Autodesk Revit has long been a key design and construction software platform. But it's not all-encompassing, and it doesn't intend to be. Other software providers and even AEC firms have iterated on the technology with helpful additions or new tools altogether as tech's role in the construction process has grown.
Such was the case for PCL Construction. Four years ago, the contractor, already well-versed in Revit, wanted a better way to keep track of changes to a building's design during construction.
Developers in the company's virtual construction solutions department explored that functionality in BIM, and the result was PartsLab. The Revit plug-in is designed to work with the software's Parts function to track modifications to host objects in the design models during construction without changing specs established in the construction model.
PCL isn't keeping the new tool to itself. Rather, the company is sharing it with other construction firms on Autodesk's App Store — for free. PCL didn't expect more than 100 downloads over the plung-in's lifecyle, but since launching in June it has been downloaded more than 1,300 times by users all over the world.
Construction Dive spoke with Nick Kurth, virtual construction manager at PCL, about PartsLab, its place in the industry and how the team hopes the development can change how the industry collaborates.
This interview has been edited and condensed
How is PartsLab used in construction?
KURTH: PartsLab is an add-in to Revit, which is already being used by the designer. We used to model projects from scratch, but now we're able to link in the design models and make the constructability edits that we need without having to scrap our entire effort when a design change comes through. With PartsLab, we don't have to go in and update the model. We simply link the original construction model into the original design. If the original changes, our duplicate changes, and we can make edits to the duplicate (and see those changes represented visually).
What gave you the idea to create PartsLab?
KURTH: We were trying to save time and expedite a process. This way, we don't risk missing an update, and we don't have to deal with a data set someone else configured in a way that might not make sense to us.
The way [Revit Parts] was built, users had to select every piece individually, and there could be thousands of pieces for any one building, so it was just mind-numbing. Now we can mass-select [components] and create parts out of everything that [encompasses] a floor, a column or a wall, for example. That took hours' and days' worth of work down to a minute. When you do that over and over again it becomes a huge time savings.
Who uses PartsLab?
KURTH: Our primary users are in our company — engineers who work in the BIM realm. Our virtual design and construction people also use it. We have worked with BIM company Assemble to develop their tool to work with Parts and PartsLab. Our general contractors, architects and engineers and some of our clients, including many of the major general contractors in North America and Europe, have downloaded the app.
How did it happen that other contractors became interested in it?
KURTH: We mentioned it on PCL’s social media, but it's nothing we advertised. We simply put it on Autodesk’s App Store as a free app. We were one of the App Store's preferred apps for a while. Word of mouth also helped the product get around.
There's no financial gain in it for us, so we wanted to make sure there's no, "What kind of money are you making?" angle. We just want people who are having problems to not have those problems.
So, what is your angle?
KURTH: We wanted to make it easy, mostly on ourselves. But then when looked at it and said, "What if somebody started to share some of these ideas and helped try to solve legitimate workflow issues?" If we can fix big problems, we're going to save ourselves tons of time in the long run.
We really wanted to focus on moving the industry forward in an area of technology where we believe it had stalled out. And we were hoping that by giving it away and allowing people to use it, others who had good ideas might start to do something similar.
We need everybody in the industry looking at solutions like this and we need catalysts to start the conversation, not just within our group of industry professionals. We need to come together and push our industry partners like Autodesk and other software providers that are helping us overcome a lot of challenges.
KURTH: PartsLab is just one solution to a much bigger data management challenge among a bunch of stakeholders on a construction team. We want to get more feedback from our people and continue to make PartsLab better at what it does. We would also like to get a conversation going with Autodesk, with our design partners, with our competition and with everybody else in the industry about how we manage data between design and construction.