Indoor ceiling-hosted VRF components

VRF Systems Summer Showcase

By on August 28, 2017 in Revit Families

While it’s only August, so far it would be safe to say that 2017 has been our hottest year on record for VRF Revit content. VRF stands for Variable Refrigerant Flow, and it’s a type of HVAC system that can do modulated and mixed heating and cooling. We’ve had multiple projects from multiple manufacturers and created a wide range of VRF components throughout 2017. This made me curious to learn more about where VRF products fit in the industry and why the sudden increase in interest.

While we don’t know the exact reasons for the uptick in requests for VRF Revit content this year, we do know that VRF systems are steadily gaining in popularity. This is especially true in the US, where they are still only a small fraction of installed systems. VRF is a technology from Japan that’s been available since 1982 and which is already in wide use across Asia and Europe.(1) It’s more energy-efficient (by modulating the level of refrigerant instead of using a simple on/off) and more flexible (by doing mixed heating and cooling) than other HVAC systems for many common building applications. As a global market, it’s already worth more than $10B and is projected to reach more than double that in the next 5 years.(2) So perhaps it should come as no surprise that more AEC firms are looking to use VRF systems in their projects, and that this translates into manufacturers making more VRF Revit families.

From a content perspective, the main complexities tend to be connectors and ensuring that all technical specs are accurate for all types. With connectors, VRF product line-ups can have units with multiple numbers, types and locations for system connectors, such as units with options for heat recovery, drain pumps and filter boxes. In terms of technical specs, such as electrical and piping data, certain VRF units can have a whole host of possible configurations, some of which may not be immediately clear from standard product documentation.

With both system connectors and technical specs, the critical step is to talk through all product options with the manufacturer and not just rely on documentation. Even if you don’t end up incorporating every product option into the Revit family – because some are too customizable or very rarely requested or not useful for Revit’s purposes – it’s important to know the full range of possible configurations and ideally to create content that can easily incorporate them in the future.

Below are some highlights from our recent VRF projects where you can see the different types of components and the range of sizes and configurations that go into a VRF system. While the family geometry is generally quite regular in shape, the exterior connections, knockouts and grilles help to keep us on our toes. Getting those small details right is important both for recognizing the desired product/configuration as well as for accurate coordination and calculations in Revit.

The families all include three levels of detail in both 3D and 2D and have materials applied for 3D fine views and renderings. Where appropriate, they also include clearance zone geometry (in both 3D and 2D), optional hanger visibility, connector position options, and type catalogs to cover different sizes and technical configurations. The families range in file size from under 400KB for the Y branch fittings to just over 1MB for some multi-unit outdoor pumps and multiport distribution controllers, with an average of about 700KB, giving you top-notch usability and smooth performance in your Revit projects.

Outdoor heat pumps with heat recovery capability.

VRF outdoor heat recovery Revit families

Indoor underceiling and cassette heat pumps.

Indoor ceiling-hosted VRF unit Revit families

Ceiling void indoor heat pumps.

Indoor ceiling void VRF unit Revit families

Indoor exposed and recessed floor model heat pumps.

Floor model indoor VRF unit Revit families

Indoor exposed floor heat pump in elevation view with subcategories showing.

Exposed floor VRF unit Revit family in elevation view with subcategories showing

Indoor exposed floor heat pump with knockout options highlighted.

Exposed floor VRF unit Revit family with knockout options highlighted

 

Underceiling heat pump with standard knockout (left) and optional drain pump (right).

Underceiling VRF unit Revit family with standard drain connectionUnderceiling VRF unit Revit family with optional drain pump

Outdoor twin 30-ton (left) and 18-ton (right) heat pumps

3D view of twin outdoor 30 ton heat pump Revit family 3D view of twin outdoor 18 ton heat pump Revit family

Change-over box units with 1, 4, 8 and 12 port configurations.

3D fine view of VRF changeover box Revit families

Plan view of change-over box units with 1, 4, 8 and 12 port configurations.

Plan view of VRF change-over box Revit families

Y branch pipe fittings for outdoor heat pumps in fine (left) and medium/coarse (right).

3D fine view of VRF Y branch Revit family types3D medium and coarse view of VRF Y branch Revit family types

Rendering of copper Y branch pipe fitting for outdoor heat pumps.

Rendering of VRF copper Y branch Revit family

And that’s a wrap!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this summer showcase of VRF Revit families, and here’s to the continued growth and success of more energy-efficient HVAC systems!

Notes

1. Joanna R. Turpin, “VRF Market Expected to Hit $24B by 2022”, The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration NEWS, http://www.achrnews.com/articles/134465-vrf-market-expected-to-hit-24b-by-2022, (February 13, 2017).

2. Ibid.

school-of-rock-jack-black-teacher-blackboard-school-education

10 Key Specs for Revit Content: A Primer for Manufacturers

Some quick background before we begin

When we started Andekan nearly a decade ago, the vast majority of our customers were architects and engineers who needed Revit content for specific projects. Things have changed quite a bit since then, and today most of our customers are manufacturers who want Revit families of their products to distribute to those same architects, engineers and contractors.

While building product manufacturers are increasingly alert to the importance of having their products in Revit, most still remain in the dark as to what they should be looking for from their content. We regularly field inquiries from manufacturers who have paid handsomely for content from other providers that’s woefully inadequate if not unusable, or who know they need content but have only a vague idea as to what that means.

We wanted to create this primer as a resource for manufacturers seeking quality Revit content. Our aim is to help shed light on questions of how to evaluate potential content partners and how to determine if your Revit content will be satisfactory for use in actual projects (as opposed to in a content provider’s demo).

The list below covers 10 key aspects of Revit families that we at Andekan think about whenever we’re defining specifications for a content project. While the list is not exhaustive in terms of how you can specify Revit content, it should be sufficiently comprehensive for manufacturers buying content to get a solid grasp of whether they’re getting what they pay for.

Of course there are other ingredients that go into high-quality Revit content development, such as clear product documentation and good model QA. But those are beasts of a somewhat different nature and substantial topics in their own right that deserve their own posts or primers. So without further ado, here are our…

10 Key Specs for Revit Content

#1 3D Geometry – Keep it clean and use all levels.

Revit family rendering

3D is the one thing that anybody seeking and making Revit content is likely to know about – Revit can do 3D! But the devil is in the details, and there are some key ones for manufacturers to be aware of:

Levels of Detail. 3D geometry can be defined at three levels.

Revit offers three levels of detail for viewing 3D geometry: Fine, Medium and Coarse. Your Revit families should make use of all three. Fine geometry should be detailed enough that you can tell it’s your product, or at least tell the exact kind of product (some product categories are more generic-looking than others). Coarse geometry should just show the geometrical mass, since it will be used for simplified views. Medium, as the name suggests, should be somewhere in between those two, with the appropriate amount of detail being different for different product categories.

Revit 3D view in three levels of detail

3D views of a Revit family at three levels of detail – fine, medium and coarse

Logos and Branding. Not helping your image.

Logos and other pure branding elements are to be avoided, as they only add to the model’s complexity, file size and constraints, without serving any purpose within Revit. Adding them might quell the fears of your sales and marketing team, but not the needs of your customers working in Revit. In fact, any logo included on a Revit family will end up looking like nothing more than a blob or dot at most view scales needed for project deliverables.

Your brand will come through in other ways – parameter data, fine-level geometry that looks like your product, how you distribute your content to customers, etc. Most of all, it will come through in having high-quality content that makes customers happy by helping them to deliver great projects in Revit. Now this rule does have some exceptions. For example, creating a Revit family for a sign that goes on a restaurant or store is a case where modeling a logo simply can’t be avoided. 😉

Illuminated_Sign-LED-Kroger-Oval_7.5X9.8Ft

Native Geometry. The sustainable approach to creating content.

Importing geometry from other formats is a killer for Revit content. Just don’t do it. Ever. This probably deserves its own post to explain, but while we work on that please just trust us and stick to using Revit’s native geometry.

#2 2D Geometry – Revit also does 2D. Don’t skip it.

Revit Front Elevation View - Fine

Surprise! Revit also has 2D geometry elements: model lines, symbolic lines and masking regions. While Revit’s 3D geometry gets all the attention, it’s very important to consider 2D geometry for application in the drawings and sheets that are issued during design and construction.

2D or Not 2D? That is NOT the question.

For cleaner and faster 2D views, such as plans and elevations, your families should include 2D geometry applied specifically to those views. Any professional content provider worth its salt will include 2D geometry as a matter of standard practice. Some will argue that Revit’s view rendering, and computers in general, have improved enough over the years that it’s entirely possible to skip 2D geometry and just use 3D geometry in 2D views. They might be right, at least for certain types of families, and that can be a perfectly acceptable choice at a firm or project level. But when it comes to making Revit content for public consumption, it’s important and worthwhile to cover your bases and include 2D geometry for 2D views. Having good 2D geometry is one of those details that an end-user will really appreciate about good content and which will help keep them using your families in projects.

Levels of Detail, Again. 2D also shows in three levels.

Revit side elevation view in three levels of detail

Revit side elevation view in three levels of detail – fine, medium and coarse.

Just like with 3D geometry, Revit gives you Fine, Medium and Coarse levels of detail for 2D geometry. In general, you should follow the same principles as with 3D geometry, although certain product categories have special requirements based on industry practice for construction documents. For example, pipe fittings should display as model lines only, and light fixtures should display as symbols. Speaking of symbols…

Symbols. Create separately and then nest.

If you need your product to be represented by a symbol in plan or elevation views, then you should create the symbol as a separate Annotation Symbol family and nest it within your main family. And don’t let anyone tell you that a symbol won’t show if your product is placed in a wall, or that you can’t avoid overlapping with symbols from other objects placed in the same space.

#3 Flexibility – Make sure your content can adapt.

The bad news is that product dimensions and exterior appearance usually change over time, and when they do you’ll have to update your content. The good news is that your Revit families can be built to handle this eventuality with relative ease. One of Revit’s key features is the ability to create “flexible” geometry, i.e. you can enter new dimensions and the model geometry will automatically “flex” to the new size or shape. The more flexible a family’s geometry is, the easier it will be to incorporate future changes, and the more likely that a manufacturer can make those changes without outside help.

Wall-Mounted Speaker Types in 3D Fine

Building with flexible geometry makes it easy to add new sizes, angles and options.

It’s also possible to create Revit families with non-flexible geometry, and sadly there are still cases of manufacturers paying for fancy-looking models that break as soon as they try to change a dimension. While it’s true that, for very specific products, non-flexible families are not necessarily a bad thing in Revit, there are still reasons for a manufacturer to keep geometry flexible. Documentation might have mistakes, and a flexible family will more easily cope with such changes at little or no cost. Additional variations of products developed in the future will be able to use a flexible family as a starting point. And for certain kinds of products, say pipe fittings, you want to go the extra length and have geometry that can flex to a whole range of sizes and angles so that the family supports the required workflow in Revit projects.

#4 Types – Define your major product variations.

Types represent different variations of a product or object within a single Revit family – which is why it’s called a “family”. For example, a table that comes in red or blue and 8ft or 12ft could have four types to cover the different length and color combinations that someone might order.

All Revit families contain one or more types for a user to choose from.

Not every product option needs to be covered by a type, and we’ll talk more about other kinds of options below. But every family in Revit will always have at least one type by default. For manufacturer Revit content, there are two key points we always try to bear in mind regarding types:

Define types by your most common, standardized versions.

Types should be used to cover a product’s most common and standardized options. In general, your Revit family types will match up to the different models of your product that you sell. For example, if you sell a lamp with either a circular shade or an elliptical shade, it would make sense to set those options as types within your lamp family. On the other hand, if your lamp is available in any length from 4ft to 8ft, it doesn’t make sense to cover that option using types because there is an open range of possible values. There are also some options that are not possible to cover using types, such as optional electrical connections.

Type catalogs make everything easier.

Types are most convenient when defined using what’s called a type catalog in Revit. This is especially true if there are more than just a few types. The reason is that a type catalog is essentially a spreadsheet, which can be edited and reviewed just like a spreadsheet, i.e. by anyone and without having Revit. So the more information that is fed from a type catalog, the more manageable the family will be for the manufacturer (and for the end user).

It's almost too easy!

On the other hand, we’ve received plenty of requests from manufacturers to update families that use a whole series of complex, interconnected formula parameters to generate all of the type data. Any family created in this fashion takes what should be simple and turns it into something which can’t be updated in a reasonable amount of time, except, perhaps, by the original content provider. In contrast, if you had a properly-built, flexible family that uses a type catalog, you wouldn’t even need to open the Revit family file. Instead, you could take care of any changes purely within the .txt type catalog.

#5 Parameters – It’s all about the data!

Identity Data parameters example

Some of the many kinds of parameters that can go into a manufacturer Revit family

If geometry is one side of the Revit content coin, then parameter data is the other side. Parameters are what define your product’s properties within Revit. Parameters can include everything from physical attributes like width, length and height, to technical specs like materials, weight, electrical or mechanical properties, to identifying information like model number, product URL and, you guessed it, manufacturer. You can add and configure custom parameters for your Revit content, and there are also some built-in parameters that come with the Revit family templates.

A quick compass for navigating the sea of parameters

It would take many blog posts to cover the topic of parameters, and there are many technicalities that apply only to specific types of products or project use cases. For a manufacturer’s purposes, below are some of the most critical things to look out for on your Revit journey.

Render of an oil tanker Revit family

Family Category. What kind of object is it?

Categories in Revit cover major groups of building objects like Communication Devices, Doors, Furniture, Mechanical Equipment, Pipe Fittings, Plumbing Fixtures, Windows and so on. Setting the Category parameter for your family is important. Certain categories come with different built-in parameters that are essential for their use in Revit. The Category parameter is also something that’s frequently used for generating schedules of quantities in Revit, and you want to make sure that your product shows up on the right schedules.

Type vs. Instance. Think “factory set” vs. “on site”.

Parameters in a Revit family can be configured as either “type” or “instance”. The easiest way to think about type parameters is as being for those attributes that define your product and are set at the factory. For example, think of a valve’s “connection type” parameter. If it’s a threaded valve, then it’s so from the moment it leaves the factory and it won’t or shouldn’t change once on site. So that’s a type parameter.

On the other hand, instance parameters should be used for any parameters that need to be in a family but that could or should be changed on site. The lever of that valve can be open or closed, but that’s something that can and should be changed on site, and it doesn’t change which threaded valve you ordered. So the parameter used to set the lever of the valve to open or closed would be an instance parameter.

Naming and Grouping. There to help users, not content creators.

Parameters can be positioned under different group labels within a family and can be named however you want. Usually, you just want to follow the logical groupings that you get in Revit, so that you put your electrical values in the Electrical group and the outer dimensions under Dimensions. But we also recommend putting “background” parameters (ones that are used for special options or as part of formulas) into the Other category so that they stay out of the way for users and anyone marketing the content.

In terms of parameter naming, clear and concise is always the best approach, especially with those that will need to be used in a project. Make sure they can be easily understood by your customers and users. Autodesk’s own out-of-the-box content takes this approach, with plain English labels that use Title Case for Their Words. Leave any clever formatting like CamelCase, lots_of_underscores or ACME_Prefixes, where it belongs, in the hands of any customers who are so inclined to use them.

Formula-Driven Parameters. Don’t get carried away.

Parameter values can be defined using a formula, and those formulas can reference other parameters, and thus many complicated things can be achieved using formula parameters in Revit. It’s hard to avoid using any formula parameters if you want to do something fancy with a Revit family’s geometry or parameter values. On the other hand, the more functionality that you pack into formula parameters, the harder it becomes to manage a family over time. Even if all the individual formulas are simple, you are also adding logic that will need to be understood, modified and re-checked any time you need to make a change. And if your families use formula parameters to generate type values, then you’re highly encouraged to go back and read section 4 on the virtues of type catalogs.

Shared Parameters. As few as possible helps everyone.

If you’re building in-house content for an AEC design firm, then by all means you should include the firm’s shared parameters in your Revit content. On the other hand, shared parameters are generally a bad idea for manufacturers developing content for public distribution. Why? Because AEC firms don’t all use the same shared parameters. Sure, there are some public lists of shared parameters for different industry groups that get some usage, and it can make sense to include those if you know that most of your customers are using them or have asked about them. On the other hand, having unwanted shared parameters is a pain for users, so leaving them out keeps your Revit families neat and tidy for everyone. Those that want to add their shared parameters can still do so, and in general that process is one they’ll likely have developed to be easy and efficient.

#6 Options – Include, Split or Skip?

Alice in Wonderland - Which way to go

It’s always critical to account for any options that need to be available for the end-user in Revit. These could be mounting options, accessory options, technical options, etc. The way that options get incorporated into your Revit content will vary depending on the nature of the option and how commonly it’s used. But in many cases, such as with clearance zones described below, you can configure a checkbox parameter to toggle options on and off by linking either to your model’s geometry or to other parameter data.

In other cases, you may end up going so far as to create a separate version of a Revit model to cover a desired option. This could either be because Revit requires it (e.g. a motor accessory that brings with it an additional power connection – see below for more on connectors) or because it’s just more practical for the end user (e.g. your product has an option that’s required for use in a certain commercial or geographic market and is never used in any others).

There are also cases where it will make the most sense to NOT cover an option within the Revit family. Maybe the option is so rarely needed that you don’t want to confuse users, or maybe it’s something that must be customized per order, or maybe it simply wouldn’t be useful within the context of a Revit building project. In all of these cases, your content provider should be able to walk you through the possible approaches and clearly describe the pros and cons of each.

#7 Clearance Zones – Give your families their space.

Gas Meter - Clearance Zones - 3D

Gas meter Revit family with clearance zones showing.



Whether it’s for purposes of access, maintenance or safety, many types of building products require a certain amount of space around them. Since Revit is used heavily as a coordination tool, it’s critical to include these clearances in your Revit families. Clearances should be modeled in both 3D and 2D views, and you should be able to turn them on and off using a clearly named parameter. It’s best practice to assign clearance zone geometry to its own subcategory within the model, at least until the day Revit does the right thing and provides a built-in clearances subcategory.

#8 Connectors – For MEP system parts and equipment.

Revit family with many system connectors

Revit family with multiple MEP system connectors. Connectors highlighted in right-hand image.

If your product makes use of, or is a part of, a building’s electrical, plumbing or HVAC systems, then your Revit family will need one or more system connectors. As the name implies, connectors allow a Revit family to become part of a building system so that its properties are taken into account for purposes of calculating loads and flows. Certain types of products will only need one connector (e.g. light fixture), whereas others will need multiple connectors of the same type (e.g. pipe fittings) or multiple connectors of different types (e.g. HVAC equipment).

Connectors have their own systems-related properties, which are not shown in the Revit family parameters that are readily visible to the end-user. However, some connector parameters can be linked to family parameters, which a user can readily select or modify. Linking connector parameters to family parameters gives users a way to easily set key system-related properties that they need for project usage (e.g. selecting the right voltage type).

Failing to include a connector in a model that should have one, or configuring connectors incorrectly, can negatively impact an entire project, so it’s very important to get them right for MEP manufacturers. It’s also important to be aware that system connectors have certain limitations in Revit. For example, if your product comes in variations with different numbers or types of system connections, then you’ll need to produce multiple Revit families to cover those varying connector options.

#9 Hosting – Where should I put this?

butler with a serving tray

“Hosting” in Revit refers to how an object can be placed in a building space. Does it need to be placed on a face, in a wall, on a ceiling, or can it be placed anywhere (non-hosted)? Hosting is a critical choice, because once you pick your hosting type template for a Revit family, you can’t easily change it.

Aside from a small number of special cases such as windows or doors, you generally want to pick either non-hosted or face-based hosting. While there are more specific options available, like wall-hosted, ceiling-hosted and floor-hosted, more often than not those choices only serve to unnecessarily constrain a family’s usability within a project. There can be vertical and horizontal design faces in Revit that are not strictly categorized as walls or ceilings or floors in the project, so having a face-based family usually makes it easier to place “hosted” content where it ought to go. And anything that doesn’t actually affix or mount to a surface can simply be non-hosted. Again, there are cases where more specific hosting is appropriate, so it’s an important choice to ask about if you’re not sure what makes sense for your products.

#10 Version – If I could turn back time…Revit can’t.

Delorean dates generator machine

Similar to hosting, this is a choice that can’t be reversed, so make sure you choose wisely. The key constraint with Revit versions is that content can never be downgraded to earlier versions, although it can always be upgraded to newer versions. So if you build your content in Revit 2016, then you should be okay NOT having it available in Revit 2015 and earlier.

There is always a tradeoff between making content that is backwards compatible, and therefore available to the largest possible number of users, and making content that takes advantage of the latest and greatest in Revit. Autodesk officially support the current version of Revit and three versions prior, so that’s a good reference for how far back most content ought to go. And remember, Autodesk generally release the next year’s version during the current year, i.e. Revit 2018 has been out since the spring.

However, if you know that a lot of your customers are still working in Revit 2013, for example, then it probably makes sense to go an extra year back and do the content in 2013 to make sure you can continue serving those customers. In certain cases, you may then need to tweak or want to optimize the content in later year versions (for example, embedding lookup tables in pipe fittings from Revit 2014 onward). But that effort will generally be minimal compared to rebuilding a family from scratch because it got made in a too-recent version.

#11 Project Workflow – btw don’t forget context.

Amp volume goes to 11

This blog post goes to 11.

We always want to go the extra mile for high-quality content, so of course we had to squeeze an 11th item into our top 10 list. But project workflow is less a single spec on a checklist and more a question of the “real-world” understanding that’s required to apply the checklist to different types of objects and products. It’s understanding how those objects need to get used within a Revit project (workflows), and the features and options that Revit has available for achieving those workflows.

To give an example, although we highlighted types and type catalogs in multiple places above, if someone ever gives you a pipe fitting Revit family that uses a type catalog or that has types for different angles (e.g. a bend with 45 degree type and 90 degree type), then you should run away from that person! That’s because pipe fittings use another special feature in Revit, called a lookup table, that lets them accommodate multiple angles within a single type.

So it’s essential to work with a content creator that has enough experience working in Revit projects to understand your product’s required workflows and how best to achieve them. At Andekan, on top of our 10 years dedicated to creating top-quality Revit content, our team has another 10 years combined experience working as coordinators and consultants for real-world building projects. Whoever you work with to create content, you should feel confident they have the experience to connect all of the technical dots in project context.

A quality content creator will be able to describe how your content will be used in a project and to explain which features and options are most important for your type of content. That can be someone in-house who has trained extensively in Revit and talked to all of your customers using Revit, or it could be a consultant who specializes in Revit and your particular industry sector and has design firm clients, or it could be a firm fully-dedicated to Revit content with years of experience doing content of all kinds for a range of customer types, like…hmm, let’s see…well, you get the picture.

That’s it! All done!

Thanks for reading our list of 10 Key Specs for Revit Content! If you’re a product manufacturer developing content, or if you’re a Revit user who works with product manufacturers and their content, we hope this primer has been helpful! If you have questions or feedback, please feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to us by email at contact@andekan.com.

Connected CRD Revit families - 3D Fine

The Limits of Revit System Connectors

System connectors and their limitations have been a recurring theme in a slew of MEP content projects that we’ve been working on recently. When it comes to creating Revit families for MEP systems (HVAC, piping, plumbing, electrical, etc.), connectors are an essential feature of any usable piece of content. Anyone doing system coordination and calculations in Revit projects will know about the importance of having families with the right kinds of connectors, and of having those connectors correctly configured for the particular system (and for those that don’t, you can check out this Autodesk primer on Revit connectors).

Still, when we think about what makes for complex MEP Revit families, we’re usually focused on how varied and intricate the model geometry is, or how to configure parameters and type catalogs to cover a range of technical options. It can be easy to underestimate the impact that system connectors can have on how you should build a Revit family.

Indoor Heat Pump Revit Family in 3D Fine View

Indoor heat pump Revit family in 3D fine view.

Indoor Heat Pump Revit Family Selected with Connectors Showing

Indoor heat pump with system connectors visible.

In part, this is because system connectors in Revit have certain limitations that may not be obvious to engineers who use Revit families in projects, and even less so to manufacturers who hire others to build Revit families for their products. In terms of building MEP content in Revit, the three most critical constraints on connectors are:

  1. Connectors added to a family cannot be turned off – When you add a connector to a Revit family, that connector will be available to use no matter what else you do with the family. You can temporarily hide a connector’s geometry in a particular view, but the connector itself can’t be permanently hidden or deactivated.
  2. A connector’s discipline cannot be changed – Once you’ve designated a connector’s discipline (pipe, duct, electrical, etc.), the only way to change it is to delete the connector and add it again.
  3. Not all connector properties can be controlled via parameters – You can link certain connector properties to family parameters, but some big ones such as System Type and System Classification can’t be controlled that way. This has an impact in terms of covering system specs via type catalogs, and it generally makes it more difficult for end users to manage system connection details within a Revit family.
Connector Properties for Mechanical Equipment Revit Family

Connector properties for a mechanical equipment Revit family.

The big upshot of these limitations is that your fundamental connector options cannot change from type to type or based on other parameter values within a Revit family. This creates complications for certain kinds of MEP equipment that can be configured to have different numbers or types of connections based on their required capacity, application or other factors. Rather than being able to cover the full range of technical configurations within a single Revit model, the model has to be split into a separate .RFA files to reflect these different connector configurations.

Damper Revit family split into three due to varied number of supply air connections.

Ceiling radiation damper Revit family split into three due to varied number of supply air connections.

Damper family with single supply air connection

Damper family with single supply air connection.

Damper family with double supply air connection

Damper family with two supply air connections.

Damper family with three supply air connections

Damper family with three supply air connections.

One might argue that it’s not very difficult to handle this situation – simply save another copy of a Revit family and then just change the connector options, right? To a degree that’s true, but of course the devil is in the details. It might not take much work if you have a very simple set of technical configurations that happen to require different number of connectors. We faced a situation like that with the ceiling radiation dampers shown above, where there could be between 1 and 3 connections for supply air, but the types of connectors were all the same and the impact on geometry was minimal.

Then again, it’s a different story when you’re dealing with things like commercial or retail HVAC equipment that can have an extensive range of operating capacities, electrical specs and system options that all relate to your connectors – including different types of connectors and where those connectors can be placed. In those cases, splitting a Revit family by connectors is no trivial exercise, if for no other reason than the extra care that needs to be taken in configuring the connectors and all related parameters. It can also involve modifications to the model geometry, depending on the product and manufacturer requirements.

Render of Connected Ceiling Radiation Damper Revit Families

Render of Connected Ceiling Radiation Damper Revit Families

The good news is that it is easy to solve for this problem. The only thing that’s needed is the full product documentation from the manufacturer, and perhaps a conversation with them about which options need to be covered within their Revit families. Unfortunately that’s often a process that can take a while or have unanticipated developments, as the people in charge of helping sell and market the manufacturer’s products (i.e. salespeople, digital marketing staff, etc.) might not be the people who handle its technical documentation and product engineering.

Sometimes there are gaps in communication, timing or resources between those areas within a company. In that case, the next best thing to having all of the documentation at your fingertips is to be able to explain why an existing Revit family can’t work for your particular application, or why it’s going to take longer and cost more to create Revit families that cover all of the system options that the products require, or why your company should address that gap and align teams more closely.

So the next time you’re requesting MEP content from a manufacturer or planning to create MEP Revit families yourself, remember to consider the limits of Revit system connectors and how they can impact your models. It’s often the case that, due to connector limitations, an MEP Revit family will need to be split in ways that don’t match up exactly with how the manufacturer packages or sells the product. And if you don’t plan for that upfront, you’ll only pay the price in time and resources later on.

Hopefully this blog post helps anyone facing such situations, and if so then I’ll be a happy writer. Stay tuned for more on system connectors soon. I plan to write a couple more posts about how we can maximize their use and flexibility within Revit families, despite their limitations.

Type Parameters in an Andekan Revit Family (Left) vs. Another Content Provider (Right)

Built to Fail: A Study in Contrasts with Manufacturer Revit Content

After my last post on building manufacturer Revit content that can easily flex to accomodate new dimensions and specs, we received a customer request that offers up a perfect study in contrasts. The customer in question is a manufacturer with existing Revit families that had been made by some other provider (unknown to us) and later published on Seek. The manufacturer now wanted to add a few new types to those families, each of which had only minor changes to dimensions and electrical specifications. Sounds simple enough, right?

When we actually opened the families in Revit and took a look at the parameters, what had seemed like a quick and easy job revealed itself to be a nightmarish labyrinth. All of the type parameters were controlled by lengthy IF formulas that referenced a slew of opaquely named parameters. The below images are just a portion of the parameters that drove the type data for these families.

Poorly configured Revit type parameters - example 1 of 3
Poorly configured Revit type parameters - example 2 of 3
Poorly configured Revit type parameters - example 3 of 3

How do you update Revit content like this? Well, you could spend hours picking apart the formulas and tracing the parameter references to hopefully figure out the “simple” update that’s needed to add a new voltage value or stretch an outer dimension by a few inches. Of course there’s always the possibility that you miss a step the first time or that your mind goes numb before you can get to the end of the maze. And even if you do manage to decipher how to add your new type values, you better re-check all of the other types afterward to make sure you didn’t accidentally affect any existing data.

It’s possible that whoever originally created the content has some tool or spreadsheet that they’ve configured to easily add new type values and generate all the correct parameters and formulas. But it’s truly a disservice to the customer to build content that they can’t maintain independently (either directly on their own or by working with any reputable Revit content provider). This is especially true when there is an existing, standard tool called a type catalog that can make the same process as easy as modifying or adding a row in a spreadsheet.

So what can you say to a customer who brings you families like this with the expectation of quick and easy updates? In this case, we knew that trying to update the existing Revit families would take us just as much time (and with no added value) as it would to rebuild the families from scratch. So we told the customer that they had two options — 1) go back to the original content provider to have them update the existing families, or 2) have us rebuild the families and gain the added value of better long-term management through flexible geometry, clearly named parameters and type catalogs. While that may not have been the answer that the customer was hoping for, their response was to avoid the previous content provider and request a quote from us for rebuilding the families.

To illustrate the contrast, below are samples images of the type catalog and type parameters from one of the manufacturer-specific Revit families that we highlighted in our last blog post.

Type catalog for manufacturer-specific Revit family created by Andekan Concise type parameters for manufacturer-specific Revit family created by Andekan Clearly named type parameters for manufacturer-specific Revit family created by Andekan

If Revit content is done right the first time, then you get great value from Revit’s parametric design and family data structure – then jobs like this one really can take 5 minutes. On the other hand, taking the wrong approach to parameter data or geometry can turn simple updates into such a complicated job that you’re better off ditching the content altogether and starting from scratch. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to tell the difference between the two, since Revit families that are poorly built can still look great in 3D views and still give you the parameter data you need today. Often problems don’t surface until down the road, when the content die is already cast and it’s too late for quick fixes.

Daikin Chiller Revit Family - Perspective Raytrace

Built to Last: Manufacturer-Specific Revit Families That Are Made to Flex

By on February 22, 2017 in Revit Families, Revit Family Standards

We were hired recently to create a few chiller Revit families for use by a major engineering firm. The firm requested the families to be based on specific manufacturer models that they needed for a particular project, but they also wanted to get Revit families that they could readily adapt to future needs. The project was a good chance to demonstrate how Revit families can be built to match a specific manufacturer product while still being flexible enough to serve as the basis for a range of similar products from the manufacturer.

The chiller Revit families we created were based on the Trane Series R, the Climaveneta TECS2 HC line and the Daikin EWWQ-B-XS. We modeled the geometry for these families to our usual standards – three levels of detail in 3D and 2D, with materials applied in 3D Medium and Fine views, and with only symbolic lines and masking regions shown in 2D views. The results are beautiful and accurate 3D views along with clean and fast 2D views.

Climaveneta Chiller Revit Family - 3D Fine View
Climaveneta Chiller Revit Family - Front Elevation Fine View

While we modeled these chiller families to match real-world products from the manufacturers, we also made sure to include a high degree of flexibility into their geometry. We did this by incorporating a variety of parameters that can be used to control all the individual elements of each Revit family, such as diameters for the compressors, evaporators and condensors, as well as the spacing of geometries about all three axes. Below is a sample of these parameters from the Trane chiller family.

Trane Chiller Revit Family Parameters - 1 of 3Trane Chiller Revit Family Parameters - 2 of 3Trane Chiller Revit Family Parameters - 3 of 3

Having this set of parameters available means that a Revit user will easily be able to modify the families without having to dig into the details of their geometry. Although the engineering firm that requested the content only needed a single version of each chiller, now any experienced Revit technician on their staff can quickly update a few parameter values — or a line in the type catalog — to add new capacities or models within the manufacturer’s product range.

Trane Chiller Revit Family - Plan Fine View

Trane Chiller Revit Family - Perspective Render

There is still a common misconception in the world of Revit that there should be different approaches to creating manufacturer-specific content versus “generic” content. The truth is that any quality Revit family can and should be built to flex, even if it’s created to represent just a single manufacturer product. It’s one of Revit’s best and most important features, and it’s how you create Revit families that will last and keep providing value product after product, project after project. As a perfect case in point, we heard from the client that, within days of receiving these families, they had already modified one of them to cover three other models from the manufacturer with minimal effort. And that’s how we know we’ve done our job and delivered Revit content done right.

Condenser Revit Families Chill Out

By on January 19, 2017 in Revit Families

660kW Condenser Revit Family in Raytrace Rendering

We’ve hit the ground running (sprinting, really) in 2017 with Revit content projects. This year we’ll be sharing more of the Revit families that we’re creating, which we hope will be fun to see and a little informative as well.

First out of the gate are a couple chilled water condensers, a 330kW unit and a 660kW unit. Both families have been modeled with three levels of detail in 3D and 2D, with materials from the Revit library applied to the 3D fine views. The use of 2D geometry (symbolic lines and masking regions) for 2D views ensures faster performance within a Revit project. They also include clearance zones set to a Clearance Zones subcategory, which gives the end user more control over visualization within their projects.

660kW Condenser Revit family in 2D front view

Although the two families have a larger than normal Andekan file size (800KB-1MB), this is largely due to the nature of this kind of equipment. Anything on a skid/frame raises complications, because you can see all of the internal components that can normally be ignored in a Revit family. Of course we simplifed the geometry for those internal components, but we kept enough detail for the Revit family to continue looking the part of the actual product.

The only nested element used in both Revit families are the fans seen on top. While the 660kW unit appears to be simply two of the 330kW units stuck together, there are some key differences in the piping connections involved. So the 660kW family does not have the smaller unit nested, which creates more work for us but ultimately produces a family that is faster to work with and has a smaller footprint.

660kW Condenser Revit Family in 3D Fine Realistic330kW Condenser Revit family in 3D realistic view

This is also the first project where we created our own images for the materials. In the past, we have modeled geometry for a single fan, for example on air conditioner or heat pump Revit families. But since this family was already on the larger end of acceptable file size, we couldn’t justify the added file weight of having 2D and 3D for the fan detail. In answer to this problem, we created our own images for the fan image and fan bump image. This means that complex fan geometry doesn’t need to be created, instead just a simple extrusion to host the new custom material.

Close up of fan image on condenser Revit family

Although the fan images may not be visible in normal shaded mode, the fans will show whenever the user creates a render for the project. In order for you to see the fan image, he/she needs to copy the two custom image files to the correct material folder location on their c: drive. C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Autodesk Shared\Materials\Textures\1\Mats.

Recapping RTC Europe 2016: A Grand Finale and New Beginning

By on October 25, 2016 in General

RTC Europe Main Stage

All things eventually come to an end, especially good things. RTC Europe 2016 just ended this past Saturday. Some of us held on a little longer by staying in Porto over the weekend to enjoy a few more of the many things that the marvelous Portuguese city has to offer. Others are already back home, went to work and started sharing with friends and colleagues the highlights of their learning and experience at the conference.

RTC Europe 2016 was definitely the best European RTC event to date. Of course everything that we learned over the previous three RTC Europe events helped to make it such. It was also the largest European event in terms of attendees.

But this time it went beyond being a single event. It added the inaugural European Building Content Summit (BCS), which brought together all of the players/protagonists in the story of content as it goes through the lifecycle of a project. And the city of Porto also engaged with RTC and, through IPSEC, hosted a series of Fast Track beginners sessions prior to the start of RTC for students and organizations looking to start their journey in our industry. With help from RTC and volunteers from speakers already in Porto, those sessions opened a new window for many people.

The end of RTC, the beginning of BILT…

Yet RTC Europe 2016 was extra special for another reason too. It was the last in a long line of RTC events that have taken place all over the world over the last 12 years. As Wesley Benn, chairman of RTC, has said, in order to grow, we have to dare to change.

What started as the Australian Revit National Congress after several meetings of (the world’s first) Revit User Group Sydney (RUGS), and then transformed itself into what RTC has become today, is now going through yet another evolution.

The events will now be known as BILT, reflecting a more expansive, comprehensive view of what they are all about: Buildings, Infrastructure, Lifecycle, and Technology (or Building and bringing Industry Leadership Together). In the age of ever increasing collaboration, gone are the artificial walls that have separated us from others we want to work and share knowledge with. And while RTC had long ago stopped being a Revit-only event, it couldn’t escape the fact that everyone knew that RTC stood for Revit Technology Conference. The first BILT event will be BILT Asia, in Singapore in March 2-17, and the next European event will be BILT Europe 2017 in Aarhus, Denmark.

..and the end of my time on the European event committee

RTC Europe 2016 was also a personal milestone, as it marked my final RTC as a member of the European event committee. It’s with sadness that I say goodbye to this group of passionate volunteers who’ve made the past three European events so enjoyable and rewarding. But times do change, and unfortunately time is a very scarce commodity in my life these days. I’ll be stepping away to focus more on my family and my new venture, Kinship.

Jose Fandos talking with an exhibitor at RTC Europe 2016

One of the many exciting conversations I had during RTC Europe 2016

RTC Europe 2016 wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of many talented people. Thanking everyone would take a few pages, in part because it would also have to include our attendees and speakers, for whom and by whom this was all done in the first place. But I wanted to thank a few people in particular.

Special thanks go to the European committee and in particular its regional manager Silvia Taurer, who’s put a great team together and has been instrumental in making RTC Europe the special conference that it is today, even among its peers in other continents, with its unique flair and special venues.

Thanks go also to the team back in Australia, and in particular to our European event manager, Harriet Cottam. Harriet is the one who always has a smile and contagious laugh that’s certainly needed when dealing with the myriad details and large numbers of vendors that come with an event like ours.

And to our global team of Heidi Earl, Phil Read, Chris Needham and Wesley Benn, who keep taking this great RTC-now-BILT ship higher and higher.

And to all the other international committee members who put in their time and effort every year in exchange for a smile on the face of attendees and the satisfaction that they have helped others get ahead.

I look forward to attending many more BILT events and to seeing you there!

Returning Text from Lookup Tables in Revit

By on August 10, 2016 in Revit Families, Revit Family Editor

Sometimes you want to have a Revit parameter that returns a text string depending on a number of options. For example, you might want to have a parameter show a product SKU code based on other parameter values for dimensions, color and material.

If the options are all organized into family types, and you build a type catalog, then the text string can be returned by the type catalog, and job done. But there are times where we need the text to change based on instance parameters, or where the parameter is used with Revit families that don’t make use of type catalogs, e.g. to return model numbers or SKUs of pipe, duct and conduit fittings (1). What is the solution in such cases? To date, it’s been IF formulas that could run the length of books.

Below is an example of the kind of long-winded formulas (and this one can be considered small) that people will create to have parameters that report text:

if(V = 2015, “3/4×1/2”, if(V = 2515, “1×1/2”, if(V = 2520, “1×3/4”, if(V = 3225, “1 1/4×1”, if(V = 4020, “1 1/2×3/4”, if(V = 4025, “1 1/2×1”, if(V = 4032, “1 1/2×1 1/4”, if(V = 5025, “2×1”, if(V = 5032, “2×1 1/4”, if(V = 5040, “2×1 1/2”, if(V = 6550, “2 1/2×2”, if(V = 8040, “3×1 1/2”, if(V = 8050, “3×2”, if(V = 8065, “3×2 1/2”, if(V = 10050, “4×2”, if(V = 10080, “4×3”, if(V = 125100, “5×4”, if(V = 150100, “6×4”, if(V = 200150, “8×6”, if(V = 250200, “10×8”, if(V = 300250, “12×10”, “NA”)))))))))))))))))))))

I’m happy to report (pun intended) that there is a better way.

At a London Revit User Group (LRUG) back in March last year, Darren Snook and I got to talking about lookup tables. He mentioned some odd behaviour where the lookup table would return text. I knew there and then that he was onto something. We discussed the details, and he went on to write a blog post about it the next day; and all credit for this trick is his, so let’s call it the Snook Solution.

Let’s go back to the formula shown above and see how we can use the Snook Solution to achieve the same result with way less hassle and potential for error. In the image below we can see the above formula in context. For the different values of V, we have a lengthy chain of IF statements that return a different bit of text in the 0BV_Size parameter. The logic is straightforward enough, but checking such formulas and maintaining them over time gets to be a pain. And remember this is a short example among many.

Revit Text String Formula Parameter

Fortunately we can skip all of that with the Snook Solution. The family already has a lookup table that contains the exact same text strings we want Revit to return.

Manage Lookup Tables in a Revit Family

When we export the lookup table to a spreadsheet, we can see that the values for V are in the second column and that the text we want to return is in the first column.

Revit family lookup table detail

So we only need to get the value of this first column based on the value of V. The formula we can use for this is:

size_lookup(Look, “”, “NA”, V)

Let’s break this down term by term. The “size_lookup” is the name of the function in Revit. “Look” is the name of a text parameter that contains the name of the lookup table. “NA” will be what we want the function to return if the value of the parameter “V”, which is the last element inside the function, is not found in the lookup table.

Now, the magic happens in the double quotes of the second element in the function. That tells size_lookup to return the value in the column with no name, from the row matching the V value that we have passed to it. We indicate the column with no name, i.e. the first column, by having nothing between the double quotes in the second element of the function. Below is an image showing the different parameters referenced in our formula, and the resulting value for 0BV_Size that gets reported from the lookup table.

Formula detail for the Snook Solution

There are many places where this trick can be put to good use, some of which I hope to share in future blog posts. Also, nothing stops you from loading more than one lookup table for different text parameters, which makes it convenient to update whenever the need arises.

Last year, at the first Building Content Summit in Washington D.C., I showed the Snook Solution at the hackathon, combining it with a couple more tricks to achieve nice reporting of alphanumeric product codes in pipe fittings. As long as you are using Revit 2014 or higher, you can get part numbers, product codes or SKUs in any type of fitting in Revit. No more monster formulas and hard to maintain product catalogs! And with some clever thinking, you can use this as an alternative to the still missing text concatenation feature in Revit parameters.

This year, at the second Building Content Summit in Scottsdale, AZ, Ralph Schoch from Victaulic reminded me that I had promised to write about this time-saving trick. Seeing that the question still pops up in forums, and that new manufacturer content is still coming out with performance-sapping formulas to deal with this, it seemed like as good a time as any to spread the word again about the Snook Solution.

(1) If you come across a fitting in Revit done with type catalogs rather than lookup tables, you most likely stumbled upon crappy content.

Ready for Take Off – New Airplane Revit Families Now Available

By on July 7, 2016 in Revit Families

For years, Andekan has been hired to build world-class Revit families for product manufacturers, design firms, project owners and Autodesk itself. Today, we’re excited to expand our Revit content services by offering our own Andekan Revit families for purchase through our website. And we’re launching our new Revit Content Store with content that’s a little out-of-the-ordinary yet still practical – families that will help a project look awesome and achieve the best results. We’re talking about airplanes, of course!

Andekan Airplanes Rendering

We’ve released top-notch Revit families for seven of the world’s most popular commercial airliners: Airbus A319, Airbus A380, Boeing 737, Boeing 747, Boeing 757, Boeing 787, and Boeing MD-81. Each of our airplane Revit families features fully-native Revit geometry with three levels of detail in 3D and 2D. Materials have been applied in fine and medium 3D views, and 2D views have been built using only 2D objects (masking regions and symbolic lines). And with a special 3D-only version for when 2D isn’t needed, these families not only look beautiful but offer outstanding file size and project performance. All families include options for angle, height offset, and show/hide landing gear, so you can model any takeoff, landing or runway scenarios imaginable.

  • Boeing MD81p Revit Family - Raytrace
  • Boeing 787-9 Revit Family - Raytrace
  • Boeing 757-200 Revit Family - Raytrace
  • Boeing 747-8i Revit Family - Raytrace
  • Boeing 737-9w Revit Family - Raytrace
  • Airbus A380-800 Revit Family - Raytrace
  • Airbus A319 Revit Family - Raytrace

Our airplane Revit families are available in Revit 2013 and higher, and can be purchased individually for $400 or as a pack for $1600 (that’s seven airplanes for the price of four!). And as a special offer for our readers and fans, we’re offering this awesome aviation content at a 25% discount now through the end of July. Check out with discount code TAKEOFF2016 and save $100 on the price of individual families or $400 on the pack (and get seven Revit families for the price of three!).

Whether you’re working on an airport project or just looking to add some flair to a rendering, our airplane Revit families will help your Revit projects soar like never before. We have more top-notch Revit content coming soon and look forward to offering some of the MEP families you’ve come to know and love from Andekan. For now, we hope you’ll enjoy taking these airplane Revit families for a spin, and don’t forget to use discount code TAKEOFF2016 to get them at great low price. As always, we welcome any questions or feedback in the comments or via email at contact@andekan.com.

Loud and Clear — Revit Family Speakers

By on June 3, 2016 in Revit Families

Over the last few months, we’ve been working on a slew of loudspeaker and sound system Revit families. Audio equipment isn’t a new area for us, but the recent run of projects has definitely allowed us to deepen and refine our knowledge of how to build this type of Revit content for maximum usability and performance in Revit.

It’s been a pleasure developing these speaker Revit families with features like multi-axis rotation via pitch and azimuth settings, the use of InfoComm shared parameters, multiple built-in bracket and mounting options, and movable connectors. With the annual InfoComm show coming up this weekend in Las Vegas, we thought the next best thing to being there would be to share some samples of the loudspeaker Revit families we’ve been working on.

Aside from the beautiful renders you’ll see below, it’s worth mentioning that all of these families have been built to our usual standards with three levels of detail in 3D and 2D, materials applied in fine 3D views, symbols for coarse plan views, and all at file sizes between 600-800KB.

Wall-mounted loudspeaker Revit families
Loudspeaker series with fully adjustable pitch and azimuth and optional wall or pole mount (shown below).

Pole-mounted loudspeaker Revit families
Same loudspeaker series as above but with optional pole mount applied.

Ceiling-mounted Cluster Loudspeaker Revit Families
Ceiling-mounted cluster speakers with adjustable pitch.

Columnar loudspeaker Revit families
Columnar loudspeakers with automated bracket configurations based on type and rotation settings.

Loudspeakers Raytrace Rendering
And all together now…it’s the loudest room in the world!