you still love me as much as I love you.

You are a gift I was given that I neither earned nor deserved, and a blessing every day.

The Boys.

We have been blessed with three awesome young men. While they all had trials in life, they have all chosen careers where they serve others. Their love for each other is true – the times we get together with them, whether one at a time or the more special times when we’re all together, are times of great laughter and happiness.

Each are their own distinct personalities that share the same passions for life that you hope you were able to instill in them. They carry themselves in ways we wish we all could, but few ever succeed. 

They are a gift to us, that I did not earn or deserve but am grateful to have.

My Family.

I was blessed to grow up in a close boisterous family that come from a wide variety of beliefs but rarely ever stray from the love we were taught. My parents, married 64 years themselves, gave us all a life that brought happiness and success. While we all have our issues where we can’t see eye to eye, or get caught up in our views to the point that we fail to listen and be patient, the blood that runs between us is what binds in the end. My sisters have always given me vision and push to better myself, and I try to learn from their experiences. In the end, I’ll always love my family dearly. 

They are all gifts that were given, but never earned or deserved, that I cherish always.

My Friends.

The last few years have challenged us all to maintain friendships that are mostly based on face to face and in person interactions. Football, oyster roasts, gatherings of all shapes were all things we lost, but are starting to regain. The time lost is now a push for a time to resume – even if we aren’t in the same place, true friends are always still there. They are blessing that support us in times of need, of sorrow and of loss. But they also are there simply because…we’re friends. 

True friends are indeed gifts given, neither earned or deserved, but bring great joy to our lives.

My Colleagues.

Work is a place that we spend so much time in and build relationships around but making the move from a coworker to a colleague is a different beast. You have to spend the time to understand where they come from, what they need and where they want to be. We are together because we have similar interests based on the career choices we made. But within our community, we’ve grown close through the shared experiences we’ve had, and same passions for what we do. You are what drives me to do learn more, work smarter, and make a better workplace for all of us. 

You are all gifts that are given, never earned or deserved, that push me to be a better person.

Our Choices.

Life is all about choices. We chose between the right and wrong thing every day. As we grow and become adults, the choices have consequences and should be well thought out, but they are always our own. One choice that we are failing with now is the choice of accepting and understanding people as individuals, or condemning, hating, and avoiding by group. We are given to believe by social media, news and more from the black boxes we let rule our lives, that people are bad if they don’t believe the same way we do. By the color of their skin, their faith, or their lifestyle. We fail when we make the choice to see people only by the group we and others define them to be, and by forgetting that compassion, empathy and most importantly forgiveness are traits that require you to know someone before judging them. 

But as with the people we surround ourselves with, the family that we have and the circumstances we exist in, the opportunity to have the ability to make these choices are always a gift – never earned or deserved.

Life is a short time we are blessed to be given. In my world, it’s a gift that is given to us by the grace of God and a blessing that we exist at all. And it’s now at this time of the year, when my family and friends are celebrating the gift of God’s son, one we did not earn or deserve, is the one that saves us all. Enjoy the season but take a moment to appreciate the gift. To pray for those that are not in the same place, facing challenges we are rarely are aware of. To love without question and to live life to the fullest. To enjoy the gatherings and share happiness in family, friends and colleagues. It is the ultimate gift to share all of this with you and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

Happy anniversary Terri – and Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Revit Point of Views – Part 3 – The Demise and Rebirth of Digital Delivery

 I’m sorry to announce (but am going to take credit for) the demise of the sheet. It was killed in a train wreck headed to a digital project delivery meeting on the outskirts of town. Also lost in the conflagration was the CAD standard, widely known for enabling the sheet to be a pain in the butt for owners and designers in the AEC community alike, but greatly respected for keeping layers in line. While their careers were developed in good intentions, they became a financial burden on their parents, costing companies time and money figuring out how to make sure the right font is used so it can be read on a rain-soaked sheet of tree debris in the field. It did enable their offspring (the CAD managers) to create and form a career path we didn’t really know we needed but like today’s social media, fall into the trap of believing we couldn’t live without them. Some of us followed that career path like lemmings, but the Church of Holy BIM Stuff came to the rescue a few decades ago.


I had that poster hanging in my room during my formative high school years, and it still makes me laugh…but it’s still a sheet. Long lost in moves, it’s a relic of the past but still a great memory. I'm sure there are a few business owners and government agencies saying this now as they read this article.

After 36 years of dancing with architects, engineers, owners and municipal managers, I propose a life change. The drawing sheet, a long vestige of AEC design documents for more than a century, has become a drag on projects everywhere, causing project teams to spend untold amounts of time focusing on document appearance more than the quality and content of the design itself.

Why have I taken this drastic step and opinion? Because it’s time. My generation is moving on, and it’s time for the next generation to step up and own the foundation we have built to take design and construction to the next level. 

A few years ago, we had a “life-changing” moment that occurred when we replaced our IT leadership that was bound and committed to the technology and tools of the past, with new leadership that would challenge us to do more, better and take risks where we had been unwilling to do so before. Fear of change is real – while change just for the sake of change can be bad, change made to improve workflows, deliverables and overall quality of life and project are always welcome.

Christian Birch, our Senior Engineering Technology Manager, has been a great example of leadership in managing change in an AEC firm. He’s been able to maintain a good sense of IT integrity while salvaging a relationship with our business lines that had been damaged by years of silos and poor communication. In an early meeting our new IT leadership team, when discussing a content and standards management application (“DDesign” for the Gannett Fleming folks) we had been using for decades that lived in our network that was damaged in a cyberattack last year, we were challenged to use the “Five Why’s” to understand why we needed the tool. It was critical for us to look objectively at what we use and understand its role as well as when it’s time to let it go.

The exercise goes like this – in order to pass the smell test, you should be able to get through 5 “why” questions to understand the need for the tool. All of these started with question, “Why do we need DDesign?”...

My responses went like this:

Because it gives us a local storage solution for our standard content

Because it helps us work when the network is offline

Because Norb and I could push the content to a location where the guy who wrote and managed it…damn, he’s gone and left. Anybody else know how to make that tool work?

Because we can keep it…on our network…and push it across the WAN to the regional LAN servers…damn again. Malware shut the whole network down, and we don't even know where the app is...need to recover projects first...wheels continue to turn...

I never made it to 5, since one of the foundations of the argument was one of the greatest weaknesses we had – our dependency on local and wide area networks that were completely disabled in a cyberattack. While this meant the current state of the content was still available, it couldn’t be updated – and all of our project CAD standards, such as CTB, plot styles and more were also stored there.

At this point we realized that we needed to stop and take an objective look at what we were doing, and research whether there were other solutions available that could solve the problem. But the more I looked at, the more I realized that maintaining standards for every single client we have – into the hundreds – is an incredible labor drag for us and the clients as well. No one client has the exact same standards, even in the age where the AIA National CAD standard that’s been around for decades is uniformly followed and applied…sorry, choked a little on that one.

Let me clarify something for everyone – there’s a huge difference between CAD standards and Drafting standards. CAD standards address software features such as layers, levels, linetypes, fonts, sheet appearance and more. They don’t address what is be presented – like using two lines to represent the inside and outside of the wall, when the complexity of that object is light years beyond that standard. 



But the Drafting standard has been around for nearly a century, where I learned how to create the plan, section and elevation views in such a way that all users, regardless of their standard, could interpret what was placed on the sheet. Born out of the AIA’s Architectural Graphics Standards that were originally published in 1932 (see this link), the series of books explain how to create the views needed to build the structure. Over time, the newer standards for Level of Development have helped the transition from a drafting standard to a modeling standard – which is the key element that makes all of this work. Model LOD is the new lynchpin and key to true digital twin creation.

In the AEC industry, BIM tools and workflows changed all of this by forcing a true 3D representation of the entire object.  Even if it still doesn’t consider all of the studs and components used in the framing, it could be included based on the client Level of Development requirements. But the vertical aspects of the wall previously were a result of the designer’s ability to translate manually from the two lines to an elevation everything that’s going on (and keep it current as the plan changed). In BIM and the 3D modeling world, that’s gone – what you place in the model is used for all types of presentation to explain how to build that wall.

My premise boils down to a couple of simple things. The focus of our tasks has been and always will be the ability to communicate clearly to those that build and manage the structures we live in, work in, and use to provide a better quality of life to all. It’s what should be done to create them in a safe, affordable way, with resiliency and quality. With that being said, the evolution of design authoring tools, such as Revit, Civil 3D, Inventor, OpenRoads, Infraworks, ArchiCAD, and so many more software products we use are taking us further away from the need for a sheet or CAD standard to provide clear and organized documentation…beyond an archaic contract obligation that rests its dependency on paper deliverables…or for pretty linework and text that everyone can read…

The next time you work on a project, put a number on the amount of time you spend adding and organizing sheets, and applying common standards to meet the annotation and appearance requirements of a project. Substitute that number with time spent developing and improving the content used in the model to more clearly indicate design intent and reduce errors, rework and changes on project. Use it to develop more design options and alternatives that could result in a more efficient structure.

So, it’s time to put into place our "5 why’s" on the sheets and the standards. Do this exercise back at your office or with your colleagues and see what you come up with – I’m really curious to hear how it goes on your end. Here are the questions you need to start with, and we’ll review the answers in the next article.

What role does the sheet play in the design process when the outcome is a digital twin?

Why do you need to use sheets on a design project?

What role does the CAD standard play in the design process in the production of 3D modeling-based documentation?

Why is the CAD standard an essential part of the design process?

I challenge every single design firm, contractor and owner to ask themselves these questions. At one point do you walk away from “we’ve always done it this way” and look at new workflows, methods and tools to accomplish the same goal. The cost of not doing it is high – lost time, wasted money and lost opportunity are bits of it. Stagnation and regret are what lets your competition win and you lose every time. But the lost opportunity is the greatest cost of all…so how do you take all of the great progress we have made in technology over my generation, and take it to the next level?

Start here.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Help Yourself...Clean up Your System for Better Autodesk Program Performance!

 We’re all guilty of sticking to old habits, but with the advance of technology in our design platforms, some things you might have done in the past are no longer necessary – and can cause more problems than they save. This series of tech tips are here to help you understand the differences in working in old environments such as our old Windows network, and new locations such as loud-based document management systems, including BIM Collaborate Pro, ProjectWise and Sharepoint.

Understanding How Autodesk Programs Use Temporary Files and Space

Microsoft Windows was first released in 1985, as a first “graphical interface” for the “disk operating system”, better known as MS-DOS. Many of the foundational aspects of DOS remain, such as a computer’s need to have one program be the focus of the computer at the time. The system has evolved to allow other applications to remain running and active, which created the need for “temporary files” to stay open in the background.

Autodesk programs such as AutoCAD and Revit have used background files for a variety of purposes:

  • AutoCAD files previously used their own file locking files to prevent more than one user from accessing a file at a time. While the early vestiges of DOS incorporated “restricted access” to files, it was not until AutoCAD 2000 that Windows took over the file locking service through the operating system. The previous DWL file simply tells the system who has the file open. The files are intended to be deleted every time the program is closed…until it crashes.
  • AutoCAD also has a series of backup files that are created, which use .BAK, .AC$, and .sv$ extensions. While there should always be one backup file (.BAK), the automatic save (.sv$) and temporary (.ac$) files should be deleted when AutoCAD is closed…until it crashes. These autosave files are typically stored in a C:\users\username\appdata\local\temp folder.
  • Vertical toolsets and Civil 3D create even more temporary files that are associated with functions of the features in the program – such as other types of temporary files that could be stored in your local c:\temp folder and project folders.
  • Revit has its own infrastructure of temporary and access files since the project model can allow multiple users to safely access one file (unlike AutoCAD). If the model is based on BIM 360 (BIM Collaborate Pro) or Autodesk Docs, then “cached” versions are copied locally so the user is not dependent on accessing the cloud 100% of the time. Caching also improves file performance by storing and updating the local copies via the Desktop Connector application.
  • In addition to the Autodesk programs, other applications can add variety of temporary files that can quickly fill up a hard drive and cause out of memory errors.

How do you know when you need to clean up? It’s easy – get in the habit of doing it on a regular basis to avoid issues in the first place. Do this at least every one to two weeks. But if you start to get errors such as files being out of date, not saving, changes disappear, and files take a long time or do not open at all. Let’s look at how to complete these tasks quickly and easily.

Hard Drive Maintenance

The best way to handle system clean up is to us the Disk Cleanup tools that come with Windows. This tool takes care of your hard drive and makes sure the overall system is as clean and functional as possible.

To perform a disk cleanup, follow these steps:

Before starting this task, make sure that you have closed any open applications, saving your work as needed. Items on the hard drive that are in use may not be able to be deleted or removed, so always close your applications first.

Open the Windows File Explorer tool. When the program appears, make sure the address bar and view is set to This PC – here’s an example that your system should look like:



You’re looking for the main hard drive on your system. Our computers, for the most part, use one hard drive as the storage device. You can see this under Devices and Drives – the PC Name and Drive letter C: are indicated, along with the available free disk space:



An early habit you need to learn is to change or edit something, place your cursor over the object and click the right mouse button. Context sensitive menus, based on what you have selected, will appear, and provide a list of tools and actions you can use on the device you have selected:



Be aware that this menu will appear differently based on the applications you have installed on the computer. At the bottom of the list, click Properties, which will always appear there. A new dialog will appear:



The General tab provides the key information we need, including the overall capacity of the hard drive in gigabytes, the used space and free space. Keep in mind we always want to make sure that we never go below 20% of the capacity in free space – so cleanup helps us with this habit. The Disk Cleanup tool is displayed on the General tab and is the only tool you need to use for this step. Select Disk Cleanup to continue:



A list of all items you can remove from the system is displayed. Scroll down the list to review the list, and the bold options are the key ones to select:

  • Downloaded program files
  • Temporary Internet Files – to make sure your internet runs efficiently, clean these files often.
  • Directx Shader Cache – if you don’t do a lot of rendering, you can delete these files
  • Delivery optimization files
  • Downloads – this one can go either way – if you are downloading files from other sources, make sure that as soon as you download the file, you move it from your c:\users\username\downloads folder first if you need to keep the files. Don’t hold on to or store files here – in other words, move it or lose it.
  • Recycle Bin – files you’ve already deleted
  • Temporary Files – this is the main one you want to clean up
  • Thumbnails

 As you select these folders, the description explains what the files are used for, so you can better understand their function on the system. Once you have selected the items to clean up, click OK. You will get a prompt asking you if you are sure – select Delete files to complete the step. A status bar will appear and display the progress. Once this step is complete, you will see a difference in the free space for the system. Click OK to leave the properties dialog.

Cleaning Up Your Cloud - Autodesk Docs/BIM Collaborate Pro

Autodesk introduce cloud-based computing for their products a few years ago beginning with Buzzsaw, and are now at the Autodesk BIM Collaborate Pro/Autodesk Docs products for all projects that are primarily based on their software (including AutoCAD, Revit, Civil 3D, Plant 3D and more). At different points in the project, it’s important to perform maintenance on your local system to make sure your system performs at its maximum potential.

To clean up your Autodesk Docs files, follow these steps.

For this first step, you must have the Autodesk Desktop Connector application running, and be signed in to your Autodesk account. You can check this by looking for a white “A” icon in your system tray of the lower right corner of your screen:



If you are not signed in, right click on the icon, and choose Sign In:


After signing in, from Windows File Explorer, locate the Autodesk Docs shortcut – expand it to show a list of all the projects you are assigned to in you business’s project hub. In this case, the example is showing a training project that we want to make sure is cleaned up and current:



Double click on your project – the Project Files folder will appear. Right click on the folder to see the maintenance options:



The two primary tools to use are Free Up Space and Sync.

Sync forces the latest version of the files between your local hard drive and cloud are synchronized – this step should always be performed prior to using Free Up Space.

Free Up Space will remove the local copies of any Revit or CAD files in the project folder. This forces Revit and AutoCAD to download the latest version of the files from the cloud the next time the files are opened.

A couple of rules about this step – this tool will only run on folders and files that you have permissions to access and edit. You can also choose to sync individual files.

Run the Sync command first by selecting that option. A dialog will appear in the lower right corner of the screen, indicating your files are being transferred to the cloud. After the sync has completed, the files in the folders will indicate they are synced with the cloud project files:


Next, right click on the folder and select Free Up Space



A confirmation dialog will appear:


If you return to the folder, the files will now show as online – this indicates that the local copy has been removed, but when you open the file from Revit or AutoCAD, the latest synced version in the cloud will be downloaded again and become the current local copy.

Advanced File Cleanup for Autodesk Docs

If you are a more advanced user, and you are having other issues with project files, you can manually clean up the temporary files that are created with Autodesk docs. Before performing this step, make sure that all changes have been synced, and all Autodesk design applications are closed. You will also need to make sure that Windows File Explorer is set to show hidden files. If you are unsure of any of the steps for performing this task, do not try it alone – contact Autodesk support for assistance.

Sign out from the Autodesk Desktop Connector. Make sure ALL programs are closed (except for this File Explorer).

From Windows File Explorer, browse to these locations (add your username and the version of Revit)

  • C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Autodesk\Revit\Autodesk Revit 202x\CollaborationCache
  • C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Autodesk\Revit\PacCache
  • C:\temp

Delete as many of the folders and files as possible – should any of the files say they cannot be deleted, skip these.

Reboot your system using the SHIFT+Restart option to force a hard reboot of the system. Be aware that a prompt to Continue to Windows 10 will appear – you must select this to continue.

Log back into Windows and check the c:\temp location to see if any additional files can be removed.

Log back into the Autodesk Desktop Connector and resume use of the applications.

Additional Links and Information

For specific directions from the Autodesk Knowledge Network, check out these links:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/search-result/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/How-to-delete-temporary-files-in-Windows.html

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/revit/troubleshooting/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/Collaboration-for-Revit-Finding-local-copies-of-files.html

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/desktop-connector/learn-explore/caas/CloudHelp/cloudhelp/ENU/CONNECT/files/Get-Started-with-Desktop/GUID-714E0D68-6B13-4034-B742-5A91E19EA5B3-html.html

Summary

Using these methods will prevent a project from becoming populated by duplicated and unmanaged versions of the files. Use versioning and the compare tool to review what’s in the files, the sets to replace your old archiving process, and transmittals for sharing – you’ll enjoy a well-formed and managed project.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Help Yourself...Seriously! How To Get Better Autodesk Product Support Online - The System Basics

Several years ago a small group of Autodesk Expert Elites got together with Autodesk and Directly, a third party technical support management site, to help Autodesk resolve more of their open support cases. This program leveraged decades of product experience to provide relevant responses to most support question types. There are some limits - such as we can't reach out to the client during the case and use tools like Zoom or Teams to remote into a system and get more detail. In these cases, we escalate the case to the Autodesk agents, that are allowed to provide this service at a higher level of support.

But it's never easy - there's always a better way to provide these solutions. It's really dependent on the information provided by the user to make sure we understand what is exactly happening on someone's system. Think of visiting your doctor - they're going to ask you a ton of questions before they recommend or prescribe anything, so the more accurate and detailed the responses, the more relevant the solutions will be. And it requires a lot of patience on both ends.

So how do we make this smoother for your typical Autodesk support questions? It's easy - if you're the user posting the question, follow this checklist:

1. Get your software information together first. For Autodesk products, access the program Help page - every one includes a question mark "?" in the upper right corner of the program window. When you select this, you will see the name of the program at the bottom of the drop down menu (it usually says Autodesk Revit, Autodesk AutoCAD, etc. or something similar). Selecting this option will open a dialog, that includes the software version, build number, and versions of any supported vertical tools such as AutoCAD Architecture, MEP, etc. You should see a dialog similar to this:


In this example, the core AutoCAD version is shown, along with AutoCAD Architecture and AutoCAD MEP. Each of these now require separate updates, so make sure you check all three.

This information is critical - we get countless cases where users or their IT departments are not keeping up with the updates, or have not tested them to make they don't cause issues with other applications. But with Autodesk products, the overwhelming number of cases we receive are related to the program simply being out of date, or not the same as other users in the same company or project. These are critical issues that every company needs to address - at a minimum, all users should be on the same build.

2. The computer you are using matters - if it's 10 years old, makes a grinding noise on startup, or is still running Windows NT, it's the problem. But there's a ton that goes on with a computer that every user should be aware of. The key information we need in order to correctly diagnose a case should always include this information:

- The version of Windows - you should be on Windows 10, with version 11 coming out soon. While 7 and 8.1 are supported, they are in  a short life span and are no longer supported by Autodesk (starting with the 2022 versions). You can find the current version of Windows by using File Explorer to locate "This PC" - right click on this icon and select Properties. The right side of the dialog will display a lot of critical information, including the operating system (OS) data:



- The processor and amount of RAM that is installed on the computer - the same dialog for the OS also shows this information under the Device Specifications.

- The size of the hard drive, and amount of free space. It also helps to know if it's not a solid state drive that was used in older systems. To get this, select This PC again - File Explorer will show all installed drives and the total/free space:


When it comes to hard drives, here's a critical item to know - the amount of free space is critical. For example, Revit projects can take up to 10x the size of the file in temporary file space. Add all of the Revit models that are opened, making sure to include the size of the linked models, drawings and more - and you will run out of space quickly if you don't keep up with this. Personally, I don't like for a computer running Autodesk products to have less than 100gb (gigabytes) of free space available. Don't short your computer by buying a smaller hard (500gb or less) - you'll wind up losing time and money when you don't have enough space. Adding a second drive to handle data is also not always a good idea, as the programs typically want to be installed on the C: drive, and adding a D: or second drive can cause configuration issues unless you're knowledgeable about working in this type of environment. Stick with 1TB or larger solid state drives and you'll be good.

- The manufacturer, model and driver version of the graphics display adapters on these systems is also important. Errors with these due to non-supported cards, including old or outdated drivers is a frequent issue. This shows up as graphics on a screen not displaying correctly, crashing when opening or editing views and and other types of fatal errors. To locate what you have installed, from the Windows Search bar, type Device Manager (You can also access this via Settings - when the dialog opens, type Device Manager in the upper left corner of the dialog). When the dialog appears, select the Display Adapters - a list of all adapters will appear that are installed (correctly) on the system:

 


Every Windows-based computer includes a built-in graphics adapter when a system is built - but in most cases, they are not designed to handle the more intense graphic requirements for most Autodesk software. That's why you usually will have a second video display adapter, if the system meets the Autodesk system requirements. 

To make sure you have a display adapter that is supported by Autodesk, along with a recommended driver, see this list in this link:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/certified-graphics-hardware?siteID=123112&id=18844534&results=1&stype=graphic&product_group=3&release=2018&os=524288&manuf=all&opt=0

If your device is not listed, it doesn't mean it won't work - but in most cases you want to make sure you keep your device drivers up to date. Here's a link with directions for updating this hardware:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/autocad/learn-explore/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/How-to-update-your-system-to-the-latest-certified-video-driver-s.html

Overall - when running Revit, always check the system requirements to make sure your computer meets the needs of the program and version you are running. You can find this information based on product and version from here:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/system-requirements

- Every computer should have some form of antivirus and firewall protection installed. In most cases, this is managed by an IT department or service provider. If your system permissions are restricted (meaning that you can't install or update software yourself), then it can cause some specific failures to occur. In this case, we need to know what manufacturer you are using for the antivirus, such as Norton, McAfee or others, and whether or not you can make changes to this software if needed. In most cases, it is the system firewall that can block access to folders, files and sites needed for Autodesk products to run correctly. Microsoft created this video to help you understand how to find out what types of system security you have installed:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/videoplayer/embed/RE3Fq1Y

If you're not comfortable with getting or providing this information, let your support person know so the case can be escalated to an Autodesk agent for a more secure access and connection.

Wrapping up - don't be embarrassed or worried if you don't know this information. In most cases, users really don't have an idea about what's in the computer or how it works. The goal of any good support system is to help you solve your issues, and they can usually walk you through all of these steps to make sure we have as much baseline information as possible. The same rule applies for any support organization you are working with, whether it's your own internal IT department or a software vendor such as Autodesk. 

Hopefully this helps you get the most out of your support - next up, we'll talk about more specific program issues.

Thanks - David B.