Even at the smallest scale – AEC projects are endeavors charged with serious collaboration challenges. Successfully completed building projects are the result of the collaboration of different teams of building professionals such as architects, different types of engineers and a network of the general contractor and subcontractors. These teams more often than not have divergent “trade” priorities and belong to independent organizations with counter-pointing interests.
Due to the above these are collaboration issues present in most AEC projects:
- Lack of real coordination workflow → parties in effect don’t coordinate their work only share documentation in progress to show design intent
- Lost information during data conversion → native data needs to be converted to open in the other parties’ environment for coordination
- Interpretation issues of data from other party → data only becomes real information when there is an established workflow for interpretation
- Limited utilization of building data created by others → design information created by one trade cannot be integrated into other trades’ environment
- Missing follow-up of design changes between the trades → coordination is not a one-time data exchange but a continuous bidirectional process
- Lack of overall coordination environment for multiple trades → coordination ideally includes all related activities such as collision detection, quantity takeoffs and constructability issues
- Lack of detailed model for construction → late coordination and spent time to produce 2D drawings forces construction to be done on sketches/not-up to date plans
Sticking to the technical level coordination between the different trades has been through a long evolution. Traditionally different trades submitted full printed documentation sets at the different stages of the design process and used light-tables to try and coordinate the different building structures and building systems. This approach is still popular today with paper’s digital equivalents the still 2D DWG and PDF based collaboration workflows.
With the advent of model based design (BIM) design collaboration entered a new era with the much richer building information model data. With BIM models there has been an increasing demand for true model based collaboration. Two fundamentally different approaches emerged one known as the “platform” approach where collaboration happens using the different branches of the same software solution, the other known as the “open” approach where different software solutions form the basis of model-based collaboration.
Traditional approach to interdisciplinary collaboration basically means any form of 2D collaboration including paper, DWG or PDF or any other 2D forms. This approach can be characterized as follows:
- Limited coordination workflow → the whole workflow relies too much upon manual work and willingness of cooperation between the parties
- Heavy conversion of data → the whole workflow is based upon “dumb” intermediary formats so data conversion results serious information loss
- No utilization of others’ data → due to differences in documentation conventions the received 2D data cannot practically be further utilized
- No comprehensive coordination → due to the 2D nature of the workflow the project cannot be coordinated in one integrated environment
One of the prominent approaches to model-based (BIM) collaboration is the platform approach where the different branches of the same product family are used to provide binary compatibility. This data-level compatibility on its own may leave serious gaps in the coordination workflow:
- No data conversion → this approach has the strong promise that due to the complete elimination of data conversion all coordination issue are solved. Unfortunately regardless of data formats the different trades have really different grip on the different building structures, which need to be tackled at the workflow level of the coordination
- Limited utilization of others’ data → although the platform approach may invoke for a shared BIM model the different trades’ differing requirements do not allow such integrated approach. In this sense a platform solution does not bring any advantage compared to other solutions
- Compatibility issues → for the full utilization of the platform approach rigorous synchronizations are prerequisite to have all project participants not only on the same platform but also on the same software version as well. This may easily generate problems if any of the participants belongs to a different organization with independent projects and IT schedule
What are the characteristics of the “open” approach?
The other prominent approach to model based collaboration promotes open collaboration workflows where complex company and project structures are fully appreciated. This approach elevates the conversation from the data level to the workflow level making data what it is a medium or vehicle of high-level information. With this approach project participants can be selected based upon their professional expertise and not particular software being used.
- System independence → coming from its name open workflows provide the different trades with the option to join with the best tools for their own purpose without losing the benefits of model-based collaboration
- Integrity and ownership of BIM project data → different trades in the real world are required to maintain ownership and responsibility for their own design data. With open collaboration workflows this is fully provided as parallel data structures are being developed and coordinated
- Workflow transparency → open collaboration requires the workflow compatibility achieved through transparent protocols and interpretation of data to provide an open interface to any solution that decides to connect
What is the official definition of Open BIM?
Open BIM is a universal approach to the collaborative design, realization and operation of buildings based on open standards and workflows. Open BIM is an initiative of buildingSMART and several leading software vendors using the open buildingSMART Data Model.