Building Information Modelling systems create new challenges in sharing data between rival systems. The Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) specification provides some capability but even here compatibility can be poor. Finnish developer Datacubist has created a low-cost IFC BIM tool that is worth a trial.
I have often warned readers about how Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools, while offering considerable benefits, can bomb data interoperability back ten years. Even hardened BIM users have to go to great lengths to collate data from rival systems, some resorting to 2D datasets to get the job finished.
At the recent BIM Show live, I was talking with an architect who had been experimenting with the COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange) format, which the UK Government is specifying as its BIM deliverable. COBie is nothing more than a spreadsheet, so this is really only the ‘I’ in the BIM model without the geometry. On one test project the resulting COBie file had 650,000 cell entries in the spreadsheet. I am not sure how anyone can build anything a) from a spreadsheet and b) one that is so long.
I mused on how one would visualise this information. Tuomas Holma of 3D visualisation developer Cadfaster suggested something akin to the start of Star Wars (long ago in a galaxy far, far away), with the COBie table running off into infinity. This led our conversation on to other standards such as Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs), which attempts to get the industry to agree on geometric and basic metadata for a number of standard building types — walls, doors, windows, columns etc. Mr Holma thus told me about simplebim from Finnish developer Datacubist.
Costing only €300, simplebim is a unique application that imports IFC models from any of the hundred or so BIM products and allows the user to prepare the IFC model with filters and editing tools to ensure the right data is sent depending on what it will be used for.
IFCs are a nice lightweight (10%-20% of the size) variant to BIM models, which tend to be huge. IFCs, however, lack the full intelligence, so it is a ‘dumb’ solution, but better than having nothing.
The other problem is that IFCs have considerable differences in output. Every vendor has a different interpretation of the standard and different vendors support different versions. Many vendors’ IFC output is incomplete. How the model is created will impact how the IFC is generated.
There are also localisation issues, company specific BIM standards the list goes on. One experienced BIM implementor told me that, in one case, IFCs between AEC products from the same vendor did not work.
Sakari Lehtinen of Datacubist added that IFC data is often in the wrong place, but nobody bothers to check the IFC output.
This is where simplebim comes in. An IFC can be imported into the application completely, or through filters to select subsets. Once loaded, the fast viewer provides zoom, pan, rotate and BIM information that is included on any selected geometry. As well as data exchange, IFC models can be used for clash detection, energy analysis, quantity take off, and spatial zoning. Simplebim provides tools to ‘include’ or ‘exclude’ objects and to edit the properties by removing incorrect or unnecessary data.
Simplebim supports Excel so data can be extracted from BIM models and saved.
Its multi-window interface is really very useful. It is easy to see the objects that have been excluded, what is included, and the values of select geometry.
Using Cadfaster’s display engine, simplebim has no trouble manipulating what were once large models. At the moment only one IFC file can be loaded at a time but the next version will allow multiple IFCs to be loaded and merged. This will mean simplebim would be the only application that can hold an entire multi-sourced IFC model for less than £300. Obviously the benefits of being able to run clash detection is of great use at this point, as structure, MEP and architectural elements could all be present.
Finally, simplebim allows the author to add a license to the file, providing some legal protection for the model should it be sent outside the company. If an IFC is specifically prepared to be sent to an energy analysis tool, for instance, the configuration and data in the IFC will be filtered. Adding a license to state that this model can only be used for that purpose, over a set time period would give some legal protection.
The most important things to take away from this is that IFC output is not standard; it often contains errors; and an IFC may not be what the client actually needs.
This is a massive flaw in the IFC standard, but for now it is all we have. Datacubist has a very useful and low-cost utility to really help BIM data collaboration and, after seeing the application working with lightweight IFCs making targeted IFC files, it makes absolute sense for IFCs to be used in a wide number of places including analysis and spatial exploration.
If you are sending or receiving IFC files or considering using them within your BIM workflow, I highly recommend having a play with the 30-day trial license. I am sure you will find multiple uses for simplebim.