”All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master.” – so says Bushnell’s Law, a term coined from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell on the subject of video game design. My LinkedIn profile depicts me as BIM Operator but mentions nothing of my personal hobby of playing video games. The aforementioned quote is famous among gamers, and of late I’ve thought about how it weaves its way into the principles of drafting and document delivery. The mention of ’BIM’ or ’Revit’ no longer spreads glassy stares across members of our industry so much so that the concept of a ’draftsman’ is as dead in the water as the once imperitive AutoCAD. But how did we get here? How have new technologies improved workflow, and what advancements can we anticipate in the future? The same was certainly said when we put down our set-squares and turned to keyboards and now, having leapt further down the rabbit hole into 3D, we must ask it again.
It makes sense too, that the workflows in which we undertake on a daily basis are simple to pick up, but I wish to propose the idea that Revit is in fact a very difficult program to learn, but the rewards for pushing through the barriers are undoubtedly worth the hassle. And it is these barriers that have amplified the importance of the ’draftsman’ – who has become so much more than a tracer as a result. The skill floor of drafting / modelling, by which I mean the level of competence needed to complete such tasks, is nowadays quite high, but the skill ceiling is not too much further upwards. The first foray into Revit is one riddled with teething issues; I recall my first Revit project was frustrating and tedious. The revolutions of Revit were instead viewed as problems that upset the apple cart. The first problem turned revolution was the concept of a Central File. The idea of numerous people working on the exact same file set off the alarm bells; all of a sudden my colleagues and I had to rely on each other to save our work frequently, to trust one another not to scramble another’s hard work and (most difficult for myself), collaborate to present our documents in a pleasing manner. All good draftsmen should be somewhat meticulous about presentation, and when different ideas are pressed together into a central file, the more stubborn of us can easily fall into the trap of disowning a project when they don’t have sole responsibility. But as time has shown, centralising all work into a single file has benefits that put the company’s best interests first, rather than the individual. A veil is lifted, and all work done is laid out for all to see. Teamwork is encouraged, as well as easy monitoring of what people are up to on a daily basis. Communication is pushed to the forefront, and nobody is left behind in the occasionally isolating corporate world. I often feel this results in a finished drawing truly being a representation of the company as a whole and, proud as the draftsman may be to pen their initials into the ’Drawn By’ box, the result is actually shared among all BIM operators.
A single model also streamlines workflow. Let us use title sheet revisions as an example; Revit asks the user to open find and open a sheet issues / revisions schedule, enter a new revision that complies with binary intelligence (i.e. 2 cannot precede 1, B must follow after A), then apply that revision to the sheets within the model. For somebody who is new to Revit, it seems needlessly complicated. The newbie will often resort to their old method of revising drawings (I know, I was once one of these newbies). They might decide that it is far easier to just type out some text and place it strategically in the revision box of a drawing, residing to ’Hey, it looks right on paper, so let’s run with that’. But the BIM Operator who dives a bit deeper will discover that using Revit properly means typing out a revision just once, as opposed to any number of drawings a project might have. I shudder to recall the old AutoCAD method: open a drawing, change the revision, save and close, open the next drawing – rinse / repeat. So although Revit asks more of the operator, it also rewards them by streamlining a once mundane and monotonous process.
The same too, can be said of modelling in a 3D space. In order to draft a system of ductwork, Revit will have the user select a shape of duct, its elevation, the thickness of its insulation and then have it appear in a true scale on the layout drawing. When it comes to placing sizes on that ductwork, the tag is created in such a way that you cannot display an incorrect size. Let us once more return to the dark ages of AutoCAD, where ducts are just lines drawn at any size, usually discluding any representation of insulation and showing little appreciation for the 3D space the duct will one day reside in. I recall an old colleague of mine who struggled with the transition from AutoCAD to Revit. As I attempted to explain a few basics he interjected, ”But how do I just draw a line?” It may seem easier to ’draw lines’ as my colleague suggested, but the extra work placed in modelling eliminates re-drawing alterations or mistakes. A duct that is modified on plan with also be modified on any section portraying it. Instead of the user needing to draw both a plan view and a section of the same duct, the process is done just once. Revit in fact categorises it as a ’duct’, rather than just ’lines’. This allows for filtering of common elements and greater control over a project. Think of how this can fix problems a project can run into. Modelling errors that appear catastrophic become surprisingly simple to remedy – the 3D environment and single file structure allows a problem to be fixed globally across the project. It’s intelligent data versus the ’easy way out’ – but the easy way is riddled with pitfalls. The intelligent way is thin and winding, but there’s a pot of gold at the end.
Easy to learn, but difficult to master – with Revit I propose the opposite. At the outset, BIM appears impractically trying, but for those willing to learn, it is developing the new generation of intelligent modellers, bridging the disconnect between engineers and draftsmen. The thoughts of this article did not come to me while at work, rather while partaking in a personal pastime of playing games. So the next time you’re doing something you enjoy, think about how it can relate to what you can bring to the office and progress yourself and your company into the future.