Giving AutoCAD the Boot

AutoCAD® was once described to me as Autodesk’s baby that won’t leave mom’s house. My response was, “This kid’s old enough. No more coddling. It’s time for some tough love and the boot.” I know a lot of you are thinking, “How is this even a feasible idea?” Have no fears, I’m here to let you in on some reasons as to why it’s time to give AutoCAD the boot and how to make it happen.

Understand that some AutoCAD availability will need to remain in order to provide control when required. Converting to Autodesk® Revit® is the end game for this article. The reasons to move away from AutoCAD are relevant even if the software choice is not Revit.

First, consider the time and energy saved by not educating on AutoCAD. These days many new, young engineers or designers no longer have AutoCAD experience coming out school. The software most commonly taught in Architectural Engineering schools is Revit. Depending on the major, some may not have experience in either software. When these new employees join a company they have so much to learn. Should they really be expected to pick up two new programs to learn in addition to company standards? And that’s just the “drafting” side of things they will be expected to learn. This process can be expedited by teaching only one and giving them the tools to excel in that software.

The use of both AutoCAD and Revit applies to existing employees as well. Maintaining the skills and knowledge to excel in both takes time and energy.

Second, maintaining standards and training for both products doubles more than just the BIM Manager’s workload. If the time for training could be cut in half and employees could focus on refining just one skill set, everyone would have the opportunity to go deeper in Revit instead of shallow in AutoCAD and Revit.  

Third, there is a lot of work involved to keep AutoCAD up and running. The time required to update LISPs, details (in two places), schedules (in two places), symbols, and CUI files could better be used furthering Revit development, family creation, smart schedule development, and ultimately help the standards process and save time.

Fourth, there may very well be a financial impact to licensing. Instead of purchasing Design Suites where the Premium runs around $2,730 and the Ultimate runs around $4,830 per license there is a potential to only support Revit licensing that runs around $2,000. Multiply these savings across the number of licenses being supported and the savings will add up fast.

With compelling reasons to drop AutoCAD, why don’t we? I have often heard, “We have to use AutoCAD because that’s what our clients are using.” This is not true. The received AutoCAD files can be linked into Revit for use and AutoCAD files can in turn be exported from within Revit. Most of the time the actual deliverables are in PDF format, which either can perform.

We also have older engineers who are not as savvy with Revit as they are AutoCAD. This is where individual companies need to evaluate what steps work best to proceed. Do the engineers need to learn the basics in Revit in order to be efficient? Should engineers focus their time, experience, and efforts elsewhere instead of AutoCAD or Revit?

There are reasons to switch, so let’s move on to how to do it.

First, say sayonara and uninstall all AutoCAD…I’m kidding! Start by creating an outline of the concerns and finding ways to address them. I am going to outline my process below that likely covers the common concerns you might have.

  • Save the AutoCAD files locally. Open them up and burst any items inside until they are just lines. (This will help with controlling layers from within Revit.)
  • Open a Revit project (some are created from templates) and perform any necessary initial company standard set up.
  • Open an elevation view; create necessary levels at best known elevation.

Figure 1

  • In the open elevation view, create reference planes for a general ceiling location and name reference plane appropriately (Figure 1). (For different ceiling heights, different planes can be created, but remember the expected scope of work—are they necessary for the deliverables? The fewer planes, the less confusing it is when it’s time to model. I only use one for all ceilings per level.)
  • Next, create a level 1 floor plan and link in the AutoCAD file for level 1.
  • Repeat for all levels.
  • Create a reflected ceiling plan for all levels and link in the AutoCAD file. (An important part of this process is to link and not insert. This will save time with background updates.)
  • Open a floor plan with a linked file and open the Visibility Graphics.
  • On the Imports tab, expand the linked AutoCAD file so that all layers are visible. (Layers become subcategories under the drawing when linked.)
  • Select all of the subcategories and the AutoCAD file and Overwrite Lines to show company standard color and weight. (If different for existing and new, assign appropriately by changing from overall selection to by groups.) The linked file should now look correct for line weight and color.
  • Inside the floor plan select the linked file; on the ribbon, click Query (Figure 2).

Figure 2

  • Select a line from the AutoCAD file that needs to be turned off. A dialog will open and display the layer name. If it needs turned off, click Hide in view. If the layer needs to remain on, click OK and the command will do nothing to the layer. (Bursting the file previously makes this operation run smoother.)
  • The dialog will close, but the Query command is still active so the lines can continue to be clicked until all layers are off that are needed.
  • If a Hide in view needs to be reversed, Escape the command and click Undo. It will only undo the last Hide in view.
  • Layers can also be turned off inside Visibility Graphics, Imported Categories, and subcategories (layers) under the AutoCAD file (Figure 3).

Figure 3

  • Once set, create a view template from the view of the Imported Categories (Figure 4).

Figure 4

  • Assign this view template to all views associated with this AutoCAD file.
  • Repeat for each level and reflected ceiling plans.
  • From this point, model elements the same way as a regular Revit job.
  • Face hosted families associated with walls were recreated as standalone type families for our process, but reference planes can be placed along walls if this is not an option.
  • To place face hosted families in the RCP, select Place on Work Plane, select the reference plane by the name given. This should only prompt once and default to the correct plan following the initial selection.
  • When setting up a title block, place the AutoCAD content in the paper space, not model space, and then insert. (Only option in Revit title block editor.)
  • Use labels and text as desired for title block information.

To update an AutoCAD link:

  • Save the AutoCAD files locally. Open them up and burst any items inside until they are just lines.
  • Open a new local of the Revit project or, if inside the project, navigate to Insert tab, Manage links, select link, and click Reload.
  • Any added/new layers will show up as original color from AutoCAD so changes will be visible. Choose to either override those colors/weights or turn them off. (See the steps from the previous section.)
  • By using assigned view templates, background changes will be made to all associated floor plans at once instead of individually applying to each view.

If AutoCAD plans are needed to send out of the office, simply choose to export the sheets or overall views to AutoCAD from within Revit (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

Some of the benefits I have found from this process are as follows.

  • Model coordination can still happen if reference planes for ceiling heights and levels are set at appropriate elevations.
  • Smart schedules can still be used to populate information from the smart families.
  • The company is no longer supporting AutoCAD and training time is redirected towards excelling in Revit.
  • We have fulfilled our need for additional licensing by adding Revit-only licenses, saving money.

I have created a “starter project” that alleviates some of the tedious setup tasks, such as linking files. The “starter project” takes the place of a template and reduces time for project setup. In this “starter project,” the links just need a quick Reload From.

When presented with existing and demo work, there are options depending on the complexity of the project. I recommend controlling lineweights, line types, and colors through Revit by editing how layers are shown through the Imported Categories tab of the Visibility Graphics dialog. When AutoCAD files are linked correctly, layers can be turned on/off from this location. This requires AutoCAD work on the front end, but once it’s done it shouldn’t need changed.

When connecting to existing work, some elements may need redrawn in Revit. Choose only the elements that are required. Redrawing everything is not going to be beneficial or crucial in most cases. Redrawn items can be deleted out of the linked AutoCAD file so they are not shown twice.

In all cases, making the switch to Revit from AutoCAD just makes sense.

This was not an easy change for some. There was a lot of concern and hesitation from some, but it was alleviated after the process was created, presented, and demonstrated. The implementation of anything new has its obstacles, but thus far this process has not had any that were unforeseen and none that have not been overcome.

I hope I have opened the box a little wider and proven that it’s not impossible to simplify the processes of working in Revit for AutoCAD-driven projects. Here’s to giving AutoCAD the boot! 

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