Why am I done with BIM after more than a decade?

10/02/2022
Business man boarding train
  • Two weeks ago, the infraBIMopen conference was successfully held in a hybrid format.
  • Two months ago, I joined Eurostep to help the AEC&Plant industry benefit from PLM.
  • Two years ago, or so, I was getting involved in the IFCRail project with buildingSMART international.

“BIM is just PLM for built assets.”

How, or rather, why did these independent events happen? In this blog post, I will share with you my reflections and what lead me to re-assess BIM and embrace PLM practices for built assets.

First, let’s go back in time to when buildingSMART international launched the IFCRail project in 2018. The aim was to extend the scope of the IFC standard to include the Rail domain. Those who may not know might ask…


What is IFC?

The Industry Foundation Classes (ISO 16739-1:2018) is the flagship openBIM ISO standard. IFC enables architects, engineering companies and stakeholders in the construction industry to exchange information on buildings using open standards. The ISO publication references the 4.0 revision, whose scope is limited to buildings only.


IFC 4×3 – The new paradigm

At the same time as the IFCRail project, the French National Program MINnD was launched to streamline and facilitate collaboration between the multiple business domains (Rail, Road, Bridge, Tunnel) at work for this standard revision. These two projects coordinated their efforts with the accomplished objective of delivering the IFC 4×3 revision.

The way this revision was achieved was and is still unique in three ways:

  1. Instead of defining new exchange artefacts from an IT point of view, the IFCRail project first focused on modeling the business use-cases and requirements defined by the domain experts. A dedicated team of technical experts then translated these business requirements into computer interpretable requirements and dialogued with software vendors to implement them. The net result is a much faster implementation pace than for usual ISO standardizations.

  2. Semantics has been a major point of focus for these projects. When 3D geometry is helpful for spatial coordination, shared and publicly available definitions for object properties are absolute paramount to agree on exchanged requirements. The IFCRail project almost doubled the amount of published business domain properties, either defined in the ISO standard or in the online buildingSMART Data Dictionary (bSDD).

  3. On top of new concepts and property definitions, spatial and functional relationships have been greatly enhanced in IFC. Exchange scenarios can now include more non-geometric information to share and connect breakdowns among stakeholders.

It can be stated that IFC 4×3 is simply the largest openBIM revision… ever.

So, why does the new IFC 4×3 revision matter?

The answer lies in the second milestone I mentioned.

Having joined Eurostep two months ago, I still need to meet every employee in person, which is not a surprise in 2022 when a company has offices in several countries. I still need to review every company process, project, and client! Nonetheless, it’s good to feel in the right place to tackle the modern-day challenges ahead. I am impressed with my colleagues and the way they are committed to creating sustainable solutions based on open standards in many areas. I feel at home.

So, am I done with BIM?

Well, you don’t easily let down a subject you devoted your professional life to for more than ten years. Of course, I didn’t let BIM down; I just now consider that BIM is just PLM for built assets.

Setting up lean Building Information Management processes is pointless if nobody is waiting for the results: all these fancy digital twins may just be digital orphans if nobody is waiting for them.

And this is where IFC 4×3 comes to the rescue: by better describing the business reality, openBIM can now properly address the whole lifecycle for built assets. Of course, we could argue that this is just Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) practices put to good use, even if this just adds up yet another acronym.

As Project Information Management (PIM) carry valuable knowledge for a specific construction phase, Asset Information Management (AIM) is the key activity to capitalize knowledge on the whole lifecycle of the built asset. We must close these usually disconnected loops. Adopting a PLM view for the built assets thanks to openBIM opens the door to all the benefits from standards-based PLM: well-defined data governance and optimized information flows.

Asset Information Management to Project Information Management with ShareAspace iAIM

What’s next for openBIM and digital twins?

Now that openBIM is covering more civil engineering domains and addressing the complete built asset lifecycle, we finally have solid digital twins to play with. Should we call it a day?

Well, not yet: the modern-day challenges I mentioned earlier are broader than just engineering challenges. They include digital literacy, land-use optimization, multi-modal transport promotion, and of course decarbonisation.

openBIM shall demonstrate that built assets are sustainable.

These challenges require a joint effort between public authorities and the private sector, potential new regulations, public awareness, and engagement.

Notably, the European Interoperability Framework details how standards-based exchange requirements can help document how built assets impact their environment. Also, the gaia-x initiative is a driver of data sovereignty for digital twins: data control, flexibility and compliance are key subjects when infrastructure asset management is deployed.

For newly defined technical enablers like IFC4x3 and general regulations or incentives to meet, we all still need to gather and discuss together. These past two years were rather “remote intensive”, but in mid-January, we had the great pleasure to regroup in the beautiful City of Lyon, France, to report on the latest developments of openBIM for infrastructure. Despite the difficulties of running such a conference during the Covid pandemic, seeing the results of these international projects coming along was invigorating. See our latest announcement with Egis. A general feeling would be that at infraBIMopen, open BIM found its societal purpose.

Let’s build the future of the AEC industry together, on standards!

We are trying, as a company, to better connect and manage the available information required to run complex-built assets. We are also trying, as dedicated and responsible engineers, to not only “run built assets”, but also to guarantee that these built assets help address the modern-age challenges. Is it a difficult endeavour? Definitely. Is it a daily challenge? Absolutely. But I feel there has never been a better time to be part of that challenge.

Seeing the new revision of the IFC standard being submitted to ISO, with such a broad scope in built assets, is satisfying am convinced that Eurostep has all the potential to significantly contribute to better information management within AEC and Plant with ShareAspace, I’m happy I joined two months ago.

It’s also refreshing to meet in person again ­- as we did two weeks ago in Lyon -. Let’s continue to meet and collaborate, there is plenty to do ahead of us!

Sylvain Marie
Director AEC&Plant industry vertical
Eurostep Group

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