Communication in BIM-based processes- The BCF open format

Open BCF format: how to optimize communication in BIM processes

BCF format and usBIM.bcf: a powerful communication management tool that allows users to cooperate on issues with the project

The benefits of BIM-based design, compared to traditional design, are manifold as construction practices evolve towards a full cooperation between the different professional roles involved. BIM allows a full integration between the planning and execution phase thanks to an effective communication, data and information exchange.

A common BIM practice, during planning or work coordination, requires working on a single shared model that integrates data from multiple sources or relevant disciplines and, in case of issues or problems, the intervention of the dicipline reference expert that could have access to information in a trasparent manner. This obviuosly enhances cooperation, wheras in a traditional construction process, issue solving would take place through simple meetings or files exchanges.

As a matter of fact, the BIM methodology has simplified interoperability and revolutionized the way different actors involved in a project can communicate, using:

  • 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.

BIM/IFC-based projects enable effective communication  through  collaborative platforms and the exchange of BCF files that contain the “chronology” of comments, notes and images exchanged between project members.

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 open XML-based 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.

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 that 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.

usBIM.platform and the BCF format

usBIM.platform is a BIM collaboration platform, designed to incorporate all the activities of the construction supply chain, starting from the design phase, to construction and maintenancea.

The potential of the solution is the use of open formats, such as the IFC standard (UNI EN ISO 16379), against which the platform is certified.

The certification with respect to this standard, issued by buildingSMART International, is a guarantee of correct management and sharing of data and models among all the subjects involved within the AEC supply chain, regardless of the BIM Authoring software used.

usBIM.platform in fact allows you to create and manage construction data, information and contents that may concern multiple disciplinary areas regardless of their nature (social, environmental, technical, economic or legal) and sharing methods (graphic, alphanumeric / documentary).

With usBIM.platform it is possible to upload any type of documents, both proprietary and open. Some of these files can be managed through specific editing services that let you create or edit directly within the platform specific types of files, and in particular:

  • usBIM.bcf – the service that allows you to view the BCF (BIM Collaboration Format).
  • usBIM.gis – the service that allows you to contextualize, on a territorial map, the models loaded within the digital platform for an organic display of the information contained in the various project documents.
  • – the service, part of the usBIM applications, which integrates the functionality of Microsoft 365 for users who have a Microsoft 365 license.
  • usBIM.writer – a service belonging to the usBIM applications, which provides users with a text editor to create or edit documents in the format: html, doc, docx, rtf, odt, htm, whtml and txt.

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

usBIM.bcf is the service that allows you to view the BCF (BIM Collaboration Format) within the usBIM.platform digital collaborative platform.

The service, integrated into the platform, allows you to:

  • create a BCF from scratch, this document will be created respecting the specifications of version 2.2 of the format and 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.

open BCF format

Creating a new BCF file with usBIM.platform

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 – field within which you can edit the title associated with the current issue;
  • assigned to – field within which it is possible to indicate which user is assigned the resolution of the current issue;
  • creation date – field that 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

A BCF software like usBIM.bcf allows you to make changes even to a BCF file uploaded directly into usBIM.platform.

The possibilities for modifying and managing a BCF file are illustrated in the previous paragraph and are the same as for a BCF produced by third party software and loaded in 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 (through a meeting or via email) and documentation (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.

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, as in the case of usBIM.platform, must be able to 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.

In this way, a chronological view of the comments, of the reference subjects, and of the various stages from taking charge to the resolution of the report will have been saved.