The fire protection industry is in the midst of a technology transition toward better, more efficient sprinkler system design. Before computer-aided design (CAD) emerged, fire sprinkler system designers used paper and pencil to map the layout of sprinkler systems and components within buildings. They quickly left that manual labor behind for AutoCAD, which added speed, flexibility and ease of revision to design projects.
While AutoCAD has since been the preferred tool for sprinkler system design drawings, Autodesk Revit building information management (BIM) software has gained recent traction due to its popularity among building designers in the construction industry, and as its tools can support 3D modeling of complete sprinkler systems.
To make the transition more enticing, new third-party software enhancements continue to enrich the capabilities of Revit, making it more appealing to a wider range of fire sprinkler system designers. The latest expanded toolsets for Revit make the development of 3D models and computerized fabrication faster and easier. Some of the most valuable capabilities — including 3D layout, electronic calculation and delivery of fabrication-ready designs and material stock list reports — drastically simplify the design process.
Recent Evolution of Sprinkler System Design
AutoCAD advanced the design process by exposing the application programming interface (API), allowing third-party developers to create and integrate trade-specific software enhancements, unlocking features and abilities beyond basic drafting tools. Third-party developers created specialized applications to more efficiently complete key tasks, including hydraulic calculations and industry-specific fabrication reports.
These enhancements and applications transformed the line-drafting program into an intelligent, multidimensional application tailored to the needs of fire protection professionals. So why shift to Revit?
The move was driven by the architectural and structural communities with whom fire protection professionals work in parallel during construction projects. Revit is the most popular implementation of BIM in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. The interoperability of software used by various stakeholders in a construction project is critical for creating an intelligent master model that considers the building’s life cycle.
To ensure their deliverables are compatible with the rest of the building trades, much of the fire protection industry is now working in Revit. And, as they did for AutoCAD, software providers have developed specialized toolsets to simplify and improve the functionality of Revit for fire sprinkler system design.
Revit Fabrication Tools Complete Fire Sprinkler Design and Delivery
At its core, Revit is an architecture tool, not a fire sprinkler design tool. Fire sprinkler designs can be completed in Revit, but Revit alone does not offer intuitive functions specifically designed for the process. This often makes common sprinkler design tasks drawn-out and time-consuming.
For example, there’s no standard for fire protection families. In Revit alone, families are challenging to build, use and maintain. Sometimes families are incompatible, are missing critical information such as Construction Operations Building Information Exchange data or include excessive, unnecessary detail resulting in huge, unmanageable file sizes.
Using fabrication tools such as SprinkCAD for Revit as an accessory, family-building functions can create families on the fly. This enables users to select a family to add to a project, then choose the models and parts to include in that family. The family, which is a true Revit family with all the Revit data plugged into it, is created and added to the project in coarse, medium and fine presentations. Once generated, families can be reused in future projects without rebuilding, and changes can be made quickly and easily.
Fabrication tools automate functions that are most important to fire protection professionals. Using new tools for Revit, designers can take a valid, comprehensive design in Revit directly into a strategy-based fabrication environment and produce a fully designed, calculated system quickly and efficiently.
Designers can map valves, sprinklers, pipe and pumps to known components within their parts database and get a full material list and fabrication report they can save, print or export to industry-standard file formats.
Latest Capabilities of Fabrication Tools
Fabrication tools are installed onto the Revit program, appearing as a toolbar in the Revit interface. This seamless integration streamlines the user’s experience; simply pull up a settings dialog and make choices within the Revit environment.
Templates make selection easy and include variations that allow users to customize designs based on the needs of the building. Take, for example, connecting sprinklers to pipe. In Revit alone, users must follow several steps to achieve that connection. The new tools use simple settings to connect sprinklers to pipe in only a few quick clicks. The auto-branch command takes seconds to connect entire fields of sprinklers to branch pipes and mains.
In comparison, a designer using Revit alone can only connect one sprinkler in the same amount of time.
Developed by fire protection professionals to better adapt Revit for other fire protection professionals, the latest tools have been expressly designed to simplify and speed up complex, time-consuming functions within Revit. While the latest tools feature many capabilities, these are three of the most valuable:
1. 3D layout. Sprinkler system design has always been a three-dimensional job conceptually. However, creating the design in AutoCAD is primarily a two-dimensional task with added notations representing the third dimension.
Revit is fully 3D in all respects. By integrating fire sprinkler design tools, designers can view their own work along with the building, structure and work of other trades from any angle.
2. Calculation. Hydraulic calculations have been part of system design for many decades. However, it was necessary to transfer the details of a piping system into a separate program, such as a spreadsheet, until third-party developers created a way to incorporate sprinkler hydraulics into AutoCAD software. This capability has recently come to Revit.
Calculating sprinkler systems in Revit alone can be challenging since the small gaps between model elements and incomplete hydraulic information in objects can cause problems. SprinkCAD’s calculation tools allow Revit to read the drawing and the network of piping and sprinkler heads. It accurately calculates the system even when the model isn’t perfect, overcoming small gaps and incomplete information.
Steady-state and nonsteady-state calculations can be performed on wet, dry, pre-action and systems requiring fluid delivery time analysis and are in accordance with NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.
3. Fabrication-ready design and stock list. Mastering routing preferences is one of the biggest challenges in using Revit. It can be tedious and slow for fire sprinkler design because the selection of fittings is not related to a single pipe type but instead depends on the relationship between the adjoining types and their sizes. Revit alone only understands needed fittings based on the pipe being drawn without comprehending what the pipe is being connected to.
In sprinkler design, the fitting that’s needed varies depending on what a pipe is connecting into. With Revit’s Routing Preferences, a user must select or modify a different preference strategy each time the pipe being drawn will connect to a different connection type. Third-party tools, on the other hand, understand the differences between connecting scenarios and select the correct fitting for each intersection in the entire model.
Because of this level of intelligent-fitting connection concepts, a user can draw a fire sprinkler system using Revit standard pipe, heads and fittings — and yet calculate and fabricate the actual components intended to be installed.
The SprinkCAD program understands the different connections, the interplay between pipe and diameters, and makes them part of the stock list report. It also replaces all the standard fittings in the drawing with the family of fittings ultimately chosen and made on the fly.
The latest software builds these families and makes them part of a user’s model so the user doesn’t need to go through the laborious process of updating the routing preferences. A designer can choose a different kind of fitting at either end of a given piece of pipe, such as a welded tap junction at one end and threaded tee junction at the other.
To ensure the most comprehensive selection for designs, it’s important to look for software that frequently updates to recognize new, specialized fittings and sprinkler technology. Only recently updated software can automatically present to the fabricator the correct fitting at the correct locations.
If the fitting types desired on a project must be changed after the design is complete, such as grooved fittings replaced with threaded or mechanical tees with welded outlets, the software makes it possible for users to update them all within seconds with a few adjustments in the strategy screen.
The program then automatically — and immediately — applies the fitting change at every instance instead of a user having to take several hours to update each previously drawn fitting individually.
Revit BIM is becoming standard in the AEC industry. As each new version is released, Revit offers better features, improved usability and an expanded API. Specialized tools further optimize the experience, refining the efficiency of sprinkler system design with new capabilities to continually enhance the use of Revit.
These tools are still 100% Revit, but their addition automates common sprinkler design functions and specifically tailors Revit for sprinkler system design, saving valuable time for fire protection professionals.
Rob Smith is a senior software analyst at Johnson Controls. He began his fire protection career in 1980 as a system designer in the greater Los Angeles area. He took a position with SprinkCAD in 1996 and moved his family to southeastern Pennsylvania in 2001. Today, Rob continues to work with SprinkCAD and other software offerings for Johnson Controls.
Derrick Tyler, manager of software support with Johnson Controls, began his fire protection design career in 1989 in Grand Rapids, Mich. In June 1996, he began working for Central Sprinkler’s SprinkCAD group as a software support technician. Derrick transitioned to Johnson Controls in September 2017.