Simplify Structural Engineers’ Workflow with Add-ons
Before achieving the status of Autodesk® Revit® software lecturer and a project manager for an Autodesk Authorized Developer, I had been working in the architectural design company for some years. I have experience on a variety of building projects in the roles of designer and software consultant as well. My architectural drafting experience and skills acquired by working with Revit and in high education (I hold a Master’s degree in Engineering and Computer Graphics) help me to be a part of the staff that develops BIM solutions and extensions for Autodesk Revit software.
In this article I will present some third-party add-ons that are used in Revit Structure to increase the performance of professionals who prepare structural engineering projects. Since 2009, I have been furthering the development of AGA CAD applications for Revit. These apps are being developed and continually improved due to the high number of Autodesk Revit platform users who are willing to step up and facilitate project preparation work.
I would like to describe some of the AGA CAD 28 different productivity enhancing tools vital for Revit users. Properly speaking, the functionality of those applications was expanded so much that we call these ultra-high-performance products “BIM solutions” because, according to their volume, they do not correspond to the notion of “add-ons.”
So, what are the products I am talking about? I will focus on two BIM solutions that address the most painful design processes for structural engineers: Modeling of wood or metal framework and shop drawing of reinforced concrete assemblies.
Preparation of Shop Drawings Could Be Easy
Building design is one of the construction industry sectors with a great need to make the design process faster and economically efficient. Every structural engineer who uses Autodesk Revit Structure knows very well the headaches that come from working with Revit assemblies. Using plain Revit software in the preparation of shop drawings takes outrageous time inputs because engineers need to perform a lot of manual operations.
I do not like that plain Revit doesn’t have enough automatic tools for the preparation of shop drawings. If I need to add dimensions or dimension notes on every element face, rebar, hosted, or nested element, I feel constrained to do that manually.
Furthermore, plain Revit allows for the preparation of a shop drawing just for one assembly at a time. Therefore, creating shop drawings is time wasting activity for structural engineers because they have to manually create all assembly sheets one by one. Would you like to count how long it takes to prepare shop drawings of all assemblies if there are 50 or 100 different elements in Revit model? It’s scary to think about this.
A productivity enhancing BIM solution was developed that saves Revit Structure users a huge amount of time. Smart Assemblies provides a set of intuitive tools for the generation of shop drawings. Revit users just need to select structural beam, column, wall, floor, or other structural element, then the application will collect all the rebar and other hosted concrete or steel elements and make an assembly with predefined views and schedules.
Figure 1: Front view of a wall assembly created with the Smart Assemblies application
Smart Assemblies is a third-party add-on that allows Revit Structure users to create assemblies and corresponding views from selected architectural or structural elements and automatically generates shop drawings with required schedules and dimensions in views.
How Smart Assemblies Works
Using the feature Workshop Drawing Configuration, the designer has to define the views that will be created for the assembly; the same for schedules, view/schedule templates, title block, etc. When the settings for dimensions and views are defined, the Smart Assemblies user just needs to select the main element from the project and click “Create Assembly.” That’s it! Smart Assemblies will create user-defined assembly views with dimensions and place them in the worksheets automatically.
Figure 2: Autodesk Revit workshop, Smart Assemblies sheets.
This application creates assemblies from walls, parts, floors, structural framings, architectural columns, structural columns, or structural foundations you select in the project. Moreover, it allows you to control element orientation in Assembly Front View. This setting goes for family-based elements (such as columns, beams, and generic models).
Smart Assemblies shows the situation with all created assemblies in a separate convenient dialog. At the same time, users can see the list of elements that are not yet assembled. Such elements can be filtered and assembled with one click. And it doesn’t matter how many Revit elements you choose: Shop drawings will be generated for all at one time!
Smart Assemblies automatically generates dimensions in views by predefined rules. Notes can be added to dimension lines, too. Assembly sheets are generated automatically by predefined sheet templates where views and schedules are placed in the right places. Legend views can be placed on the sheet also, if it is required.
Using Smart Assemblies, structural engineers can prepare shop drawings with ease because an assembly combines multiple hosted or nested concrete and steel elements into a single entity that can be dimensioned, scheduled, tagged, and isolated to create assembly views and sheets.
It is very handy that dimensions and notes can be automatically added on every assembly view. Revit users can predefine how to measure main elements (wall, part, floor, beam, column, and foundation), hosted metal, hosted concrete elements, rebar, and so on. Dimensioning rules and shop drawing configurations can be saved to a separate XML file for the future projects. This can be placed into a network server for sharing among users and colleagues.
Figure 3: Smart Assemblies rules for Autodesk Revit shop drawings
The Smart Assemblies application defines the views that have to be created for the assembly; the same as dimensioning configuration for every view, schedule, view/schedule template, tag, legend, and title block. Also it adds “weight” and “mass” parameters to the assembly and calculates true weight and mass values automatically. Mandatory condition for weight and mass calculations: Every element has to have material assigned with “density” value.
Assembly Sheets are automatically generated by predefined user template. Users can point to where every assembly view or schedule has to be placed. When compared to plain Revit software, the Smart Assemblies application allows you to predefine view templates, schedule templates, title blocks for the future assemblies and to put assembly views into the same place on all sheets. Also, it allows users to create two or more sheets if needed.
Automatic Assembly Updates
The very convenient Smart Assemblies feature is an automatic update. If there are changes in the model, using Smart Assemblies saves time when updating your existing assemblies.
After any change in the project, the structural engineer simply needs to select the assembly and update it with the “Update Assembly” feature. Smart Assemblies provides a detailed report with warnings after making or updating the assembly. Every assembly is displayed with a separate color that indicates its status, allowing Revit users to easily understand what assemblies are up-to-date or should be updated. The report can be exported to a PDF if necessary. All assembly updates happen in real time, which helps users avoid mistakes and control all process of shop drawings creation easily.
Figure 4: Smart Assemblies update
The main goal of SmartAssemblies is to help Revit users simplify the assemblies workflow. This unique application solves many headaches of Revit users who need to prepare a large amount of documentation to the construction industry. It can save you hundreds of hours of work required for shop drawing creation, because it gives Revit Structure users incredibly speedy workflow, easy control process, and error prevention.
Smart Assemblies enables you to prepare shop drawings for many selected reinforced concrete elements.
The “Update Assembly” feature will automatically update any changes in the project to all selected assemblies.
This powerful Revit-based BIM solution is compatible with Revit releases 2013-2015. Try this helpful application and you’ll see that preparation of shop drawings could be very easy. Revit users can save hundreds of hours per project using Smart Assemblies for the automation of shop drawing creation. You will not need to add dimensions to assembly views or compose shop drawings manually anymore!
Add-ons for Automated Framing Layout
The next high challenge for structural engineers who use Revit Structure is a demand to create a full framing layout in 3D that should be very accurate. Also it is desirable for the framing process to be creatively flexible so as to be able to correctly form things such as cripple hips and a wide range of cut outs, let-ins, doubling up, raking cuts, junctions in larger sized ridge beams, and the like. I know from my practical experience that not a few Revit Structure users need to get additional tools for Revit for automatic roof or whole building framing.
Revit has a tool to automate the layout of frame of a building, but its functionality is rather weak. Therefore, structural engineers often seek and apply any third-party program whose functionality allows them to simplify the framework process and shop drawing creation.
One of the examples of excellent third-party products could be the AGA CAD BIM solution Wood & Metal Framing Pro which consists of independent modules Rafter+, Truss+ RT, and Wall+. Revit users have been using them for a few years, with positive results.
The first Revit add-on, Rafter+ by the AGA CAD team, was designed for Revit 2009 version. This add-on for roof frame construction was developed when we discovered that Revit, at that time, didn’t have anything like the ArchiCAD module for wood framing. Talking to customers and getting feedback, we decided to expand Autodesk Revit’s capabilities. After Rafter+ was released, we got a huge interest from Revit users. That success showed us that we were headed in the right direction. After that, a whole series of other productivity enhancing framing products was released. These products include the Wood & Metal Framing Pro suite, whose separate modules enable users to handle complicated modeling tasks quickly, accurately, and effortlessly.
Wood & Metal Framing Pro is a powerful modular BIM solution with an intuitive set of functions for wall and roof framing and elements scheduling. As was mentioned previously, this suite consists of the independent modules Rafter+, Truss+ RT, and Wall+. To introduce all these modules for Revit Structure users, I will present each of them briefly.
Powerful Wall Framing Instruments
Framing in Autodesk Revit has never been an easy task. It is a disaster when it comes to modeling all the framing and it gets worse when we get to the point where updates or changes are needed. Therefore, I recommend the use of add-ons to make the modeling process easier.
All AGA CAD framing solutions are built for quick framing project development, but with different design objects. For example, the Wall+ solution provides a set of intuitive automated functions for modeling wall frame, using native Revit elements and making shop drawings just created with several mouse clicks. This application helps Revit users to create their sustainable buildings excluding all the dirty drafting work from their everyday processes. Just build the frame design, modify it if something doesn’t fit well, and get back to detailing.
Figure 5: Views of a framed wall
Everything in Wall+ is a mouse click away. Choose what needs to be modified and click the function from the menu. Wall+ has almost all possible wall framing situations in its workflow that can be easily configured. It automatically generates the vertical and horizontal wood framing members of walls including openings for a timber- or steel-framed building model.
Wall+ is made for both modular and non-modular framing design. Main benefits of modularity are that it enables you to reduce construction price and increase construction speed and precision, which are needed for energy efficient buildings. It allows you to finish your modeling with a built-in shop drawing generator and deliver your wall framing estimation the same time.
There are all main framing types available. You are free to frame structural framing, nailers, sidings, and even log walls. Wall+ is suitable for framing dormer roof walls, too. You just model structural wall framings then build your complete workshop drawings with dimensioning, part lists, and material take-off automatically.
Figure 6: Sample of workshop drawing
Wall framing structure is defined with your Revit wall types. It allows designers to think only about building design and not bother about the wall framing part. After the design is ready, users just need to configure a few settings, setting up as many configurations for different wall framing types as they like. Save them and the template is created. Reuse them anytime and for any project.
Figure 7: Wall+ frames dormer walls
Timber, metal, or composite studs, plates, and bracings are available. Profiles can be changed all at one time or one at a time, as the designer prefers. There are lots of modification capabilities because Revit users can modify each framing element separately. Every part of the framing (noggins, bracings, headers, top plates, sills, etc.) can be sorted and listed in schedules automatically. Wall+ makes automatic updates in all schedules, drafts, and workshop drawings when project changes are being made. So if you make any changes to the structure, your wall dimensions and tags will be generated automatically.
Figure 8: Wall+ enables to move openings and updates framing quickly
Using Wall+ frame modeling in Revit is easy. Modeling with changes might take approximately 30 minutes and what are left are the workshop drawings, which are done completely automatically.
Wide-ranging Tools for Roof Framing
BIM software such as Autodesk Revit allows all designers to implement their decisions in a model. But many designers across the world are trying to find the answer of how to easily model their roof (gable, flat, pent-roof, etc.) designs in the Autodesk Revit platform.
If you’re a structural engineer or modeler in a firm that designs framed or modular buildings, modeling with Revit Structure is not an easy job for you. When it is not automated, this process can become a nightmare, so helpers are crucial to getting things done quickly. Truss+ RT and Rafter+ are my favorite Revit add-ons. They save a lot of time creating roof framing plans, with the advantage of creating take-offs immediately.
There are two options to make roof design: rafter roof and truss roof. Sometimes roof framing systems are complex, having different common roof types and structural solutions. For example, the same type of roof can be done using rafters or trusses. For the rafter roof design, I suggest the independent Wood & Metal Framing Pro module in the Rafter+ that enables users to quickly lay out rafters, valley rafters, beams, and so on. This BIM solution for wooden roof framing provides a powerful set of intuitive functions for automated roof rafter system design and elements scheduling. Rafter+ allows Revit users to very easily complete the framing of any roof shape—with dormers or without.
Figure 9: Rafter+ features
Rafter+ allows users to frame a whole roof quickly as well as floor systems. Only the architectural part of the roof has to be done if you want to use Rafter+. You don’t need to make a beam system for every roof slope manually as well as roof opening, dormers, or floors. The product automatically generates common rafter systems (including jack rafters) on all slopes for the selected roof. Also, automatic generation goes for a collar beam system between two selected rafters in opposite roof slopes. Vertical distance from a ridge or a level to the collar beam system can be predefined and edited later.
Rafter+ easily models ridge and girder beams with control of notch in parameters of common, jack, hip, and valley rafters. Also it creates hip/valley rafters after selection of two beam systems from the adjacent slopes (or all). This Revit-based solution automatically detects whether the element is a hip or a valley rafter.
Figure 10: Final roof framing result with Rafter+
The application has several functions for horizontal system design. It creates horizontal beam systems, inserts sleepers and trimmers, generates floor beam systems automatically, detects and frames openings in floor slabs, and cuts wood beams in consideration with opening geometry. Also Rafter+ creates additional horizontal or sloped framing on top of rafters or floor beam systems using the very useful feature Create Batten Systems. Powerful functions for custom framing enables users to extend or trim beams, and split or recreate beam systems.
When you create openings, frame them, insert valley and hip rafters, ridges, collar beams, girders and trimmers, battens, and all necessary frame elements, then use the Update Beam Systems feature to cut all beams together.
Rafter+ automatically updates parameters of modeled rafter or beam systems. Flexible scheduling technology allows you to quickly define how to mark and sort different roof framing elements that are all covered by notes and specs, which should be represented in shop drawings correctly. The Sort function groups, sorts, and renumbers framing elements according to predefined solutions. Examples of popular schedules are included with software installation.
Another Revit add-on that allows Revit users to model roof frame systems quickly, simply, and accurately is Truss+ RT. This versatile application enables users to build a truss system, analyze it, and make documentation in minutes rather than hours.
Figure 11: Truss system using Truss+ RT
Revit users who create sloped roofs often have questions about truss design, as follows: Is it possible to make complex truss systems in Revit? How do I make custom trusses? Can I make structural analysis of trusses in Revit? How do I make workshop drawings of individual trusses? How do I sort truss elements in Revit much quicker?
Truss+ RT solves all users’ headaches. It simplifies metal and wood truss design. Truss+ RT allows you to make structural analysis of all trusses created in Revit project.
Figure 12: Truss+ RT features.
With Truss+ RT, all design and analysis work can be done in Revit without the need to export/import your files. Following are some of the software’s features.
- Draws your own custom truss. Truss+ RT has a built-in Truss builder that allows you to draw custom truss design and use it straight in a project.
- Creates workshop drawings by selected truss. Using templates, the documentation process is done in seconds.
- Sorts and tags truss members and copes them with one click.
- Calculates truss volume, etc.
This BIM solution quickly develops a truss system. User can choose timber or steel truss framing. Quickly evaluate the design and economical differences and choose which system to use.
Figure 13: Modeling with steel trusses
If there are situations when you need to insert flat trusses in your project, you can use Truss+ RT for that, too. Looking at it conceptually, flat trusses are common trusses with zero slope angle and higher heel height and it is easy to add them in your Revit project.
Figure 14: Truss+ RT helps to create flat truss framing
All modifications happen in real time, which helps users avoid mistakes and control all processes of family parameter changes easily. However, the main benefit of Truss+ RT is speedy workflow. This Revit add-on builds truss systems in seconds. Frame changes are controlled by a click of the mouse.
If you are a structural engineer or build modular buildings, I recommend the Wood & Metal Framing Pro app pack.
With these applications for Revit, designers can concentrate on their design, solve all their issues, and deliver all shop drawings to manufacturers in less time. Wood & Metal Framing Pro suite saves owners and designers time and money.
Developer AGA CAD Ltd has a lot of productivity tools for Revit that are developed by users for users. Some could be called general platform solutions and some are very specific to an industry. Solutions range from the simple productivity app to small vertical solutions on top of Revit. I have highlighted just a few of them.
Features in the presented applications fill in some gaps with shop drawing creation of reinforced concrete assemblies and timber or metal framed system design. These tools help to speed up the BIM model design and project documentation process.