Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »
Special AECCafe Report: BIM Interoperability: Emphasis on Data Not Tools
November 2nd, 2017 by Susan Smith
When everyone on a team uses a different BIM software, it can be painful to maintain accurate model versions, control user access, compare versions and analyze different models. On big projects, there are many teams coming together, all using whatever BIM technologies they have been tasked with and making all those interoperate, multiplying the challenge several fold.
Overall, the data is all important and no one wants to be held back by the tools they use, nor do they want to maintain various, disparate software packages. As a solutions provider, what are your ways of addressing BIM interoperability?
We asked a number of top vendors about their views on BIM interoperability. How do these companies deal with the challenge of providing a product that integrates with competing softwares?
What products/technologies does your firm offer to provide interoperability with competing BIM products?
At Bentley, we provide i-models that enable users to access and share information-rich models. This can include competing solutions and varying file formats. i-models act as a container for exchanging information and conveying AECO data to the right people at the right time by breaking down issues with interoperability that have hindered the progress of infrastructure projects. Bentley is fully committed to i-models by recently launching iModel 2.0 Platform which offers a better solution for synchronizing work in infrastructure projects by managing all the change related to a project. Bentley also announced the availability of AECOsim Building Designer CONNECT Edition which is Bentley’s building information modeling (BIM) application designed for building projects of significant size and/or engineering complexity, and which are typically characterized by the challenges of combining vertical construction and horizontal infrastructure (like roads, railways, utilities, etc.). AECOsim Building Designer CONNECT Edition shares a comprehensive modeling environment with all of Bentley’s CONNECT Edition applications. Without a comprehensive modeling environment, engineers and architects have had to struggle with complex data exchange, resulting in information loss and repeated translations, or even resort to force-fitting a BIM application beyond its intended use to model geometry, which is lacking in BIM intelligence. – Aidan Mercer Industry Marketing Director, Architecture, Engineering and Construction
Autodesk supports interoperability with other BIM vendor software and hardware in a variety of ways. In fact, in just the last year, Autodesk and Trimble signed an interoperability agreement to benefit our shared customers. And, we also signed an interoperability agreement with Bentley nearly a decade ago. It’s our commitment to openness.
There have been 150,000 downloads of this toolkit since its inception in 2011.
Also Revit software provides certified IFC export and import based on the buildingSMART IFC 2×3 Coordination View data exchange standard. This includes architectural, structural and MEP certifications based on the buildingSMART IFC 2×3
Coordination View 2.0 data exchange standard, as of March 2013 and April 2013, respectively. Revit received stage-1 IFC 2×3 Coordination View Certification in June 2006, and full stage-2 certification for Coordination View in May 2007. Autodesk with buildingSMART international is in the process of certifying Revit for IFC 4.0 Design Transfer view and Reference view (found here):
Autodesk Software with IFC support: Autodesk Revit LT, Autodesk Navisworks, Autodesk Infraworks, Autodesk BIM 360, Autodesk Robot Structure, Autodesk Advance Steel, Autodesk Inventor, Autodesk Civil 3D.
Some of these initiatives Autodesk participates in around the world include:
Through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) Autodesk software offerings also provide many ways to work with other BIM vendor’s information.
For example, when viewing BIM information from other software systems and when using 3D vector file formats for detecting clash/collisions, BIM 360 Glue supports the following file formats:
DWG, DXF, 3DS, DWF/DWFx, IPT/IAM (Inventor), DGN, IGES/IGS, STEP/STP, IFC, JT, X_T/X_B (Parasolid), SKP (SketchUp), KMZ, PTS/PTX (point clouds) , 3DXML , PRC (Adobe 3D), VRML/WRL, MAN (MicroGDS) , DRI/DRV (Intergraph PDS), CIS/2, RVM (Aveva PDMS), PD/_PD/CADDS (CADDS), CGR (Catia), CATPRODUCT/CATPART (Catia), EXP/MODEL/SESSION (Catia),
ASM/PRT/SLDASM/SLDPRT (Solidworks), DAE (Collada), IF (Allplan),
PLY (Polygon), PRC, PRT (Pro/Engineer) , STL , U3D , OBJ , WMF/EMF , PNG/JPG/GIF/BMP/TIFF – John Sullivan, Business Development Manager, Autodesk
GRAPHISOFT has been involved in the development of IFC standards since 1996. The latest ARCHICAD version (21) supports the import and export of IFC 4 models including two types of the Model View Definitions, which are developed for multi-disciplinary 3D mode-exchange workflows:
ARCHICAD continues to support the former 2×3 version of IFC as well.
In order to enhance model base communication, ARCHICAD also provides native BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) support in ARCHICAD.
There are many other unique solutions in ARCHICAD, such as built-in collision detection, IFC model change detection or custom IFC translators that offers the best in class OPEN BIM workflow for our users. – Tibor Szolnoki, ARCHICAD Implementation Team Leader
Vectorworks provides a number of different methods for sharing data across a large spectrum of workflows and file formats, giving users the ability to select the best option for a particular need. For BIM, where geometry and associated information are important, there is the IFC export/import, as well as ODBC. Vectorworks is also the first product to offer import of RVT and RFA files based on the Open Design Alliance (ODA) Teigha® BIM software development kit. In addition, important 2D and hybrid 2D/3D workflows can be supported with PDF/3DPDF, DWF and DWG/DXF export and import. For 3D geometry-centric processes and workflows, especially around early design and building product research, Vectorworks supports import and/or export of another dozen or more file formats including 3DM, SKP/COLLADA, 3DS and a multitude of point clouds formats. – Jeffrey W. Ouellette, Assoc. AIA, IES, buildingSMART International ISG Chair, Senior Architect Product Specialist at Vectorworks, Inc.
Launched in June, an interesting new product, Konstru, is a central interoperability platform that automates the exchange of BIM data between analysis & modeling software tools.. Konstru supports all your favorite and most popular design and analysis tools and allows them to communicate with one another.
The product was created by structural engineers and for structural engineers, in order to make this communication possible between BIM software programs. Konstru is a quick plug-in download that allows you to upload your current projects model to their secure cloud. It’s possible to exchange BIM data across multiple platforms, make necessary revisions, and visually understand everything that changed.
Konstru has an open API and modern API to allow for people have the flexibility to build their own use cases and develop apps for BIM without much programming language.
In 1998 the Open Design Alliance (ODA), then the OpenDWG Alliance, was formed as an independent, non-profit corporation dedicated to making the DWG file format an open standard for CAD software much like the DXF format. It was renamed the Open Design Alliance in 2002.
According to the ODA company materials, Teigha® was launched in 2010 as the new name for the ODA software development platform for CAD and other technical graphics applications. The Teigha brand encompasses all products and is the unifying concept for an environment that goes far beyond the reading and writing of .dwg and .dgn files. Teigha enables ODA subscribers to design and build applications for their customers.
This January, the Open Design Alliance (ODA) announced the availability of Teigha BIM for general licensing. Teigha BIM is the world’s first stand-alone SDK for working with Autodesk Revit files. Prior to this announcement, Teigha BIM was only available to top-tier subscribers. Now the product has import and visualization available for production use and broadens its reach to a greater public.
What products/technologies does your firm offer to provide interoperability with competing BIM products?
Trimble’s philosophy that project team members should be able to work together smoothly regardless of the tools they use is demonstrated in the integrations and interoperability features across multiple solutions:
Trimble Connect — a collaboration environment where everyone involved in a construction project can access and manage project data from other software packages via a cloud platform. For example, a team member using Revit can upload the .RVT file to Trimble Connect for others to view.
Tekla Structures – Tekla Structures has an open approach to BIM. Through IFC, Tekla links with AEC, MEP and increasingly with plant design software. Tekla Structures effectively integrates with other AEC industry software solutions through Tekla Open API™, while maintaining the highest levels of data integrity and accuracy. You can learn more here. In addition, for anyone working with AutoCAD, those CAD files can be imported and exported into and from Tekla Structures.
Tekla Structural Designer – Tekla Structural Designer was developed specifically with BIM interoperability and collaboration in mind and helps design engineers maximize collaboration with other project parties, including technicians, fabricators and architects. Its unique functionality allows users to integrate the physical design model seamlessly with Tekla Structures or Autodesk® Revit®, and to round-trip without compromising vital design data.
GRAPHISOFT is committed to support these efforts globally and locally via its subsidiaries and partners. – GRAPHISOFT
What do you think the main challenges are that need to be solved for BIM interoperability?
As BIM technology and interoperability continue to advance, we see that the challenges are less about the technology and more around:
In summary, it is not technology that is holding back BIM interoperability. It is being held back by contractual issues. One simple solution would be to execute more projects as Design-Build projects rather than Design-Bid-Build. That way, it is in everyone’s interest to share information to compress construction schedules. Some structural engineers are adopting what is being termed, ‘HD BIM’ techniques or offering ‘Construction Services’ as part of their service – this is another way of eliminating some of these contractual issues. Also, in all situations, it would be ideal on all projects to implement a true BIM execution plan that states who will create a model, to what LOD and how it will be utilized. – Trimble
The market is changing, and so are the requirements for managing data throughout the lifecycle of assets. “Going Digital” is a phrase that is resonating with all infrastructure firms and professionals who want to make data talk to other data platforms. For BIM data, we see the ability to manage changes to data and the potential impact that has on delivering against project deadlines, or even for asset performance once in operation. By embracing the change through digital platforms, and understanding the changing context of BIM information, organizations need to ensure this information can be interoperable but resolute in order to better connect distributed teams and thousands of asynchronous decisions and changes for design, material choices, aesthetics, structural integrity, safety, and more. – Bentley Systems.
At Autodesk, we believe the main challenge with BIM Interoperability today is much more about process than technology. What exactly is the business problem that a given project team is trying to accomplish with a BIM data exchange workflow? Are they looking for just geometry for coordination or do they want non-graphic data? If non-graphic data (like COBie for example), has the project team agreed on a BIM execution plan and data standard for the appropriate participants to populate the “I” in BIM?
In addition, we believe that BIM Interoperability is an all-encompassing term that means many things to different constituents. One of the largest misconceptions about the IFC standard is the perception of many end users that they should be able to “round” trip BIM data.
Data exchange standard technology needs to improve continuously, improving the IFC data exchange transfer results for project teams. – Autodesk
While the technical capability of BIM interoperability in Vectorworks and other tools has improved significantly over the last five years, end users’ knowledge and ability to leverage that capability could be dramatically improved. Many times, the biggest obstacle to BIM data exchange is the end users’ lack of understanding the best practices in their tools for creating good BIMs, neglecting set up of good, consistent data exchange requirements and processes with collaborators and not knowing how to utilize the data exchange commands in their tools for the best results. Vectorworks and its competitors work with buildingSMART International to certify the technical ability of our different software platforms to robustly and correctly exchange BIM data. However, to be successful together, users should embrace implementing the functionality as intended. – Jeffrey W. Ouellette, Assoc. AIA, IES, buildingSMART International ISG Chair, Senior Architect Product Specialist at Vectorworks, Inc.
How often do you think users change software because they are encouraged to use on “industry standard” BIM software?
Too often. Often times, superficial excuses are made to bully project collaborators into working on the same tool because the emphasis is put on the tool and not the data and design processes. Some people feel it is easier to just work with the same tools, even though those tools may not be appropriate for every stakeholder or process. Many times, all that is needed is a simple exchange of data that can be accomplished using open standard formats like IFC and PDF or common industry formats like DWG/DXF. With more help and training from vendors and sources like buildingSMART International, users can leverage the technology available to them to add greater value to the project and their own contributions. – Vectorworks
Users should use the right applications that deliver. BIM information is getting broader in its adoption, with a heightened focus on asset performance, therefore we can see users adopting applications that enable a broader use of the models and the data and vendors that offer solutions for the entire lifecycle. – Bentley
Our customers are very loyal to our products and they prefer using them and the IFC-based open BIM workflow over other solutions whenever they can. In certain countries however, where open BIM standards are not adapted yet, some contractors and building owners require models and documentation submitted in vendor specific file formats. We fight against these tendencies and provide support for our local partners and users with educational materials, lobbying and trainings. – GRAPHISOFT
We know that architects typically use a conceptual design software package that is very different than the industry standard software for fabrication, which produces high LOD and fabrication detail. By utilizing a more appropriate tool early in the workflow such as the industry standard tool for highly detailed information, Engineers could utilize Tekla Structures to make BIM interoperability more seamless for the industry.
At Autodesk we encourage owners in their BIM mandates to ask for the data in the native file format of the authoring tool AND in IFC format. – Autodesk
What are the preferred technologies used for interoperability? Open source? Plug-ins? Others?
All of the above and any method that works effectively for the project team are what we recommend. Our goal is to provide several approaches to allow a flexible response to complicated data transfer challenges. In all cases the question should really be focused on project data standards first and foremost. Autodesk offers both open source and our own plug-ins for interoperability.
IFC is most often used but other methods are also useful. For instance, Autodesk has a series of free utilities to facilitate the quality of BIM data, the “I” in BIM data exchanges. These include a classification manager for Revit, a COBie toolkit plugin for Revit and a model checking tool for Revit. These tools are free and can found at:
BIM Interoperability Tools – Autodesk
There are a variety of options, including OpenBIM, Open Source, and others, but the preferred standard for Bentley would be to ensure CityGML and IFC are adhered to, to deliver and share better engineering-ready models. – Bentley
Bespoke links tend to be the best, but the best generic way to transfer building information is IFC, which contains the most data.
However, while the link is important, it is often more important that the software is written with interoperability and collaboration in mind. For example, most structural analysis programs were written before the advent of BIM and work around a centerline based wire frame model. It is extremely difficult to get these solutions to play nicely with physical modeling solutions like Revit and Tekla Structures regardless how good the link is. Trimble has developed a structural analysis solution specifically with this in mind (Tekla Structural Designer). Tekla Structural Designer has a physical model and a wire frame model working together (just like a BIM solution) so the transfer of information into and out of the BIM environment is very simple. – Trimble
buildingSMART International provides the global marketplace with the openBIM® standard IFC format for BIM interoperability. It is the only open, non-proprietary data exchange standard for the building industry that is comprehensive enough to address the many workflows, processes and stakeholders involved in the design, construction and operations of a building over its entire lifecycle. Because it is an International Standards Organization (ISO) standard, like XML and HTML, anyone can build tools to read and/or write IFC data, including BIM authoring, simulation and analysis, viewing and data server platforms. IFC puts the emphasis on the data, not the tools, so important information can be transmitted regardless of source or receiver of the data. This also encourages a healthy, open marketplace for tools to give end users the best technology and value proposition for their investment. Trying to achieve the same level of BIM interoperability by only utilizing proprietary APIs is economically infeasible at the scale necessary to serve so many end users, for so many projects, in so many markets, using so many different tools. – Vectorworks
Describe their effectiveness.
CityGML is very powerful because it is an open standard and methodology for sharing and exchanging information. The use cases here are for cities and built up environments, helping 3D Cities and Smart Cities become a reality. Users of Bentley software, such as Singapore Land Authority and the City of Helsinki have created their 3D city models adhering to this standard. – Bentley
The above interoperability tools are effective in helping teams to manage information flows in both the design and construction phases of projects. – Autodesk
There are over 200 software products by 140+ vendors/developers across the globe that support IFC data exchange for their customers, whether it’s for an architect in the US, a structural engineer in Germany, an HVAC designer in Norway or a building energy use consultant in Japan. buildingSMART also has a software certification program to verify the technical capability of applications to read and/or write IFC data. This certification program includes IFC2x3 support and has recently started on the new IFC4 standard. To date, 22 different applications, including major market applications from the Nemetschek Group, Trimble and Autodesk, have been certified to exchange IFC2x3 files. Efforts by five vendors, including Vectorworks, are already underway to certify on IFC4 exchanges.
We’ve a website dedicated to this topic, which gives a detailed overview of the advantages of OPEN BIM:Graphisoft Open BIM Program
Do you see the cloud playing a role BIM interoperability offerings? How might that manifest?
The cloud is the future for interoperability and collaboration. It not only offers powerful processing potential but also data distribution and accessibility by enabling a connected data environment. It also holds the key to data alignment, which can, in turn, deliver such things as machine learning and AI. By managing change on an interoperable platform, hosted in a cloud-provisioned environment, projects have a greater chance to collaborate across disciplines, and more connected across distributed teams. By having powerful hubs for BIM data, the potential for more interoperability will break down conventional silo’s that have existed and place the power of the cloud into the hands of the users. – Bentley
Autodesk absolutely sees cloud and related mobile solutions providing advances in BIM interoperability. We have several projects already leveraging the power of the Cloud for Interoperability through the use of technologies like BIM 360 Glue which is similar the capabilities of Navisworks but running in the cloud.
In addition, Autodesk has rolled out our Forge Platform which greatly assisted in getting CAD & BIM data integrated across and enterprise rather than being stored in silos in CAD/BIM departments.
The Autodesk Forge developer platform offers the same cloud services, ecosystem, and developer resources that Autodesk leverages, based on industry standards and web technologies that enable companies to easily and cost-effectively connect, enhance and create new customized, seamless services and experiences. Unlike other proprietary client and client-server platforms that are difficult to learn, use, deploy and maintain –and require specialized skills to work with—Forge provides access to a wide variety of design and engineering data anytime and anywhere, enabling companies to improve productivity and innovation to meet both market and customer needs at an accelerated pace.
Yes. As we all adopt cloud technology, every aspect of our work, whether it be BIM or general collaboration, will be impacted. The cloud makes it easier for people from different disciplines to access one model as a central source of truth. We’ve seen it with Tekla Structures model sharing. Users from different time zones are working in the same model and can see real-time changes without a file transfer.
Users are importing structural, MEP and architectural models into Trimble Connect and viewing them one central model, which helps everyone on the team better understand how the structure will fit together and where to make adjustments for the best possible outcome. – Trimble
The use of the internet has already played a significant role with many cloud-based project collaboration platforms that are able to consolidate and redistribute data from numerous tools used by designers and contractors. Using RESTful web services and cloud-based BIM servers enables the exchange of IFC-models, keeping multiple domain models updated throughout the process of delivering a project. Vendors are also leveraging XML-based openBIM standards to create synchronous and asynchronous project communication workflows, in the form of the BIM Collaboration Format (BCF). In addition, there are currently efforts at buildingSMART to further accommodate web-based processes with IFC by providing standards for the expression of BIM data using other modern web technologies like JSON, RDF, OWL and others. Instead exporting whole models as files and moving them back and forth, users will be able to stream data on demand and in varying levels of scope or complexity between various platforms and tools. This is a vision of utilizing technology to exchange BIM data like we already do for so many other parts of our lives, through various applications, on desktop and mobile devices and platforms. – Vectorworks
We at GRAPHISOFT have been working hard on making BIM accessible to all stakeholders of the AEC process. Cloud has already been playing a mission critical role in making this happen. Just to mention a few examples, our BIMcloud platform allows teams of any size to access the BIM database from any location (in the office, or remote). Our BIMx Cloud Model Transfer service provide integrated access to BIM from mobile devices as well. – GRAPHISOFT
Do some countries do a better job of BIM interoperability than others?
A lot of BIM-driven initiatives have derived from direct government involvement. In the UK for example, BIM standards have been mandated for government-owned projects. This has improved collaboration and overall quality as those adopters have seen efficiency gains and better project delivery, like in the example of Crossrail, Europe’s largest civil construction project. – Bentley
Autodesk sees some countries put more effort and resources into interoperability methods process and procedures. Europe in general has a greater emphasis than both the United States and countries in the Asia Pacific region on this topic.
Structural Engineers in the United States have done a good job of adopting BIM software but have not done a great job of adopting true BIM workflows.
We’ve noticed In Europe that engineers are more likely to produce shop drawings for steel and concrete. This takes away that barrier of interoperability and liability because they are doing it from the beginning. Engineers are more invested in making that process work when they take on these additional services early on. In Europe, engineers also seem to have higher expectations when it comes to structural analysis software. – Trimble
Some developed regions in the world, such as Scandinavia, Singapore or UK has adopted BIM interoperability standards earlier than others. In these counties IFC based BIM submission is already a daily practice regulated by local BIM standards. Many other regions are quickly catching up, for instance the EU BIM regulations will be adopted in most European countries in the coming years. – GRAPHISOFT
Do you see BIM interoperability challenges as a deterrent to some organizations who may balk at using BIM because of it?
The very essence of BIM is about improving processes and collaboration. It is a requirement of software vendors to ensure their software is interoperable for the benefit of the project. – Bentley
Definitely but as we highlighted above this is due to the lack of education rather than the limitations of the BIM interoperability workflow. – GRAPHISOFT
No. Any organization who is objecting to deploying BIM should connect with Autodesk to learn how to approach BIM and BIM interoperability. BIM is the future of our shared industry and deployment of BIM is not terribly challenging, although it is a process. – Autodesk
The only real challenge is lack of knowledge. The knowledge necessary to be successful in implementing BIM and truly openBIM, includes understanding what is technically possible, what is really needed by the different stakeholders to deliver the project, and what is ultimately needed by the owner to operate the building after construction is complete. Too often the focus is on tools and platforms and not enough on the information and its potential future value. – Vectorworks
How much research and development is spent on interoperability within your own BIM software suite and how much on competing software outside your BIM software?
Vectorworks has continually dedicated resources to developing new and maintaining existing interoperability functionality with many workflows – design collaboration, design coordination, facility management, advanced simulation and analysis, animated visualization and more – outside of our platform. This includes expert engineers working on open file formats (IFC, PDF, COLLADA, image formats, etc.), as well as proprietary ones (SHP, 3DS, 3DM, SKP, DWG, DWF, RVT and more). Because Vectorworks focuses on providing designers with the most powerful tools for architectural design, it is an important part of our strategy to connect our users to other professionals, disciplines and applications that are essential for successful project delivery in the 21st century. – Vectorworks
We at GRAPHISOFT are firm believers of OPEN BIM so our R&D investment for interoperability goes 100% into building workflows that support that. In this regard file formats are secondary (although we support a wide array of formats including industry standard IFCs), the business-critical component here is workflow support, which is at the core of our focus as well. – GRAPHISOFT
At Autodesk we spend we a significant amount on Research and Development. As public company our overall R&D spend is published in our annual report and quarterly. A significant amount of our development resources is spent on interoperability between our own products as well as other vendor tools. This is both though support of standards like IFC and direct translators as required by our customers. Without apology Autodesk was founded on interoperability. See our interop landing page: Autodesk Interoperability BIM IFC
As part of our investment we are also Member of the Strategic Advisory Council and are Deputy chair of the Implementer’s Support Group (ISG) for Building Smart International. – Autodesk
Trimble invests a great deal in interoperability in both our own products and in partnerships with other companies, such as Nemetschek and Autodesk (see below).
In 2015 Trimble announced a strategic alliance with Nemetschek Group, emphasizing collaborative approaches to design modeling and 5D construction management through data integration between a variety of the companies’ products. Trimble and Nemetschek leverage the Trimble® Connect collaboration platform to integrate workflows and create close interoperability between selected Trimble solutions—including SketchUp, Tekla Structures, Vico Office, Trimble Prolog®, Trimble Field Link and MEPdesigner for SketchUp—and solutions in the Nemetschek portfolio, such as Allplan, ARCHICAD, DDS, Scia Engineer, Vectorworks and Nevaris.
And in 2016, Trimble announced an agreement to accelerate interoperability by exchanging Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and developer tools to build and market interoperable products. – Trimble
As one of the founders of OPEN BIM program we are fully committed to IFC-based, open BIM collaboration solutions. These technologies are built-in to ARCHICAD and available for our users without extra costs or the need to download third party applications. – GRAPHISOFT
Tags: 3D cities, AEC, Archicad, architects, architecture, AutoCAD, Autodesk, Autodesk Revit, Autodesk University, Bentley Systems, BIM, building, collaboration, construction, design, engineering, Graphisoft, infrastructure, integration, interoperability, Konstru, Open Design alliance, Trimble, visualization
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