Scandinavian software developer, Solibri brings BIM model quality into focus with its powerful rules-based checking and auditing tool.
A Building Information Model can be an incredibly powerful asset, but will have limited use downstream if it is riddled with errors. The problem with most BIM authoring software is that there is no easy way to check the quality of models. Quality Assurance (QA), if this happens at all, is a largely manual process. Checking that every single project model is watertight, code compliant and conforms with Building Information Modelling (BIM) standards can be a bit like proof reading War and Peace. in Tolstoy’s native tongue.
Just as the spell checker revolutionised word processing, Model Checker from Finnish software developer Solibri is looking to do the same for Building Information Modelling. Its automated quality assurance toolkit can validate the model against all types of checks. Thus giving project participants the confidence to put their trust in a shared BIM dataset.
Launched in 1999, the Windows and Mac-based tool has enjoyed much success in Scandinavia. It is now starting to receive close attention in the UK since the government mandated BIM for its future projects.
The software played a key role in the recent IFC/COBie Validation Trial organised by the OPENBIM Network. This was designed to test if the IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) file format could be used successfully by Tier 1 contractors to exchange model data and therefore also create COBie (Construction Operations Building information exchange) datasets. Following on from the success of the preliminary part of the trial, Solibri set up a UK office in October 2012.
Solibri’s offering is essentially a rules-based checking and auditing tool for BIM data. It is designed to improve the quality of the BIM model and the quality of the information within it. Depending on how it is applied, it can even be used to improve the quality of the design itself.
The software has many capabilities — from model visualisation and clash detection to information take-off, code checking and model comparison.
It is applicable to pretty much anyone that generates or uses BIM models — architects, MEP engineers, structural engineers, contractors and clients.
An architectural practice, for example, could use it for internal QA to check if its BIM models are sound and if the design conforms to building regulations.
A contractor might employ it to validate every third-party design model it receives.
A lead consultant may use it to federate and co-ordinate models from individual consultants, to check for clashes or missing components and to ensure each model conforms to the BIM protocols set up for the project.
Solibri does not have to be used by skilled BIM operators — a project lead, for example, could use it to check that the design is the best fit for the brief, not just that everything fits together from an operational point of view.
Industry Foundation Classes
Solibri Model Checker does not accept native BIM data from applications like Revit, ArchiCAD or VectorWorks. Instead it has been developed to work with Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs), which is a comprehensive schema for the transfer of model data and the closest thing the AEC industry has to a standard interoperability format.
Rather than tackling interoperability as a pure geometry issue, IFC uses industry standard definitions of components (like walls, doors, windows) and includes the numeric variables, which the target BIM system uses to reconstitute using its own object definitions.
IFCs can be exported from virtually every BIM authoring tool, though the quality of data can vary greatly. Each software vendor interprets the IFC standards slightly differently with a wide variance in the level of control over what is being exported and how components are mapped to the relevant IFC category. Some BIM applications cannot successfully recreate a model from an IFC file that they saved out! The net result of this is that IFC output really needs to be audited for content and compliance.
It is important to understand how to best optimise the output from the chosen BIM tool as this will have a major impact on the workflow inside Solibri and ultimately the BIM deliverable — whether that is a federated IFC model or a COBie dataset. But this is really the subject of a whole other article.
When opening an IFC model in Solibri Model Checker the first thing to do is assign a discipline — architect, MEP or structural engineer, for example. This helps when working with federated models, but also helps track responsibility for any changes that need to be made as a result of the checking process.
Multiple IFC models can be combined for co-ordination and saved as a single SMC file, the native format of Solibri Model Checker. It is useful to know that SMC data is much more compressed than an IFC as Solibri optimises the import of data meaning visualisation and information selection and presentation is fast.
Once opened, the IFC file can be browsed from the model tree, which is located on the left hand side of the screen. The user can drill down by level, IFC model type, family name and item. Models can also be browsed directly by IFC component or layer, if the BIM authoring tool supports this. Double clicking on any IFC component zooms to its position within the model, which is displayed to the right of the screen.
Solibri Model Checker presents a real-time rendered view of the building and includes all the standard model manipulation tools — panning, zooming, rotating, walkthroughs, etc. Hard clash detection can be toggled on and off so users can walk up stairs and not through walls.
Sections can be taken in real-time to reveal internal details. Any component or group of components can be highlighted or hidden from view at the click of a button.
As the model provides a direct link to the underlying attribute data, selecting any component reveals all sorts of information including location, quantity info, areas, heights and type.
The model can also be displayed thematically according to the attributes of its components. This is an extremely powerful way to visualise what data is held within the model, as opposed to its geometry.
Solibri Model Checker can be used to validate two main types of data — geometric or attribute.
The checking workflow is pretty straightforward. Apply a set of rules to an IFC model, assess any issues that are flagged up, make changes in the BIM authoring tool then feed back into Solibri to be re-checked. The system stores a full audit trail of issues and fixes.
In its simplest form, Solibri Model Checker can be used to perform clash detection — hard clash and proximity clash — but the software is so much more powerful than this.
Literally anything in the model can be checked — that all rooms have openings, that there are no duplicate components (e.g. an architectural wall on top of a structural wall), that there are no gaps between building elements (e.g. walls and floors), that a structural column goes through a slab, or that spaces are properly allocated within the model (a wall may have moved but the space not updated correctly).
The software currently includes 300 proforma-based rules, most of which are parameterised so it is possible for users to tweak them. User customisation extends to creating new rules based on the proformas but does not extend to the development of new rules, but it is on the wish list.
The good news is Solibri does respond to customer requests, with new rules introduced throughout the year for those on subscription. Bespoke requests can also be paid for through consultancy, perhaps to develop a rule that is closely aligned to an individual company’s internal processes or to give competitive advantage.
Rather than running rules individually, they are usually grouped into rule sets, by predefined roles, by task, or on a project-by-project basis.
However, some users may prefer to break down their checking into more manageable chunks, perhaps concentrating on resolving major issues first, then drilling down into the finer details.
To start the checking process, simply click the check button. The system then runs the chosen rule sets through the model, presenting each issue and the severity of each failure in a browsable table.
Double clicking on any issue jumps to its location in the 3D model, highlighting the component(s) in question together with a plan view of its associated floor to add some context.
Users can accept/reject, add annotations and comments, assign responsibility (architect, MEP engineer, etc) and take snap shots. The end goal is to generate an audit report that details all of the issues that need attention. This can be in XLS, PDF or RTF format with typically user customisable reports being produced for closer scrutiny in Microsoft Excel.
Model checking does not have to be a fully automated process. Other issues that may come to light when navigating the model can also be captured and highlighted in the report.
The next stage is to fix any problems that have been identified. Issues are usually resolved in the BIM authoring tool by the relevant consultant / contributor — primarily because they have the liability in industry. However, this process also comes with the challenge of locating the component in the BIM authoring tool.
Historically, this is done manually by punching in X,Y,Z co-ordinates or simply by having a deep understanding of the project. There is also a free Solibri Model Viewer tool, which can help visualise all the results in the context of the 3D model.
However, all of these processes require manual cross-referencing, which is why Solibri can export the BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) as part of its workflow. This XML schema from buildingSMART is specifically designed to enable a view point or component in one software package to be identified and located automatically in another software package.
In Solibri Model Checker when the BCF is sent back to the BIM authoring tool, it automatically attaches details of the issue to the component in question.
BCF looks to be a great format, but it still has a long way to go as it is only currently supported by Tekla Structures and DDS-CAD (MEP).
AEC Magazine understands this will change soon though with support coming in the next release of ArchiCAD. Autodesk is also in the process of adoption, so it should not be long before there is sufficient momentum to give it wide adoption.
Once issues have been fixed in the BIM authoring tool, a new model revision is submitted and brought into Solibri Model Checker. The software includes some neat revision management tools that will automatically identify where changes have been made. It will show if old errors have been fixed or if new errors have been introduced, without the user having to check the entire model again. It will also retain any comments or snapshots of components that have not been affected by the update.
As an aside to this, Solibri Model Checker also includes tools to compare two versions of the same model. For example, what has been added, what has been removed, what has been modified — geometry and data. This can be very useful to help ensure the latest revision is being used and also help understand exactly what has changed in a third party model before blindly re-introducing it into the project.
Solibri Model Checker is not just about validating geometric and attribute data. It is also adept at refining the information inside the model for use downstream.
Classification is a very powerful way of organising BIM information and data can be appended to the model to help improve accuracy for quantity take off, estimation and COBie data drops. For example, to check all doors or windows have the right Uniclass classification in relation to their IFC standard properties.
Classification allows the components to be restructured hierarchically based on any data in the model. Solibri also provides the tools to display classification data thematically. This not only helps users better understand what information is held within the model, but checks for any discrepancies in the meta data.
Solibri Model Checker can also be used to append data to the model that would not have been relevant in the design phase, for example, to manage the phasing of components for construction.
Delivering COBie output
To say the production of COBie data drops, mandated on all UK government projects by 2016, is a bit of a minefield would be an understatement. There is certainly a very long way to go before the process is nailed.
However, Solibri Model Checker can be used to help ensure that when the COBie dataset gets created it is populated with the right and accurate information.
In its simplest form the software can be used to produce a COBie spreadsheet from a federated BIM model. The IFC model retains its link with the COBie spreadsheet, so it is easy to see how the two relate. Click on an entry in the COBie spreadsheet and it will highlight the component in the model and vice versa.
This close relationship makes it easy to see where there are shortfalls in the data. COBie data can be displayed thematically, so it is possible to see exactly which components are lacking in information. It is also possible to add data directly to the COBie spreadsheet, perhaps information that was not relevant to the design model from which it was produced.
Solibri Model Checker is unique in the AEC industry, which is surprising considering the importance of information in BIM models. It supports model co-ordination, model navigation and clash detection, which are also available in applications like NavisWorks, Tekla BIMsight and Bentley Navigator. But its real power lies in its ability to validate any data held within the model.
The ability to check the quality of COBie drops and repair any problems is hugely relevant to the UK construction industry at the moment. COBie data can be produced directly from most BIM authoring tools, but they are not really set up for co-ordination of multi-discipline models and there is no easy way to check the quality of the data. With this in mind Solibri Model Checker can certainly help make sense of the mess and build some industry confidence in COBie as a deliverable.
However, Solibri Model checker is not just about delivering COBie data and can also be used for cost estimating and quantity take off. The software can be tailored to validate models for many different workflows: structural, energy analysis, or 4D scheduling, to name but a few.
Solibri is not the type of software that needs to sit on every BIM user’s desktop. The number of licences required depends on how seriously you take quality control, and how often you want to apply it.
For some firms Quality Assurance will be a part time role and the network version offers good flexibility to serve up the software to multiple users. Solibri reckons a good rule of thumb is one licence for every ten BIM users, though it really depends on attitude to quality assurance.
Solibri Model Checker is not perfect. Producing a new IFC file every time a QA is performed can be time consuming although this can be mitigated with a smaller IFC extract when working on part of a model.
It would be nice to see this technology made available in the cloud, which would significantly enhance its appeal to multi-site teams. Introducing better workflows for collaboration, perhaps through the managed distribution of change orders, would also add significant value. At the moment it is a great provider of information, but it relies too heavily on static reports and manual distribution of information.
If you work with BIM models, and want more confidence in the quality of the data you produce or use, then Solibri Model Checker is an excellent proposition. Priced from £5,400, including the first year’s subscription, it is cheaper than some of the clash detection applications on the market, which is only one of its features. The software is available for a free trial and we strongly recommend you give it a go.