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By Paul Aubin | Friday, March 08, 2013

How to Approach Migrating from AutoCAD to Revit

AutoCAD files are often imported into and even used alongside Revit models.

When I’m teaching Autodesk Revit to new users, I frequently get asked: “Why isn’t (fill in the blank feature) more like AutoCAD if both products are by the same company?” It’s a perfectly logical line of reasoning. Autodesk is the maker of both AutoCAD and Revit. But to understand why your favorite feature in AutoCAD isn’t in Revit, or is included but works differently, it’s helpful to understand the history and focus of these two products.

The history part is easy. AutoCAD is an original Autodesk product, developed and sold by Autodesk. A small start-up company created Revit and Autodesk acquired the software over a decade ago. Autodesk has since enhanced Revit in many significant ways, and along the way has even incorporated some features from AutoCAD when and where appropriate. However, there are vast differences between the functions and tools of AutoCAD.

AutoCAD is a computer-aided design and drafting tool that replaces the need for traditional drafting boards and methods. Revit is a modeling tool designed to create virtual simulations of building design projects on the computer. Like the physical models created by architects, Revit models are useful for design and visualization. However, computer models can go much further than traditional physical models. First, they can be created more quickly and often more accurately. A single model is used to generate any kind of “drawing,” from plan to section to 3D view. Furthermore, they can contain much more than physical 3D geometry. Everything from the properties of the materials used in the design to the performance and life cycle of the facility can be included in the model and be used in real-time computations to optimize building performance, safety, and function. The more nongraphical information that’s included, the more useful the model becomes to the other participants in the design and life cycle of a building facility, including designers, engineers, contractors, subcontractors and owners.

Such a model is referred to in the industry as a Building Information Model or BIM. BIM isn’t a particular product, but rather a description of the process and intent of the deliverables used to describe, construct, and even maintain a facility. It’s therefore possible to deliver BIM with any tool, even AutoCAD. Revit is purpose-built to the task, however, and more suitable in nearly all ways. That being said, most companies continue to use a variety of tools in the design and production of building facilities. This means that Revit and AutoCAD are often used side by side on the same project.

There are many ways that the two products can be used together. AutoCAD drawings can be incorporated into Revit projects and even refreshed to show the latest changes when the AutoCAD file changes. Revit projects can be exported to a number of file formats, including AutoCAD drawings, for easy collaboration with outside firms not using Revit.

The hardest part of the transition from AutoCAD to Revit is not the learning of the new tools and interface, but rather the “unlearning” of AutoCAD approaches and replacing the thought process used to approach a building design project with the corresponding Revit-based workflow. The time it takes to do this will vary by individual, but usually does not take too long. Often, once you see the benefits of using Revit instead of AutoCAD in your design and documentation process, any discomfort experienced in the transition will seem a small price to pay.

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