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Monday
Oct142013

Tiny BIM Here and Now

The use of Building Information Models (BIM) has transformed the way that buildings are designed and constructed. Those projects that commit fully to their use deliver higher quality buildings at a lower price. Finith Jernigan has written on how using even incomplete or partial BIM can provide worthwhile results, an approach he describes in his well-regarded book “Big BIM, Little BIM.” While traditional of Big BIM requires a strong commitment and organizational change, Little BIM requires a smaller commitment, and can offer an organization just starting to consider the use of BIM advantages in planning, design, and in operations. I am not going to summarize Jernigan here—the book is small enough and valuable enough that you should just ahead and read it. In this post, today, I am going to write about something smaller, and something that can reduce costs and improve efficiency. Today, I am considering Tiny BIM.

There has been considerable effort in the last few years to standardize the information hand-off between a Big BIM project and the ongoing maintenance and operations of a building. Conceived of by Bill Brodt at NASA and Bill East at the ACE Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC), The Construction [to] Operations Building Information Exchange (COBIE) defines the data that needs to be exchanged. Most of today’s Maintenance Management Software (CMMS) is able to import a COBIE data set.

Part of Bill Brodt’s original vision was that COBIE can be described as the spreadsheets you would make yourself as you went around and commissioned a building. Each piece of equipment could be catalogued whether or not there was a BIM available from construction. The information from those spreadsheets could be brought into a CMMS just as is information originating in Big BIM.

Unfortunately, this notion of spreadsheet harmed the perception of COBie. Because Excel spreadsheets use an internal XML format, an Excel spreadsheet with multiple tabs was declared to be *the* XML standard for COBIE. COBIE produced in spreadsheets rarely had the cross-linking and validation envisioned by the creators of COBIE. Many programmers received COBIE in Excel form, and wrote off the specification as unworkable.

Last year, the ERDC addressed this issue by formally defining XML schemas (XSD) and a strong semantic typing for COBIE, This specification has the misleading name COBIE Lite. COBIE Lite makes COBIE information much more valuable, as it makes COBIE informational more useful as a general purpose exchange format for building operation. It is now possible to automate checking if a COBIE information set is valid and coherent. (Some more jargon: the formal semantics and validity checking for COBie are formally specified using the OASIS Content Assembly mechanism, hereafter referred to as CAM.)

Now I must circle back. The BIM process long ago defined SPie, the system properties information exchange. SPie was developed so that designers using BIM could compare products and place information about the selected product directly into Big BIM. SPie defines the format for providing faceplate information for any system in a building. SPie also defines the physical dimensions of equipment. A full SPie set includes spare parts and recommended maintenance for a piece of equipment.

Good commissioning discovers and reports most of the information in SPie. If you consider the COBie spreadsheets, then a single SPie record would create a row on the equipment inventory, and several rows on the recommended spare parts tab, and several rows on the recommended maintenance tab. I suspect that the ERDC will soon apply the CAM used to create to define an XML format for SPie.

Small, well-defined information exchanges are at the heart of just-in-time data exchanges. It is not a big leap to imagine manufacturers providing an URL for each make and model of equipment. Systems that need this information could request this XML document when needed. And that at last gets me around to Tiny BIM.

A growing number of owners of large buildings and campuses are putting machine readable tags onto equipment. An early use was a bar code that would be scanned to verify that the mechanic was actually there. RFID tags are sometimes used, especially when they were used as part of construction. As smart phones become standard equipment, more and more organizations are using QI Codes.

QI codes are best known for their use in magazine ads—“Scan here for more information.” Although there is no requirement, QI codes are generally used in ways that assume connectivity—go here on the web and get this document In maintenance Apps, the QI code verifies which piece of equipment is being worked on. Inside an app the QI code may call up the supporting information such as previous work on this equipment.

In the future, manufacturers may tag their equipment with a QI code that points back to the SPie record. Local software could read the SPie information and deliver key information right to the technician. Updates a,d service alerts could be readily available, in the field, even in an non-commissioned building. Commissioning a building without BIM would become, in part, find the QI code and scan it.

Tiny BIM puts needed information into the hands of those who needed it right away, with little training or up-front costs. Tiny BIM creates a space for whole new classes of maintenance applications. Tiny BIM increases the value of existing energy analytics apps. Tiny BIM can stand alone, or as an adjunct to Big BIM, using ongoing maintenance to improve the BIM maintained in the CMMS.

I think Tiny BIM is coming soon.

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