October 23, 2013

IFC for content, follow up

Thanks for the warm welcome!
Not counting the inaugural post, I'd say the first "real" MdR Advies blog made quite an entrance... So to start: thanks to all of you who took the time and effort to respond to this post! It was very insightful, and I learned a lot!
Special thanks to Jon Mirtschin from GeometryGym though. This guy never fails to amaze me with his profound knowledge of what IFC is, encompasses and what it can become. His blog in response to mine gave great insight to current IFC possibilities and limitations (mainly related to implementation) and what efforts software vendors, even the most IFC-minded, have to make to get this format to work. As always it was an inspiring read that brought me a lot of new ideas, and lead me to abandon some old ones for being wrong, short-sighted or just simply outdated.
Oh btw: I'm wrong all the time. I know this. I just don't know when. So if there is anything that I put on this blog that you're sure is complete and utter bullshit, let me know. Frankly, that's partly why the internet as a whole is such a great thing. There's always somebody out there to learn from. My first blog had a staggering 600+ pageviews until now. But *only* a handful responses. Surely there must have been others that were thinking "what the hell is this guy blabbing about?! I know for a fact it's flatout wrong". Please do share your insights, I want to know. How else am I going to learn, right? I might not always agree with you, but I will always listen to what you have to say.
So to wrap this up: thanks again for the warm welcome in the blogosphere!
Why the follow-up?
Well, after the post there was some Dutch twitter exchange about it. Then I got a call from another Dutch guy. We talked about IFC, OpenBIM and my view on content libraries for BIM. I explained my view that creating those, as if we are back in the 1980's when we created the habit of dwg-libraries is insane for BIM. Basically we have a database that holds all product specs at a manufacturer. They then create pdf fact sheets and dwg drawings. And then they pay someone to recreate what basically is another database from those specs and drawings. Multiple times, for different BIM formats...
Then he asked me a question: "What are you going to do about it? Is this just another opinion, or will you be acting on it?"
My initial response was quite frankly "what the hell do you expect me to do? I'm just one simple loudmouth from a tiny country with no connections or influence whatsoever". Then, as I was driving home (well, more as I was crawling home due to some dumbass that parked his car in the highway railing), I started reviewing my day. Cause it had been an interesting day.
That morning I gave a presentation to the joint BIM managers of one of the largest Dutch construction firms about the Dutch Revit Standards. And they were enthusiastic above and beyond expectation. We had a wonderful discussion about the current status and future developments. Things that the Dutch Revit User Group was aiming to accomplish, and why. Basically the kind of meeting that makes you want to do a victory dance on your way out.
The afternoon was filled with a client meeting where we discussed possibilities of upgrading their 25 year old CAD-based database structure to plan and design major warehouses and connecting and integrating that with Revit. Opening up doors to dynamic model checking on layout-rules and such. Again, a meeting that usually leaves me tossing and turning at night, totally pumped with adrenaline and anxcious to get out of bed and start working.
So, "interesting" quite frankly is a gross understatement of my day. And as I was crawling along, slowly making my way home it hit me. If you told me June 2012, when I said yes to this crazy idea of singlehandedly creating a nationwide Revit standard, that in no more then 18 months I would be talking to one of the largest construction companies in Holland about how they could push this initiative further most effectively, I would have had you committed to a psychiatric hospital. But here we are...
So who am I to state that size matters? That just having a good idea and act upon it never pays off? That one guy cannot pull something off so big and groundbreaking?
Let's see where we stand Januari 1st, 2015. That's the mark.
I want to have at least one manufacturer that contributed to a good cause. If you know (or even better, work with) a manufacturer that is interested on getting on the BIM train, or already is on that train but not quite happy with the way things are going right now, drop me a line.
I'm not proposing to create a BIM library for you. I mean I would (even the most idealistic have to eat), but that's not the challenge. My proposal is to create a new way of handling manufacturer content:
I'm proposing to create a database structure that can be hosted online somewhere.
For that structure we need some sort of definition of geometric and non-geometric properties. Don't tell me that's not doable, each manufacturer with a CAM production facility has it.
This definition needs to be open source so that any manufacturer willing can translate his own products into this format.
We then create plugins for participating BIM software tools that can query the database, find relevant product definitions and take them to automatic object creation in the BIM software based on some simple rulesets and mapping tables.
Is this going to work? Let me put it this way: I know this can be done between Revit and several types of databases. I've seen it work. I don't know if it will work with other software. But I would guess it does.
From there, it's all just a matter of finding the right people willing to spend some time doing it.
Why would we? Welk for one thing I'm sick and tired of all these partial libraries scattered around the internet.
And me having to redo them on every freaking project that has a different Revit standard.
I hate having 30+ libraries from different manufacturers, each structured differently.
I hate spending hours trying to find that one freaking component with some specific properties that I know is out there somewhere.
I hate having to upgrade all that shit every release only to find out it doesn't work as it's supposed, needing to go online 30+ times and re-download all those libraries and having to go through all the painstaking adjustments again.
I hate it when I get my balls busted by a General Contractor because a model in my project holds components that aren't even being sold anymore.
And when I was a manufacturer, I would hate to have to create a library of products for 3 or 4 different software formats. In god knows how many countries. And still get continuous bitching and moaning from people claiming that it isn't good enough. Or just flatout wrong.
If you, as a manufacturer, thought that creating and maintaining a CAD library was expensive, welcome to the world of BIM. You just quadrupled your budget. At the very least. On each software format you want to provide.
And no, Revit is not the new Autocad. Just rvt's isn't the same as just dwg's. It won't cut it.
So, at the chance of monumentally overplaying my hand here: who's up for a challenge???

October 7, 2013

IFC for content

I got myself into an interesting twitter discussion last friday regarding the use of IFC. It started out as a complaint from someone stating "why does one format (presumably Revit) get native content, whilst I have to deal with IFC (in Archicad). It evolved in a debate about whether there is something as a single-format-solution for all BIM software. And should we be able to all work together on a single IFC model, all being able to alter it.

Unfortunately as more and more people got into the debate, you end up having to send two tweets just to get one proper sentence out. So I figured I'd compose some thoughts here. Let's start with the first part, IFC for content. The part about a single IFC model will have to wait until later this week.

IFC for content

IFC was never intended for "dynamic" use. It is a format to hand information to someone else down the line. It was not meant for weekly exchange between design partners. That can be done, but is a stretch and needs further development.
What it certainly is NOT meant for, and imho is very very bad for, is creating content libraries. Allow me to give you a few reasons why it's a bad idea:

#1: IFC is meant for projects.

Here's a challenge: show me an IFC-file that is not formatted as a project. Because the assumption when creating an IFC from any vendor software is that you are creating a project. Not a piece of content. Off course, you can bypass this. And it's just a minor glitch. But it should be taken as a sign: it's not suitable.
Check the content in the UK National BIM Library. It's all formatted as a project... Which means the user will need to do some work (or the software) to get this imported as an object. Or it will just not work as expected...

#2: Object definition

The definition of an object in IFC can be done in several ways. There's ways that give you nice and crispy clean IFC's. There's also ways that give you a 3000 line of code to define a single water closet. Check the UK National BIM Library, go to the toilet section, download an IFC called "Concealed cistern" and open in Notepad. It has 2640 lines of code to describe a freaking cistern.

It would be too easy to call that a stinkin' pile of crap... Point is: this is modelled in some vendor software and exported. You don't have anything to say on how it's exported. The vendor software just does what needs to be done... Without any way of controlling this (unless you code a custom exporter).
But seriously? Stuff 300 of these in your project and let me see you twirl your model around...

#3: IFC Dialects

We all have different software. With different ways of defining components. With different source code and kernels. There is no way in hell there is going to be a one-size-fits-all content library. It won't work. That's the same as saying "I got tires that will suit a Mini, a Jaguar, a Land Rover and a tank. I guarantee equal performance on all". Not going to happen.

Also because a tank doesn't need tires...

Like I said, not going to work. The needs and desires from a piece of library content are just too different. What works for one software creates a mess in the other. Why is it that Archicad has different export settings for Tekla and Revit? Because they both interpret IFC differently. All three speak IFC dialects. IF you were to create an IFC object library, you would have to have several IFC dialects to make it work. Which is insane, cause then you could just as well simply create native stuff.

Enough with the freaking libraries!

Get it into your heads people: common content libraries are a thing of the past. It's thinking CAD in a BIM world. It's like wanting to invest heavily in a telephone landline infrastructure in Africa, while people there are standing around texting each other on their mobile about what those crazy foreigners are doing.
We once needed those because they were a graphical interpretation of object specifications. Back in the day when we didn't virtualize the entire building but only did a graphical interpretation of it in a bunch of 2D drawings.
The misconception about needing libraries is that we need something different from what manufacturers already have. I don't want a manufacturers library! I want them to give me the data they already have from their manufacturing or sales processes in a structured, uniform way. Every manufacturer with an automated production line has every piece on information we need to fully automate object creation.

Geometric data? They have machines actually making that stuff! Any pipe, desk, air handling unit, sink, window or steel beam that is created in an automated assembly line is fully digitized. Or do you imagine them turning on the machines in the monring just waiting to see what happens? It HAS to be specced, or they won't be any product at the end of the line!
So just give me the data you use there, and I can ask a software engineer to write me a nice little addon that takes that data and automatically creates the families I need.

Performance data? How do you choose which door you want to use? You go online, Google, look at websites and pick a door. Not just any door, but the door that meets your specifications. How did that info get on that website? Someone from the manufacturer put it there. If they're smart, they have this big database that's hooked into their internal Product Management System, and a selection menu on their website. You know, one that let's you specify if it's an interior or exterior door, fire rating, what kind of operation, and so on. When you checked the boxes, there's a list of possible doors. With a link to a downloadsite so I can get a component for my project.

Here's a suggestion: do that inside my software. Create an internet database with all geometric and performance data. Hell, let an organisation such as the NBS in the UK govern it and add as many manufaturers as possible. Build a plugin for my software that connects to it and give me that selection tree inside my software. Then let me use that database to create objects as I need them. Do you have new products? Add them to the database and send me an email. 

And we're all done. For a fraction of a tiny bit of a small percentage of the costs it would take you to get a global, all-encompassing library of manufacturers products. The manufacturer doesn't need to keep a gazillion families up to date for several versions of multiple software platforms. I don't need to worry about stripping manufacturers content off useless garbage such as 2D representations and wrong linestyles, repathing parameters and object styles, and all that other stuff I do to get the content to look the way I want it and carry the information I need.

Too expensive? Not doable? Think again. I've seen a Dutch company that sells interior doors taking their "webshop", put the desired parameters in an Excel workbook and let the entire family be created from a Revit plugin that reads that database. As a user you just type in some specs and it will create the families needed. This is done by 1 guy without any previous experience with coding...
Agreed, it took him some time and he had help from an experienced programmer (who knew diddly squat about Revit or the Revit API) but it's there. With very limited resources. They are now working on expanding the addon to include more detail (locks and hinges, and so on). You know what the fun part is? They don't have to redo a whole library. Just add some code. They don't have to re-publish the whole library. Their users don't have to re-download the whole library. Just update the addin.

IMHO that's the way we should go: get some data-architects in a room, let them agree on a common output specification for manufacturers and let them develop some plugins for different software vendors that can read and translate this output specification using user-defined project and family templates.
Then, manufacturers only need to provide us with data instead of countless digital versions of their products . And we can re-use that to create content that is always up to date in our own native formats.

October 4, 2013

Inaugural post

Just another blog

Why, for christ sake?
Well, number of reasons:

1. I don’t like to go into lenghty LinkedIn discussions anymore. They wear me out, the argument gets heated, and you’re more responding to others then making a sound case for your own believes.
2. Twitter doesn’t say it all. There’s only so much one can do with 140 characters. I get into a lot of discussions that usually end up with semi-stenographic sentences because they’re 8 participants and there handles take up 100 of the available characters. So I wanted a place to expand on topics.
3. Revitforum.org, “my” other blog (which technically isn’t mine but currently I’m the only one writing for it), is meant for, well, Revit-related topics. And I find myself expanding my horizon so I need another place to write.
4. I do have a company blog. But it’s in Dutch. And since I’m based in Holland, I like to keep it that way. But most of the things that do trigger me are written in English.

So there you have it. Even though I’m all over the interweb, I still don’t have a place to mesmorise and write lengthy pieces about random AEC-related topics that nobody gives a crap about. Thus a new blog is born.

What’s in a name?

I don’t really think there’s another funny, witty or surprising play of words when it comes to blogging about BIM or the AEC industry in general. My good friend Julien Benoit basically snatched the last one with his new blog AEC, you and me (http://aecuandme.wordpress.com/). Which, btw, is a must-follow for everyone taking any interest in the C-part of the AEC realm. Because that man surely knows what he’s talking about.

For me, I’m just going to stick with what I know: mdradvies.blogspot.com. Can’t make it any easier then that.

First up: some thoughts about a twitter discussion I had earlier today. Do we want IFC to be an authoring tool? Do we want to have IFC content?