The Nordic region was the first place where AEC firms jumped on board with BIM, back in the early 2000s. It was also here that we started to see IFC standards for data exchange taken seriously. SimpleBIM, founded in Finland in 2009, has been a leading player in that movement
The Nordic region was the first place where AEC firms jumped on board with BIM, back in the early 2000s. It was also here that we started to see IFC standards for data exchange taken seriously. SimpleBIM, founded in Finland in 2009, has been a leading player in thWhen the design world was limited to 2D technology, data exchange was pretty simple. The de facto standard was DXF. Once Autodesk’s proprietary AutoCAD format DWG had been reverse engineered, most competitors supported that, too.
Then 3D BIM came along and mayhem ensued. The only neutral / agnostic exchange format was IFC (Industry Foundation Classes). It was embryonic and lacked the kind of data fidelity that the industry expected.
But in the Nordic region, IFC was embraced. It was used as the basis for national standards, long before broad BIM adoption was even on the horizon elsewhere. And one country in particular, Finland, gave us two of the leading IFCbased developers: Solibri, the modelchecking firm eventually acquired by Nemetschek; and Datacubist, the developer of the IFC management tool, SimpleBIM.
Datacubist was founded in 2009 by CEO Jiri Hietanen and marketing manager Sakari Lehtinen. Both had previously worked on the IFC standard at BuildingSmart, the global organisation responsible for developing and maintaining the IFC schema. They also co-authored the Finnish national BIM standards for both buildings and bridges.
Having seen at first hand the mess that firms could get into with BIM data, the pair decided to develop an application called SimpleBIM that would consolidate BIM dataflows for different design disciplines, different software applications and from firms running different data standards.
While IFC is a documented standard, software vendors have different interpretations of that standard and integration can be tricky. On top of that, many users don’t really understand IFC. Many think pressing ‘IFC-out’ is sufficient, without considering what subset of data is actually relevant in the model that they are trying to share. This leads to inconsistent data exchange that can seriously hamper the work of AEC firms collaborating on projects.
SimpleBIM acts as a central conduit for collating BIM information and provides a suite of tools to repurpose, filter and organise project information by making data exchanges consistent and automated.
The first thing any SimpleBIM user needs to do is stop thinking in silos, about silos and where the limits of silos lie. While most industry data is held within proprietary files, the benefits of SimpleBIM come from thinking about IFC as a data bridge, rather than a somewhat troublesome point-to-point data exchange format . SimpleBIM does not damage or remove original data. It just offers tools to centralise, speed up and automate IFC-based workflows.
The product lives up to its name. It has a very basic layout, with dynamic and interactive model viewing windows for displaying basic shaded models, an object data tree, a properties palette and a ribbon bar of in-context menus.
For filtering, trimming and cleaning up IFCs, simply import a model and choose one of two options. You can either drag and drop the objects you wish to keep into the export ‘bucket’ or window; or you can select from the property palette or by storey, in order to produce a filtered IFC exported file.
The next level of capability and automation is to apply templates to transform imported data. Templates are straightforward Excel files, so are easy to create or edit. SimpleBIM comes with a lot of templates, and you will find additional samples online. The software generates a report on errors that occurred during the template application.
Templates can do many things, such as filtering a model to include only objects relevant to a specific analysis, swapping property values, or enriching model data with new properties. It’s also possible to run multiple templates across merged models, all generated from different sources.
Through the ‘Location Prism’ feature, user-defined portions of models can be sliced and diced using clipping planes/ bounding boxes, so that data that was omitted from the model and perhaps needs to be added, such as concrete pours, spaces, apartments, storeys and other construction sections, can be included. Another feature called BIMsheet extracts user-selected model data for Excel calculations or Power BI. This might include, for example, quantities and costings. These are saved with the SimpleBIM data, for reuse. This is a process that has typically been possible only when using the native BIM authoring tool.
It directly addresses the problem of ‘dark data’, hidden away in current BIM systems, since Simple BIM provides tools to extract and analyse data from models that have been merged, even when models have been created according to disparate standards and/or contain high levels of inconsistency.
The built-in BIMCollab BCF Manager for open workflows, meanwhile, enables report creation and distribution with all project participants, from boardroom to construction site. This centralised issue management system generates BCF files from SimpleBIM’s validation reports, highlighting issues in models that need addressing.
SimpleBIM has found favour in construction firms such as SRV in Finland and Bylor, together with consulting firms such as HOK, AECOM, Sweco, Cowi and Ramboll. Benefits claimed for the application include: lightweight models for onsite work, accurate costing of materials and time, model-splitting, automatic classification, a single version of the truth and reduction in time while producing richer models.
Some firms such as Auckland Airport are also using the tool to stitch together a variety of models to be published for postCovid expansion. The model will aid decision-making in redevelopment and ongoing maintenance. Here, SimpleBIM is almost being used as a digital twin.
In BIM workflows heavily dominated by one vendor, mainly Revit, the RVT file is king and delivery stipulated in contracts can be the Revit model. This does differ from country to country, but is especially true in the United States. Either way, it inhibits adoption of open standards.
In countries that have mandated national BIM standards, such as most of Europe, Australia, Japan, South Africa, IFC (along with derivatives such as BCF, COBie) is an essential part of the mix. This also extends to countries adopting international standards like ISO 19650.
SimpleBIM offers a tool that moves the concept of open standards from ‘data exchange’ to being at the heart of project management by offering a suite of powerful mapping, filtering, data enriching and automation tools, to pull clarity out of industry data exchanges that can be pretty chaotic.
Looking forward a few years, platforms like Forma from Autodesk, with its unified databases and cloud-based applications with API access, could bring more interoperability. But today, SimpleBIM and its rule-based classification on file-based workflows is already taking the pain out of wrangling with project data.
This is the first of a two-part article. As a follow on we will look at how SimpleBIM can be used as an aggregator for project workflows and how it can assist in construction.