April 30, 2007
A Look at the buildingSMART Alliance
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

A Look at the buildingSMART Alliance

by Susan Smith

A recent press release on the NIBS site describes the buildingSMART Alliance this way: “The new public/private initiative expands on goals of the North American Chapter of the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI-NA), whose Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) have initiated open standards for national and international links among industry players, and will serve developers and users of Building Information Models (BIMs), the digital tools that are increasingly helping to share highly accurate information throughout a facility’s life cycle.”

David Harris, FAIA, President and CEO of the National Institute of Building Sciences, (NIBS), and Deke Smith, AIA, executive director, buildingSMART® Alliance of the National Institute of Building Sciences, past chairman of the Facility Information Council of NIBS and past chairman of the National BIM Standard Project Committee, spoke on the topic of the
buildingSMART Alliance and the National BIM Standard.

“BIMs provide an opportunity to build buildings virtually prior to building them physically and thus allow designers to work out problems that would otherwise end up in change orders. It allows us to do a better job of simulating energy usage throughout the life of the facility as well as better understand sustainability implications through value engineering and lifecycle costing done early in the process when it has the most impact. Another benefit of BIM is reduced construction waste and management of environmental impact of facilities both during construction and at end of life, thus having the potential of reducing what ends up in land fills. It is estimated that 20% of land fill
content comes from construction waste. The bottom line is to improve construction productivity while protecting the environment and cutting energy usage,” said Smith.

According to Harris, the fragmented capital facilities industry is comprised of a couple of hundred trade and professional associations that consider themselves part of the building or real estate industry, and it’s sometimes hard to tell where the design and construction industry becomes the real estate industry. But each have unique, yet related sets of needs. The basic premise is that much of the data collected and the decisions made and carried out during the design and construction process are lost as a project advances from one phase to the next. As a result the evolving project teams for each succeeding phase rebuild the knowledge base it needs. Then when it’s handed off
to the next phase, the successors go through a similar drill. That’s where the real value and benefit of the building information modeling (BIM) concept comes in. The essential data are captured, and retained, not just for your part of the process, but for what others will need downstream. A BIM includes those data that serve the entire lifecycle of a building, including facility operations and maintenance, remodeling, demolition and environmental issues that may follow after regarding underground storage tanks, knowledge about other subsurface conditions and the like.”

Up to now, BIM has primarily been CAD models or 3D models of the geometry of the building, but there’s a great deal of other data that we’re not really able to capture and integrate into the process and the facility’s virtual files, such as, that which relates to the performance of the various systems and components of the building - not only how they perform initially but data about their expected long term performance, O&M needs, and expected life span. “The goal here is to develop a model that lives through the building and contains all of that performance information, warranties, guarantees, costs of replacement; and how you integrate new research you come
across which you may need to know in five or ten years when that component of the building wears out. You can append that to the BIM, in such a way that it will live through the evolution of software, etc.”

“In order to carry all this out, we need to have an organization and activity that helps to collaborate and coordinate with all the pieces of our industry - public and private - that are developing software, so we have interoperability, common definitions and the ability to integrate text-based information with vector graphics and CAD programs. Thus, the power of the computer can essentially be harnessed for the benefit of improving the building process, performance of facilities and providing the knowledge to those tasked with maintaining operating and renovating and occupying buildings downstream. For example, how do we integrate sensors into existing buildings in ways that
allow them to perform in comparable ways with new buildings?”

Harris exemplified the value of the BIM concept in the context of a major university campus, like the University of California Los Angeles, that wants to hire a contractor to maintain its elevators. In order to collect all the data of all that would be needed to obtain effective bids, i.e., the age, type, hours of usage, usage pattern, repair history, for each elevator. It would take quite a few people a lot of time to gather that information to provide it to the potential bidders. With a BIM, by selecting the series of views, the university could capture that information in a fraction of the time, accurately, and in a useful format for the bidders. This would assure much tighter, more
accurate and more responsive bids. Similar value would be available for maintaining other similar systems such as roofs.

“This is the potential of the buildingSMART Alliance,” Harris pointed out. “Its purpose is to bring together leaders within the building industry that understand and share that vision to work cooperatively. So what the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), FIATECH, the Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate (OSCRE), the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and NIBS do, are part of a grand scheme that will better serve our industry, rather than a series of fragmented efforts which is kind of the way things are right now.”

National BIM Standard, Version 1 Overview, Principles and Methodologies, is out for industry review until May 21, 2007. It is scheduled to be released in mid June of this year. The National BIM Standard is the first of the products of the buildingSMART Alliance. NIBS’ Facility Information Council developed the National CAD Standard and is developing the BIM Standard. The buildingSMART Alliance was articulated initially at a follow-on meeting of the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI) North America in Los Angeles last June that was held in conjunction with the AIA convention. Those present, Harris,
Patrick MacLeamy, of HOK, Ian Howell of Newforma, Markku Allison of the AIA, David Hammond of the U.S. Coast Guard, and Peter Smeallie of IAI-NA, all recognized the inefficiencies in the industry.

The NIBS Board formed a task group in September of last year to develop a charter and a mission to reach out to other organizations to gain acceptance, agreement and participation in this buildingSMART Alliance. “We really recognized that the private sector and the government sector, like federal agencies that own and operate huge complexes and inventories of buildings such as the Department of Defense, have the same problems and need better ways to manage and improve the operation, maintenance and energy use and all the other performance aspects of their facilities,” said Harris. “It’s got to be a team effort, if ever there was a need for us to work together to
cooperate to achieve this, now is the time.”

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