Power Up with Search and Selection Sets

Autodesk® Navisworks has quickly become one of the software “IT” darlings of the AEC/O community in the past couple of years. It is now being widely used to integrate different discipline models into a singular data-rich collaborated model to help design, construction, and facility management teams visualize and coordinate throughout the lifecycle of a project. So that Navisworks users can work efficiently and effectively, one of the—if not THE—most important concepts to master lies in the Search and Selection Sets and the Selector tools. Learning and integrating them into your everyday workflow will enable you to start to fully “Power-Use” Navisworks in ways that will make a project’s collaboration smoother and more intelligent for yourself and all team members involved.

Set Them Up for Success

The Navisworks Selection and Search Sets allow you to create groups of objects with similar properties in the individual files from each discipline or in the consolidated Navisworks Manage file. They can be static or fluid, incorporating the same groups no matter how many versions of the file you upload over time. You can use these Sets to search for certain geometry collisions; to assign geometries to a specific simulation
task, color, material, transparency, or other transform action; and Hide or Unhide objects easily.

Understanding and Configuring the Backbone of File Options

Navisworks’ ability to import several different file formats is one of its strongest attributes. To understand Search and Selection Sets one must first have a firm grasp on how Navisworks aggregates disparate models from a variety of design and engineering software.Figure 1 shows two views of the Navisworks Options Editor. 

Figure 1: Options Editor File Readers.

Note: You can find the Options Editor by going to your Application Button and Menu at the top left of your Navisworks interface.

Quick Tip: I always tell my teams and students to become familiar with their interfaces and file options. It is a really good place to form a strong foundation for learning. This goes for not only Navisworks, but any software. I believe that the very first step to mastering a program starts with going through every single button, tab, panel, menu, window, etc., and very quickly testing what it affects in a nontutorial mode. Even if the user does not fully grasp the tool or use the tool immediately, at least it becomes stored in the mind and often you will remember that SOMEWHERE there is a solution for your drafting/modeling issue at hand instead of going along blindly. Almost every week I encounter someone who says, “Man, if I only knew about that tool earlier I could have saved myself a lot of time.”  If you take nothing away from this article except the habit of becoming really familiar with everything your software provides, I will feel successful as a contributor.

In the Option Editor, under File Readers, you will see the different types of files you can work with in Navisworks as well as customize the way that Navisworks uses the files. The images below show DWG/DXF Options and the DGN Options for Navisworks. Notice how they both have completely different ways of manipulating the native format in the Navisworks software.

When you Open, Append, or Merge a file into Navisworks, the file type follows the parameters you set up in the Options Editor. Some parameters can be controlled; others can’t. One of the things you cannot control within the Navisworks software are the native format’s naming conventions. If object modeling naming conventions are not set up, understood, agreed upon, and followed from the beginning of a project for every discipline and different software type, then later down the road the team will run into a lot of avoidable consternation and wasted time. We all know time equals money, and in this market climate, we could all use a little more money. A solid project plan regarding these issues enacted from the start—and I mean DD start—will ensure that you take full advantage of Navisworks’ capabilities such as the Selection and Search Sets.

Avoid the BIM-Ache - Join the Recovery Group

We have come a long way since the almost  “quarantined” CAD and BIM user world. I’ve been involved in 2D and 3D CAD projects where line layer/level/cell/block names were 30 characters long as well as BIM projects where geometries were copied and renamed in really personal ways that told me nothing about what the objects were in reality. Don’t get me wrong—yes, there are CAD standards and organizations that are standardizing BIM—but let’s face it, a vast majority of users have gotten used to the idea that no one would actually open up their files and look at each line or object type to make sure that they made sense with regard to field construction. The printed and approved construction documents are what really matter, right?

No longer can we live in the oblivion of our personal workstations and isolated environments. Hey, I admit that I’ve created many a Revit family in the past with little care for what it was named as long as it looked right in the end. I didn’t give a thought about who might need to use the model after we got done and what element “Millwork 42” or group “Fixture Silver Bathroom A” might have meant when I first created it. I shudder to think of the generic or not so generic ways I’ve created and named geometries in the bright-screened world of deadlines and sleepless nights that so often happen in our industry. The truth is, though, that to survive and thrive, all of the AEC/O disciplines have begun to blend closer together and BIM innately takes advantage of this by really being best as a sum of parts workflow anyway. The days of the master architect, engineer, builder, and craftsmen are back upon us, even if it might be most prevalently seen in a virtual space.

The following is an example of this one-dimensional thinking and how it can hurt your efficiency of BIM collaboration on a project.
I’m working on a BIM construction project running simulations of the initial submitted design for the trade engineers to translate into well-coordinated fabrication shop drawings. I import into Navisworks an AutoCAD Mechanical HVAC file and a Revit Structural file into a Master Navisworks model (NWF). I am creating a Clash Detective Clash Batch on HVAC and Structural. Our HVAC trade engineer has named some of their duct “Jimmy’s Awesome Stuff” and the structural trade has named their columns by inner-office designated numbers.

When creating a report or in a work session with the team, the only information we get at first glance is that “Jimmy’s Awesome Stuff” is clashing with “34.” These names tell us nothing about what the object really is and what we might need to look up to make sure the adjustments made to the design in the field are the most efficient. If “Jimmy’s Awesome Stuff” was named “1.5 D Round Elbow” and “34” was named “W10x12” we could quickly decide whether we need to consult specs/manufacturer data, calculate various prices on a product change, the time it might take to install differently because of that change, or just make decisions on what might be best for the project in general. Not only could we understand the issue at hand more quickly, but also everyone on the team would be more educated to boot.

The Golden Tools

The Navisworks Help tool states that Selection Sets are static groups of items and are useful for saving a group of objects on which you want to regularly perform some action, such as hiding them, changing transparency and so on. They simply store a group of items for later retrieval. There is no intelligence behind this set. If the model changes at all, the same items are selected (assuming they are still available in the model) when recalling the selection set.

The Navisworks Help tool states that Search sets are dynamic groups of items and work in a similar way to selection sets, except that they save search criteria instead of the results of a selection, so that you can rerun the search at a later date as and when the model changes. Search sets are much more powerful and can save you time, especially if your CAD files continue to be updated and revised. It is also possible to export search sets and share them with other users.

Figure 2: Select & Search Panel is in the Home tab.

You can find the Selection and Search Sets under the Home Tab in the Select & Search Panel. There are several ways to quickly set up your Sets. You can create a Selection Set by choosing any element in your consolidated model via the Selection Tree or in your Navisworks Scene View. After you select your object you can then decide whether you want to Select Same, Multiple Instances, Same Name, Same Type, or Select Same Geometry. Select one of these options and all of the elements with those parameters will also be highlighted. Then you can Save Selection and create a static Selection Set that can be used repeatedly throughout your project’s lifecycle.

Another powerful way to create Sets is by using the Find Items tool. When you use the Find Items tool, you have created a Search Set. There are many options in the Find Items tool that enable you to sort through your consolidated model and find the specific elements that you may want to continually group in your model, even when uploading newer versions of your files.

Figure 3: Find Item options.

Once you create and save a Set, the Sets tab appears in your entire Selection Tree window. You can use these to perform many different actions within Navisworks. An example of usage would be if you want to make all the walls 50 percent transparent while you are coordinating the MEP/FP. Many times while I’m coordinating the MEP/FP on a project, the walls, ceilings, and floors get in the way of viewing the virtual construction conditions. You don’t want to hide them all or arbitrarily hide the ones that get in the way because many times the team needs them for context. Also, if you Hide an item it will not show up in clash detections, which is a danger when coordinating the true conditions of a project. Using a Search or Selection Set to transform their transparency or to Hide and then Unhide quickly is the best workflow for this troublesome condition.

Figure 4: Before any Sets are created.   

Figure 5: After Sets are created.

Navisworks also has the ability to export the sets you create as an xml document, which can be imported into many projects. You can use them over and over again, as well as create Navisworks standards.

Figure 6: Importing Sets

Along with this article, I will be posting a link here ( to download premade sets for Revit® Architecture, Revit® Structure, Revit® MEP and the AutoCAD® Architecture and AutoCAD® MEP programs. These sets will more than get you started using and learning more about sets in your projects.

I advocate for Navisworks users to become increasingly familiar with the ways Sets can help make projects and coordination faster and more efficient. If you have any questions or comments on this article, please feel free to email me at

Bonnie K Gorman is the Executive Vice President of Business and Product Development at Advanced AEC Solutions. She has worked on national and international Architecture, Engineering and Construction BIM projects. She can be reached at

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