All In The Family

RevitMention the word “Revit” to a room full of foodservice facility designers and the resulting groans are likely to be louder than a pond full of croaking Kermits. By our own estimation (a wild guess but probably not inaccurate), about 80% of designers still use AutoCAD to produce drawings from which commercial kitchens are built.

Some of you are asking, “You got a problem with that?” We don’t, but you might. Here’s why.

“AutoCAD just produces lines that represent an object,” according to Brick Brunton, Senior Designer, Smith & Greene, Kent, Wash. “A CAD block or object has no intelligence, no information embedded in it. Revit is a database-driven program, so objects or families are imbued with information and can be manipulated easily depending on how much information is available.”

“The difference is that a Revit family is a smart symbol,” says Suzanne Painter-Supplee, LEED AP+ID&C, Principal, SEE Solutions, Phoenix. “A designer could use 18-in. pipes to show a roller table at the end of a dish machine and AutoCAD would have no problem with it. But that doesn’t give an operator any helpful information when it comes to specifying and purchasing an actual roller table, including load type, steel or aluminum roller material, roller diameter and spacing, high or low roller sets, etc. With Revit, that information is part of the family parameters.”

Why Does It Matter?
When all of the information about a building project—from the specs of the foodservice equipment to the materials used for the walls, ceiling and floor—are included in the architectural and design drawings, that information can be used in a multitude of ways. It becomes, in essence, part of building information management (BIM), a topic we discussed in the June 2016 issue of FER (see

Designing to BIM standards is now required in several countries around the world. In the U.S., the federal government as well as several states have mandated the use of BIM standards for all government buildings to the extent practicable, and the push is on to adopt it as a national standard. But government mandates alone won’t drive adoption.

“If you listen to leading FCSI members like Frank Wagner from KDREI in Berlin or Mike Coldicott from Tricon in London and Dubai,” says Roberto Assi, Global Account Project Director, Unox S.p.A., Cadoneghe, Italy, and BIM representative on the FCSI EAME board of trustees, “the need will come from private initiatives, not government. That means that growth in demand will be extremely fast in the next two years, and if you want to be a player, you must have it.”

Using Revit or Revit-compatible software to design buildings and foodservice kitchens, in other words, is coming—like it or not—and that wave is already washing up on shore.

What’s The Benefit?
A lot of people think the only reason to use Revit is to generate 3D renderings of how a project might look. And those who are firmly ensconced in the AutoCAD world will tell you that Auto-CAD can give you 3D drawings, too. Maybe not as pretty as a color rendering, but just as effective in practical terms. That’s not true.

The real incentive to switch to smart Revit families from “dumb” AutoCAD objects now if you haven’t already, though, is what those smart families can do for you, including saving you money. In AutoCAD, lines on a drawing might signify a dish machine, for example, and give its dimensions. But those lines don’t specify what type of dish machine, what electrical service it requires, the incoming water temperature and pressure it needs to operate efficiently, whether or not incoming water needs to be treated, or whether the machine has a built-in booster or needs one.

It’s up to you or your consultant to spec the right machine and make sure those specs get put out for bid, ordered, delivered and installed. A piece of software can’t do all those things either, but by building that information—all of it—into a Revit family, when a designer drops that object into a drawing, all the information you need to get bids, etc., becomes part of the drawing. The drawing becomes your master plan for the entire kitchen.

Immediate benefits to using database-driven design are that changes to the design can be accomplished far more quickly and accurately, saving time and money.

“In Revit, once you bring families in, you can see how things are going to flow,” says Ted Doyals, FCSI, Principal, Ricca Design Studios, Edge cliff Village, Texas. “That 3D rendering can show you if an equipment layout might impede workflow, especially for people who have a difficult time envisioning space in 2D. And we can change it on the fly. We can resolve issues in one meeting that used to take two or three, weeks apart.”

For example, if you look at a design and realize that you need to move the steamer to the other end of the cook line away from the fryer bank, the change can be made in minutes, and the program will recognize that drain and utility locations also may have to change. That saves design time and money and prevents construction change orders down the road. All the ramifications of making a design change are immediately obvious, and changes get adopted throughout all project files simultaneously.

The parameters that define an object or family in Revit can contain other information as well, including helpful documents such as the operating manual for that piece of equipment, maintenance schedules, warranty information, service life and more. Imagine what you can do with that information at your fingertips after a facility is built. Keep track of maintenance schedules, compare maintenance costs from store to store, even look at lifecycle costs for purposes of capital planning.

What’s Stopping You?
If Revit and Revit-compatible programs save time and save money in design, construction, and potentially a host of other areas, why haven’t more operators and design consultants adopted it?

“Resistance to Revit is due to the difficult, 180° shift from AutoCAD,” Brunton says. “There’s a steep learning curve unless you’ve never used AutoCAD."

“Those who are used to AutoCAD have a more difficult time with Revit,” agrees Doyals, “but the effort to learn Revit is worth it.”

“Operators and consultants need to learn Revit in a foodservice way,” says Supplee, “not in a Revit way.” Having struggled with it herself at first, she now thinks that what could take as long as six months to learn the “Revit way” would only take a couple of weeks using a food service specific approach that she has in mind for a seminar program, which skips over Revit information that is nonessential in foodservice facility design. And both consultants and operators we’ve spoken with agree that it’s easier to teach Revit to someone who knows foodservice—even someone who is using AutoCAD—than it is to teach the foodservice industry to a Revit user.

Another issue that makes operators pause is the reliability of Revit content, specifically the families that are available from equipment manufacturers. Information that’s out of date, incomplete or simply unavailable has frustrated many designers, forcing them to create their own families, often compounding problems rather than fixing them.

We can hear the head-scratching from here. You’re wondering why that’s your problem, not the manufacturer’s. For the simple reason that no matter what, it’s your job to check the final specs of the equipment you purchase. If a bid spec calls for a straight-through dish machine, but the drawing you approved clearly indicates a corner machine, shame on you for ordering—and taking delivery of—the wrong model. But change-orders, we all know, happen regularly, cause major delays, lead to finger pointing and cost money.

Like anything else in our high-tech world (or even operators’ kitchens), put garbage in and you’ll get garbage out. That means making sure that whatever content you use, whether you get it directly from a manufacturer or from a content creator, is current, accurate and complete.

“We build our own families if a manufacturer doesn’t have them,” Doyals says. “And we build the ones manufacturers provide to our own specs. We have a quality-control system to verify the information, and we add internal parameters for our own purposes, like tracking cost data per square foot. Once a family is in our library, if it’s wrong, mistakes get carried forward from project to project, so we’re meticulous about checking.” Most facilities design firms, however, do not have resources available to a firm the size of Ricca to check content, and it’s becoming more imperative that the content manufacturers and Revit design services create is accurate from the start.

Ultimately, incorrect or missing information—whether it’s an AutoCAD object or Revit family—costs everyone involved in a project, including manufacturers. First, consultants and end-users are much more likely to order equipment from a supplier who has the most complete and up-to-date information, not from those who make life difficult by supplying out-of-date information and symbols. Manufacturers incur additional costs when incorrect symbols and information lead to incorrect specifications, equipment that is shipped in error, installed in error and ultimately returned. Labor delays, delays in the schedule, late openings, lost sales—equipment change-orders that result from incorrect specification information are costly affairs with domino-like ramifications.

Pay Me Now Or…
Whether you’re making a switch from AutoCAD or adopting Revit for the first time, the investment is worth it. And it will cost time and money, not only for initial training, but ongoing costs to maintain a library of Revit families. Doyals estimates that among a staff of 40 Revit users, the cost to maintain and update equipment libraries probably equals a dedicated full-time person.

The consequences of not adopting Revit or using resources, designers and family content creators who do, are the same as not adapting to other technological changes like smart equipment or social media. If you don’t adapt, there are plenty of competitors willing to take your market share. Fortunately, the more sophisticated Revit and Revit-compatible programs become, and the more industry groups like FCSI and NAFEM do to help set standards, the easier it gets to create, update and cross-check equipment families and manufacturers’ libraries. With more and more manufacturers, consultants, designers and operators able to get on the same page using the same standards every day, the more valuable the information in Revitbased designs becomes.

What can you do to speed a process that’s inevitably going to dominate foodservice design? Start designing your future facilities and remodels using Revit or Revit-compatible programs. Tell consultants you work with that you want them to do the same. And insist that the manufacturers you normally buy from create libraries if they don’t have them, and update and ensure they’re complete if they do.

“While the availability of Revit families is extremely beneficial,” says Joshua Labrecque, Assistant Project Manager, Colburn & Guyette, Rockland, Mass., “you still need to do your due diligence and verify the information in those families. Reviewing documents generated using these symbols is imperative.”

“Put pressure on manufacturers!” says Stephanie Ward, Associate FCSI, Revit Coordinator at Foodservice Consultants Studio, Henrico, Va. “When two pieces of equipment by different manufacturers are virtually interchangeable, let both companies know that the one with families will get specified over the competition. Foster industry-wide recognition of manufacturers who support progress by leading the way in Revit.”

Family Rules
Consultants and designers say one of the problems of working in Revit has been incomplete or incorrect equipment families. Whether you’re creating your own content, working with an outside content creator or getting equipment families from a manufacturer or subscription library, it pays to know some family rules. A “family” in Revit is simply an object description, and there are many ways to create that description. However, there’s really only one correct way. Here are a few things to keep in mind to resolve the most common problems and complaints.

• Create families to FCSI standards. FCSI updated its standards in 2015, adding criteria that don’t exist in content created before ’14. When everyone follows a single standard, families created to that standard can be used across projects anywhere.

• Make sure the family is in the right classification. Right now, foodservice equipment and materials used to design foodservice facilities are classified as “Specialty Equipment.” Revit is working to create a foodservice classification, but for now, families should be identified by the prefix QF_. A manufacturer of faucets, pre-rinse units and so forth, that classifies its families as “plumbing fixtures,” makes it practically impossible to import its products into a foodservice design without first reclassifying them.

• Names for each family in a product line should be consistent and include the manufacturer’s name, equipment item and model number. Use abbreviations to keep names short, and match names and model numbers to those used in AutoQuotes or other up-to-date third-party library.

• Nest families in groups or subcategories, such as burner options within a family for a gas range series. Don’t nest so many that products become buried and hard to find and schedule in a drawing. And name them correctly and consistently so multiples don’t show up in the project.

• Parameters in Revit are the fields of information that describe a specific piece of equipment. There are several types, use the proper type (e.g., “family,” “project,” “instance-based”) for each. Use “shared” parameters for descriptors that others such as contractors and installers need to know. Too often, the most important information water pressure, water temperature, electric service, plug type, gas pressure, drain location, utility connection location, refrigerant type and charge, etc.—is missing.

• Make sure all parameters match information on the manufacturer’s most recent spec sheet for that product.

• Don’t forget to include clearances from walls and ceiling or for door swings and drawers in family parameters.

• Keep family file size between 250K and 500K for simple items and between 600K and 750K for complex items. Files of 1 MB or more take forever to load onto a schedule.

• When modeling geometry in Revit, the level of detail can be set to fine, medium or coarse. For objects that are smaller than 1 ft., set detail to fine; set to medium if objects are from 1 ft. to 3 ft. in size; and coarse for objects larger than 3 ft.

• Use the correct family template when creating content. Templates include wall-based, ceiling-based, floor-based, roof-based, standalone, etc. Don’t use “face-based” because it’s difficult to work with and requires that walls, floors, ceilings, etc., be in place. Facility designers often don’t “own” those surfaces (they come from an architect, typically).

• If you use a Type catalog to display products and models in Revit’s Type Selector list, use the same name as the family, and identify it correctly with “_cat” before the file extension name.

• Drop-in equipment is designed to “cut” into its host (countertop, e.g.) in Revit versions after ’14. Make sure those families are updated to do so if they were created before ’14.

Typical Design Process Using Revit
Stephanie Ward, Associate FCSI, Revit Coordinator at Foodservice Consultants Studio, shares a typical design process scenario for a foodservice facility design consultancy using Revit:

Stage 1
The architect lets us know at the beginning of the project that it is in Revit (about 80% of our projects are now). In our initial meetings with the operators (owner/kitchen manager/etc.) we discuss their needs and design goals. Our initial schematic design is never fully modeled in Revit; it’s time consuming and subject to a lot of changes. The initial schematic is usually made in AutoCAD with 2D representations of the equipment.

Stage 2
Once a schematic design is established, however, we model it in Revit. As a consultant, I currently rely on three sources for families: KCL, manufacturers’ websites/direct contacts, and my own in-house library built up over time. Once the schematic is converted into a full Revit model, I can do any of the following:

• Create documents exactly equivalent to what would be produced using AutoCAD.

• Create 3D “camera style” views instantly from any virtual location in the model (not possible in AutoCAD).

• Create a “walk-through” video showing the kitchen as a user would experience it (not possible in AutoCAD).

• Quickly move or reconfigure virtual equipment in the 3D model, allowing viewer to evaluate various design options easily (not possible in AutoCAD).

• Create elevations and sections with the click of a button (not possible with AutoCAD).

• Create 3D-modeled custom elements, such as front-of-house elements like serving counters, viewed in context of the entire architectural building model and I can even go a step further by adding finishes and lighting.

• Create and configure schedules displaying information associated with any or all equipment (not possible with AutoCAD).

• Create very high-quality renderings as needed.

Stage 3
The 3D kitchen model can now be adjusted based on the client’s feedback. The final Revit model, along with the typical 2D construction documents, are turned over to our client.

What Makes Good Revit Content?
In her September 26 blog, Revit, LEED and Green Building for Foodservice (, Suzanne Painter-Supplee, LEED AP+ID&C, SEE Solutions, discusses what makes good Revit content. She included a schedule of competing dish machines based on data gleaned from the Revit families available to her. She found lots of information was missing. For example, low-water-use dishwashers typically need softened water, 0-3 grains; no one puts that in their Revit families, she says, but it would help to spec the correct and right-sized water treatment device. The incoming water temperature requirement is usually missing; how is a mechanical engineer supposed to size a hot-water heater without knowing consumption, flow and temperature of water required to the machine? Booster heater information is often off or missing, especially the amperage required. Some cities require that the water discharged from the machine be tempered before it goes down the drain. This information is usually missing (both the discharge temp and the local tempering requirement). All of these details, which impact the dish machine’s operation, could and should be included in the Revit family. “For a designer this would be a lot of work to fix, if you decided to fix it.” 

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