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Communication in BIM-based processes- The BCF open format

Open BCF format: how to optimize communication in BIM processes

BCF format and usBIM: a powerful communication management tool for users to cooperate on shared project

Among the undisputed advantages that BIM based design offers compared to traditional design is the simplification of communication and data’s exchange between different actors involved in the construction process.

Just think that in BIM practice, during planning or work coordination, where it is usual practice to import and refer to models of different disciplines and, in case of issues or problems, the intervention of the discipline reference expert that could 0access this information in a transparent manner.

This obviously enhances cooperation, whereas in a traditional construction process, issue solving would take place through simple meetings or files exchanges.

Nowadays, the BIM methodology has revolutionized the way to communicate between different actors thanks to a BCF software. Moreover, they can count on:

  • open IFC format, which enables easy use and exchange of files between the various stakeholders (designers, construction companies, clients, etc.) that can participate in BIM without the need for costly proprietary software or having to struggle with same software versions and compatibility;
  • collaboration platforms, which facilitate communication, a clear division of roles/tasks, and allow team members to update and share the latest documents at any time from the office or even from a construction site.

This fundamental communication within a BIM/IFC-based projects enables an effective communication through the collaborative platforms and BCF files’ exchange containing the “chronology” of comments, notes and images exchanged between project’s stakeholders.

The BCF format, what it is and what it is used for

What is the BCF format?

The BCF (BIM Collaboration Format) is an open standard, developed in 2009 and maintained by buildingSMART International to communicate the “issues” of a BIM model during its design cycle.

It is an XML-based open file format that allows comments to be added to a BIM model in IFC format.

Although not regulated by an ISO, as is the case with the IFC format (ISO 16739), the BCF has a well-defined and functional structure to support the information exchange focused on an IFC model.

Specifically, its structure is composed of:

  • one or more model views, captured in .PNG (image file) format;
  • coordinates of the trigger point and direction within an IFC file;
  • comments relating to some entities, referencing information with respect to the model elements.

Issues and comments are, in fact, connected to the elements of the model through a global unique IDs (GUIDs).

Advantages of the BCF format

The BCF BIM collaboration format aims at simplifying the collaboration between the different team and project members working on the same model by allowing them to raise issues, provide answers and comment in an open file format that does not contain elements of the template itself.

This type of format allows them to add and exchange notes, comments, reports, images during the BIM project management, through open IFC standard and the use of a collaborative platform.

Basically, these systems “record” who, and when, added a note and comment during the planning and executive phase. The exchange of comments and reports between the employees, in addition to reporting the date / time and name of the author, and therefore an exact chronology of all the notes, is supported by .PNG images which locate the problem within the project.

These files are very useful in managing, detecting and solving any “interferences” in the model (clash detection).

The BCF is therefore an interchange format that is not used to exchange geometric information, rather information of a graphic / descriptive nature capable of illustrating and facilitating the problems to be solved: it provides a communication ability that is separated from the model itself.

How and when the BCF format was born

As mentioned above the development of the BCF began in 2009 by two members of buildingsmart International who worked together to achieve the expected result. In fact, the goal was to have a file format available to facilitate the workflow by exploiting open communication based on IFC.

This led to the prototyping of the studied format, tested and implemented by other members, until completion.

Today the BCF format is a standard on a par with the IFC and the Data Dictionary (bSDD).

Qual è la differenza rispetto ad IFC

IFC and BCF are both open file formats that improve information sharing and collaboration in a BIM process.

Although many may think they are almost the same thing, these two formats have substantial differences. Particularly in relation to their usage.

Here are a few of the main differences:

  • the IFC file, among other things, focuses mainly on the geometric and informative management of the elements that make up the model and the interoperability between the different software IT tools in general;
  • The BCF file, on the other hand, is used to share the information of a given problem, present within a project, derived from the IFC model. This exchange process occurs in several ways such as:
    • screenshots in PNG format;
    • markup.bcf: a file (with a particular structure) that contains all the information of a given problem;
    • viewpoint.bcfv: includes information about a point of view and a particular component through its Global Unique Identifier GUID (Global Unique Identifier)

usBIM.platform and the BCF format

usBIM.platform is a BIM collaboration platform to optimize BIM design and collaborate effectively with different teams through specific communication tools for AEC professionals.

With usBIM the technician can:

  • manage and share online BIM projects in different proprietary formats, files (PDF, DWG, DXF, etc.), data, documents and 2D/3D construction drawings;
  • participate in dynamic chats with advanced team working features and organize online meetings and conference calls with work colleagues;
  • collaborate in real-time with colleagues working on the same digital model or on the same documents;
  • create, import and manage BCF file as well as BIM issues.

Import and management of BCF files with usBIM.Platform: usBIM.bcf

usBIM.bcf is the BCF free software to view, create or edit BCF files online and on any device that allows you to:

  • create a BCF from scratch, this creates a document accordingly to the format’s version 2.2 specifications will be exportable in a file with the extension .BCFZIP
  • view or edit a file with the .BCFZIP extension generated by another application according to the specifications provided by version 2.1 of the format. This file must have been previously loaded into a project folder.

Creating a new BCF file with usBIM.platform

It’s also possible to create a new BCF file in any of the usBIM.platform folders.

Once a new BCF has been created, through a new report (i.e. an issue), it will be possible to edit the report by entering the following information:

  • title – you can edit the title associated with the current issue here;
  • assigned to – indicates which user is assigned the resolution of a current issue;
  • creation date – shows the creation date of the current issue;
  • description – field useful for adding a textual description of the current issue;
  • general comments – section within which it is possible to manage the addition of comments with respect to the current issue, the section registers user and creation date of the comment;
  • images/views (viewpoint): section within which you can add a “view” relating to the current issue. The view can be introduced as an image with a file in the .PNG extension, as required by the structure of the BCF format.
open BCF format

usBIM.bcf editor

In the new issue editor, it is possible, through a combo box, to select:

  1. a labelto classify the new report based on the topic/theme;
  2. a state – to classify the issue with a state (open, in progress, closed, …);
  3. a priority – to classify the new report through a priority level;
  4. a type – where you can choose the type of alert.

The above-mentioned fields allow you to better classify the new report. In fact, they allow you to select some predefined options and customize them using the “+” button.

Once the new report has been edited and completed, it is then possible to save it and update the data.

open BCF format

Model view upload in PNG format with usBIM.bcf

BCF file editing

With usBIM.bcf you can make changes to a BCF file. The previous paragraph illustrates the possibilities for modifying and managing a BCF file. Furthermore these are the same for third party software’s BCF when loading at usBIM.platform.

Once the work is finished it will be possible to consolidate the draft version through the “update data” button.

Example of BCF use to report a clash

Let’s imagine that during the design or construction phase of a work, the designer/architect observed the presence of a clash (interference) due to a design error.

For example, noticing the presence of a beam that impacted significantly on the main facade of the building and conflicted with the openings.

open BCF format and clash detection

Clash detection example in a project

A traditional construction process would imply communication and data exchange between the two technical experts. Either through a meeting or via email and documentation such as notes, annotations, photos, etc.

Today, however, through a BIM design software that detects clashes, such as usBIM.clash, you could create a report by means of a BCF file directly from the BIM model/project.

usBIM.clash BCF file export

usBIM.clash BCF file export

This file, which contains both notes and PNG images of the clash, is linked to a specific point of the project. For this reason, it is possible at any time to go back to the exact point of the model in which the clash was generated.

The file can be uploaded on a collaborative platform which must support the BCF format.

All the project members involved can give feedback, with comments or by changing the status (open/in progress/closed), to the notes and images contained in the issue/report.

Creating a new issue with usBIM.bcf

Creating a new issue with usBIM.bcf

In this way, we’ll save a chronological view of the comments, of the reference subjects. Hence of the various stages from assigning the issue to it’s resolution.

Issues management: usBIM.resolver

With usBIM.resolver, another app available in the openBIM collaborative usBIM platform, you can turn BIM issues into activities. Allowing you to follow them up until resolution with a platform for tracking BIM coordination issues.

Thanks to this powerful tracking system you can:

  • identify BIM issues from BIM model federations, clash detection, or any other step in the BIM process;
  • manage BIM issues in BCF format (BIM collaboration format);
  • turn project errors and problems into business;
  • assign tasks;
  • follow errors and issues until resolution;
  • obtain a quality BIM process and coordination.