Help us Obi-Wan COBie, you’re assets’ only hope


By Phil Sawyer

Our IT Director Phil Sawyer assesses the joys and pitfalls of data formats, from COBie to IFC.

It’s not exactly the Clone Wars, where Princess Leia’s holographic projection asks for General Kenobi’s help, but the construction industry has an equally pressing issue on its hands. Is Construction Operations Building Information Exchange – the data format known as COBie – the best way to communicate information relating to operations and maintenance on a project, or is there a better alternative?

Before we consider this, it’s worth recapping on where ADP is when it comes to delivering quality data from its BIM (Building Information Modelling) Level 2 processes. Everyone is familiar with placing objects in rooms, on floors, in models. At ADP, we develop a design further by adding data to each object, room and level, a process that can be adapted to deliver the Asset Information Requirements (AIR) included with the Employer’s Information Requirements (EIR).

The result? Data rich models, holding information that can be used by many teams for many purposes. For operation and maintenance, that data – including detailed specifications – can be exported in the COBie format.

 Complicated sets of data make formatting all the more important.

Asset Information Requirements (AIR) specify what data relating to operation and maintenance needs to be added to an object. Some of these AIRs simply follow the standard requirements (known as COBie Standard or COBie Bronze), while others are very prescriptive about the way this data is worded and formatted.

The important point here is that the language used for the AIR and COBie outputs needs to be consistent. Most delivery teams will have highly efficient workflows, including libraries of objects with the AIR outputs coded into them. This means that while custom outputs might be necessary, poorly defined standards could impact the efficient production of data.

For example, one field in a recent AIR was defined as “mobile”, rather than the default option of “movable”. This ultimately led to changes to the pre-programmed object values of “fixed” and “movable”, adding to the project costs, but not improving project quality.

BIM Authoring tools are excellent at managing 3D geometry, but they don’t make good Computer Aided Facility Management (CAFM) systems. Even though COBie is the nominated format for the digital delivery of asset data for a BIM Level 2 project, it instantly becomes disconnected from the live 3D model once it’s exported. Even worse, not every CAFM system can read COBie data directly, without some data manipulation to assist with its import.

Is there an alternative?

BIM Authoring tools can export data in many file formats, and they certainly aren’t limited to COBie. One option is IFC (Industry Foundation Classes), which can act as an “Esperanto” format, allowing different authoring tools to communicate through a common language.

IFC is a neutral, open-file format, which can be viewed to filter the content to provide a specific type of output. When a Model View Definition (MVD) is applied, facility management data can be filtered and exported in a format matching COBie. It’s like looking at data with sunglasses on; we can filter out certain parts so we only see the items that have an operation or maintenance function associated with them.

Rather than working solely with COBie information, wouldn’t it be better to view all of the rich data associated with a project? IFC allows for this; it captures both the 3D geometry and any associated data, allowing it to be viewed (using a free viewer), analysed, reported on and published. Different users can quickly drill down into the IFC to extract what they need, rather than being given a single, sometimes incomplete, COBie file from a BIM authoring tool.

This is why ADP places IFC at the centre of our workflow. It’s the obvious choice, allowing:

   • collaboration using different authoring tools
   • clash analysis and reporting from a federated dataset
   • easy validation of shared data
   • extraction of the right kinds of data for each team

Does IFC represent a New Hope for Operation and Maintenance at digital handover? Well… maybe. The good news is that you only need a free viewer (and not a Millennium Falcon) to engage with it.


Phil Sawyer

Phil Sawyer

Phil joined ADP in 2008 and is the practice’s IT Director. He is
responsible for ADP’s strategic IT planning and reporting across our
seven studios.