For a while now, I have restrained from commenting on BIM content (for the Revit platform or otherwise) from Product Manufacturers/Suppliers, also called PIM (Product Information Models (or Modeling.)) Mostly this is due to some negative experiences I have had with Product Suppliers/Manufacturers content as well as the fact that I have noticed a general trend of improvement in that same content. I feel I need throw a few opinions out there and see what folks think.
The cry from the industry for “content” from Autodesk and Manufacturers makes sense from an end-user standpoint, and I “get” it. They need the tools to complete their tasks. I don’t know what release of AutoCAD was the first to have Blocks (AutoCAD “content”) but I’m sure that the first few didn’t do everything for everybody. As AutoCAD has matured and manufacturers have provided shop-drawing quality .dwg details and blocks (including the high-tech dynamic blocks) users have gotten used to (spoiled?) and expect it for their BIM modeling applications as well.
I have felt until very recently that expecting Autodesk or Manufacturers to create content to be used in my office is “beyond the pale.” Every piece of content used in our office goes through testing and a standardization process. I can’t think of any content we have gotten from an outside source that didn’t need modification. Sometimes we modify for graphic standards or material standards or annotation standards or some higher desired functionality. Like I said, until recently, I didn’t think having someone outside the office making content for OUR use was an acceptable answer (more on why I changed my mind in part 2.)
A problem I see with this is the amount of information contained in PIM, and Who and How that information is used and maintained (more on that as well in part 2.) When a manufacturer or supplier creates a 3D model of their product, it is often pushed directly to their CAD/CAM manufacturing machines and the dimensional information can be overwhelming. While this information is necessary for the CAM workflow, it usually doesn’t translate well to a BIM environment. One reason is file size.
I have seen early attempts at PIM with light fixture families that were over 3MB, which is about 6 times the size of most of the Revit families approved for use in our office.
Luckily, Autodesk has provided end users and product modelers with guidelines on how to optimize their families for best performance. PIM has problems with file size and other performance robbing issues far less often than two years ago. Autodesk’s guidelines for having content included on SEEK has made a step towards standardizing what Revit Families should be (whether you agree or not.) Note: that’s Revit families not BIM content (sometimes folks forget there’s a difference.)
Another problem I often see is in content designed for MEP use. Revit MEP uses “connectors” to propagate information from one part of a “system” in the model to another. Unlike some other “best practices” for family creation, the configuration of these connectors is imperative to getting a Revit MEP model to function as expected. I rarely see MEP content where these connectors are configured correctly. (A notable exception is content from Greenheck. Almost all of the connections on content we received were correctly configured.)
Just because a modeler (or content creation service) can create 3D models that look good and maybe even have some snappy, Neat-o functionality, doesn’t mean they have either the Engineering or Revit knowledge and experience to create families that work for MEP use. And you do need both. If you don’t have a basic understanding of how the system your working with is engineered and works in reality, you won’t be able to design content that works for the Engineers using it. If you don’t understand Revit MEP, you will make assumptions about how the system works in reality and try to make that happen in Revit. And that may or may not work.
In short, I used to think that there was no way that Manufacturers would ever be able to supply useful content for my uses. I now feel like I was way off base. My hope is that Product Suppliers/Manufacturers will continue to poll end users, and BIM managers as well as Application providers (thanks Autodesk) about the BIM content they configure. I think that they are an essential part of “True BIM” and it’s use in a Building’s lifecycle.
In the next part of this series I will talk about why I reversed my opinion on the subject and ideas I have for capturing and managing information in PIM.
Oh, BTW, I hate loooong, text-only blog posts, but you wouldn’t know that by this one.