Getting to the Next Level

In the last several years, MEP firms have faced increasing pressure to adopt Building Information Modeling (BIM)-capable tools such as Autodesk® Revit® MEP. Some firms have put off change, some have tentatively dipped in a toe, while some have jumped in head first. No matter where your firm is now with regard to Revit MEP implementation, it seems clear that we all have to keep raising the bar to stay viable in a changing world.

So how does a firm go to the next level? It’s more than a technical problem. It involves process and cultural changes as much as software and hardware upgrades. For all the expense of the upgrades, many firms have a much easier time writing checks than dealing with people and personality issues. Just as adopting a healthy life style is not a switch you turn on—one needs to eat right and exercise every day—adopting Revit MEP and a BIM process is similar. Firms need to spend money, spend time, and build a culture of embracing change.

A Brief History of Revit (and Revit MEP’s Place)

Since Revit’s first release in November 1999, by my count there have been:

  • 21 Architectural releases
  • 9 Structural releases
  • 7 Mechanical and Electrical releases
  • 4 Plumbing releases

Revit Architecture’s 14 release “lead” has contributed to the perception that Revit MEP is not yet ready. While that perception is no longer true (demonstrated by the use of Revit MEP on thousands of projects), it is true that consulting MEP firms cannot simply decide to go 100 percent Revit like their architectural counterparts. Consulting MEP firms need to follow their client’s choice of software. While many architectural firms have gone to Revit, some have not. Thus, projects are delivered in Revit MEP, AutoCAD MEP, and AutoCAD—depending on the wishes of the client.

For example, at my firm we are currently working on projects created in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 versions of Revit. Having to stay sharp in multiple software packages and multiple versions of those products is not a bad thing. It prepares us for where the building industry seems to be going. It has been suggested that the average person uses 12 to 15 different programs today. In 10 years, look for that number to be around 50 and don’t be surprised if the 12 to 15 different programs used today are not on the list of 50 in the future. What does it mean? Not only is Revit MEP ready for primetime, it is linking into more and more software packages. To access what comes after, firms must first be confident users of Revit MEP.

A Staged Approach

If we need to master so many software packages, how will we do it? Well, not all at once. Like a building, you must build a foundation first. 

Stage 1 - Model in 3D
To get the most out of Revit MEP, the ability to model in 3D is required. It provides the ability to create basic construction documents and run interference checks. This is the low-hanging fruit for any implementation.

Stage 2 - Scheduling
The next logical step is to add information to the model. That information will also need to be extracted from the model in different ways that help the design and documentation of the project. The easiest way to achieve this is through the use of Revit schedules. To build and use schedules users must be able to modify and create Revit families. This will also include a solid knowledge of parameters and connectors.

Stage 3 - Calculations
MEP engineers will need to perform calculations. Many calculations can be performed in schedules with knowledge of shared parameters. Revit MEP has a built-in calculating function that must be mastered. Information in the model can be extracted from Revit in multiple ways and imported into the trusted software engineers have been using for calculations for years. This will force an assessment of the “end game” and what is the best route there. Inevitably, it will lead to a change of process.

Stage 4 - Diversify
No one can say for certain what the future holds, but we know that things will not stay the same. We have to prepare ourselves for the addition of new specialized software. These will be coming at us like IPod apps. The AutoCAD App store went live in June 2011—accessible from the Autodesk Exchange tab in AutoCAD. It would be foolish to think it will stop there. Autodesk’s introduction of the Building Design Suite, Product Design Suite, and Infrastructure Design Suite, is another indication of that strategy.  Even now we have Ecotect, Green Building Studio, connectivity to Trane Trace and carrier HAP through gbxml. Even project management software such as Newforma is creating links to the Revit model, and the list is growing daily.

With the introduction of all these specialized software applications, drafters must become more like designers and engineers must become more like drafters. Roles will change, processes will change, fees will change, and buildings will change—we hope for the better.

The Art of Change

Change is not only continuous, it is accelerating. Dennis Neeley, AIA senior vice president, owner solutions at Smart BIM, suggested that CAD drafting took 12 years to overtake hand drafting and BIM will be adopted in only six years. If the trend of twice as fast continues, firms will have a smaller and smaller window in which to take advantage of an opportunity from the time it becomes possible or profitable to the time it is expected.

This is where building a culture that embraces change feeds progress. Look at the success of Google and Facebook. Their openness to change is a cornerstone to their young success. It should be noted that they are not only young companies; they are companies that employ the young. Compare the average age of Google or Facebook employees (late 20s and 26, respectively) to the average age at your firm. How the older generation handles change is different from younger generations who have lived with accelerated change their whole, albeit shorter, life. Chances are that established firms are not going to let all of their experienced people go so they can build a younger firm that will embrace change. Here are some common-sense tips to help any firm deal with change.

1. Embrace It
It is important to recognize that different approaches are necessary with different people. In the end, one way to take the most advantage of breakthroughs is to employ people who aggressively accept new opportunities. So embrace change and encourage it in others.

2. Adapt and Overcome
Recognize that new things come with new challenges, which require early adopters to adapt and overcome as a way of life.

3. Become a Life-Long Learner
The cycle of change will continue and overlap with other cycles. It is best to just enjoy it.

Last Thoughts on the Future

With a widening base of opportunities, we can look for the days of the “general practitioner” to end. We will see more specialists bringing greater depth to engineering services. We will have to dive deeper to deal with tightening margins and to serve a much more sophisticated client base. Building modelers and BIM managers did not exist eight short years ago.

There is a sub-industry growing right now around more complex modeling, analysis, and virtualization.
At different points in the history of AutoCAD®, users moved the software ahead; at other points the software moved the users ahead; and even third-party developers have pushed things forward. Revit is experiencing a third-party movement right now, and it is subject to have the users move it ahead in the short term. That is, if we are ready and willing to take the next step, and possibly a leap of faith.

Todd Shackelford is the BIM Manager for Alvine and Associates, the president of the BIM Board of Omaha, and an instructor at the University of Nebraska. He authors three blogs: CAD Shack, The Lazy Drafter, and Revit Basics. Todd has been a featured speaker at Autodesk University, AUGI CAD Camp, CSI, IEEE, and AIA events. Contact Todd at

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