Building Design

Making the Switch — AutoCAD to Revit, Part 2

19 Jan, 2011 By: Daniel Stine

Revit Tutorial: Building design firms transitioning to Autodesk Revit should plan for setup and troubleshooting before anything goes wrong.

This article is the second in a two-part series about transitioning to Autodesk Revit, but many of the principles described here could apply to any BIM (building information modeling) software transition. This series is intended for those who have not ventured down the BIM road yet, or who have the software but don't know what to do next.

The first part addressed the reasons to switch, the timing, and who to train within the firm; this part will explain which content and template setup you'll need, and what to do when things go wrong.
Content and Template Setup

Another aspect of training and implementation is content and template setup. It is not wise to begin a project without having begun this task; however, you don't want to spend too much time trying to get everything perfect prior to the first pilot project.

Template essentials include:

  • Titleblock with company logo (matching the CAD version)
  • Text and dimension styles
  • Schedules (door, room finish, light fixture, VAV, AHU, etc.)
  • Floor plan views and levels
    • For a four-story building you would have:
      • Four levels
      • Four floor plan views
      • Four ceiling plan views
  • Sheets (some are empty; others are not)
    • Title sheet with sheet index, standard notes, and graphics
    • Plans, elevations, sections, details sheets (these are mostly empty place-holder sheets)
    • Schedules
      • Empty schedules can be placed on sheets; they fill themselves out as the model is developed
      • Some schedules are only for the design team and never go on a sheet
  • Some content
    • Only load the essentials into your template; too much can make your starting template way too big and cluttered
    • Some items, such as walls, cannot exist outside of a project file. In this case, you can set up project files that have one instance of each wall type created in each. When a new wall type is needed, the "wall type" project is opened and the desired wall is copied and pasted into the current project.

What the experts have to say…

Everyone knows that a Revit template should be as clean as possible, and it should contain the basic company standards and a few families. However, this rule doesn't apply to levels and views. One thing that many people forget when creating a Revit template is that it is easier to delete views than create them! If you set up ten levels and all associated views and dependent views for the building areas, your company will be able to save hundreds of design hours per year. By simply deleting the levels you don't need, Revit will delete all associated views as well. This way you have the flexibility to start a ten-story project or small two-story project. This statement is mostly true for MEP companies and not as much for architects and structural engineers. — Plamen Hristov, Virtual Design Manager, Capital Engineering Consultants

Tip: If you are a subscription member, you may watch an Autodesk University 2010 class recording on Autodesk Revit MEP Templates: Solving MEP Implementation Hurdles (ME322-2) by Mr. Stine and Mr. Hristov.

Content can be a big obstacle for many firms starting down the BIM path. With the exception of Revit Structure, much of the real-world content needed for a project does not exist. Things like doors with frames, windows, and casework must be created or purchased. Some of these elements do come with the software or can be downloaded from web sites such as, but usually the content is created in-house to get the desired graphical appearance and have the needed data-populate schedules. As BIM standards evolve and manufacturers continue to develop quality Revit content, the need for in-house content creation will subside, but we are not at that point just yet.

Tip: Take a look at David Baldicchino's blog Do-U-Revit for a nice list of manufacturers who currently offer Revit content. Also, Autodesk has established a clearinghouse of manufacturer-created content at (note that not all content on Seek is from product manufacturers).

Most content is either a loadable family or a system family. Loadable families can exist outside a project and be loaded in when needed. Content used on virtually every project can be loaded in a template file so it will be included in every new project automatically and does not have to be loaded every time. System families can only exist within a project. They are continuous horizontal or vertical elements with one or more layers. For example, walls, floors, ceilings, and roofs are system families.

Revit has three types of content: loadable, system, and in-place. This image is taken from the author's chapter on content creation, which is included with each of his 2011 Revit books.

Some content essentials are:

  • Loadable Families
    • Doors
      • Door families with hollow metal frames, sidelights, and an adjustable swing (e.g., existing doors at 45 degrees) are needed to make decent-looking plans and elevations. The doors that come with Revit can be used as a starting point. This is a great time to standardize door and frame type designations, so schedules fill out automatically.
    • Casework
    • Furniture
      • A lot of furniture content can be obtained with the software, online, or from manufacturers, but several real-world items are typically needed (especially if you design healthcare, corrections, or other highly specialized projects). 
  • System Families
    • Walls
      • These are easy to create as needed, but setting up a library of typical walls will help streamline the graphics and functionality of walls for the entire office.
      • Consider creating one or more project files that will contain various wall types (e.g., CMU walls in one file, and wood-stud walls in another).
      • Review the Help system for information on using the wall layers/functions and structural core features properly.
      • USG has walls and ceilings available for Revit. These could be used as a starting point, and graphics changed as needed.

What the experts have to say…

When transitioning from AutoCAD to Revit, content is always a major concern. I like to separate the discussion into two parts: details and blocks. In Revit, you need a number of families (equivalent to blocks) that you can easily insert in your project to define the various elements that make up a project, such as walls, doors, windows, furniture, lighting, etc. Revit comes with a number of these families out-of-the-box, but you will probably find that they are limited and it is very difficult to find exactly what you want. There are various other content sources, some of which provide families for free. Others offer content at a cost or through a credit system that encourages sharing of your own creations. Manufacturers are also starting to make their products available as Revit families, and there are also several entities that offer content creation services. Regardless of where you obtain these families, it is imperative to have a few experts in your firm who understand this topic and are able to customize families, build them from scratch to suit your project-specific needs, be able to audit families obtained elsewhere, and ultimately organize everything in your firm's infrastructure and train users on how to apply it to project work.

The other part of the discussion focuses on details. Lots of projects make use of the same or similar details, which is why firms have grown elaborate detail libraries. Reusing this content saves precious time and you need to outline a strategy to make the transition to Revit. In the short term, you might want to simply link your CAD drawings into Revit drafting views. It is highly recommended to have each detail in a separate, properly cleaned and audited file to facilitate linking and reduce headaches. However, in the long term it is advisable to build these drafting views in Revit using the appropriate detail components and using as little detail linework as possible. This way you will be able to input the appropriate assembly code for each element and take advantage of further specification-editing automation when you are ready for it. This requires commitment and a realistic conversion timeline, but is ultimately the direction you need to go. I think in times where work is slow, investing in content creation, systems, and training will result in the best return for your money. — David Baldacchino, Senior Designer, PhiloWilke Partnership

Editor's note: For more information about sources of free and paid content for Revit, see the Cadalyst article, "Shortest Route to a 3D Throw Pillow."

All custom content and families should be saved in a unique location relative to the content that comes with the software. Mixing your content will prove problematic when it is time upgrade to the next version of Revit. It is best to use the new content provided by Autodesk, as it may contain new functionality or parameters. By keeping your content separate you can easily replace the out-of-the-box content and not worry about losing anything custom.

Some content cannot be made in advance because it is unique to a project. Items such as this reception desk need to be created concurrent to the project development.

One last comment about content: It should be more clearly stated by Autodesk that project files and content are in no way backward-compatible. What does this mean? Once a project or family has been upgraded to a new version of Revit, it cannot be opened by an older version of Revit. There is no Save As feature in the application! Therefore custom content should be upgraded to a parallel folder structure during a firm's transition to a new version. This provides access to content for each version in use. Projects near completion are typically completed in the current version to avoid any unexpected issues (remember, once upgraded, there is no turning back).

When Things Go Wrong

Once the pilot project has gotten off the ground, you need to have a plan for when problems arise. Common stumbling blocks include:

  • Hardware issues
    • Out of memory
    • Graphic driver instability or slowness
  • Software issues
    • Synchronizing with the central file
    • Crashing
      • With option to save a recover file
      • Instant, without option to save
    • Understanding features (phasing, linking, design options, shared coordinates, etc.)
    • Controlling visibility
      • Making certain elements hidden
      • Making other elements visible
      • Changing line weight and style.

What the experts have to say…

As far as moving from AutoCAD to Revit, the way in which support needs to be approached changes significantly. No longer can you just say, "Here, take this one drawing file and help me fix it"... it now becomes more of a game of what I call "Revit forensics." Working in a more global environment means in many cases it's not just one independent thing that needs to be considered. Granted, most Revit newcomers will still ask for support in the same manner that they are accustomed to, which requires a bit of investigative skill on the part of the support staff. The key to successful support is being able to take that very pointed request and help the user interpret what the real end goal is, and how best to reach that goal. Think of your basic AutoCAD support as a triage station: They apply band-aids and give you pain relievers to get you on your way. Revit support is more like holistic medicine: The objective is to treat the source of the ailment, not just the symptoms. — Rachel Riopel, AIA, LEED AP, Project Architect with Best Practices Development, HDR

The first thing to do is to determine whether the problem occurs on another computer, or if one of your co-workers can quickly answer your question. When doing any trial-and-error testing, be sure to work in a "detached from central" version of the project so the main BIM database is not affected. Don't forget about searching Revit's Help system.

If you cannot solve the problem in a reasonable amount of time, you will need to get help. This may be in the form of an internal BIM support person or a reseller. If your firm is on subscription, you have access to Autodesk's online support as well. The support person may be able to troubleshoot the problem over the phone. If not, they may want to connect to your computer to have you show them the problem, and then they'll walk you through the solution. This is a great way to continue the training for individual users so they will not need to search out help for the same issue in the future. The support person may want to access the file and do more intensive investigating without taking up your time. This may require uploading one or more files to an FTP site or Autodesk Buzzsaw.

Tip: Another way to communicate a problem is to create a video. Try downloading Techsmith's Jing to make videos for free.

In some cases, the Revit file needs to be sent to Autodesk so they can use some of their advanced techniques to remove any corruption or errors in the BIM database. In these more extreme cases, the design team may have to stop working on the file until the problem is corrected. However, unless the file is completely corrupt, it is possible to continue working on the project while Autodesk support searches for the issue. Once the problem and solution are found, the most current file can be sent to Autodesk for correction and returned in (hopefully) an expedited fashion.
It is recommended that users seek advice from more experienced cohorts before making decisions to reverse course. For example, doing the door schedule in AutoCAD because the scheduling feature is not fully understood, or the extreme case of exporting the entire project to AutoCAD and not using Revit for the remainder of the design, should not be required.


Hopefully, this article answered a few questions for those considering making the switch from AutoCAD to Revit. No doubt, you still have many questions that need to be answered; a local reseller may be able to provide assistance, and you can also get additional opinions from other users on a newsgroup such as the AUGI Revit Forum.



About the Author: Daniel Stine

Daniel Stine

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