COBie enables Owners to Get Serious about Asset Management

COBie Picture Two Doors and Windows 01

An Imperative for Change

In 2010, in common with many other countries, the new UK Government was forced to address the country’s financial difficulties. As procurement of public assets (buildings and infrastructure), accounts for 40% of the UK’s £100+bn annual spend on construction, it was clear that small changes here could have a big impact. Hence in May 2011 the Government set ambitious targets for reducing, by 20%, the cost and carbon footprint of public construction projects. In terms of achieving this target, there are two major thrusts driving things. Firstly, the focus for construction projects is now “quality” with benchmark prices, so Contractors are invited to bid their best quality for a defined price. Secondly, with around 80% of the cost of a building being in its operation (with only circa 20% on design and construction - where costs have already been significantly squeezed), the focus is on how best to manage the asset through its useful life. This means that at handover of a construction project the owner of the building receives comprehensive and well-structured information to ensure the optimum on going operation and maintenance of the facility. Thus the UK Government’s strategy for public procurement has created a catalyst for urgent change in the way that buildings are designed, built and operated. It also identifies Building Information Modelling (BIM) as a key business process with ultimate commitment to an open policy – Open BIM – for technology supply. Also central to this strategy is the role of Contractors with authority for the design-build-handover process, which includes new responsibilities for both integration of activities and the supply of structured and accurate data for asset management. This embraces many types of data including geometric, attribute, specification, meta-data, etc.  

Owners Need Usable Information

The next challenge was to decide how to present this data, as digestible information, to the many Government departments (the “owners”) responsible for the operation and occupancy of these buildings. These departments – Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence, Department for Education etc. – each currently with a low or modest level of BIM adoption (Level 1 – 2D or 3D CAD), have all been mandated with achieving Level 2 BIM (collaborative BIM) by 2016. Therefore key criteria in choosing a method of recording data for assets, was ease of access and manipulation of the data, as well as using technologies already familiar to users. Already established in some Government agencies in the USA the format which meets these criteria and therefore selected for the UK, is COBie – Construction Operations Building Information Exchange – for more information on the Government Strategy and COBie in the UK visit COBie (defined as “a specification used to deliver useful facility information by streamlining the planning, design, construction and commissioning activities”) is a data schema specifically for recording Maintenance (warranties, par ts etc), Operations (start-up/down processes etc) and Asset (space, plant, machinery, etc), data in a spreadsheet format. This uncomplicated and very visible layout of data is designed to enable any user to extract the information they may need. To ensure projects can be validated and controlled as they progress currently there are five defined points, with output data specifications, in the design-build-operate process where COBie data is required to be delivered (known as a ‘COBie Data Drop’)

Early Lessons

By spring 2012 the first project to use this new approach – a 180-cell extension of Cookham Wood prison in Kent - had reached COBie Data Drop 2 (Outline Solution) and this provided an opportunity to review what had been learnt. Because this initial project required such a significant change of methodology for the designers the data drop was under taken from a proprietary platform rather than from an IFC open platform. With 20+ “models” produced in different software it wasn’t surprising that it had been difficult to co-ordinate these and thereby detect and rectify clashes. Creating the COBie Data Drop (into a spreadsheet format) had been particularly difficult as extracting the required data from the BIMs had to be done manually. Having created the COBie Data Drop there was no assurance that the data was either the right data or accurate, so the content of the COBie spreadsheet needed a further manual check for quality. What was most evident was that these issues had to be addressed to allow the process of COBie Data Drops to be scaled up so that all public procurement projects could follow a standard method. In parallel with the development of the first projects, like Cookham Wood, the Government’s commitment to BIM, and Open BIM in particular, had ignited an interest across the Construction Industry, and its support services, in what these terms mean and how they should be applied. To encourage and clarify this interest a number of new organisations/ bodies have emerged recently aimed at representing the views and requirements of industry, academia and IT vendors. Graphisoft and Tekla, both long term advocates of Open BIM, have supported in the UK the establishment of the OPEN BIM Network and the OpenBIM Learning Xchange. The OPEN BIM Network aims to represent the needs of the construction industry and is endorsed by buildingSMART International and facilitated by Constructing Excellence – an organisation that sets standards of performance in UK construction. The OpenBIM Learning Xchange is aimed at education institutions and training bodies and is led by the University of Salford and Professor Arto Kiviniemi. Both these bodies are having a powerful influence in the market on the understanding of, and attitude to, Open BIM.

COBie Report Extracted by Solibri Model Checker from Duplex Project 01

Validating the Process

Recognising that the issues identified from the Cookham Wood project had important implications for some of its members, particularly Contractors, the OPEN BIM Network proposed a trial to explore whether IFC and COBie can work successfully in the proposed new workflows. In July eight major Contractors - BAM, Carillion, Laing O’Rourke, Mace, Skanska, Willmot Dixon, Wates and VINCI – agreed to participate in the trial with the principal objective: “To validate and check the suitability of an IFC file according to a ‘COBie Data Drop’ and also generate the corresponding COBie reports from the IFC file in the form of an Excel spread sheet.” As an independent partner RIBA Enterprises NBS is supporting the trial by providing guidance on the scope, management and outputs of the trial. NBS has provided a neutral BIM, designed by HOK Architects, to be used for the purposes of the trial and created using National BIM Library objects. Going forward NBS will also provide post trial analysis, reporting and publication of the findings that will be presented at the ICE (Institute of Chartered Engineers) BIM Conference in mid- October. During the trial, which will be conducted over four weeks, the eight participating Contractors are free to use any technology they wish providing it is capable of fulfilling most/ all of the primary requirements: • import and export IFC data • check the quality of the data for conformance to COBie definitions and standards of accuracy as well as other conformance requirements such as Building Regulations • Enable rapid and concise reporting of non-conformance of model data • Create COBie Data Drops in the prescribed spread sheet format. Solibri Model Checker (SMC) has been identified as a solution that can meet all of the above criteria and each Contractor has been introduced to SMC and encouraged to include SMC in their activities during the trial. Although not specifically part of this trial it also evident that practical use of this technology in the future will also include co-ordination and clash detection of a number of IFC-based BIMs, as well as the creation of COBie data where this has to be inferred or calculated from the co-ordinated BIM.

Journey not yet Complete!

The result of this trial will be a critical success factor in determining the speed with which the Government’s Open BIM strategy can be implemented. Success means that confidence in the ability to deliver Level 3 BIM (fully integrated Open BIM) at this time will be significantly enhanced, that Contractors will have real understanding and experience of Open BIM, and significantly these Contractors will have knowledge and experience of SMC as the basis of their own deployment of Open BIM and the requirement to deliver the mandated COBie Data Drops. The next issue of Solibri Magazine will set out the trial method in detail and most importantly, will describe the results as reported by RIBA Enterprises NBS, at the ICE BIM Conference on October 17th 2012.