RAM and Revit: First thoughts

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A large part of my role as Digital Design Manager is getting multiple software platforms to play nicely together. Frankly, getting one at a time to behave is often a challenge, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the compatibility of two programs that see a lot of use around here: Revit and RAM.

Revit to RAM

The first time we tried to link the two systems, we started in Revit. This was an existing structure, steel framed, that we were modeling for seismic analysis purposes. The goal was to start in Revit (so we’d have a documentation model ready to go for a later design phase) and then export to RAM Elements.

Unfortunately, it turned into a complete mess. We discovered (too late) that the ISM translator only pulls the physical model from Revit and ignores the analytical elements. This meant that our steel joist roof didn’t connect to the beams it was supported by, columns missed their connections to beams, etc. It was a real disappointment, after all the work we’d put in to making sure our analytical nodes were connected.

We eventually were able to get the model to run, but it was a real headache.

HOWEVER, I have not given up! This was only our first attempt, and involved RAM Elements instead of RAM Structural System. I hope to find a good test project soon for Round 2.

RAM to Revit

Our next experiment went the other way — from RAM Structural System to Revit. This was another steel-framed structure, and when documentation started the engineer had already built a RAM model for some schematic design calcs. It seemed silly to start from scratch in Revit when we could at least try the import.

And this one worked beautifully.

All the elements came into Revit right where they should be. The beams had physical and analytical components. (I haven’t figured out that quirk of ISM yet.) Anything that looked off, like a grid line that stopped halfway up the building, could be traced back to the RAM model element’s definition, not the import process. I estimate that it saved us at least 3 solid days of drafting/modeling time, if not more.

The catch with this second project is that it’s historic steel, not modern. So the RAM model had lots of substitutions for archaic shapes, which had to be swapped out in Revit to be properly displayed & tagged. So I don’t know yet if we’ll be able to round-trip the model. There might be some tweaks we can make to the mapping file to accommodate the historic shapes, but my research hasn’t gotten that far yet.

It’s a good start, though…onward and upward!

Quick Rotate Objects

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When you’re inserting objects or components into a Revit view, you may have noticed the “Rotate after placement” checkbox below the ribbon.QuickRotate1

It’s handy, I suppose, but personally, I haven’t used it since I discovered the quick-and-easy way to rotate objects before you place them: with the space bar.

By default, pressing the space bar before you place an object rotates it 90 degrees.

QuickRotate2 QuickRotate3

But if you hover over an existing object first, your new component will rotate to match its alignment.

QuickRotate4 QuickRotate5 QuickRotate6

I use this ALL the time for placing breaklines along braces and sloped beams, or to align columns with non-orthogonal grids.

Just a quick tip to tide you over while we wait for Revit 2014 to appear…

Autodesk Revit 2014

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Autodesk will be holding a webcast in about an hour (http://autode.sk/webcast) to announce the launch of their 2014 family of products, including Autodesk Revit. But some of the details are already out, and the product pages have been updated, so…let’s talk new software!

I wasn’t in the beta program this year, so I found out about the new features the regular way…through Twitter.

My lack of advance knowledge means I didn’t have a post loaded and ready to go for today.  But I’ve read enough to identify three quick favorite new features, all in the small-but-significant category.

  1. Non-rectangular view crops & callouts. This one will solve a problem that literally came up yesterday.
  2. Temporary view settings.love view templates, and loved that they were made “sticky” in Revit 2013. But they can be annoying too, if you just need to see something briefly and turn it off again. Sounds like that annoyance is gone now.
  3. Multiple Bring-to-front/Send-to-back. Another annoyance removed. Now you can select multiple detail elements and change their view order, instead of working with one at a time.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I actually get the new version loaded on my machine. But if you’d like to read more today, David Light has excellent in-depth coverage, or you can visit the official Revit home page. Here’s a link straight to the structural new features.

Z-direction vs. Start & End offsets

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When you’re modeling structural framing in Revit, you often can just assign it to a level or reference plane to set its elevation.BeamOffset1

But sometimes you need to move a beam up or down — maybe to accommodate a slab step, architectural element, or other framing condition.

BeamOffset2

There are (at least) two ways to achieve the above image.

The first is with the z-Direction Justification and Offset. If you change Justification to “other”, you can then specify a single value to offset the beam up or down.

The second is with the Start and End Level Offsets. You can use these to give the two ends of the beam different elevations.

Which to choose? Well, it depends. Here’s what you need to know:

z-Direction Justification/Offset

  • The analytical line for a beam adjusted in the z-Direction stays put on the original reference level or work plane. This might be what you want to have happen, if you’re going to be exporting your analytical model to a program like RISA, or it might not. You’ll have to decide.BeamOffset3
  • You can only set one value, so it’s no good for sloped beams.
  • The z-Direction is relative to the beam, not the project. This means that if you have a beam with a rotated cross section, z-Direction offsets might not give you the result you’re looking for.BeamOffset4

Start & End Level Offsets

  • With this method, the analytical line follows your beam. Again, this may or may not create the desired effect with your analysis software.BeamOffset5
  • Each end can have a different offset, so you can create sloped framing.
  • HOWEVER, setting a start or end level offset AUTOMATICALLY detaches your framing from its work plane, and as far as I know you can’t get it back, even if the effect of the offsets keeps your framing parallel to its original plane.
  • Start/end offsets are relative to the level, so rotating your section keeps it more or less where it started. (Laterally, at any rate.)BeamOffset6

Combined Methods

  • You can actually use both methods at the same time for even more control over the location of your framing. Here’s the beam above with Start, End, AND z-Direction offsets.

 BeamOffset7

Keep Properties active

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Okay, some of you might laugh at this tip, it’s so simple. But it took me a little while to figure it out, and I saw somebody else get tripped up by it just last night, so I know it’s not just me.

Ready? Here it is:

The Revit Properties palette is only active while your cursor is over it.

Simple, right? But this happened several times a day until I caught on: Select an object to modify. Click on a field in Properties. Move the mouse out of the way. Press Delete to erase the current value. Realize the object disappeared instead. Mutter at the screen. Undo. Repeat.

The explanation for this is that Revit tracks the position of your cursor to determine whether the Properties palette is active. Moving the cursor off the palette has the same effect as clicking Apply — sometimes it’s even faster than using Apply.

Now that I know this, I’m more strategic with my cursor placement. I’ll move it up or down to get it out of the way of the field I’m editing, instead of left or right. When I’m finished, a quick flick to the side applies the changes. (I also made the palette a bit bigger, to give myself more room to move.)

For me, this falls under the category of “small but significant” features: easy to explain and use, but no less valuable for their simplicity. I’m sure there will be plenty more of these features in posts to come!

Sure, it looks good. But how’d you do it?

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If you’ve been working in CAD or BIM for any length of time, you know there’s ALWAYS more than one way to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to do. Sometimes it doesn’t matter which method you pick, such as dimensioning an object by selecting it or picking its endpoints (if you’ll excuse me the AutoCAD example). But sometimes it really does matter — especially to the next person who comes along and has to edit your model.

Let’s take beam copes. By default, using the “Apply Coping” tool, they look like this:

CopeDefault

But at our office, we want them to look like this:CopeCorrect

Okay, now it looks right, but…how’d I do that? Off the top of my head, I came up with no fewer than 5 possible methods:

  1. Hide the beam and redraw it with detail lines.
  2. Use a masking region.
  3. Use a detail component.
  4. Use the “opening by face” tool.
  5. Use a void family.

Any of these methods will end up with an image that looks like the one above. But which one is best?

#1 will get you in trouble around here. We don’t hide real objects unless it’s absolutely necessary. If we did hide objects, how would we know when things have changed?

#2 is a little better, but it’s still tedious. You end up fussing with real lines vs. invisible ones, and you’ll probably end up with more shape handles than you really want to deal with.

#3 is the most efficient, if you have a good family set up and don’t need to show the effect of the coping in your 3D model. I’m usually fine with 2D-only coping, unless we’re going to cut a 3D section where showing the coping is important.

#4 and #5 both affect the actual 3D object, which can be handy if you need to show the coping in more than one view. Openings by face are quicker to create than voids, but they only affect one beam at a time. If a void is long enough, though, it could cut through a whole line of framing (after you used “cut geometry” on each beam). I’ve used both of these options; it really does seem to depend on the situation.

So there are pros and cons to each method for showing coped beams in sections. It’s just one scenario where the are multiple ways of creating the same look with vastly different effects on the model.

What do you think? Any options I missed?

(And for the record, in this example I used Opening By Face. But that was only because I’d already applied coping to create the first image…otherwise I’d probably have used a detail component and saved myself a step or two.)

When is a line not a line?

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When is a line not a line? When it’s an object!

That sounds like either an annoying riddle or a really bad joke, but when it comes to details in Revit, it’s just the truth.

When we’re working with 2D views in Revit, they’re often a combination of live objects (e.g. beams/walls/floors), detail components (e.g. break lines, miscellaneous framing, rebar), and detail lines. I know there are some people out there who advocate against the use of detail lines at all, but we’re not able to do without them completely yet.

However, the distinction between detail lines & components confused me for a while. Specifically, why weren’t the line styles in my project the same ones I saw when editing a detail component?

DetailLines

DetailComponents

In hindsight, the pull-down headings (“Line Style” vs. “Subcategory”) should have tipped me off. But a lot of the names were the same, so I’d get confused when I’d see something in one place and not in the other.

DetailVGTurns out that Detail Lines — which only exist in projects — are considered “lines” and are controlled by that category in the Visibility Graphics dialog. “Lines” in Detail Components — which exist only in families — are considered “objects” and are controlled under the “Detail Items” category of Visibility Graphics.

In our office, there’s a lot of overlap between the styles in each category, which makes sense given that they both serve a similar purpose of adding 2D geometry to sections and details. But it also helps explain why I overlooked the differences!

I think the thing I find most confusing about Revit is the multiple terms for very similar objects. Things that might be synonyms in daily life have very different meanings inside Revit.

At any rate, that’s one minor mystery cleared up. On to the next!

Working with 3D Views

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This post is definitely back-to-basics, but considering how much of Revit’s value is in its 3D capabilities, I thought I’d share a few of the tips I’ve picked up lately for navigating in the third dimension.

#1: Set pivot for 3D orbit

If you hold down the Shift key and middle mouse button, you can move the mouse to orbit around your 3D model. However, the default orbit pivot is probably not exactly where you’d like it to be. In this case, if I’ve zoomed in on a corner of my building. When I try to orbit around the corner, it rapidly disappears from view.

orbit1

So instead, I’ll select an object near where I’d like my pivot point to be. Then when I use Shift-middle-pan, the view stays centered on my object.

orbit2

#2: Align 3D view to 2D view

This is possibly my favorite use of 3D views. If you right-click on the View Cube in a 3D view, one of the options is “Orient to View”. You can pick one of your existing floor plans, elevations, or sections (or 3D views, although that one seems a little silly to me) and instantly get a cropped, 3D view of that 2D area.

OrientToView1

You will probably need to orbit around it for the full 3D effect (possibly using tip #1), but it’s a great way to quickly clear your view of unnecessary geometry.

OrientToView2

Right now I’m mostly using this in working views, tracking down columns and floors and such, but I think it won’t be too much longer before these kinds of 3D sections are common sights in our design documents.

#3: Make objects transparent

Another way to clarify your view is by making certain objects or categories see-through. In steel-framed structures, I often get away without using this, but as soon as you add concrete or masonry walls, interior structure gets a lot harder to see! So I go to Visibility Graphics and override the Transparency to something greater than 0 — 50% seems to work nicely. If you take it all the way to 100%, your objects become completely clear, but as long as you still have “Show Edges” checked in your Graphic Display Options, you’ll still be able to tell they’re there. (I wouldn’t recommend using both 100% transparency and hidden edges.)

Below are images with walls at 0% and 50% transparency — it’d be clearer if it weren’t a CMU building (or if I turned the edges off), but you get the idea.

TransparentWalls1 TransparentWalls

I should point out that in 2012 and earlier, the Visibility Graphics dialog had two checkboxes for “Ghost Surfaces” and “Transparent”. In 2013, these have been merged into a single “Transparency” slider in the “Projection/Surface” category.

 

Keeping up with standards

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There’s an old joke in CAD Management circles that the wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from. (We laugh because it’s true.) For our firm, most of the time these are client-driven standards, which in turn are probably owner-driven. In these cases, we grumble, sigh, and then build templates to automate compliance as much as possible.

But what about internal standards? And, more specifically, what happens when they change?

I’m thinking about Revit families here — other kinds of standards will have to wait for another day.

To answer this problem, I went back to thinking about how we handled it in AutoCAD when a symbol changed or was added. Adding was easy. (“Here’s a new block.”) When we changed something, though, we had to think through how it would affect our projects in-progress. Was it worth updating them with the new block? (Maybe.) Was it worth updating our typical details? (Yes*.)

Taking this into Revit, I think the basics of the process are the same, but the challenge is multiplied due to the vast numbers of families and the various ways of accessing them.

But here’s how I think it can work:

  • If you need to update a family, go ahead and rename it. Don’t try to keep two versions hanging around. (At least not in the active folders. Backups are fine, of course.)
  • If needed, update your template so that new projects will use the new family. (This part’s kind of a no-brainer.)
  • Projects in-progress will continue to use the old family if it’s already been loaded. If you inadvertently load in the the new version, you should probably say “no” when asked, “Do you want to overwrite this family?”
  • If you need the new version in an existing project (and be honest, it’s probably why you updated the family in the first place), rename the existing family as zzOLD-family (or with your prefix/suffix of choice) and then load in the new family.

I’m in favor of the prefix method here because then all the zzOLD families will drop to the bottom of your project browser, where your users won’t be tempted to grab them when creating new instances. It’s also a pretty good visual clue if they do happen to select a superseded family.

Admittedly I haven’t put this into practice officially yet, but I think I’d like to. Am I missing anything?

(Back to the asterisk from above — updating typical details can be a huge chore. It needs to be done, though; otherwise you end up with old symbols perpetuating themselves through new projects. Maybe set aside a day a month for maintenance? I’ll have to think about that.)

Welcome!

Welcome to BIMmuse.com!

As the header says, this site will be a collection of thoughts on applying BIM for Structural Engineers…and that doesn’t just mean Revit! I plan to include topics on every aspect of what my firm has called “digital design” — everything software-related that a designer, engineer, or drafter uses to complete a building design. So there will be a lot of Revit, but there will also be RAM, RISA, and ETABS, links between them and Revit, and IT stuff like silent installs and automated deployments. There might even be a bit of AutoCAD, because that’s still a significant part of our workflow. (Think big, right?)

Before I dive into the technical posts, I wanted to take a minute to explain the site name. “BIM” is pretty obvious. I chose “muse” because I want to share my musings with you (muse: ponder, contemplate, think), and also because I eventually hope this site will serve as a muse itself (muses: in Greek mythology, the sources of inspiration for literature, science, and the arts).

Hey, I said I was thinking big, didn’t I?

If you put the two halves together, you also get a nice little pun. (I love puns!) “BIMmuse”, said out loud, sounds an awful lot like “bemuse” (bemuse: to confuse or bewilder). And be honest now — haven’t we all been bewildered or confused by the BIM process at some point?

At any rate, as the site grows I hope to move from bewildered to inspired…and I hope some of you come along for the ride.