Linking data from BIM to facilities management

by FM Media
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DR DOMINIK HOLZER from AEC Connect explains the technical requirements that allow data gathered during planning and construction to be carried further to the operations and maintenance side of projects in a standardised and highly automated fashion.

Previous editions of this column have introduced the concept of building information modelling (BIM), highlighted the mechanisms of collaboration between facilities managers and consultants/contractors on BIM projects, and explored recent developments in ‘field BIM’. This edition will focus on the technical requirements necessary to allow data gathered from consultants and contractors during planning and construction to be carried further to the operations and maintenance (O&M) side of projects in a standardised and highly automated fashion.

Any consideration about the value of BIM for facilities management needs to go hand in hand with an understanding from the start of a project of what kind of data is ultimately useful for facilities managers once an asset is handed over to them. How does this data need to be formatted digitally in order to feed directly into computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) systems? How can one avoid paper-based handover of facilities management information that requires extensive data entry and doubling up of work by facilities managers?
By nature, project teams consisting of consultants and contractors will produce a comprehensive amount of information embedded in their building information models as part of the planning and construction process. This information is predominantly tailored to suit their own needs during design and construction. It is not necessarily formatted (or appropriate) to serve the facilities manager. The industry wants to overcome this shortcoming and tap into the potential of integrating information to provide value to owner/operators throughout the building’s life cycle.

Cobie lifecycle

COBie is an exchange format that supports the transition from BIM to CAFM. COBie stands for construction operations building information exchange. It originates from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which piloted it in 2007. In basic terms, COBie is a data format/schema feeding into a collection of spreadsheets that complements the geometrical aspect of BIM with a standardised way to extract building data for operation.
When applying COBie on projects, information relevant for facilities management is incrementally gathered throughout the planning, design and construction process. This gets facilitated collaboratively via ‘data drops’ from the building information models by the consultant, the contractors and the manufacturers with guidance from facilities management specialists.
The goal is to determine the precise data requirements for facilities management and then to automate the data transfer from BIM to facilities management as much as possible. If successful, this process helps in linking facilities management data uniformly from specifications to CAFM, thereby reducing data entry time for manuals and other facilities management related activities.
According to USACE, COBie helps “capture and record important project data at the point of origin, including equipment lists, product data sheets, warranties, spare parts lists and preventive maintenance schedules”. Research shows that the data integration among consultants and contractors facilitated by BIM only delivers a fraction of benefits, compared to the possible extension of that integration through to O&M (Compare: A ‘Notional’ Chart of Life Cycle Facility Costs. After D Smith, NIBS 2006). By providing a standardised format for data exchange between BIM and facilities management, COBie helps to bridge that gap.
COBie deliverables from BIM for facilities management should be determined by the facilities manager together with the main consultant and the contractor in the BIM management plan. The four principal ways to generate COBie data throughout the planning, design and construction of a project are:

  • manual data entry in a COBie spreadsheet
  • extracting attribute data into a COBie compliant file
  • direct use of COBie compliant software (middleware – automated data conversion and compliance checks), and
  • exporting via the open vendor neutral Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) standard with correctly structured property sets.

Cobie extract

High-level government bodies abroad are actively promoting the use of COBie as a way to communicate between BIM and facilities management. The US General Services Administration (GSA) has a central facility repository for gathering, evaluating and comparing CAFM data from various projects simultaneously and accessing them as a central source. The GSA prescribes the use of COBie as a key component to achieving this integration.
The UK Government has such faith in the value-add of COBie, it has formed an implementation and mobilisation task group that is currently establishing how the COBie methodology can be tailored for its requirements (A summary of the UK COBie 2.4 requirements and example spreadsheets can be downloaded using this link:

The higher the desired level of automation for BIM-facilities management data transfer via COBie, the higher the affordances on upfront communication between consultants/contractors/suppliers and facilities management specialists. A standardised format like COBie is certainly the right way forward, but its success will depend on the quality of tagging building information models by the entire team with the information that is ultimately useful for commissioning and beyond.

Dr Dominik Holzer is the acting chair of the joint Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) Steering Group of the Australian Institute of Architects and Consult Australia. He advises building owners, contractors and consultants on strategic and implementation issues related to BIM and design technology via his firm AEC Connect.

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