This is the second part of ArchSmarter’s 3-part Revit content series. You can read part 1 here.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of managing your Revit content, I’d like to tell you a little story. . .
Managing One Family is Difficult
A couple of weeks ago, my wife headed out of town for the weekend.
When she told our boys she was going away, Owen, our oldest, rolled his eyes and said, “Uh oh, Dad’s in charge. . .”
His trepidation was warranted. You see, I have a spotty track record when it comes to managing weekend activities.
Truth be told, I find keeping track of who needs to goes where and what stuff they need to be REALLY stressful.
One time I left Leo’s favorite stuffed animal at home and he LOUDLY expressed his displeasure with a full twenty minutes of high-volume crying in the car.
Then I forget Owen’s shin guards and had to make a mad dash to the sports store before his soccer game.
And then there’s the time I left Shea’s jacket at school over the weekend. That was a total disaster. It snowed both days and the poor kid had to wear one of my winter coats while sledding. While humorous, a men’s large doesn’t fit all that well on a 7-year-old frame.
Suffice to say, managing a family is a lot of work.
5 Ways to Better Manage Your Revit Content
Just like keeping track of your own family, managing your Revit families can also be stressful. But instead of only three kids, you likely have hundreds of different families to keep track of.
Sure, those Revit families won’t get upset if you put the ketchup on the wrong side of the plate (Leo hates that) but they still need your attention and your care from time to time.
After you standardize your Revit content with a consistent family and type naming convention, the next step is to add some structure to your content library.
Here are 5 ways to better manage your Revit content library.
1. Keep it simple with folders
The easiest way to organize your Revit content is to simply use folders and sub-folders. Specify a location on your server (or file-sharing site), create some folders to organize the content and away you go.
The best thing about this method is it’s REAL easy. You can use Revit’s out-of-the-box folder structure and simply start adding your own content. Also, there’s no additional cost involved. It’s all folder management.
While the folder method is free and easy, there are some considerable downsides. First of all, you’ll need to hunt around the folders to find the exact family you’re looking for. If you have an elaborate folder structure, it’s going to take users time to find the families they need.
Also, you can’t preview the family before loading it. This means users will likely add a bunch of families into the project file before they find the one they need.
Searching for families is also difficult. Sure, you can use Windows search but it’s often like looking for a needle in a haystack. You can’t rate or add comments to the family unless you add specific parameters.
Things to Consider
The biggest consideration with this method is your folder structure. How are you going to setup the folders and subfolders? You can keep the Revit default structur;e; or you can use a more comprehensive system, like the CSI MasterFormat system. Either way, make sure your users understand the system.
You’ll also need a naming convention for your family files. Be sure your naming convention references the family’s Revit version.
Another consideration is how you’re going to upgrade your content with each new release of Revit. You can create a separate library folder for each Revit version. You can use a single library and simply add new .rfa files for the different versions. Either way, you’re going to end up with a lot of redundancy.
Lastly, you need to think about differentiating Revit default content from manufacturer content from your own custom content. Do they all go in the same folder? Do you use a naming convention to differentiate the content source? Keeping track of the source of the families is important when you need to modify or update them.
2. Load Up Your Templates
If you’re using Revit templates (and you definitely should be), another option is to load your commonly used families into the template file. Like the folder method, this approach is dead simple. Simply identify what families you typically use and load them into the template file. Done!
The biggest benefit to this method is that your commonly used families are readily accessible. No need to load any extra families to get started. You can just start modeling.
On the flip side, anytime you update your families, you need to reload them into your template. It’s an extra step and, in my experience, those extra steps have a habit of getting skipped.
Also, loading all these families into your template adds to the file size. Maybe you only use a quarter or half of those families. That’s a lot of extra bytes to be carrying around in your project.
Lastly, you’ll still need to load specific families into the project file. You don’t want to weight down your template with every single family so users will still have to hunt and peck through your family folder structure. Not a deal breaker but something to consider.
Things to Consider
The first step of this approach is to determine exactly what families you need in the template. If you work on different project types, you might want to consider different templates containing the content appropriate for that project type.
You will still need some structure for organizing your file-based families, such as the folder based approach outlined above. For system families, like floors, roofs, and walls, create container files for these families. Use these files as your master copy and load them into your templates.
This method can work well, provided you’re diligent in updating the templates and don’t overload them with families you “might” need.
3. Store Content in a Container File
A Container file is an RVT file that contains specific system or component families. Unlike a template file, a container file is not used to create new model files. It’s just meant for holding content. This content gets transferred to project files using the Manage > Transfer Standards tool.
The benefit of using container files is that you can create specific files for each general class of content. For example, if your firm works on primarily healthcare and commercial projects, you could create a container file with healthcare specific floors, wall, ceilings, and components. Likewise, you could create another one for commercial projects.
You can even get more specific with your container files, creating separate ones for emergency departments, surgical suites, and the like. Coupled with a general office template file, this method ensures users have easy access to the content they need.
One downside to this method is that users need to know how to load content from another RVT file. This can be handled through training or automated via a custom add-in. If you have several container files, users will need to know which ones to use. Also, like templates, container files need periodic editing and upgrading.
Things to Consider
Container files work best for system families, like floors, roofs, and walls. Make sure you have the Transfer Standards process well documented. There are a lot of elements that you can transfer. Make sure users know which ones to transfer from your container files.
4. Use a Content Management System
This is the best (and most expensive) option for managing your Revit content. In a nutshell, a content management system is a separate piece of software that organizes and makes accessible your Revit content. The content typically resides on a server or on the cloud.
Content management systems make it easy to find and load your Revit content. Most use keyword tagging and sophisticated search algorithms. This makes finding exactly what you need a breeze. Some systems also allow users to rate content and add their own comments.
You can also preview the family before you load it.
The biggest downside to using a content management system is the cost. This software, while extremely powerful, isn’t cheap. However, If you calculate the time your office spends looking for content, you can justify the cost of the system by the time saved hunting for content.
Things to Consider
Content Studio can update the content in multiple projects simultaneously, which is a real time saver. You can also search for specific family parameters. Unifi is a cloud-based solution which, like Content Studio, includes robust search capabilities.
Both products are available on a subscription and priced on the total number of users.
If you’re willing to do a little bit of work, check out Roman Lavrov’s free Revit family browser add-in. Point the browser to your family folders and you can preview and load them directly from a Revit palette window. You’ll need to download the add-in from GitHub and install it manually.
4. Use Family Sets
A fourth option is to use a hybrid approach to combine the simplicity of a folder structure with the ability to batch load families like a management system.
One way to do this is to use Excel to create sets of commonly used families. If you work on a lot of residential projects, for example, list the families you commonly use in an Excel file.
Next, use Dynamo or a macro, like ArchSmarter’s Batch Family Loader, to load all these families into your model.
The biggest benefit to this method is its simplicity. You don’t need any additional software other than Revit and Excel.
For users, this method makes it dead simple to load the correct families at one time. There’s no guess work since you’ve already indicated which families to load. They simply select the Excel file and Revit does all the work loading the family files.
The biggest downside to this method is the time required to set up the Excel files. You need to consider which families to include and make sure you enter the correct file path to the .rfa file.
If you move files or folders around, you’ll need to update your Excel files. There are ways to facilitate this process using Excel automation but these tools also require additional time to create.
Also, you’ll still need to manually load one-off families like you would using the folder method.
Things to Consider
Using this method, you can create multiple Excel files for different project types or phases. Need LOD 200 furniture for your DD level project, just pick the appropriate Excel file. Want all your standard kitchen equipment? Choose that Excel file.
You still need a good folder structure. However, organizing families into logical groups and giving users an easy method to batch load those groups, you make it more likely that the right families will be used in the right situation.
Get Your Content Under Control
Let’s face it, managing your Revit content is a thankless job. It’s a housekeeping task, albeit an important one. Fortunately, there is a range of options you can use to take the sting out of the process.
At the simplest level, a robust folder structure will let your sort out your content with some level of organization. The more granular the folders, the easier it is to pinpoint specific families. However, too many folders can make finding the right family like searching through a haystack.
Loading your commonly used families into a template file is a straightforward approach but you must balance the number of families included in the template with its overall file size. Load in too many families and you’re creating unwieldy project files that may be prone to errors down the road.
Using a content management system will make managing your content a breeze. But this method isn’t always cost or time effective for every firm. Large or multi-office firms with dedicated BIM managers stand to benefit the most from this approach.
Lastly, a hybrid approach using Excel to batch load families makes sense for smaller offices who don’t want to commit to a full content management system. The upfront time required to create the family sets will be worth it when users can load tens or hundreds of families with a single click.
How about you?
How do you manage your Revit content? Do you keep it simple with folders or has your firm invested in a content management system? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below to continue the discussion.