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By Ralph Grabowski, Aug 27, 2012
An Autodesk reseller offers a way to link Revit and Excel. We spoke with Ideate director of software development Glynnis Patterson about Ideate BIMLink. 'Ideate' means to imagine or conceive.
Q: Let's start at the beginning. Where did the Ideate company
A: Bob Pallioca headed up Ketiv Technologies in the late 1980s onward. He was a CAD dealer at the time based in Portland, and developer of the ArchT architectural design add-on. Ideate is another reseller, based in San Francisco. He bought Ideate, and then added a software development arm. The company now has offices in several west coast cities, and still is an Autodesk reseller along with being a member of the Autodesk Developer Network.
We first developed our software solutions for our own tech support. We needed to do things for our Revit clients, like cleanup projects and delete problem items.
Our software grew from a tech support need to a set of comprehensive data management tools. Currently we have two products, both for Revit: Ideate BIMLink and Ideate Explorer.
Q: Technically, how does BIMLink work? What I mean is, what is
the data being exported; where does it come from?
A: Revit was originally designed to show projects graphically in 3D and to allow interactive changes. For instance, if the floor-to-ceiling height changes then all walls and other elements change automatically. This was the first level of adoption - working in 3D instead of 2D.
The second level of adoption was many players using BIM in a broad way. When you input data, such as the materials from which building elements are made, this then leads to further data being added, such as the reflectivity, R-value, and compressive strength of the materials.
So, the BIM model is not just a pretty picture of the building to show the client. All that data continues to be useful during design, construction, and long after the building has finished construction. You need some way to access the data, and to let the right people contribute to it and use it. BIMLink pulls the data from Revit, and puts it in an Excel file, which Excel reads.
An interior designer can use Excel to edit Revit data, such as room finish schedules. She does not need to know how to use Revit. She inputs floor finishes, paint colors, and so on into the spreadsheet, and then uses BIMLink to send that data back to Revit, which causes the drawing to be modified. Most people know how to do things in Excel such as search and replace, drag and drop cells, change text to ALLCAPS, and autofill data fifty rows at a time. Excel is intuitive and takes the manual work out of manipulating and managing volumes of data.
If the same designer were to edit inside Revit, then she would need to purchase a license of the software and know how to edit Revit schedules. Editing the information inside Revit is cumbersome; Excel is pretty much standard in businesses across the board.
Q: Is the data BIMLink extracts specific to Excel, or could
someone use OpenOffice?
A: The extracted data is not specific to Excel. BIMLink creates .xls [for older versions of Excel] or .xlsx [for newer releases of Excel] files, which can be read by other spreadsheets. So, if other applications can read the files, then they can easily manipulate the Revit data outside of Revit.
Q: Do you customize Excel?
A: No. We add no macros, nothing.
Q: How does BIMLink handle data being pushed back to
Revit by multiple users?
A: Revit has Work Sharing, which prevents users from touching the same data at the same time. Also, projects tend to have one person handling one kind of data at a time, such as working on rooms.
Q: What data does BIMLink not handle?
A: Initially, our programming effort was on handle specific workflows. We have a firm grasp on the biggest problems people are trying to solve, and so we have concentrated on these. We now handle things like areas and railings, though not too many people are using areas extensively (as opposed to "rooms"). In other words, user workflow needs are our focus.
Q: How do you go about deciding which data to extract?
A: You might imagine you could just grab all this data from Revit and put it in BIMLink. But the way data is accessed through Revit's APIs is not always straight-forward, because the APIs were developed over time. For instance, in Revit's schedule of wall objects, it does not include the height of the wall; we found the wall height data to be "hiding" someplace else.
And so we add pieces of data that customers are really asking for. Within design options, as an example, questions such as "Is this an alternate window or part of the main model?" become important.
Also, it is a case of knowing what not to present. Spilling out mega-volumes of data would be overwhelming, not useful. So we ask ourselves, "What does a customer not need?" We have a good feedback loop through our customer support.
Q: Who might be your competitors?
A: There are some who do little bits and pieces, such as Autodesk's DB Link (which is available through subscription). It lets you access some parameters, but not all. It also requires you to set up a database. That would be asking a lot of both Revit and non-Revit users. By using Excel, we make BIMLink as easy as possible to use.
Q: What kinds of customers use BIMLink, large ones or small ones?
A: We first assumed larger companies would use it, and they were the early adopters. But now it is all over the map, and even sole practitioners license it. Our customer tends to be someone who is sophisticated with Revit, and who does project management more than design work.
While BIMLink can be used for editing data, it can also be used to organize sheets, rename families, and so on.
Our products are bought worldwide. We have found that local requirements to use Revit drive demand for BIMLink in countries as different as Thailand, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia.
A: Stand-alone licenses are $850; two- and five-pack network licenses are available, and they include the previous version, such as 2012 and 2013. Network licensing uses FlexLM, which makes it easier for customers to implement, because FlexLM is also used by Revit.
Q: Once a new release of Revit comes along, how long does it
typically take you to update BIMLink?
A: We are able to deliver both BIMLink and Explorer within 30 days of a new Revit release.
Q: Have you had any thoughts on extending your software to other
BIM programs, like ArchiCAD?
A: We have not, because we are an Autodesk reseller; we don't support ArchiCAD.
But we would like to get more involved in Navisworks, because it takes in data from Revit and other Autodesk software. Our customers are interested in aggregating data from all these sources. They are doing things such as clash detection, 4D modeling (development of the building over time), and want to know all the data behind the assemblies.
Ralph Grabowski is one of the leading CAD journalists and authors, with over a 100 books and many hundreds of articles. His upFront.eZine may be the industry's longest running newsletter. Ralph holds a civil engineering degree. More...