Month: March 2012

Building Information Modelling and Interoperability

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By Dr Stephen Hamil Director of Design and Innovation and Head of Building Information Modelling at NBS.
This article is based on the presentation on the same topic presented by Stephen at the ecobuild 2012 ‘Better with BIM’ seminar series.

One thing that makes buildings more difficult to build than say aeroplanes or cars is that traditionally the different members of the construction team work in silos. So, within a design team you may have an architect, service engineer, cost consultant and structural engineer all focusing on their own work which leads to coordination problems. At a higher level, the design team and construction team may also have communication challenges and the risk of an adversarial and not a collaborative working process. Even looking at the basics, does an architect coordinate the information on the drawings and specification as well as is possible?

Many believe that the problems of silo working and badly coordinated documentation will be greatly reduced through the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is all about structured information that is coordinated. This is information that flows through the construction process from brief through to facility management. For this to work successfully, interoperability is critical. However, what are the different levels of interoperability?

Interoperability between software from the same vendor

The first (and easiest) method of interoperability is that between software from the same vendor. In everyday life, this may be embedding a Microsoft Excel spread sheet into a Microsoft Word document or receiving an email that contains a post code using Gmail and opening the exact location using Google Maps.

Within construction, a good example of this is a service engineer, architect and structural engineer all working on separate 3D models in their versions of Autodesk Revit. These separate models may then be aligned to show a combined design model and then passed to the construction team to plan the work in Autodesk Navisworks. This gives great benefits in terms of coordinating and planning the work and avoiding clashes between structure and services once the construction commences.

Interoperability between software from the different vendors

However, a building cannot be fully designed and built using software from a single software vendor. The design team need to specify the performance, detailed products and execution, referring to the latest standards and regulations. The prelims and contractual issues also need to be specified and the project management and costing of the building also needs to take place.

When software from different vendors needs to communicate then communication rules need to be agreed. For example, the reason a movie produced using Adobe Flash may be viewed within the Apple Safari web browser is due to Adobe and Apple documenting and then following the rules on how the applications communicate together.

Within construction, one good example of this is the NBS annotation plug-in for Graphisoft ArchiCAD. This allows a user to design the building in ArchiCAD and complete the specification using NBS Create. Objects in the CAD model and the specification may be coordinated by the user, allowing the specification or technical guidance to be viewed from within ArchiCAD and for coordination reports to be generated prior to issuing information. Any conflicts between drawings and specification are flagged to the user to be resolved prior to the information being issued. This level of interoperability can greatly reduce costly errors and really help with coordinating project information.

Interoperability through open data standards

The final method of interoperability considered in this article is where information is to be displayed or transferred between software applications through open data standards. Within computing this is very common and normally taken for granted. An email, for example, can be authored using the Apple iPhone, then sent to a three different contacts that are using three different software applications, for example, Microsoft Outlook, Google Gmail and the Yahoo Mail. This is only possible through the data standards RFC 5322 and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). Users do not have to worry about these, in fact I’d never heard of RFC 5322 until researching this article – but software vendors know that if they follow the rules then collaboration will work in terms of sending and receiving emails.

Within construction, there are two well established data standards for the transfer of data: Green Building XML (gbXML) and Industry Foundation Classes (IFC). One example of the use of IFC to support a truly impressive workflow was demonstrated recently as part of the Integrated Carbon Information Model (iCIM) project at the UK ecobuild 2012. This was a Technology Strategy Board funded project involving AEC3, RIBA Enterprises, BIM Academy, Autodesk, BSRIA, BCIS, The University of Bath and Faithful & Gould.

Within this process, the user may submit a concept design from Autodesk Revit in IFC format to the iCIM website. Once submitted to the website the user can click through the objects in the BIM and configure these based on NBS technical guidance and embodied carbon and financial cost data. These building objects can be constructed one material at a time or National BIM Library pre-configured constructions may be used. Throughout, the user is presented with simple graphical displays of environmental impact at different levels of the building (whole building, element or material) and these estimated costs can be reviewed against the initial budget costs for the project. The final part of the journey is then ‘round-tripping’ the configured type objects back into the Revit model and automatically generating a coordinated outline specification in NBS Create.

This is true use of IFC, an open data standard, to allow information and software from multiple sources to work together to improve the construction workflow. By using open standards, this process has the potential to work equally well starting the journey off in ArchiCAD, Bentley, Tekla or Vectorworks. Equally, if the user would prefer to use their own source of carbon or cost data or even standard BIM components, then these could be plugged in as an alternative.

The adoption of open data standards in construction takes me back to the world-wide-web hitting the mainstream 15-20 years ago. For the first few years, everyone was just amazed by what was possible through this new technology. I remember the excitement of creating my first website – similar to the buzz around BIM today. Then towards the end of the 1990s, as the web matured, users around the world started strongly voicing their opinion that it was not acceptable that they had to craft their website multiple times so it worked correctly in Microsoft Internet Explorer, Opera and Netscape Navigator. Users demanded robust open standards and nowadays we have Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer all putting their open standard credentials first and foremost when promoting their new releases. This is great news for those that write websites due to a common set of rules and also those that use websites due to increased competition and ultimately a better software product.

I strongly believe that there it is no coincidence that we are now hearing about initiatives from buildingSMART, Graphisoft and Tekla around the OpenBIM movement and when we read about the Autodesk Revit 2013 feature set there is a big long list of enhancements to the IFC import and export functionality. The UK National BIM Report 2012 showed that the percentage of UK construction professionals using BIM on at least one project had jumped from around 10% to over 30% in 12 months. The situation where the construction team cannot at least create record models of their data using an open format will become unacceptable to most very quickly now.

Interoperability and the UK Government Construction Strategy

In May 2011 the UK Government published its Construction Strategy. Interoperability through open data standards was at its heart.

In terms of the BIM requirements, the Government, as client, is mandating data drops at key stages throughout a construction project. The open data format they have demanded is buildingSMART Construction Operation Building Information Exchange (COBie). This is a simplified, non-geometric sub-set of IFC. This is a relational database that, in its most simple form, can be a spreadsheet.

A COBie data file contains all of the required information about the building:

  • Spaces and zones
  • Specification and location of the objects
  • Facility management jobs for the objects
  • The contact details for the project team members and all manufacturers/suppliers

The UK Government had the option to choose a proprietary file format to document their building stock over the coming years, but by specifying an open data format they have:

  • Protected the integrity of their data for years to come – technology changes at incredible pace – who would have predicted the dramatic failure of such dominant market leaders Kodak or MySpace or Alta Vista?
  • Ensured competition amongst software and information providers from a fair open playing field. The various FM and costing software packages will become stronger and stronger. The information feeding into the BIM processes will come from many sources. This will all help to catapult the UK construction industry into a position as a world leader.

Exciting times.


Stephen Hamil –

Useful links

#TBIM BIM Level 2 2016: The Impact on regional SMEs Event Write Up

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BIM… The Impact on regional SMEs   

Over 50 construction professionals gathered at the Rose Bowl in Leeds last week for the second thinkBIM events this year, held in close partnership with Construction Yorkshire who are funded by Employment Leeds.

Chaired by Richard Town from Construction Yorkshire, a cross section of professionals presented their journeys and experiences of BIM offering perspectives from a consultant, an architect, a leading contractor, a software designer and a regional law firm .

Briefly, Steve Batson shared Bowman Rileys BIM journey including lessons learnt and tips for BIM newbies. Richard Beaumont from BAM delivered an excellent detailed presentation on the use of BIM on the Leeds Arena project and an insight into the savings made through clash detection alone. Graham Howarth, the owner of Sarcophagus, shared his experience of over 20 years in BIM working as an Application Service Provider. Ajon Malliki, a partner from Gordons  LLP  brought the event to a close by encouraging the delegates to focus on the practical legal issues relating to BIM.

Following a brief introduction, Tim Platts set the scene for BIM defining it as ‘A process of generating and managing information about a building during its entire lifecycle’ . For those new to the BIM process, this acted as an excellent overview of the benefits of BIM embracing early costs certaintly, reduced delivery costs,clash detenction and green performance improvements and productivity gains for all. An eloquent overview of government and business drivers, the government working group structures and a insight into the strength and relevance of the activity within the Yorkshire and Humber region.

Steve Batson started off his BIM journey with Bowmand Riley Architects bombarded by terminology,  not knowing lonely BIM from Integrated BIM . From international work, the practice was becoming more aware of the BIM agenda and the growing demand for BIM so they decided that their service needed evolving to keep up with the market . Steve talked through the practical steps through to implementing BIM . It all started with a University of Salford research paper how to implement BIM followed by joining the ‘Open Knowledge Exchange Network’  thinkBIM and then setting up an internal BIM steering group and a huge amount of researching and surfing the net for additional information on Building Information Modelling.

Their ‘bottom up’ approach to BIM enabled them to harness energy from their team. Steve expressed the importance of consultation at all levels and the need to identify hardware requirements and respond to these needs in a timely manner to try and avoid any slowing of the implementation process by softwares crashing. This could have a negative knock on effect to employee support for the new process and technology. Key message from Steve… when you are working at the coalface “remember you are not alone”.

Richard Beaumont from BAM then took the delegates through the detailed case study of the use of BIM on the £60 million Leeds Arena contract, no small feat.  He highlighted the benefits in design models and fabrication models and the benefits of improved scheduling and workpackage co-ordination and quanitity checking. When asked how many clashes had gone undetected within the Arena model and had made it to site, Richard gave a confident ‘zero’ as his response.

Next up was Graham of Sarcophagus, the owner of the Wakefield based privately funded Limited company providing established online project managment software which have been used by blue-chip clients such as Asda Wal-Mart since 1998 to aid business project collaboration. His vision of reducing construction industry communication costs, time and risk by allowing teams to partner and collaborate more effectively through the use of integrated project information and knowledge sharing sat perfectly within the context of BIM. 

Ajon Mallik‘s presentation on the practical legal issues of BIM broke down the key aspects of BIM into Legal bite sized chunks focussing on the practicalities of protocols , levels of accuracy of data , tresponsibilities of the BIM model manager and precendence . His closing slides brought to the fore issues of copyright and appropriate project insurances.

 A lively Q and A, chaired by Richard Town, covering cost savings relating to clash detection, issues of piracy of software , the relative size of a project which justifies the adoption of BIM, need for supply chain involvement and the continuing need for further sharing of best practice and lessons learnt amongst peers within the sector

Slides from the presentations can be found here Anjon Mallik Gordons LLP , Richard Beaumont BAM, Tim Platts

OpenBIM Conference – The Importance of being OPEN

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Building on the success of our thinkBIM Seminars in this series we would like to invite you to our web enabled GetBIM conference event hosted by Leeds Metropolitan’s Centre for Knowledge Exchange and supported by Tekla and Graphisoft.

Following on from the theme of our seminar series BIM level 2 by 2016, our Spring GetBIM conference is back to a more openBIM agenda. What is openBIM? “A transparent approach that enables all stakeholders to be informed of project methodology, data and results without the need or obligation to use prescribed software.”

Project stakeholders are free in their choice of software. In practice this means using open BIM standards like IFC, BCF and others.

Delegates will:

  • Understand that using the IFC standard as a common language, architects and HVAC engineers can share and coordinate their projects
  • Hear from the Cabinet Office BIM Training and Education working group leader
  • View a live openBIM model demonstration
  • Gain an understanding of BIM analysis capabilities with a demonstration of solibri
  • Participate in two hands on expert roundtables of their choice on BIM to Field, OpenBIM demonstration, Training and Education
  • Experience a lively Pecha Kucha presentation showcase * covering different aspects of open BIM.

The event will be blogged and discussed live across social media to encourage perspectives from international individuals and organisations that may not be able to attend in person, to give Leeds businesses a wider business vision.

The hashtag for the event is #TBIM2012

thinkBIM at Leeds Metropolitan University is an open Knowledge Exchange Network.

If you are unable to join us on the day our presentations and roundtables will be streamed live, free of charge!

Event Programme

1300 Welcome and Registration (Chair Stephen Hamil , NBS)  
1330 UK Keynote Speaker, Nick Nesbit, AEC3
1345 International Keynote Speaker, (Via Weblink) , Parveen Sharma , Infotech


Roundtable Discussion Session A

Open BIM Demonstration, Rob Jackson, Bond Bryan

OpenBIM, Dave Jellings SmartBIM solutions 

BIM to Field, Kris Bogaerts, Trimble

BIM Training and Education, Adam Matthews, Government Working Group Leader

1515 Refreshments Break
1530 Roundtable Discussion Session B (details as above)


Pecha Kucha Showcase*: Presentations with a twist; presenters are allowed 20 slides and they are auto-advanced every 20 seconds. There is very little scope for ‘Death by PowerPoint’ and provide a very engaging and creative presentations.
1700 Question Panel
1730 Close

To book your place at the conference, please register online . The cost to attend the conference is £40.

If you can’t attend the conference but would like to view it online free of charge, please email and we will send you the link the day before the event.

thinkBIM starts blogging !

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Well , Hi there … this is our very firsat blog post and it is really something else . I am delighted to be able to continue to communicate with thinkBIM members through a new medium and will welcome contributions from all network members , especially the very vocal members! Let’s get some good debate going on BIM and really make the most of this Blog.

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