BIMobject: The Data Conundrum in BIM

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    BIM objects of manufactured building products typically consist of three things: intelligent geometric representation of the product; data about the product (specification, sustainability, etc., details) presented in a structured format; and reference information (service manual, spares list, etc.) held in electronic form, usually as PDFs.

    Today many manufacturers are having BIM objects developed, mainly through paid-for services from specialist companies. These geometric objects have data embedded and structured for COBie purposes. But what happens when there’s a change in the scope of this structured data? The simple answer is that each object will have to be changed. This is good news for the specialist companies and rather less good news for the product manufacturers as they pay for the changes. So is the scope of structured data likely to change?

    An outcome of the Government’s BIM Level 2 initiative is to provide data in a structured format, including links to reference information, to create COBie input for CAFM (Computer Aided Facilities Management) systems. This is a very specific requirement with a single purpose – creating structured data for the purposes of maintaining the building’s assets.

    As using BIM models becomes more pervasive it seems certain contractors and sub-contractors will want more structured data. The COBie data set doesn’t help a contractor match a product to their own internal systems, or how the product is packaged and delivered; or how it should be handled on-site, or what performance tests need to be done, etc. Right now much of this detail does exist in PDFs but as structured data it would become so much easier to find and use. A truism of making better data available is that people find new and innovative ways to use this which in itself generates the need for additional or different data. This can lead to data bloat where a geometric object is (over)loaded with all its possible structured data making BIM models hard or impossible to use. So providing more structured data can be a virtuous circle of delivering better information and especially if the data is available only when it’s required. But for the manufacturer this comes at the recurring cost of paying to update the data embedded in their BIM objects or worse still paying for multiple geometric objects for the same product but with different embedded data sets!

    At BIMobject we recognised this data conundrum: the need for structured data growing substantially, and in unpredictable ways, but with the current embed of this data into the geometric object being both inflexible and costly to maintain. There had to be a better way! BIMobject has taken the very pragmatic approach of separating the geometric object from the data set by creating BIMobject Open Property Clouds (BOPCs). Sounds simple but actually it’s technically quite hard to do. A BOPC contains a set of data and any one geometric object can have multiple BOPCs associated with it. As an example, BIM Level 2 describes 5 Levels of Information (LOI) with each level containing a bit more data about the product than the previous level. So LOI 1 is a minimum set of data used at early design whereas LOI 5 data is the COBie compliant data needed at building handover. At early design the architect/ designer does not need or want to have the full LOI 5 data set. With BOPCs it is easy to have 5 data sets each corresponding to a Level of Information. When the designer/ contractor needs a specific LOI they simply attach the appropriate BOPC’s data set to the geometric object. And so if a contractor needs additional data from a product manufacturer this new data requirement can either be added to an existing BOPC or a new BOPC created.

    So we’ve cracked the problems of both having great flexibility in what structured data is available and also reducing data bloat because data is only attached when it is needed. But what about the updating cost borne by manufacturers? Again BIMobject has a unique solution. Where data is embedded in objects it is typically file based so adding one piece of data to 100 geometric objects means updating 100 files whereas BOPCs is a database and one change to the database means this can be applied to any number of geometric objects. It’s really quick and simple to either add new data or change the values of existing data. And better still there is no direct cost to the manufacturer to make these data changes. BIMobject provides the software tools so that manufacturers can make these changes themselves. In the same way that manufacturers now control the data on their products in the real world so BOPCs provides them with the means to do the same in the virtual world of BIM.

    Alan Baikie

    Managing Director

    BIMobject UK

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