BIM in general
Last few years we are witnesses of inauguration and wide promotion of BIM technology in AEC field. Everybody is talking and describing benefits of BIM implementation, its possible influence on improving of all aspects of AEC activities. Most frequently mentioned terms are efficiency, cost reduction, better quality and so on.
Just to remind, BIM term was defined back in the 70´s. Development of communication, IT technology and advanced building technologies somehow „resurrected“ BIM ideas again.
To explain my position and background: I am civil engineer with the high interest in implementing IT technologies in AEC field. I am the founder of company StudioARS from Croatia, whose main activity is software development for designing and maintaining pipe infrastructure (sewage, water distribution, …). Our software family, Urbano, is widely used in whole Europe. Urbano functions on top of Autodesk platform (AutoCAD, Map, Civil).
Because of my position (head of development) I am vitally interested in all aspects of BIM technology. We are faced up with many questions from users about BIM technology and possibility for Urbano to support BIM workflow.
What really makes some software BIM or BIM ready? It is very easy to say: „Yes we support BIM workflow 100%!“. In reality we can see many software packages which promote BIM support, but if you try to prove that statement and check BIM support aspects, sometimes results are not so great.
So, now everything and everybody is BIM. How come? The reason is simple – it is not clear what BIM really means. Yes, in some countries, we have some general regulations in place (e.g. UK) , many BIM handbooks, recommendations, proposed standard file formats and so on. However, I still didn’t find a list of specific features which should be satisfied to label the software „BIM compatible“ or „BIM ready“
Therefore, every software producer can say that his software fully supports BIM workflow.
This statement is hard to prove.
What makes a software BIM ready?
I have some general ideas what should be satisfied to call some software „BIM ready“.
1. 3D. Elements which make some design should be created in 3D. 3D design definitely provides some advantages. There are different areas in AEC where design in 3D is very welcome but sometimes 3D design does not bring real benefits. If we take into account sewage or water distribution networks, except in cases where on a small area many pipes pass close to each other, design in 3D does not have real sense. Simply, one pipe can be too long in comparison to the diameter, for the designer to have real benefit of doing everything in 3D. My personal opinion is that the best option for designing pipe systems is to work in 2D and to switch to 3D when necessary. Can we say that the software is BIM ready if it works in 3D? I would say – NO.
2. Data. All elements which are part of the design should have no restrictions when assigning data that completely defines and describes the nature and properties of the elements. Some of them are pure design data (diameter, slope, flow, velocity…). To describe real nature of every object we need much more. Attribute data can be used to describe some history, technology requirements, type of building, some conditions and so on. So, if some software tends to be BIM ready, it should have the possibility to define any kind of data, efficiently input all the data, inspect all the data, and so on. Can we say that some software without effective data management is BIM ready? I would say – NO
3. Intelligent objects. Intelligent objects are definitely a benefit in the design. But what is the role of such objects from BIM point of view? When we talk about BIM workflow, we always have in mind group of stakeholders in one complex design. For different purposes participants are using different software packages. I still didn’t see that different software platforms can exchange fully defined intelligent objects which will have the same behavior. I think the reason is obvious: there is no precise standard or definition for different objects. For example, pipe in Civil 3D is an intelligent object, but when imported to Navisworks it is treated as simple 3D solid. So, can we say that software is BIM if it uses intelligent objects? I would say – NO.
4. Communication. From my point of view BIM really means communication that will enable exchange of all design objects among different participant groups. It is very important to preserve all the data defined in all phases of BIM workflow. Of course, we always have the same problem: what is the standard for information exchange? There are several, which means there is no single one which will satisfy all the requirements. Most frequently we mention IFC. But in the current moment IFC in infrastructure design doesn’t include definition for pipes and structures. Additional problem is that there is no enough support, libraries, API shells which would guarantee that the creation of IFC will be successful.
Urbano is a BIM ready software
Of course, I really believe in this statement but I am the Urbano development manager and my opinion cannot be fully objective. However:
1. 3D. Urbano can work both in 2D and 3D, it is question of applied style. I have the idea that average designer will mostly work in 2D and when necessary switch to 3D. Work in 2D is much faster and simpler. Appropriate views – profiles and sections – can give enough information to check the design. All views are completely dynamic, which means that every change in layout or profile will be automatically updated in the model.
2. Data. Urbano has both design and additional data (user data). The status of both groups is completely the same. There are flexible procedures for data input based on intelligent element selection (multiple data for multiple elements at once). Both groups can be used everywhere in the software – labeling, data grids, profiles… It is up to user to define any number of data which will fit his design purposes.
3. Intelligent objects. Urbano does not have intelligent objects (pipes or structures). It is based on Autodesk basic elements – lines, polylines, blocks… Application gives them all the necessary intelligent behavior through many specific functions.
4. Communication. From the very beginning, Urbano was designed as very open software. When designing the software, I kept in mind that the world does not start or finish with the design of underground utilities. Urbano supports many file standards, including databases, Esri SHP, LandXML, IsyBAU, XLS, TXT, INP… Support is managed bidirectionally – both read and write.
Specific development for Navisworks
Most recently we developed some more specific functions which can fit very well in BIM workflow.
We enabled support for writing IFC file format. We can export IFC file for the whole network or just part of it. All the data (design and additional) can be included in IFC file. In the text above I mentioned that IFC is still not completely defined for infrastructure objects. We found a way to write pipes and structures, but we did not treat them as native pipes or structures. We had quite some troubles to select appropriate libraries. We found out that support level is not very high.
StudioARS is an Autodesk partner, and naturally our first choice are always products from Autodesk portfolio. Regarding BIM, we treat Navisworks as very good and mature application which has important role in BIM workflow. We can communicate with Navisworks through IFC format, but we would like to achieve more.
We found out that Navisworks has quite a good API. There is a library in AutoCAD which enables creation of NWC files. In addition to object geometry and additional data, it is possible, through API, to create some advanced features which can be used inside of Navisworks. For example, it is possible to create Navisworks selection sets, which are the base of working inside of Navisworks.
We discovered that this API is much better in comparison to API for IFC. Also, the support is on higher level, there are many developers who use that library and are willing to share some solutions.
In addition, there is a quite good API inside of Navisworks, which enables creation of specific custom add-ins. With such Navisworks add-ins, some time consuming tasks can be performed significantly faster.
There are three videos that show communication between Urbano and Navisworks.
1. To show communication between Urbano and Navisworks we developed a functionality for automatic creation of top and bottom trench borders. Based on those borders, it is easy to create a 3D trench with Civil 3D or Urbano DTM – Terraform. Inside of Urbano, by using additional data, we defined the time plan for network construction (construction phases). Based on that data, we automatically created Navisworks selection sets. Real time planning was made in Microsoft Project. Such NWC file, created in Urbano, enables very fast time analysis (4D) inside of Navisworks.
Video 1: 4D construction simulation with Urbano, Microsoft Project and Autodesk Navisworks
2. The second video shows how to manage pipe clashes in Urbano and Navisworks. Another complex pipe network was used and shown inside of Navisworks through NWC export. In Navisworks we performed the clash test, found some clashes, corrected them with Urbano and refreshed the project in Navisworks. In addition, we used our add-in which quickly generates a report in which the pipes were sorted according to pipe diameters. It is also very easy to quantify the whole model due to well defined structure of NWC file exported from Urbano.
Video 2: Collaboration & clash detection with Urbano and Autodesk Navisworks
3. The third video shows our Navisworks add-in for linking Navisworks elements with external files. In Navisworks, it is possible to define links to external files which can improve the object description. By using this add-in, it is possible to connect multiple Navisworks elements with any number of external files of different file types. The only condition is to have some kind of naming rule.
Video 3: Urbano add-in for Autodesk Navisworks links external files with Urbano & Autodesk Revit models