BIM libraries

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One way to speed up model creation is to download content from a web portal to add real world objects such as doors, windows, appliances and furniture. We take a look at the latest developments in the market.

Work load can become heavily front-loaded when moving to a Building Information Modelling (BIM) process. BIM pulls forward many design decisions and places many design activities, which used to be linear, into simultaneous or parallel alignment. With analytical tools, simulation and design changes impacting all systems, BIM practitioners look to see where time can be saved, particularly when it comes to content.

Downloadable objects can reduce modelling costs and cut the total project time given that many projects require new ‘families of parts’ (intelligent components).

Choosing real-world components from manufacturer catalogues will bring forward decisions on interior fittings such as doors and windows, escalators, lifts and glazing. Some firms choose to download and use generic models, which can be updated later in the process, with the correct fixtures and fittings. However, the risk here is that these generic models will get forgotten and left in place, only corrected in a written specification, thus breaking the model / data co-ordination.

There is also a very significant overhead with generic objects because the data properties have to be changed manually, increasing the likelihood that something will be mis-specified.

There are other risks. When product catalogues change and old components are used, who has responsibility and liability for that at the time of discovery?

In a collaborative environment where many firms add content how do you track the provenance of content and the pertinence of the embedded data? Arup, for example, has created in-house libraries of over 25,000 intelligent BIM components for its engineering and architecture projects — that is a lot of models to police and maintain.


While this might not seem a particularly important part of the early design process, BIM models are complex databases that feed many construction sequences and will, eventually, drive Facilities Management (FM) systems. This means attribute data must be described in a consistent manner for BIM data to provide downstream benefits.

This is becoming even more important with the UK Government drive to standardise on COBie for a key deliverable in 2016. COBie is a data format that contains digital information about space usage, bills of quantities and specifications for handing over to the client at the end of a project to drive FM and servicing. These feed into the operations, environmental impacts, repair and replacement costs. In other words, components that get placed into BIM models need to be correct, consistent and able to be meaningfully extracted to provide the maximum value from the BIM process.

Object standards

As BIM usage has grown and content providers of intelligent components have come and gone, with no national or international standards, the net result has been mistrust of those components. Every organisation seems to have its own BIM standards, each organises its data differently, so interoperability is limited.

In fact, standards in general have hampered even knowledgeable BIM users with general mistrust of basic formats such as Industry Foundation Classes (IFC). Where provenance of origin is not known, the fear of contamination arises.

Some content is modelled poorly, fails to connect to workplanes or fails to interact with other components. Many contain so much detail, down to the last screw and nut, that they cause model sizes to swell and the whole design becomes unmanageable.

There may also be a serious limitation as to the number of components that are available. Mature systems like Graphisoft ArchiCAD have considerable GDL objects available, while until recently, Bentley Systems’ MicroStation (AECOsim Building Designer), was probably the least catered for. To rectify this Bentley developed direct support for Autodesk Revit Families (RFA format, versions 2009-2014), enabling the download and placement of content intended for Revit to be compatible with AECOsim. Bentley is confident of the dimensional integrity of these components, while also retaining the Revit family parametric and visibility control behaviour, as well as the parameter data type values and family types.

In the United States, there has been attempts to devise building object standards. In 2007 the National Institute of Building Science started the process of specifying a national standards for minimum BIM object properties with Bill East, original inventor of COBie pushing to solve this obvious problem. Called SPie — Specifiers’ Properties information exchange — the objective was to devise a set of product templates that could be used by manufacturers to export product data into an open-standard format for designers, specifiers, builders, operators and owners.

The idea was that SPie would allow these communities to come together through their professional trade associations to create a common standard for specifying, selecting and delivering products and product data.

Later supported by buildingSMART and the Construction Specification Institute, the standard seemed to lack momentum but remained an active project as late as 2013.

A major contributor, the US Army Corps of Engineers, recently stated that, “while providing successful demonstrations of the concepts needed to implement SPie, these efforts have not been successful in developing a national standard for minimum BIM object properties”.

The US Army Corps of engineers, buildingSMART International and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) are still working towards the development of some definite standards regarding workflow and Levels of Detail but because the US Government is reluctant to codify BIM into its building regulations there seems to be a lack of coherence.

Creating standards is difficult in the federated, proprietary and non-uniform BIM world, but they remain essential to compare, contrast and exchange data.

New standards

Meanwhile, the UK is slowly and steadily defining BIM standards. These include COBie 2012 UK, PAS 1192-2 (the specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of construction projects using BIM) and PAS 1192-3 (the specification for information management for the operational phase of construction projects that use BIM).

Ian Chapman, Director of the NBS, National BIM Library, has described BIM not as an architectural process but as data management. BIM data should be cohesively delivered, with no losses to that data.

NBS BIM Object standard

NBS has launched its first standard specification for BIM objects. Recognising that the lack of standardisation of objects has been a major obstacle for firms, the new NBS standard is claimed to define what qualifies as ‘high quality’ BIM object consistency, that should assist the industry to attain Level 2 BIM.

“It’s difficult to overstate the significance of this new standard: lack of standardised objects has been a huge barrier to BIM adoption which has been removed at a stroke,” Ian Chapman, director of the National BIM Library said about the move.

“As we move towards 2016, we’ll be working with representatives from right across the industry to develop it further.

“Our vision is for the entire UK construction industry to have access to BIM objects that can be used freely, safe in the knowledge that they contain the same levels of information with the appropriate geometry all wrapped up in a consistent and highly useable format.

“The BIM landscape is evolving and the market needs good quality generic and manufacturers’ BIM objects. Designers creating their own objects for practice and project-specific purposes can now do so to a common standard enabling greater collaboration, efficiency and more meaningful information exchange.

“Client groups, as well as project managers will also feel the benefit as they can be confident that the quality of BIM objects included within their project models is suitable.”

The standard specification will be available free on the NBS National BIM Library website and covers both generic and or manufacturers’ BIM objects. It will be interesting to see if other BIM Object suppliers agree and conform to this unilateral standard. ■

Part of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), NBS is recognised as keeper of the national standard specification system for the UK, covering building construction, engineering services and landscape design. It runs the National BIM Library, supplying generic and manufacturer’s components, and has just released a new standard for BIM objects (see box out page 10), which has yet to be accepted by any of the other BIM object providers. However, we have been told that many of the CAD vendors and industry bodies which have been active in UK BIM have welcomed and supported the move.

NBS held focus groups with customers and manufacturers to identify the minimum properties and level of detail with IFC and COBie information that BIM objects should contain. The net result of this is a published standard, which the industry can adopt.


If you think of all the providers of all the real world construction products, all their catalogues, product lines, all their markets, the various country regulation differences and then try to remap that information into ‘standard’ BIM objects in a variety of different competing systems for architects and engineers to consume… you might just start to realise the scale of the problem in defining BIM standards.

When considering the manufacturers of components it becomes a much wider conversation. Manufacturers want their projects to be used in building designs and it is highly probable that the manufacture of these components were designed using 3D CAD systems.

These manufacturers want to get an advantage by making their products easier for designers to use, and so translate their CAD designs to BIM components. This could be done in house or via specialist firms that recreate the products as BIM libraries.

The typical business model is that the manufacturer pays the component developer to produce the content; and the BIM models are provided free to the designers. There are millions of products produced by thousands of firms. It is potentially a huge market.

When one considers the lack of, or rapid development of, new BIM object standards, the fact that there are multiple proprietary BIM authoring tools and the infrastructure required to deliver and track usage, it is hardly surprising that many manufacturers opt to use a third party service.

Every product needs to be defined and that means all physical characteristics, from visual appearance, to functional information, behaviour and positioning information. These need to be represented consistently, efficiently and with sensible levels of detail.

BIM object providers

Worth an estimated £30bn per year by 2020, the UK has a number of home grown and European providers of quality BIM content. Mandatory BIM on public sector projects from 2016 and developing countrywide standards means that BIM component suppliers have something to aim for, especially with an ultimate COBie deliverable. The NBS published standard could be adopted within the coming year. Countries like Norway and Finland are also helping drive open standards with their commitment to BIM processes.


BIMobject corporation is built around a network of companies and partners all over the world. It acts as a link between manufacturers and BIM and develops digital replica 2D/3D libraries of real world building product and interior components. It is vendor neutral and can build BIM objects to all the various BIM software on the market — Revit, ArchiCAD, SketchUp and AutoCAD. Components include EAN-codes, U-values, sizes and branding (logo) and family names, as well as links to maintenance documents and assembly manuals.

Downloads are tracked so manufacturers can get an idea of pipeline and customers are automatically updated if specified products have been updated or removed. With a powerful reporting architecture, reporting usage, the company provides market analysis, business & lead generation.

Autodesk Seek

The Autodesk Seek web service enables architects, engineers, and other design professionals to quickly discover, preview and download branded and generic BIM files, models, drawings, and product specifications for their active design sessions in Autodesk Revit or AutoCAD. The site has powerful search capabilities. It contains BIM models, drawings and product specifications for more than 66,000 commercial and residential building products from nearly 1,000 manufacturers. Files can be previewed before downloading. The site supports multiple formats Revit, DWG, DGN, and SKP files; Microsoft Word documents; three-part specifications; and PDFs.


BIMstore is part of the North East BIM group Space, which includes a number of architectural, educational, consultative and BIM knowledgeable businesses, including BIM Show Live. Defined as the iTunes store equivalent for specifiers, BIMstore has components from over 50 suppliers with over 340,000 objects and 30,000 downloads a month. BIMstore is free to those within the BIMstore ecosystem. Updates to used components are alerted in real time via a social network. Formats supported include ArchiCAD, Revit, Bentley and Vectorworks. Components can be dragged and dropped into the design software.


BIMcomponents is Graphisoft’s GDL content sharing platform. It hosts thousands of generic and manufacturer-specific, third party objects for free and helps GDL developers and ArchiCAD enthusiasts share their work. BIMcomponents also delivers content from BIMobject. BIMcomponents also acts as a community portal. Architects and designers can share their objects, and members can also discuss and rate the uploaded content. Free membership.


Wienerberger, a manufacturer of bricks and tiles, has launched a BIM portal called ‘BIM Lab’. The website will help architects and specifiers get a clear understanding of how Wienerberger’s roof, wall and landscaping products will practically function in their projects. The objects, which are built in Autodesk Revit and cover roof, wall, paver and block, are also available on BIMstore.


Founded by Hiroshi Jacobs in May 2003, RevitCity was born as a place for Revit communities to share content and knowledge. It has over 500,000 members and 15,370 objects. The free site has received more than 18 million visits since its launch.


San Francisco-based Modlar provides specifiers with instant access to free 3D BIM objects. It claims to be the market leader in creating and syndicating BIM objects and helps manufacturers reach the rapidly emerging BIM market by actually “converting” each of their products into six BIM formats for syndication on the Modlar global network.


SpecifiedBy started out as a ‘CAD library’ connecting architects, designers and other specifiers with building product manufacturers using CAD models and has developed into a ‘Specification Library’, with all the relevant data required to make a decision about a building product. The site’s long-term goal is to make finding the best building product for a particular project, regardless of brand or reputation. To do this, the firm is creating online tools to connect building product manufacturers with specifiers and specifiers with other specifiers. The site has 1,412 registered specifiers and get approximately 12,000 page views a month.


Connecticut-based Arcat is a free building product information site with no registration required. Its CAD detail library has over 9,000 DWGs (as well as other formats). SpecWizard is a tool that automatically configures a complete CSI 3-Part formatted specification. ArcatGreen reports LEED credits for the building project and materials. The Arcat BIM library has 7,000 BIM objects and systems available in RFA, RVT, DWG and other formats. Available on Android and iOS.

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