Autodesk has recently introduced dedicated versions of Revit for Structural and Building Services engineering to sit alongside the core building design tool. Paul Woddy, CADline, discusses how Revit is maturing into a multi-disciplinary AEC design tool.

Imagine that the developers of all new design software envision their creation being the standard platform and a universal format for all disciplines. Historically, success of this level has perhaps taken a mixture of great product, arrogance and an over-abundance of pirated software. Certainly, the triumph of the dwg format owes a little to each of the above.

In the construction sector, the concept of multi-discipline Single Building Modelling has been on the table for a number of years with little or no practical success. The answer could arrive in the form of a common interface language allowing existing applications to communicate, such as IFC. I have personally yet to see any major success in getting one IFC compatible application to fully talk to another, but assume it will get there eventually.

Alternatively the answer may lie with a suite of products on a common platform that will provide each team member with the best tools available within each discipline.

We can all see the advantages of having each design team feed information into the same intelligent model, effortlessly dealing with questions as they arise, and issuing a final drawing set, co-ordinated, accurate, on time, on budget and without conflicts. Perhaps we could add ‘free beer for all’ to the end of that statement to top it off.

Just as obvious are the foreseeable hurdles in this idea. You can almost hear some of the objections now.

“I don’t get paid for that.”

“I didn’t formally issue that to you, it was just an option.”

“Who owns the rights and responsibilities for this information?”

“Wasn’t me!”

So, is it possible? Can one product ever meet the requirements of the entire construction industry? Can we really get free beer?

The Revit Story so far

The Revit development team followed the linear process of design and construction in starting with the architectural. Any civil, structural or building services functionality available within Revit has been intended as an architectural interpretation of the requirements in those fields. As such, architects had some tools to represent steel and concrete, mechanical and electrical fixtures and fittings and landscape design but, to-date, only the most forward thinking engineers have picked up on the general advantages of using Revit over other packages more specifically targeted at their own market sector.

The advantages are there to be had, and this has been ably demonstrated by several engineering consultants who have taken Revit on board to face, head-on, issues such as those raised in John Prescott’s Rethinking Construction report. The report highlighted the need to reduce construction costs and defects in construction projects considerably mainly through co-ordination and communication.

Over the years, users have enhanced the structural functionality available in Revit by using the raw concepts of parametric modelling to construct intelligent elements such as portal frames and roof trusses, proving that the strengths of the software lie in the parametrics and model co-ordination and that the applications to which these concepts can be applied is without limits.

Revit – communicate or dominate?

The real process efficiency improvements have so far been in the architectural arena, with short learning curves and massive increases in productivity, but as Revit starts to digress into other disciplines we should see similarly dramatic improvements there.

So how far will Revit go? Will we see analysis tools and full fabrication modelling? Who knows? Autodesk has thus far restricted its activities to draughting tools and as such, does not aim to perform design and analysis tasks as standard functionality. What we see in Revit Structures is a modelling interface that communicates with analysis software, providing a graphical interface to the calculations with unprecedented communication links to the Revit-based Architect. Whether Revit will ever look to 3D model in any more detail than GA for say an accurate connection detail is yet to be seen.

Revit Structures appears to be eagerly anticipated by the engineering community, not because it brings a huge amount of new structural capability to the table but because of the basic co-ordination and communication principles of Revit which have made it popular with architects and designers.

Where the biggest gains will be realised is in design-and-build packages and where the owner / operators have in-house design teams. In these instances there is a vested interest in collating and owning the information from concept through construction and onto facilities management with as little reworking and re-interpretation of the data as possible.

Although Revit is starting to look to other disciplines, development of the architectural functionality has not been forgotten. Scalability and user efficiency are improving with each release with the addition of new tools and the removal of old bugs moving at pace. When asked to describe the headline of each new release, I struggle to find one element or theme to focus on, due to the volume of small adjustments as opposed to a major new feature. My favourites are usually something that only existing users of the software recognise as being important, whether it be an efficiency enhancement or something that we have been asking to be put right for ages. User feedback drives the product forward and it is only through user feedback that the product can be perfected.

Digital Prototyping – it’s virtually real!

So it looks like Digital Construction is here at last, but is Revit up to the job of being the one-stop-shop for all construction professionals, now and into the future? Well, it certainly has the right concepts and principles at its core and the functionality wrapped around it has so far proved popular with its target audience. I fully expect that Revit Structures will make a big impact on, not just the Structural Engineering market, but on Revit take-up generally as the big players make use of the collaborative benefits, and I don’t see why the principles can’t be extended to suit other engineering disciplines. After that it is up to the industry to decide how to incorporate the idea of true collaboration within the design process and to accommodate a common standard of sharing and presenting material. The politics aside, I think it can, and if any one organisation can do it then Autodesk is in a stronger position than others to push the concept. I am genuinely excited to see the functionality that may be on the way and hope that the industry is ready for the changes that will follow.