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What’s New in Revit MEP 2021

It’s that time of year again. Even with all the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 the annual release of Autodesk software continued as planned. For those of us in industries using Autodesk software it offers some sense of normalcy when so much of regular life is, or was, disrupted. Did that Revit idea you’ve been voting for make the cut? Is there a new feature that was added that you didn’t even know you wanted?

Before looking at what’s new in 2021, I want to go back in time. A formal review of 2020 (at least for MEP) didn’t happen last year for AUGIWorld. However, Revit 2020 contained an enhancement/improvement that, in my opinion, was a long time coming (too long). It was a change to the level Offset/Elevation parameter. This was a ‘platform’ enhancement that has big implications for MEP workflows and documentation.

In previous versions, the Offset parameter controlled the height from level for non-hosted elements. The Elevation parameter controlled the height from level for face-based elements. Face-based elements placed vertically, also had an Offset parameter that controlled the offset from the host. This was confusing in general, but especially so for new users.

These parameters were renamed and redesigned. Elevation changed to Elevation from Level and Offset changed to Offset from Host. For face-based elements, the parameters are now more self-explanatory. Elevation from Level controls the ‘mounting height’ and Offset from Host indicates moved off the host, usually a vertical wall. For non-hosted elements (and non-work plane-based), these two parameters now do the same thing. This simplifies and streamlines the user experience across face-based or non-hosted elements. With this change came the ability to add a default elevation that was previously only available to face-based families.

It also finally made the parameter that is driving the placement of MEP devices available for view filters and documentation like tags and schedules. Displaying the mounting height of several MEP elements (AFF), either on plan or in a schedule, is a common practice for conveying design intent in documentation. Making that information accessible for these uses is a better BIM workflow. Gone are the days of arduous workarounds to access and display the elevation information of these model elements.

Enough about the past, let’s talk about the present! What’s new in Revit 2021?! For starters, there was a clear focus on electrical for this release, beginning with circuit naming schemes. The settings for this can be found in electrical settings. It allows for greater flexibility in circuit numbering depending on project or regional standards. There is also a load classification abbreviation parameter which can now be added to the circuit naming or numbering as loads are added. Shared parameters are also accepted. This provides a lot of flexibility that previously wasn’t possible.

Another area of electrical that got some attention, was improvements to distribution systems logic. For switchboards, you can now select which phase a 1 and 2 pole circuit will connect to on a switchboard. The Max #1 Pole Breakers parameter was replaced with Max Number of Circuits. This will allow the ‘Variable based on max number of circuits’ to be used when making the switchboard schedule, addressing the workarounds normally needed, like making different schedule templates for different fixed values, or creating circuits past what is visible in the schedule. Single phase (L-N) panelboards, normally used in non-US markets, are now properly supported in Revit.

One last item in the electrical theme, is that panelboard schedules on sheets are now listed and visible in the project browser on their respective sheet. This seemingly pedestrian enhancement does make working with, and finding, panelboard schedules easier. It is also consistent with how views, legends, and schedules on sheets report in the project browser.

A broader and fairly significant change affecting MEP is how worksharing will now be handled for interconnected elements in systems. Previously, modifying an interconnected element, such as a fitting or accessory, would cause the other elements to update or move, requiring the interconnected elements to be checked out. This could cause circular references between users when opening a model. The implication is that now when making a change to interconnected elements, such as removing an in-line valve, the broken segment will no longer ‘fix itself’. The user will have to join the segments.

At face value this is disappointing, but if it eliminates problems associated with worksharing it also makes sense. Worksharing is rather essential to most MEP projects. I am only speculating at this point, but I wonder if BIM 360 and/or the switch to Autodesk accounts for licensing may have played a role in this. In a file or server-based worksharing environment, there were ways around this problem that, while disruptive, were probably less disruptive than models hosted in BIM 360. Models on BIM 360 cannot be opened detached and easily resaved as new centrals. And since BIM 360 also requires an Autodesk account, or perhaps your software access is tied to your Autodesk ID, the username in use by Revit cannot be changed to address worksharing permissions when opening models. Either way, for more information there is a full write up on the issue on the Autodesk Revit blog. (images taken from 2021 Help)

An enhancement to the entire Revit platform is, revamped PDF and image functionality. The ability to import PDFs was added in 2020 and images have been able to be imported for as long as I can remember. Now in 2021, PDFs and images can not only be imported they can also be linked. This is good news.

In 2020, imported PDFs were effectively converted to images and thus appeared in the Manage Images dialog. While technically still treated as images, part of the new functionality of 2021 is that PDFs ‘remain’ PDFs for management purposes. As such, the Manage Images dialog is no longer available. Management of PDFs and images has been moved to the Manage Links dialog. From here PDFs and images get their own tab. Each item indicates its reference type as well as the ability to change from link to import or place instances already in the project.

A few other features that I look forward to using that are worthy of an honorable mention. First, is a new feature in Visibility Graphics that allows for enabling/disabling a view filter. Previously, filters had to be removed to be disabled. Potentially undoing lots of mouse clicks. This is a small but effective enhancement.

Second, is the ability to display striped schedule rows on a sheet. Striped rows were a feature added in 2020 but only visible in the schedule view. It was more of a visual aid while working. Now in 2021, striping can be added to schedules, they can be visible when on sheets, and the colors are user defined. Another small but welcome enhancement. To configure stripe rows, go to the Appearance tab of Schedule Properties.

A third change worth mentioning, is tag rotation. To enable this functionality, edit the family and check the box for ‘Rotate with component’. This change only affects certain tag categories, which are listed in Help. Previously, these tag categories could only be horizontal or vertical. Or, more tediously, specific types for each desired rotation needed to be created. I intend to explore this new feature for some scenarios where moving the generic annotation, but not the family itself. This is traditionally handled by building movement controls into the family for the nested generic annotation. I think nested generic annotations will still be the best option for most MEP devices and situations. This new functionality won’t replace that workflow, but it may be able to supplement it.

This completes my rundown of what’s new in Revit 2021. For obvious reasons, not all changes and improvements can be discussed here so I had to be selective for this article’s purposes. Check it out for yourself to see what new features you like the most. All in all, I think 2021 delivers a pretty decent punch containing enhancements and new features that should appeal to a wide audience.

Nathan Mulder has more than 10 years of experience in the AEC industry. He is currently the BIM and CAD Man-ager for Guidepost Solutions, a global leader in investigations, compliance, and security consulting, offering design ser-vices for security, telecom, and technol-ogy systems. A Revit MEP Electrical Certified Professional, Nathan is always looking for ways to fully leverage soft-ware to improve the project design and management process. Contact him at mulder.nathan@gmail.com or on LinkedIn.

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