AutoCAD MEP: Build-a-Part

AutoCAD® MEP is a powerful program capable of an almost limitless number of tasks. It can handle simple tasks such as 2D plan creation and more complicated tasks that involve custom built parts with embedded product information inserted into a BIM model for use with building maintenance programs. Here, I’ll explore some of the more complicated features of AutoCAD MEP.

Let’s jump into something that will help us utilize MEP’s built-in tool palette. AutoCAD MEP includes an extensive tool palette for each trade or workspace. These palettes contain blocks that are sometimes useful, but usually are too generic for what we’re trying to accomplish.

Having the right tools is especially important in today’s increasingly complicated construction efforts. This includes trying to fit more services/features/components into smaller spaces. So having accurate dimensional data on the components being drawn/inserted is growing more important every day.

MEP utilizes Catalogs that store all the information pertaining to the different trades represented with the tool palettes. There are a couple different ways to accomplish this. One method is to create a new part by modify the properties of an existing part using Catalog Editor. The second is to create a new part using the Content Builder. The first of the two options is the simpler and easier way, but there isn’t always a part we can copy and modify to fit our needs. So we’ll look at both procedures to add to our tool palette.

For our first example, we’ll look at modifying an electrical panel to match submittals we may have received for a project. We’ll start this procedure by opening the Catalog Editor and then opening the part catalog that contains the part we’re trying to modify. In this case it will be the Electrical catalog.

Figure 1

Once we’ve identified which part we want to modify, we’ll right-click on the part and select copy. Then we’ll move to whatever chapter in which we want to add the new part, right-click again and select paste. At this point we’ll want to rename the part family to something we can recognize. After the part is renamed, we can look at the table and see which dimensions/parameters need to be modified to fit our needs. We’re also able to add custom data here. See Figure 2 to get an idea as to where custom data can be added to the part family.

Figure 2

And that’s it!! We can save our catalog now and MEP will validate the new part and regenerate the catalog for us. This method isn’t complicated, but it limits us to utilizing only parts that already exist.

The second method is a bit more complicated. For this example we’ll look at modifying the electrical tool palette, specifically adding a public address speaker. One way to accomplish this is to create a block-based part that can be made into an MvPart. This allows us to do a few very handy things. Once created, the object is always available for use at any time; we don’t have to search old drawings in a network folder for a specific block. Another obvious benefit is the fact that we’re using a block. If something happens, say, a submittal/part specification changes, we are able to easily modify the block in our drawings to reflect the changes.

We’ll take this process step by step so even a novice user can utilize this great tool.

The first step in this process will be to draw the object that you want to add to the tool palette. When we’re creating this new tool we have to realize a few things.

First:  This object needs to be a 3D object drawn to scale.

Second: We’ll need to create a few different blocks for the new tool—at least one for view in the various 3D views available to us, but also one for our plan view of the object.

As you can see in Figures 3 and 4, I’ve modeled the speaker itself, the speaker can that surrounds the speaker, and a plan view representation of the speaker.

Figure 3

Figure 4

In this case we’ll only need one 3D block but, depending on the object being inserted, you may need more 3D blocks to identify different views. In the case where you have multiple sizes of your object, you’ll have to create a block for each size object. For objects that have a connection point to some other system, be it electrical, mechanical, fire protection, or something else, this is the point in the process where you identify the location of these points. While you are building your block in block editor, you have the ability to add Points to your object. You will need to do this at each point you will be connecting other services. I’ve added two points to my block, one for an input and one for an output of conduit. Once we’ve completed those steps we can now save the block(s) and save our drawing.

Something to remember when creating these blocks is where to save our drawings. Since these files are working files, they should be saved in a temporary or separate “working files” folder. They are not saved in the catalog folders of AutoCAD MEP.

Once we have our object modeled and saved, we’ll want to begin adding the part to our part catalog. This is done by utilizing MEP’s Content Builder. To open the Content Builder; click the Manage tab>MEP Content Panel> Content Builder. Our first step is to identify which Chapter of the catalog our part should be built within. As you can see, there are quite a few different chapters available in the electrical catalog. Unfortunately there are no chapters that pertain to our new device, so we have the ability to Add a new chapter. Make this new chapter and name it “Low Voltage Devices”. This also allows me to easily add more devices in the future under the correct chapter.

Figure 5

Now that we’ve identified or created the chapter, if necessary, we can begin adding our new MvPart. Click the button that is top right of the Content Builder dialog box, “Create new block-based MvPart.” This will open the MvPart Builder dialog box.

Figure 6

Figure 7

There are a few options we’ll need to choose on this first page. First we’ll identify the type of device we’re adding. In this example, there wasn’t anything close enough to a speaker, so I chose Junction Box because I have a junction box built into the device. Second, we identify the Layer Key that we want our device to follow. Here there was an appropriate option available: E-SY-DEVC-PAGIN. Next we decide the subtype for the new device. Finally, we tell AutoCAD how we want the device to act in existing runs. In this example, we’ll “Break Into” an existing run. We thought about this before when drawing our block, so we’ve drawn it to accept 1” conduit on each side of the junction box. We’ll specify exactly how to connect and Break Into existing runs later in our process. We can now click “Next” and head to the next page.

On this page we will choose which block we will be using to make our new MvPart. Click the small Add Part Size button. In this example, we have only the one size speaker, but this is the point at which we could add multiple blocks for the different size objects. Once we’ve added the blocks, we need to Generate Blocks that pertain to all the different views of our object. Having completed these steps, we should be able to click Next to move to the next page.

Figure 8

In this dialog box, we choose how we want our preview image to look in the catalog. We can use an image file that represents our object or we can generate a SW Isometric View of our object block. I’ve chosen to use our block to generate the view and it turned out pretty well.

Figure 9

Again, once completing this step we can click Next to move to the connectors page.

Here is where we identify where and how we want other runs to tie into our new MvPart. In order to add a new connection, right-click on the main device at that top and choose what system will be connecting. In our example, I add an Input and Output Conduit connection.

Figure 10

Now we will tell AutoCAD where we want to place the connection points on our new MvPart. In our example you can see we have a Bosch Speaker MvPart and under that part are two connections. We need to right-click on one of the two connections we have shown and select Edit Placement. This command will open a new drawing window with our block opened. Start with our Input connector and position it using the “point” we specified when we first made our block. This is represented by the blue arrow in the picture. Next we’ll click on Connector 2 on the right hand side of the screen so we can place the Output connection. This is represented by the red arrow.

Figure 11

Click OK and we’re back to the MvPart Builder dialog box. Now that we’ve specified our connection points, we’re almost done! Click Next to move to the last page.

On this page, we have the option to add/modify Property Set data of our new MvPart. Because we’re just making a speaker and junction box, there really wasn’t anything to add here.

Figure 12

See the image for some guidelines regarding where to add data to the properties of the MvPart. Explore this option as you’re creating your own parts for easy tabulation of data as you’re building new construction and generating Bills of Material. Now we click Finish. AutoCAD MEP will verify the legitimacy of our new MvPart and add it to the catalog. Voila! We’ve just successfully added a part to our catalog.

Figure 13

I hope this tutorial has been helpful in expanding your knowledge base for AutoCAD MEP. Tools such as this can be very powerful in simplifying our workloads, facilitating easy generation of data in drawings, and producing cleaner/better drawings.

Elisha Sage currently works for Walker Engineering in San Antonio, TX. He is the BIM Coordinator and CAD Engineer for Walker’s San Antonio branch. He grew up in Michigan and Attended Lawrence Technological University where he received his Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering. He has had almost 4 years’ experience in the BIM coordination and CAD field working for electrical and low voltage contractors. He plans to use his CAD and BIM skills to continue to grow with his company.

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