Autodesk’s collection of BIM 360 tools is an integral part of design and construction workflows in the AEC industry. The BIM 360 Design Collaboration module has seen significant improvements towards supporting multidisciplinary teams since the release of its predecessor, Collaboration for Revit/BIM 360 Team, just a few years ago. The key to successfully implementing BIM 360 Design Collaboration is understanding its concepts and knowing how it can effectively be applied to any type of design and construction project. This article outlines those concepts and how they were integrated into a project consisting of multidisciplinary teams across five organizations. Further, it describes everything you need to know about project set up, maintenance, and execution utilizing the BIM 360 Design Collaboration platform.
BIM 360 Concepts
BIM 360 is an Autodesk cloud-based solution that allows project teams to effectively work in a collaborative environment. In the AEC industry, it connects all project stakeholders to execute projects from conceptual design through construction and ultimately project turnover. BIM 360 is the overarching concept that is comprised of various modules focusing on different aspects of the project lifecycle:
- BIM 360 Docs: Document and model management
BIM 360 Build (formerly known as BIM 360 Field): Field management activities
BIM 360 Design Collaboration (formerly known as Collaboration for Revit or C4R): Revit model worksharing and management
BIM 360 Coordinate (formerly known as BIM 360 Glue): Model/clash coordination
BIM 360 Layout: Construction layout and surveying
BIM 360 Plan: Construction production planning
BIM 360 Ops: Facilities asset management
While utilizing the entire BIM 360 Collection can result in project success, this article focuses on the benefits of executing BIM 360 Design Collaboration on a project comprised of multidisciplinary teams across five organizations.
Collaboration for Revit
In 2015, Collaboration for Revit changed the way project teams across various organizations worked together. With Collaboration for Revit, users could co-author workshared Revit models in real time, hosted to the cloud environment. The common link that provided all team members access to these models was an Autodesk account. This workflow became highly desirable for teams to collaborate both within and outside an organization.
To execute this workflow, a project needed to be first established in the project hub, also known as BIM 360 Team. Revit central models were then initiated, allowing users to access local Revit files via C4R and download/view in the BIM 360 Team hub. After initial creation, Revit model access and syncing remained live in the C4R environment but required a separate publishing function to view in BIM 360 Team. Integrating directly with Revit, BIM 360 Team was intended to be a repository for sharing published models with the entire project team. This tool featured model versioning, web viewing/navigation, and markups/comments for enhanced collaboration.
With the C4R/Team approach, Revit model sharing was an open source environment. All central models could only be hosted to a common root folder, preventing a controlled folder structure. Because of these limitations, the following applied to all C4R projects:
While these two concepts were innovative and can still be applicable to projects today, Autodesk sought to improve this workflow by giving more flexibility and control to project teams. C4R/Team was retired in Revit version 2018.3, although Autodesk still supports legacy projects established in the C4R/BIM 360 Team environment.
BIM 360 Design Collaboration
In Revit version 2018.3, the next generation of C4R was introduced: BIM 360 Design Collaboration. While BIM 360 Design Collaboration is optional in Revit 2018.3 (C4R/Team as the alternative), it is the only form of cloud worksharing available for Revit 2019 and higher. Autodesk introduced this improved method to give project teams more control over model access, permissions, and sharing capabilities.
The general BIM 360 Design Collaboration concepts are similar to C4R/Team. First, a project must be established in the project hub now known as BIM 360 Document Management (Docs) with both Docs and Design Collaboration modules activated. Project teams still co-author workshared Revit models hosted to the cloud environment and collaborate via Autodesk account. After initial creation, Revit model access and synching remains live in the Design environment but requires a separate publishing function to view in BIM 360 Docs.
One of the key features that sets BIM 360 Design Collaboration apart from its predecessor is its foundation in BIM 360 Docs. C4R/Team was formerly part of a set of modules, including BIM 360 Glue and Field, that functioned independently of each other. To better connect various project phases and improve project delivery, these modules migrated into one single source of truth within the Docs platform.
Design Collaboration + Docs Features
As it relates to BIM 360 Design Collaboration, BIM 360 Docs is intended to be a repository for sharing and exploring published models with the entire project team. The improved features of BIM 360 Docs combined with the new Collaboration module has allowed project teams to work more collaboratively and efficiently:
Project Teams: This feature allows the creation of teams that can workshare independently while still being connected to the project. In Docs, a ‘team’ is established, and as a result, a corresponding Docs folder is created as the intended model worksharing location for that team. Each team member then has their own space for model viewing, publishing, consumption and issue tracking within the Design Collaboration module.
Folder Permissions: Adopted from BIM 360 Docs, folders associated with teams can be assigned permissions. Establishing permissions gives more regulation over Revit model access, visibility and sharing across other teams. Up to six levels of folder permissions can be granted to team members by user, company or role. For more on folder permission settings, see Folder Permissions.
Publish/Consume Models: Project teams can control when models are made available for all other teams. In this two-step process, a team member first ‘publishes’ the latest Revit models to BIM 360 Docs. Through the Design Collaboration module, they then create a package containing the published models, thus making them available for consumption by the entire project team. The other team members then ‘consume’ the published models to integrate into their space.
Model Viewer and Explore Features: The explore features found in the Design Collaboration module allow project teams to visualize model packages directly in the web viewer. These tools include standard model viewing and navigation features, selection by level and phasing and the ability to identify model changes between shared packages.
Integrate Issues: Issues can be utilized to identify areas in need of coordination or further attention. At one time, issues could only be created in plans in BIM 360 Docs. With the development of the next generation tools, issues now span across BIM 360 Docs and Design Collaboration (along with Field Management). Now, issues created in the Docs module model viewer can be seen in Design Collaboration and vice versa.
Based on the concepts of BIM 360 Design Collaboration and Docs, there are four different ways project teams can collaborate on a project. Before diving into the different workflows, it is important to understand what happens when a team is created in the BIM 360 Design Collaboration module and how that affects the Docs environment. Upon creation of a team, the following Docs folders are automatically created as a result:
The root team folder to hold that team’s workshared model
A consumed folder within that team’s root folder
A shared folder outside of the team’s root folder
Knowing this helps to understand the following possible project workflow:
Workflow 1: Live Linking Models without Teams (Least Controlled)
This workflow is most familiar to those who have experience using C4R/Team. In this scenario, all models within the project are live-linked together from the same Docs root folder. This means that the project team is seeing updates from linked Revit models in real time. In order to achieve this scenario, all team members must have the same access permissions to the root folder containing all models in the project. Also, because no ‘team’ folders are created, the features within the Design Collaboration Module do not exist. This workflow is using BIM 360 Design Collaboration at its minimum.
Workflow 2: Live Linking Models with Teams (More Controlled)
This workflow is similar to C4R/Team in that models are live linked together. In this scenario, teams are created either by organization or discipline and corresponding folders are generated in Docs. Each Revit model resides in its associated team folder and externally linked from the same location. To see live linked models in Revit, team members only require view permissions to other team folders (see Folder Permissions). This workflow restricts Revit model across teams while still giving live linked visibility. Because teams are established in this workflow, the enhanced Design Collaboration module features are also available.
Workflow 3: Linking to Published Models (Even More Controlled)
This workflow gives teams more control over linked model visibility. When a team is created in the Design Collaboration module, a shared folder with that team’s name is also generated. When a team publishes their model and creates a package in BIM 360 Design Collaboration, a copy of that model gets placed and updated in the corresponding ‘Shared’ folder. Revit models can be linked directly from this folder.
In this scenario, links are not live, but they will automatically update when a team member publishes to Docs then creates a package. Linking through the shared folder can also prevent teams from having any level of access to another team’s Revit model. For a team member to see linked models in Revit, they must have at least ‘View/Download’ permissions set to the appropriate ‘Shared’ folder (for more on permissions, see Folder Permissions). Note that the published models placed in the ‘Shared’ folder are not workshared models and cannot be accessed via Revit.
Workflow 4: Publishing and Linking to Consumed Models (Most Controlled)
This workflow provides the most controlled worksharing environment. When a team is created in the Design Collaboration module, a ‘Consumed’ folder is generated within the team’s root folder.
The first step of this workflow requires that a team publishes a model from BIM 360 Design Collaboration to Docs. That published model then becomes available for consumption in the Design Collaboration module (as well as placed in the ‘Shared’ folder per Workflow 3). Once consumed, a copy of the model appears/updates in the team’s ‘Consumed’ folder where it can then be linked into Revit. In this scenario, links are not live, and project teams decide when to show published models that are made available for consumption. No additional permissions are required for the ‘Consumed’ folder since they are inherited from the team folder level.
Choosing the Best Workflow: A Case Study
There is no single way that a BIM 360 Design Collaboration project must be executed. The four possible workflows in the previous section give project teams more options and flexibility. There are several factors that can influence the ultimate decision: project type, schedule, stakeholders involved and intellectual property just to name a few. It is critical, however, that the decided workflow is clearly defined in the project’s VDC/BIM Execution Plan.
As the design and construction manager, CRB piloted BIM 360 Design Collaboration for a design-build and design-assist project. While there were external design partners, the goal was to also collaborate with trade partners during design to mitigate risk and accelerate the fabrication process to deliver and build the project quickly and more efficiently. Overall, there were multidisciplinary design and trade partners involved that covered a wide range of Revit modeling scope:
Team 1: CRB - Architecture and electrical
Team 2: Mechanical Trade - Mechanical duct and piping
Team 3: Plumbing Trade - Plumbing
Team 4: Structural Engineer - Structural
Team 5: Interior Designer – Interiors and furnishing
Keeping in mind the four possible BIM 360 Design Collaboration workflows, CRB developed a plan that best suited this project. Note that a single workflow does not need to be followed by all teams. A hybrid approach can be implemented, allowing some teams to live link while others to publish and consume. CRB utilized this type of approach based on the needs and scope of each team. At a minimum, teams were created per organization, eliminating Workflow 1. The workflow breakdown for all teams was as follows:
Workflow 2: Live Link
Bi-directional live link: CRB, mechanical and plumbing all live link between each other. As design/assist partners to CRB, it was most efficient for these three teams to coordinate in real time.
Uni-directional live link: CRB, mechanical and plumbing live link structural model. It was decided that it was most beneficial for these three teams to see structural updates in real time.
Workflow 4: Publish/Consume
Bi-directional publish/consume: CRB, mechanical, plumbing, and structural publish models to be consumed by Interiors; interiors publish models to be consumed by CRB, mechanical, plumbing, and structural. To prevent Interiors from reacting to working design changes, control was set to choose when models should be released. Because interiors scope did not have a significant impact on the balance of the team, publish/consume took the bi-directional approach.
Uni-directional publish/consume: CRB, mechanical, plumbing, and interiors publish models to be consumed by structural. To prevent Structural from reacting to working design changes, control was set to choose when models should be released.
After the BIM 360 Design Collaboration workflows are determined and documented in the project VDC/BIM Execution Plan, project setup can begin. This section takes the administrator through all steps required to successfully set up a BIM 360 Design Collaboration project.
Adding Account Administrators
Only BIM 360 account administrators have access to the Account Admin page and can add companies, members, projects and invite other admins at the account level. An account administrator can be added from the Account Admin page.
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Vince Naviello has 10 years of experience in the AEC industry. He spent the first few years of his career practicing structural engineering and developed a true passion for BIM and VDC technology. In 2014 he transitioned his career to focus full time as a project BIM manager. For the past five years, Vince has implemented BIM/VDC technology and workflows to support both design and construction. Vince is currently the VDC Northeast regional manager at CRB where he facilitates innovative technology solutions in a collaborative design environment focusing on the biotech and pharmaceutical industry.