Thursday, May 10, 2012


Freebies are nice, but the "open source" ideal goes beyond nice.  It implies belief in a bettter world based on sharing.  You've probably noticed that money is not equally distributed in this life.  Free access doesn't solve Global poverty, but it is a small step in the right direction.

The NBS is an offshoot of the RIBA, which is a fairly exclusive club.  NBS offers a specification system that is British in outlook, very well thought out & (in my view at least) much better than the american system that is gradually taking over in much of the world.  All these systems cost money, and are targetted at fee-charging consultants.

The NBS BIM library, however, is a free access service.  You have to register, but there is no charge.  It's too early to say how good this service will become, but a very positive start has been made with generic families for walls, floors, ceilings, roofs, doors & windows.  They come with very well written guidance manuals and are well worth checking out.

Manufacturer content is under way, and it will be interesting to see how well the NBS is able to standardise thise.  We all know how disappointing manufacturer content can be.  The NBS has a fine record for taking a chaotic world (the building industry) and imposing a clarity and logic that is based on the wisdom of experience.  Can they do the same for BIM ?

Their door families are interesting: a separate family for each type of door, no nested components & quite scary when opened in Family Editor.  I don't think you're supposed to fiddle with them.

By coincidence I came across SuperDoor this week also.  This is an american product, from an AEC software company.  It's a plug-in that helps you to create many different kinds of door family.  The approach could hardly be more different.  

I haven't bought a copy, so if you want to know more, watch the video here.

Some time ago, I downloaded the trial version of Door Factory, from a very dynamic outfit called Revit Works, based in New Zealand. 

The nice thing about this is that it has no expiry date.  This is ideal for me, because I find things, download them, then get distracted by a million and one other commitments.  So it was great to come back to my installation and take a more detailed look.  You can only make single doors with the trial version, and other advanced features have been disabled, but it's a valuable tool as it is, and gives you sufficient insight to decide whether you want to buy the full product.

I don't know why New Zealand is such a hot-bed of Revit innovation.  Maybe it's just a few inspired individuals working within a tight-knit community with a tradition of doing things their own way.  But from Kiwi Codes to Product Spec & Revit Works ... it's just very impressive.

The Door Factory uses an approach reminiscent of other BIM programmes, using a series of dialogue boxes to talk you through the process of building a door family.  Basically this gives you the best of both worlds.  The ease of use of say Archicad, plus the flexibility of an object that opens in family editor.

I was intrigued by the hinge-swing family that is a standard nested component.  You get the elevation & plan swings bundled into a single object which is highly adaptable.  Clever stuff !

 Andersen's window studio is a plug-in somewhat similar to SuperDoors or Door Factory.  Despite its name, it does make a wide range of doors, (in-swing, outswing, sliding patio doors) with a great variety of glazing patterns. 

Unlike the other 2, there isn't much scope for altering these doors in Family Editor.  The reason for this is obvious.  These are proprietary doors with embedded information including the product code.  If you mess with the oject in family editor, that information will no longer be correct.  So you can't type in a different width, for example.  If you need a different width, go back to window studio and make it. 

The downside is that you don't have the economy of types.  All your windows are stand-alone families with one type.  There are memory issues here perhaps, but it's not a deal breaker.  More disappointing is the lack of joined geometry.  Maybe this was difficult to do through the API, but it results in unwanted lines in elevation view.

Something else they might consider in the next edition, would be use of symbolic lines in section, plus visibilty settings for coarse. medium & fine views.  It surprised me how rarely manufacture content uses these features, which are so fundamental to the way Family Editor works.

Despite these minor grumbles, Andersen have taken a huge stride ahead of their competition by making their content available in the form of a plug-in.  As far as I am concerned,, this is the future.

Downloading hundreds of families from a website, unzipping, organising into folders ... it's an unnecessary chore, and how do you keep track of updates ?  Forget it.  Give me a plug-in that informs me when an update is available. 

Better still build into it the capability to check a project and tell you if your families are out of date ( or have been tampered with)   It's a no-brainer and the competition had better wake up fast, because if Andersen continue to improve their plug-in, they will have a huge competitive edge a couple of years from now when BIM really takes over at every level in the industry.

So many different approaches ... and I've barely scratched the surface.  It's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer variety and to become disillusioned by the patchiness in quality.

We need a Guild of Revit Modellers, because as long as we remain GORM-less, chaos will reign and manufacturer content will continue to disappoint.  In the UK, NBS may succeed in combining standardisation with inclusivity and so lift BIM to a new level. 

Who knows what tomorrow may bring ?  As they say in South Yorkshire where I grew up  "As one door shuts another on closes"


  1. Andy,

    It is yet another great post, but having downloaded and tested many manufacturers families, I have been disappointed a long time ago; As a matter of fact, there are still many other type of contents that are nowhere to be found. My advise (at least for now) is to learn how to master the family editor and be efficient enough to make your own content. In a long run, the effort will be paid for itself. Just my 2 cents.


  2. Andy,

    The reason for the unjoined geometry on the panels is probably so that grained materials like wood can be made to properly align themselves along the length of the stiles and rails (or can be aligned later in 3ds Max). Obviously, it means making separate "Vertical" and "Horizontal" versions of the material, but that's no big deal. If you join the geometry, the materials merge together into the first one you pick.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    Yes I agree that Family Editor is vital and will amply repay time spent. I am still learning to make better families. I also firmly believe in sharing our knowledge & experience. Also I think that manufacturers are part of "WE" and am doing my small part to include them in the debate.

    Matthew makes a very good point about "join geometry" , although Anderson products are generally vinyl wrapped so you don't see the grain. My suggestion to them would be to generate symbolic views for elevation & section. This capability is already built into their CAD version of Window Studio so it shouldn't be too hard.

  4. Great round up Andy,

    It's interesting to see how may business opportunities there are around a new platform like Revit.

    It also highlights why manufacturers need to jump on the bandwagon and start supplying content if they want the results of BIM to contain the information they need.

    Keep up the good work.


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