BRE, IBM, Costain and other project partners are six months away from concluding an innovative project that aims to take the “model” out of BIM, creating instead a file-sharing system that’s more closely related to Dropbox or Google Docs.
Cloud4Collaboration will allow individual firms to create and store project documents and drawings originated in BIM software on their servers as normal, but then automatically shares them with other members of the collaborative team according to a pre-agreed protocol.
The recipient – for instance, the contractor or structural engineer – is then able to access the “openBIM” IFC-formatted files as soon as they have been finalised for sharing by the originator.
The recipient firm can then use a variety of software tools – such as Autodesk Navisworks, Solibri or Asta Powerproject – to open and use the integrated “C4C” folder on its system.
Depending on the tool used, the recipient might then view the information in a 3D model file or a spreadsheet or another softeware interface.
Innovate UK is funding the 18-month project, which began last summer and is due to conclude in December. Other project partners are the University of Cardiff, BIM consultancy AEC3, and Cardiff-based quantity surveyor and project manager Lee Wakemans.
Once the trial phase establishes “proof of concept”, the project partners aim to commercialise the technology, probably on a subscription Software as a Service model.
Explaining the concept, Andrew Sutton, associate director at BRE, said C4C was “the next generation of Dropbox” and essentially offered Level 3 interoperability without the pooling of data and Intellectual Property that many in the industry balk at.
He said: “If we make the presumption that all the construction information exists in BIM format, C4C ensures the right people have access to the right data at the right point in the process.
“So the architect working on their secure server configures the level of data they want to share across the team – for instance, they might be happy to share concept sketches with the structural engineer, or they want to share specification data with the cost consultant. They decide who gets what data – it’s the 21st century version of a drawing issue sheet.”
“Then the system takes over and does it for them, ghost copying the data onto other systems. It’s a form of BIM federation, but perhaps a more realistic representation of how the real world can cope with BIM.
“If you do have a single model, it’s a huge file, and there’s the legal problem of who owns it. But with the C4C system, you might have 10 consultants sharing data but it stays on their systems. But legally, and demonstrably, it remains the originator’s data.”
Sutton argues that the C4C system in effect maintain the legal and practical implications of current practice in the industry, with confidential or IP-protected data remaining outwith the BIM environment. On the other hand, the on-site team is always working with up-to-date data.
He also explained that the C4C concept drew on a system already in use in a different sector in the US, and that the project team was originally unsure it would actually work for BIM.
“But now we’re starting to deliver as expected. By the end of the year, we expect to have the proof that we know how to do it, and that people will be able to see the benefit of it.”
He added that Costain was already trialling the system, using it to “shadow” a BIM roads project. “It’s too early to be doing a ‘live’ data trial, but it’s great to be getting their feedback.”
If we make the presumption that all the construction information exists in BIM format, C4C ensures the right people have access to the right data at the right point in the process.– Andrew Sutton, associate director, BRE