Have you ever wanted to pull information from your Revit model into Microsoft® Excel®and push data back into Revit? Well I know that at least some of you have wanted to do that because it keeps coming up as a request when we talk to customers. Well Ideate, Inc a member of the Autodesk Developer Network and Autodesk solutions provider, has developed Ideate BIMLink. Ideate BIMLink essentially creates a link between Autodesk Revit software (Revit Architecture, Revit Structure and Revit MEP) and Excel allowing information to be moved between the two applications. So how does it work? Ideate BIMLink has been developed as an extension application in conjunction with the Autodesk Revit Extension Manager.
Also you should check out Ideate Explorer for Revit. This tool provides an intuitive way to search and filter the more than 10,000 building elements that are in a Revit model.
I would imagine that for those of you who are engineers like me, the thought of seamlessly transferring data from Revit to Excel is compelling. For those of you who create a lot of spreadsheets for your projects, try out this extension and let me know your thoughts.
I thought it would be fun to do an e-mail interview with Ben Bishoff of Ideate for this post which you can see below. I met Ben at AU2008 when he was still working on the original version of Ideate Explorer. We talked for about 15 min discussing the Explorer product and the Revit API in general. I thought it held a lot of promise and I am glad to see they have continued developing it and other products for Revit.
Emile - It is clear that BIMLink is supposed to extend the concept of RDBLink (available to Autodesk Subscription customers) and make it more practical. What was the roll of RDBLink in the creation of BIMLink? Did you use the sample code in the SDK? Did RDBLInk help in designing and testing your solution?
Ben - We have been considering the need to develop a bi-direction data link between Revit and Excel for some time. When RDBLink was released, we considered that it might fill the gap. However, we found several issues we thought would prevent the broad adoption of RDBLink.
RDBLink requires configuring ODBC and in general we also felt that RDBLink was too heavy for many users. We have seen a few large firms looking for a connection between Revit and a relational database such as Access or SQL. However, the vast majority of use cases we uncovered required a more lightweight solution. It seemed that editing Revit parameters in a spreadsheet filled the bill.
The algorithms Ideate BIMLink uses to access the Revit model were pretty much built from scratch. There are a number of areas where BIMLink uses the API to go beyond the built-in and shared parameters available to RDBLink and Revit schedules.
I did look at the RDBLink SDK sample code to help understand some of the detailed issues surrounding exporting / importing Revit parameters values. We also used RDBLink sample code to check what Revit model content (categories and parameters) we should import and export. However, we greatly expanded and revised this content to support our customers use cases. We also leveraged the knowledge of the Revit model we accumulated during the development of Ideate Explorer.
Emile - Did BIMLink get developed because of feedback from users you talked to or was it from Ideates understanding of BIM user workflows?
Ben - Both. From the beginning, BIMLink has been driven by client uses cases. We surveyed our own internal support cases and those on other Revit related forums such as AUGI. We noted any user request for a data link between Revit and Excel. After compiling the info, we created a ranked list of user requested workflows.
We also tapped into the experience of Ideate's seasoned technical staff. Supporting and training Revit is the meat and potatoes of Ideate's business. Creating Ideate BIMLink was a logical outgrowth of Ideate's understanding of Revit user needs.
Emile - What has been the customer Response to BIMLink?
Ben - Great! We have been adopted by a number of firms both US and abroad. Some of our earliest adopters were customers from the healthcare and education sectors. The next wave of adopters included architects, engineers, contractors and Revit consultants that have a variety of project types. They are looking to leverage Ideate BIMLink for tasks as diverse as sunshading, sheet management, construction sequencing and content development.
Emile -Where will you go next with BIMLink?
Ben - We're prepared to take Ideate BIMLink wherever our customers need the most help. We're currently conducting focus groups, usability studies, and surveys to help us assess the best course. We're also preparing for Revit 2012, but one of the advantages of being a smaller software developer is that we can release more frequently, so we may issue a point release prior to 2012 depending upon the results of the user feedback.
Emile -What is the next product you would like to develop (you don’t need to answer this if you don’t want to.)
Ben - We'd like to be able to offer more specific use case driven tools for the construction industry either related to Revit or Navisworks.
Emile -We see that you used the REX Extensions Manager. Why did you choose to use it and how did it help? Apart from linking to the Extensions Manager did you use any other parts of the REX toolkit?
Ben - Ideate’s CEO, Bob Palioca, had a number of discussions with Nicolas Mangon. We were encouraged to try REX as a platform for 3rd party development. Potentially, the REX platform can give us broader exposure, a UI familiar to Revit users, and ease of localization. In implementing BIMLink, we found that our workflow differed somewhat from the standard REX tools. The current version of BIMLink mostly uses the UI portions of the REX framework.
Emile -What is the one thing you would like to see added to the Revit API to make the products you are developing even better?
Ben - Can I have two? :-)
- Full access to schedule definitions (including schedule keys). Many users want to use schedules as a starting point for linking data with BIMLink.
- Deeper integration with the Revit UI. I know this is huge, but enable docking modeless windows for 3rd party apps. Ideate Explorer would benefit from being a tool like the Revit Properties palette.
Emile -What is your favorite part of building an application on top of Revit? Shameless pandering welcome ;)
Ben - I have always been impressed by the speed and thoroughness of answers I get from ADN Dev Tech support. Also, Autodesk has shown real commitment to expanding the depth and breadth of the Revit API with each new version.