Convey Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) Design with Enscape
An important part of any building is the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems. It can often be difficult to fully convey to clients the complexity and the design intent of these systems, because they are buried in walls, above ceilings and hidden away in the basement. This article will highlight some ways these systems can be better communicated in Revit and with Enscape.
For this article I am using the new Revit 2019 German sample project referred to as the Golden Nugget. This file has a sufficiently detailed MEP model which will allow the reader to try the features and workflows presented in the same, safe, Revit project. To access this file, from within Revit, simply go to File (tab) à Open (flyout) à Sample Files and then select: BIM_Projekt_Golden_Nugget-Gebaeudetechnik.rvt. The file is located here: C:\Program Files\Autodesk\Revit 2019\Samples.
Of course, in this sample file the user-entered text is all in German, which I personally cannot speak, but that is no problem for what we will be using it for; if you have any questions just copy/paste any text into Google translate.
1. Special Views in Revit
To facilitate the review of different aspects of the MEP model in Escape, it is helpful to create specific views in Revit: for example, an ‘MEP Only’ view with architecture and structural turned off. Alternatively, try creating a ‘MEP plus Structure’ view to coordinate connections, not necessarily clashes. For more on setting up views, and the Revit project in general, check out this previous post I wrote: Best Practices for Revit Project Setup.
Special 3D View Only Showing MEP Elements
Because this sample project has a detailed MEP-related Revit Design Option in the mechanical room for different air conditioning strategies, we should also create special 3D coordination views for each design option.
In the following two images the two designs can be clearly seen. In the secondary option, the air handling unit is much taller, so the bottom is lower than the floor. This option would require the architectural model to use design options as well, but they are not present in this sample project.
Special 3D View Showing Mech Room Option A
Special 3D View Showing Mech Room Option B
Employing special views can save a lot of time and make client-facing presentations much smoother!
2. Understanding Mep Material Assignment
The way materials are assigned to many of Revit’s MEP elements is unique. Let’s explore this now…
This is what the lower level technology room model looks like, without changing anything: some materials from the linked architectural model and a material for the pipe insulation. But everything else, as we will see in a moment, does not have any material defined. Thankfully, Enscape applies a nice white material when one is not specified – not the drably gray Revit uses.
Initial Conditions in Technology Room
For MEP system families, such as pipes, ducts, cable tray, etc., the material is defined by Category or MEP System Type as shown in the following image.
MEP Element’s Material Controlled by Category or Logical System Type
Revit’s Advanced Materials are Superior in Visual Quality
In the previous image the pipe system type material is set to By Category. And, in the Object Styles dialog for this project we can see there are no materials defined for the pipe categories. Thus, no material is defined at all for pipes. Let’s set a material for the three primary pipe categories. Be sure to use the new Revit 2019 advanced materials as they will look much better in Enscape. Notice the visual quality of copper, compared to the legacy material (i.e. the one with the triangle in the lower left corner).
With just one change, the view already looks significantly better! Some things are now copper that should not be, but we will get to that. The second image shows what happens if we try to set one of the pipe system types to a galvanized metal pipe material; everything associated with that system gets that material, including loadable families and the pipe insulation. There is no way to change this, which is less than ideal, to be sure!
Result from Just Changing Material for Pipe Categories
Problem with Changing Pipe System Type (MEP Logical System)
As mentioned, loadable families can have unique materials defined, which is common in Revit. But, again, if a material is ever assigned to a pipe system type, these materials will be overridden.
Loadable Families Can Have Unique Materials Defined in Family Editor
In the next image, more material definition has been added. Notice that the tank, water heater and boiler all have specific materials assigned. The Sewage pipe system type is nearly all the same PVC material, so it was given a specific material; notice the pipes in the far left of the image.
The third, and final way we can control materials here is to use the Paint tool. In the middle of the image, near the door, I painted a red color on the vertical pipe; I had to pick twice for a single pipe, as the paint tool see two sides to the cylindrical element. The Paint tool should be used sparingly, as it would be a lot of work to maintain throughout a complex project like this – and it is not very BIM-like.
Additional Material Adjustments; Included Painted Red Pipe
A nice option in a smaller room like this, especially for static rendered images, is the Two Point Architectural setting in Enscape. This will make all the vertical pipes appear vertical all the time. The wide-angle lens effect in small spaces can make some vertical elements appear to be sloped/slanted and be distracting for the client. The previous and next images can be compared to see the difference.
Architectural Two-Point Perspective
Keep in mind that the materiality of elements in any linked models cannot be modified within your model. You must change the material in the link. If the link is not to your model, you would have to request the material be changed by the model author.
These techniques will help the MEP designers and engineers to create compelling real-time presentations in Enscape. The dedicated architectural visualization specialist will also benefit as they may not be familiar with these idiosyncrasies for Revit MEP elements.
3. Exploring the MEP Model in Real Time
Now for the fun part: with the views created and materials applied it is now possible to deliver stunning real-time walkthroughs with clients and stakeholders. Not only that, but this can be done daily, or continually by each designer, to easily look for design and coordination issues.
For example, in the image below we see the pipe routing is nearly perfect. But there is one conflict with the duct. Of course, clash detection workflows can find this, but in my experience not everyone does that.
Model Exploration – Pipe Conflicts with Ductwork
Here is a nice view showing all the systems and structure. There may be a coordination issue with the tub and pipes for the towel warming rack on the left. Even a project manager who is not familiar with Revit could easily use Enscape to explore a model and take screenshots (my favorite tool is Techsmith’s SnagIt) and delegate required changes.
Model Exploration – Towel Warming Pipes Conflict with Tub
No problems here, it just looks well organized, and the client will love the feeling that their project will soon be a reality.
Model Exploration – Pipes Positioned Correctly Around Structure and Sewage
Here is another view showing a well-coordinated area. Remember, all materials for elements in a link come from the link. You may need the architect to send you their custom textures (jpg, png files) and set a render appearance search path pointing to them in Revit’s Options dialog. If the background, with a sky, is too distracting you might consider using Enscape’s White Background option.
Model Exploration – All Structural Materials Define in Linked Model
Enscape can produce well light interiors even when no lighting is included via its Auto Exposure technology. For more on this read my previous article: Best Practices for Lighting and Exposure. However, this can wash out the effects of certain lights like spot lights. Using Enscape’s Artificial Light Brightness setting, it is possible to bring that definition out when needed. The different can be seen in the following two images; notice the hot spots on the work surface. This adjustment also brings to our attention the light fixture misplaced a small distance above the floor, near the door on the right.
Model Exploration – Auto Exposure Can Wash Out Lighting Effects
Model Exploration – Adjust Enscape’s Artificial Light Brightness
I am a big fan of displacement ventilation, and the firm I work for uses this HVAC strategy on most projects. In this project, Enscape can help inform the client about the potentially precarious placement of the half-round diffusers, given that they are essentially freestanding. With this view, or in a real-time walkthrough, there can be no question about the design intent. But by just looking at 2D drawings, and then seeing it for the first time after installation, the client might not have realized how these would appear astatically.
Model Exploration – Discuss Displacement Ventilation Placement with Client?
4. Sharing Panorama Views
Another option for informing the client and stakeholders is to provide 360-degree panorama views and a Google Cardboard viewer. First, we start by creating views as shown here. In the case of the two design options in the mechanical room, we can create to views for comparison.
Create a 3D Camera View – Default Design Option (Primary)
Here is a static rendered view of this saved camera view. This is a 4k image that took about 15 seconds to process and save to file. Notice another misplaced light fixture near the floor!
Rendering from 3D Camera View – Default Design Option (Primary)
Here is a link to the Enscape generated, and hosted panorama view: https://panorama.enscape3d.com/view/ys7rppmx. This link can be viewed on a computer or mobile device. On a cellphone, when the Google Cardboard icon is selected, the single view separates into two as shown in the image below. The device can then be placed in a Google Cardboard viewer which allows a person to look around, in all directions, while standing in a single location.
Enscape Rendered Panorama Viewed on Cellphone
The Google Cardboard viewers can be custom branded and purchased in bulk, which will allow you to freely give them to clients. Then, you can simply email clients links to new and updated views as needed.
Here is one more example from the technology room: a saved Revit camera view and then a static rendered image. Notice one more conflict with a light fixture and a pipe in the rendered view.
Create a 3D Camera View – Technology Room
Rendering from 3D Camera View – Technology Room
Here is a link to the panorama view in the technology room: https://panorama.enscape3d.com/view/lz5mnlnk. Creating and sharing panorama views is easy and clients love it. It allows them to be the presenter and share this with their staff, investors and other stakeholders.
5. Bringing Mep to Life With Virtual Reality
Finally, consider using virtual reality to bring your project to life. This is helpful for internal design reviews as well as client, stakeholder and even public presentations.
Using the tips and techniques presented here, clients will be able to get a clearer picture of your proposed MEP design. And it will help you produce a more accurate design model, as many of the images presented had some coordination issues. Even though the sample model is excellent overall, it still has many issues easily found during a walkthrough of the building using Enscape. Many of these conflicts are not clashes, but misplaced model elements, access issues or code-related compliance issues.
MEP designers and engineers using Enscape are breaking new ground in their discipline and gaining an edge over their competition. If that is not yet your firm, download the free trial and check it out today!
Please get in touch via twitter @enscape3d and @DanStine_MN.