Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Understanding the Limits of using Software in Design

I was following up on one of Greg Arkin's posts about licensing, and after reviewing the new license agreements, I came across a section that refers to limitations. Since I know everyone actually reads and understands their software license agreements, I thought I'd elaborate on this:

"Functionality Limitations. The Licensed Materials (except for Licensed Materials designed for non-commercial use, such as Autodesk Materials designed to be used for household or other consumer purposes or licensed only for purposes of educational or individual learning) are commercial professional tools intended to be used by trained professionals only. Particularly in the case of commercial professional use, the Licensed Materials are not a substitute for Licensee’s professional judgment or independent testing. The Licensed Materials are intended only to assist Licensee with its design, analysis, simulation, estimation, testing and/or other activities and are not a substitute for Licensee’s own independent design, analysis, simulation, estimation, testing, and/or other activities, including those with respect to product stress, safety and utility. Due to the large variety of potential applications for the Licensed Materials, the Licensed Materials have not been tested in all situations under which they may be used. Autodesk will not be liable in any manner whatsoever for the results obtained through use of the Licensed Materials. Persons using the Licensed Materials are responsible for the supervision, management, and control of the Licensed Materials and the results of using the Licensed Materials. This responsibility includes, without limitation, the determination of appropriate uses for the Licensed Materials and the selection of the Licensed Materials and other computer programs and materials to help achieve intended results. Persons using the Licensed Materials are also responsible for establishing the adequacy of independent procedures for testing the reliability, accuracy, completeness, and other characteristics of any output of the Licensed Materials, including, without limitation, all items designed with the assistance of the Licensed Materials. Licensee further acknowledges and agrees that the Licensed Materials form part of Licensee’s total unique hardware and software environment to deliver specific functionality, and that the Licensed Materials provided by Autodesk may not achieve the results Licensee desires within Licensee’s design, analysis, simulation, estimation, and/or testing constraints..."

There's a great misconception that using tools like Revit, AutoCAD MEP, Bentley, etc. that optimize the design process by eliminating redundant tasks, are "easy buttons". I had an architect (who tried Revit 4 years ago, and did not have a successful project) complaining to me that Revit users had to be designers...duh. Even in plain AutoCAD, or on the board, people that produce the documentation needed to construct a building still need to know what they are drawing...hence the above verbiage. The reality is that all employees working on a project have to understand what they are creating, and why.

Even now, we're going through the same discussion - where do you use Revit and where do you use AutoCAD 2d, etc., using the excuse that my techs don't know design. So the idea is to break a project up (and lose money because of it) because we're unwilling to spend the time training someone not just how to do BIM, but how to design.

A great example was Greg's comment about 2D DWG still being a part of a project. Let's use Fred as an example - he's been with the company for 25 years, never learned more than he really needed in terms of technology, and has a crappy attitude about learning anything new. The company, trying to find something for Fred to do, has him creating 2D details and then either sketching them up on paper and handing off to a CAD technician to model. The other case is Fred actually doing the work in AutoCAD, but not enforcing little details...like following CAD standards. The cost for this attitude is staggering, all for the sake of not ruffling feathers.

And the reality is - our industry needs their feathers ruffled now more than ever. In a global environment, we've got to be more competitive, leaner, faster and smarter to survive. When other countries are paying their engineers and designers a fraction of what we do, we have to be able to produce better and more defined work to compete - value to value, per se.

Autodesk recognizes this, as does Bentley and other CAD/BIM applications developers. These are the same tools we started with...the hammer, the chisel, the pen and the paper...it's just the modern version. What separates us are the ideas and concepts we create...and the tools, when used properly, give the project room to explore these ideas - to make the building more interesting, more efficient and more sustainable. Don't come back to me with the excuse that the tool doesn't work for me...until you've pushed it to the point where it can't do what you want - then we'll talk...and stop blaming the software for your own inadequacies - and go back to learning something new every day...whether you're using plain AutoCAD, Revit, Ecotect, 3D Studio Max, Inventor, etc., the reality is that YOU are responsible for your success. Learn how to fit these tools into your design process and leverage what they have to offer - and you WILL be successful.

Thus endth the soapbox for today - David B.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Locked elements in Revit MEP families....

I was working on our family templates this week, and came across an "undocumented feature"...just goes to prove you never stop learning.

If you create work planes, solids, dimensions or other components in an RFA file, then rename the file extension to .RFT for use as a template, the original items you create cannot be deleted. We're working around this by creating a startup families folder underneath our family templates, so the user can simply open this file, and then use Save as to create their new family.

Chris Aquino at Autodesk helped me out on this one - they put a post on their blog as well:

The day you know everything is the day you retire...or when your kids have children of their own - that's when they figure out you were right all along...

later - David B.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Revit MEP 2012 - First Observations...

It's that time of the year...spring is in the air, the mackerel are starting to run, pollen...and Autodesk is ready to start releasing their 2012 product line. Today the product embargo is lifted, so I can offer my early impressions of this release...It's been an interesting progression from the BIM standpoint over the last few years. Revit MEP has been turned on like a light switch - 2010, we were still in the dark, but 2011 started connecting the circuits and turning on the lights. Now it's time to add more to the panel...and load that puppy up.

First up - we worked with Autodesk to create the 2012 Revit MEP dataset for the Audubon Center, in Ohio. Designed a few years ago by Heapy Engineering, this design demonstrated several different ways to create a more efficient structure, and gave us a great opportunity to demonstrate how the project might look if it had been created in Revit MEP. So, in conjunction with Autodesk, we converted the model to Revit MEP, using the original AutoCAD MEP model and construction documents to create the HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems for the project. So - if you don't like the model, blame me - but if you do like, note that a lot of the things I've talked about in our AU classes are embedded in this dataset. The Autodesk reseller channel will be using this dataset, so it won't be available to the general public, but you can get a lot out of it - so ask the resellers questions about filters, systems, parameters and more - that's where we spent quite a bit of time.

Next up - the new stuff...key items I really liked in the beta were the systems tools. We've been teaching users to follow a four step system for years, and use it ourselves. While we're going to continue to follow this workflow, the program is more forgiving now. You don't have to define the systems first - but if you connect a duct or pipe to a piece of equipment or terminal, the system is created by default. That saves a step in the process, and allows a user to place a source, draw the duct or pipe, connect to a target and the system is created. I would still review the system to make sure items such as the name of the system are defined the way I want, but this pushes the user to create the system. I like this because we had a majority of our users being lazy, and not taking the step of defining the system - so now it's forced, which is good.

Added to the view filters are the System Classification and System Abbreviation options - you can use this to control the entire connected run's color and linetype, which helps reduce some of the filter rules. Since a lot of users employ labels for their systems, that makes this step a heck of a lot easier. And now, you're not restricted to just the default supply/return/exhaust or default pipe types - you can create and edit primary system types for duct and piping systems - YEAH! Look for these settings under the families section of the project browser. You can create a new version by picking an existing system, right mouse click and then picking Duplicate. All of these settings are now moved out of the MEP settings area of the Manage tab.

Tying into the systems are the system check tools - we've had a couple of these in 2011, but the new feature is the Show Disconnects - this little switch places warning icons everywhere a system is not properly connected. This becomes important for several reasons - you can't use sizing tools if the program doesn't recognize a component as connected, and it also shows me where users cheat - for example, a duct runs to an air terminal, but the the terminal is at a different elevation, and the duct is "sort of" drawn to it. This gives me the ability to quickly check the work of our users, and make sure they're following our guidelines. You can find these tools on the Analyze tab (BTW- the interface is largely unchanged - so don't tell me you can't find anything - you've had a whole year to get used to the ribbon).

Speaking of the Analyze tab - there's a new panel for energy analysis tools. First up is the analyze mass model tool, that lets the program link directly into Conceptual Energy Analysis tool - make sure you have an account define for Autodesk when doing this, and it only works if you're on subscription. Also included are more detail energy settings, including new Energy Modeling settings. These allow you to choose if you want to create an energy model, set the core offset values, divide perimeter zones, set conceptual constructions for mass elements, set target percentage glazing and skylights, sill height, and glazing shading options. Building operating schedules, the default HVAC system, and outdoor air information is also included in this palette, so they're easier to find and edit.

One other key feature I found out about from our architecture team is the ability to take a central file back to a non-worksharing environment. I haven't been able to test this yet, but as soon as I can try it, I'll let you know how it works - but this should make file sharing between firms much easier.

For duct and pipe, you now have a single line placeholder, to create fundamental layouts without worrying about fittings, sizes, etc. For early designs, this is what most of our guys are used to showing, so this gives them an intermediate step before actually creating the main layouts. Again, I'll post more on this later.

Parallel conduit and pipe tools are now included - this kind of goes against my system workflow policies of modeling, but I'm sure there's going to be times when we'll want to use this. Another one to try out, and come back for more detail later.

Electrical settings have added a panel schedule setting that includes the default text values for spaces and spares, and where or not to include spares in the load totals for a panel. There's also an option for merging multi-pole circuits into a single cell. Load names in a panel can also be controlled in the schedule, using presets from source parameters, or forcing initials, sentence case or upper case for the load names...nice....circuit name control by phase is also a new electrical setting.

Mechanical settings include more schedules and types for piping, so this has been expanded for 2012, with more accurate and up-to-date tables. An option for setting default slopes in a project is also included. Since the rise drop symbol setting has been moved to the new systems option, the size for the annotation is now located under Pipe Settings.

There's a lot more going on - but these are the ones I really got worked up about while working on the beta project. Kudos to Dave, Armundo and the MEP gang to make Revit MEP even more powerful and user friendly - for more details, go to www. Autodesk.com, and sign up for the upcoming product release seminars - these start in April, right around the product shipping date. We're going to upgrade as soon as we can - so I'd be looking at this closely...

Next up - the AutoCAD MEP 2012 updates...IFC support!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tip o' the day...Levels...

Working on a small treatment facility, we ran into a small annoyance that prompted us to make a change.

Currently, the architects working on the model would use the 1/4" radius circle level head for all levels in a project - which included floor levels, working levels, top of wall levels, etc...the list goes on. It became clear that this would cause a problem for the engineers that were copy/monitoring the levels to create plan views. Our default view templates are set to use the level above for the view range, so all these short levels were playing having with what we were seeing.

The solution - we edited the level types, so they are a) clearly named and b) visually different. The engineer didn't need to copy every level, just the main floor levels (and ceiling levels if they were included and clearly marked). So here's what we have:

  • 1/4" Radius Level Head is now Primary Floor Level
  • Copied 1/4" Radius Level head - created Working Level (for top of wall, etc.), which is also a different color and linetype
  • Plenum Level - already existing, but changed the color and linetype, and dropped the level head
  • Ceiling Level - similar to 1/4" radius level head, but with a smaller datum, different color and linetype.

Now when the engineer goes to copy monitor the levels, it's clear which ones should be copied - since we're all such "visual" people...now go update your templates!

Later  - David B.