Is the 3D Geometry, restricting BIM?

How many BIM (Building Information Modelling) experts have you heard say: “BIM Authoring application (insert name) is a great data management tool”.  I don’t believe you will hear it at the moment!  When we break it down; is BIM not a process involving the generation and management of digital data, representing the physical and functional characteristics of a facility; or, a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle?  So why can’t our BIM authoring tools adequately “manage” building information?  I strongly believe our current understanding of an Object Based 3D Model with associated Meta-data, is restricting the development, and implementation of Building Information and Exchange.

Understanding the data and model strengths and weaknesses:
I continue to be mystified why some industry figures want all this data in the “3D Graphical Model”.  There are many consequences to simply saying; “the BIM must be a 3D model containing all the embedded data”.  There are several good reasons for separating the majority of the Building Data (in a database format) from the 3D Graphical Model, but still maintain a conduit link between the geometry and component data via a GUID (Global Unique Identifier).  We would thus have a purpose-built accessible “Building Database”, and a 3D Model accessed via the BIM Authoring application of choice.  The 3D Model could contain the minimum required data to enable documentation, coordination, and any associated quality checking.  Data can be driven by the “Building Database” or by the BIM authoring object-based systems; whichever format leverages the best outcomes.  
  •  The strength of the 3D Model is in its spatial and system connections
  •  The strength of the “Building Database” is in its data management, manipulation, accessibility and data qualification

BIM authoring software data handling inadequacies:
No BIM authoring software currently exists (in the building space) which can manage the data to the level we truly need.  BIM Authoring Applications, in their “out of the box format” (no additional plug-ins) fall short on most of the following:

Data Traceability 1.0 – i.e. who changed what, and when?  The software automatically recording the date and username of data added; the date modified with the modifiers username.  The legal profession continues to emphasize traceability for data sharing.  Recording this will be essential, in order to reach Level 3 BIM.

Data Benchmarking 2.0 – How do we know if data is correct unless we have a way to validate it?  The challenge, current BIM Authoring tools generally only report modeled components (with some minor exceptions).  So in the applications, we are unable to directly compare design data against brief or signed off information.  Manual validation or a third-party application is the only solution.

Data Amendment Tracking – In combining the two previous items (traceability and benchmarking), we are unable to automatically track “data” amendments in our BIM Authoring tools. What’s scary; when an element is deleted, all history and information of it are lost, never to be seen again.

      Importing Data 3.0 – You would think, importing data (e.g.: space/room brief data in an Excel format or tabular) would be straightforward in a BIM authoring tool.  Is BIM not built on interoperability!  Without a 3rd party tool; it is not straight forward and the type of data which can be imported is limited.  Vendors believe users should manually enter the data!

      Exporting Data –Many in the BIM space are aware on the short-comings by some BIM vendors on exporting some data formats, such as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) & gbXML (Green Building Extensible Markup Language).  

BIM Authoring applications are unable to restrict the data which is exported to IFC formats and other data-rich model formats.  There is data in models which is legacy incorrect information or values used just for in-house purposes.  Users should be able to identify exactly what attributes are exported and what data is not.

Round Tripping Data – The ability to easily export data in a simple table format and then re-import a modified version of the data.  Not easily possible without a third-party application plug-in.

 Data Analysis and Checking 4.0 - To analyze data we need to look at it in multiple ways.  BIM Authoring applications generally provide simple schedules (some with basic conditional formatting) and color filtering of a clunky 3D geometry attribute’s value. These colored models require manual interpretation to find errors.
BIM Authoring applications need the ability to create complex rules with automatic resolution updates, truly access all the data (parameters) with-in BIM, display data in various forms including graphs, and combine and compare data between adjacencies in order to truly analyze it.

 Object Component Management – Component Object Libraries are a key aspect of a 3D model, including the components embedded data.  Their management across multiple models is crucial to a good outcome. Current BIM authoring applications don’t have component management systems.
The industry correctly continues to encourage manufacturers to develop BIM components for their products.  With data embedded into the components, how are manufacturers going to continue to maintain their BIM components with the data behind their products constantly evolving?  A sustainable approach may be for BIM authoring applications to embrace manufacturer “Product Data Sheets” (Similar to SPie), enabling users on request, to pull down the latest product data directly from the manufacturers website in a structured, standard format.  Currently, BIM Authoring tools are not SPie compliant.

Data Reuse – In design and construction stage, project teams will often re-use the same products and specification data across projects.  BIM Authoring Applications are not capable of easily generating product data libraries which are accessible and easy to maintain for all the reasons mentioned above.  Thus for every project, the same data requires re-entry.

Security – BIM Authoring tools offer little to no data security tools within them. I’m not aware if these tools will currently comply within PAS 1192 part 5 (Specification for security-minded building information modeling, digital built environments, and smart asset management).

True Database Functionality – All BIM authoring applications sit on, or sometimes sit beside a database.  However, this database which contains all our fantastic information is locked away, and can only be accessed by clumsy and slow interphases.  Users should be able to:
Create custom tables, relationships, queries (including; update, append, union, delete & make table), forms and reports.
Not having this type of functionality has the following consequences:

  •  Data manipulation is cumbersome and cannot be automated
  •  Project teams are unable to get applications to use data workflows it determines are appropriate
  • Data reporting is limited to basic schedules, clunky tagging, and color coding
  • Unskilled users are unable to easily access and extract relevant data
  • Unable to schedule components which are not, or do not require modeling

Integrating Classification Data 5.0 –BIM Authoring contains limited functionality to assign Classification attributes to elements.  Some include OmniClass codes (Table 23) for Products and Uniformat for Assemblies.  They do not enable the project team to “easily” choose their preferred classification systems and assign it to all relevant areas including; Facility, Space, Systems, Products and Materials etc.  Adequate item classification is a minimum requirement of a true data structure.

With all the above, I’m not sure how software vendors can market their applications as BIM capable? The big four vendors (Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Nemetschek & Trimble Buildings) can only pull the wool over the industries eyes for so long!

Construction and Handover Model Challenges:
As a project goes from design to construction stage there are several complications in regard to the transfer of data from the design BIM to the construction BIM.  The earlier the contractor is involved in the delivery approach the vaguer the handover of a data-rich model becomes.

Remodeling – Unfortunately the utopia of a design BIM being upgraded to a Construction BIM is rare. The majority of sub-contractors will re-model with reference to the design model. Much of the design data is lost. Having the data in a structured information exchange formatted, gives greater accessibility.

Capability – It needs to be accepted not all contractors and sub-contractors will have BIM and modeling capabilities. Tier 2 & 3 sub-contractors only have a hand-full of staff, having a BIM expert may put them out of Business.  This should not mean the BIM approach needs to end here.  What is important is the data, and there are plenty of cloud-based solutions small projects can engage which can utilize design BIM data, and provide a user-friendly platform to enable the contractor, sub-contractor and commissioning agents to submit and sign off of on equipment data and documents.

Field accessibility – During the commissioning stage (if a BIM process is utilized) it is logical for the sub-contractor to enter data to the BIM directly in the field via a mobile device.  Saying the BIM has to include the model directly, substantially reduces the software platform choice and adds significant overhead costs.

Attaching Documents –A BIM to FM process includes the gathering of relevant documents (Submittals, drawings, design data, test reports, certificates, O&M manuals, specifications, etc., etc.). They all need to be handed across to the client but yet linked to their relevant components. It is only document management with sign-off systems that can manage these documents, and I can’t see this functionality being within the scope of a BIM Authoring application within the next decade. Locking the data away in a 3D model, makes it cumbersome to link documents within a process which will work on-site.

Spares, Resources, and Jobs – At facility hand-over stage the contractor provides detailed information on equipment spare parts requirements, the resourcing required to carry out preventative maintenance jobs. Again this is outside the scope of a BIM Authoring tool.

Facility Management BIM:

Need – How many “Building” Facility and Asset managers “cannot” operate without a data rich, interactive 3D graphical model linked into their CMMS (Computerized maintenance management systems)? For straightforward building facilities, most Facility Manager will be very happy with a quality Building database and 2D PDF drawings, with the relevant equipment identifier codes tagged.  Why buy a Ferrari when a simple runabout car will do?  We have to consider that Level 2 BIM does not involve the handover of a data-rich 3D model. Instead, a COBie data file (AIM – Asset Information Model) is the deliverable.
I do acknowledge in infrastructure or complicated plant buildings, a data-rich model will have inherent advantages, over a database and 2D drawings alone.
      Model Maintenance – How easy do we think it is for the building owner to organize and manage the updating of the graphical 3D model with embedded Meta-data? Facilities have minor updates all the time; in many cases with no drawings.  How are large alterations managed, in merging together existing live data and new 3D model's. It becomes very complicated, and well above the reach of the most facility manager.

      Capability – Is it reasonable for “all” Facility Managers to become proficient in BIM Authoring applications? In a few cases, it may be!
      Some facility managers currently using 2D CAD applications for producing: Fire Safety Plans, Workstation, and employee layout plans, traffic management plans, facility spatial process diagrams etc.

        Cost – The more complicated a process is, the more costly it is. Facility Management departments are known for being underfunded. The Facility Manager will evaluate if there is a positive return on investment. Simplifying the BIM to FM process by separating the data from the 3d Model is less costly and more achievable.

Pre-design BIM:
Readers may not be familiar with the “Pre-design BIM”.  It’s not in common use today, but if BIM leads to the “hype”, I would hope it will be one of the truly positive outcomes.  It is the data which is generated from several sources to enable business cases and creating a brief.  These sources may include BIM data collected from completed projects delivered with a building data exchange deliverable, legacy building (pre-BIM) projects, user group feedback, site constraints, client processes related to the building layout, capital costs, recurrent costs, programme, units and methods of measurement etc. etc..  The reason this can be called a BIM; it is in a structured information format and is spatial (i.e. contains departments and spaces, with functions, element and performance criteria).  A Pre-design BIM is likely to be handed over the design team in a COBie or similarly structured format.

The UK BIM innovative (Digital Built Britain) is continuing to expand the BIM, to where it is now covering “all data” related to the a building’s lifecycle.  There will always be areas where an associated model and potentially even spatial data is not relevant.

So is the 3D Geometry, restricting the BIM process? With the ongoing growing scope of BIM, in stating that the information requires some form of associated geometry, we would definitely be restricting the potential and scope of BIM. The industries challenge ahead is truly developing an enterprise building data solution to meet our every growing need.