Discover how IFC, BIM, and openBIM can revolutionize data and process management in the construction industry. Dive into how classes, relationships, and properties work, and how it all translates into a digital twin.
In the world of engineering and construction, adopting new technologies is crucial for improving project efficiency and management. BIM, openBIM, and IFC are methods and data structures that ensure uniformity in the informative description of a construction and the exchange process of relating data.
This ensures immediate understanding of project information and the correct processes and phases of their implementation, also allowing overcoming the fragmentation that has always characterized the construction sector. In this article, we will explore the use of IFC (Industry Foundation Classes), BIM (Building Information Modeling), and openBIM to optimize data and process structuring within the industry.
BIM and Construction Industry: Data Structure with IFC
The IFC is an open standard format for BIM data exchange and aims to facilitate collaboration among different players in the construction industry. The format enables the production of files that include geometric information of various “simple” building components and all associated data and alphanumeric information specifying their parameters, physical properties, and construction information of the entire work.
All information belonging to the file is organized through classification systems that divide and distribute objects into categories and subcategories.
Classes in IFC
IFC operates through a series of classes that gather specific characteristics of various elements: these classes can represent objects, relationships, or properties. In simpler terms, the various object classes describe the (real) components of a construction, such as walls, floors, windows, etc. These objects are interconnected through relationships and are characterized by specific attributes or parameters; one of them, for example, is a classification code, related to a pre-declared classification system.
Among the most known classification systems are SfB, UniFormat, MasterFormat, UniClass, and OmniClass. In the short video that follows, we can see the OmniClass classification: what it serves for, how to use it to classify and add information to entities of an IFC model, and how to do it with an online editor.
To learn more about IFC classification, read “IFC and Classification Systems in the Construction Industry“.
Attributes and Property Set
IFC properties determine the nature of elements through various possible relationships among entities. Objects are described through attributes and property sets that define the characteristics of objects, allowing a detailed description of their behaviors. For example, a wall could have attributes indicating its thickness, material, and position in the project. If you’re interested in delving into this topic and knowing all about IfcPropertySet, what it serves for, how you can add or modify properties to your IFC objects, we recommend reading the article “IfcPropertySet: IFC Object Properties“.
Relationships in IFC represent the connections and reciprocities between objects. These relationships are fundamental to understanding how the various elements of a construction interact with each other. For example, a wall can be connected to a floor, indicating its position within the building.
Implementing openBIM in the Construction Industry
openBIM is a working method based on open standards and interoperability among specialized disciplines involved in the project lifecycle. It’s an approach that aims to improve collaboration among different stakeholders in a project and is crucial for standardizing information and processes.
The main goal of openBIM is to standardize information generated during the design and construction of a building. This means that data is structured uniformly, facilitating access and interpretation by all stakeholders: seamless interoperability ensures reliable sharing and optimized data management, enhancing project efficiency.
openBIM goes beyond information standardization but also aims to regulate information-sharing processes and collaboration among different teams. By enabling synergy between different project phases and improving communication and efficiency through interconnected and real-time shared data, openBIM ensures more efficient project management and higher quality of produced information.
To successfully implement openBIM in construction companies, investing in personnel training and choosing the right tools is essential. Investing in training is crucial to fully leverage the benefits of this technology: there are online courses dedicated to training experts in openBIM, offering first-class educational know-how. It is also essential to select the software tools most suitable in terms of company’s needs and project requiremenets. There are various BIM solutions on the market: it’s important to carefully evaluate features and functionalities of each software, considering compatibility with IFC and other applications used by project partners.
Overcoming Fragmentation in the Construction Industry with BIM: The ‘Digital Twin’
BIM is driving the digitization of the construction sector, using multidisciplinary models and cloud collaborations to inform the design and management of built resources, as well as the facilities within them. Digital twins realize the full potential of BIM, connecting data and processes with dynamic, real-time bidirectional information management. All this is made possible particularly through openBIM, which is a system of open data allowing each operator, with any device and at any stage of the construction’s life, to enrich the model’s data structure.
But what is a digital twin?
The digital twin is defined as “a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a physical object“: in practice, a digital twin is the digital and dynamic version of a physical object or environment, such as a car or a building. More than just a 3D model, it is an accumulation of data that originates during planning (and progressively updates over time) and accompanies every phase of a project/product’s life, from design to use, up to disposal. Therefore, the digital twin collects all the information of the work and serves as a central resource for its management and monitoring; unlike static models, it evolves in real-time, learns, and communicates with its physical counterpart through AI, machine learning, and IoT.
The interrelationship between the digital twin and the BIM methodological approach represents a powerful resource for construction professionals, offering a wide range of benefits both in the design and operational management of physical environments. In this perspective, the importance of openBIM, as we’ve already mentioned, is understood. The integration of these two technologies significantly amplifies the achievable advantages:
- Reduction of time required to collect measurements and allocate resources;
- Increased productivity and collaboration;
- Reduction of costs and times associated with frequent site visits;
- Visualization of the building not only in the planning phase but throughout its lifecycle, resulting in enhanced decision-making phases.
Discover how to create a digital twin in 3 simple steps in the article “How to Create a Digital Twin Model: Step-by-Step Guide“.