A new collaboration era for the building sector

Nov 22, 2013 by Elena Ledda

Building projects require processing and communication of large amounts of complex data. Now, software solutions make it possible to retrieve details of a given project at any time.

The building sector has traditionally been fragmented. Many different actors are involved at different stages, from the design to the performance monitoring stage. They typically work separately at different times of the development of the building and rarely collaborate. The trouble is that it is not standard practice to perform overall simulations of the project before it starts.

Many factors can contribute to a waste in resources and time: information might be lost along the way, work duplicated, and mistakes made, but only discovered during on-site implementation.

Solutions to facilitate information collection and sharing can be tested in collaborative projects. For example, the EU-funded DIRECTION research project constitutes an ideal test base because it is based on a holistic approach for very low energy new buildings. To do such test, the Italian project partners of the engineering consultancy EnginSoft, located in Trento, Italy have developed a content management platform dubbed BIXS [Building Information eXchange System]. The BIXS platform is a content management system organised as a tree of folders including data such as perspective drawings, plans, installation, monitoring and costs-related information. "It is a first attempt to change the way of working so to make it more interchangeable," explains Silvia Demattè, R&D engineer at EnginSoft.

This initiative has been developed in the wider context of the Building Information Modelling [BIM], which has yet to be widely adopted by the industry. BIM is typically identified both as a process as well as a concrete tool to generate and managing building information in an interoperable and reusable way. There is currently a global effort to develop open standards and tools to support the use of BIM, called the building SMART initiative.

"BIM tends to be made more complicated than it needs to be," highlights Lars Bjørkhaug, product manager at Catenda, in Oslo, Norway, a spin-off from the Norwegian research organisation Sintef. "In reality BIM is a method combined with a group of standards that say which part of the information to transfer from one party to the other, how to do it and in what language," he adds, "BIM data is therefore anything that you can establish in a way that can be used by somebody else in the workflow."

EnginSoft originally planned to develop a BIM but decided for a BIXS instead. The reason for this choice is that BIXS does not require uploading data in a specific format but only in a specific folder. By contrast, a BIM requires information in a consistently formatted way. "The different project partners have their own working habits and data saved in different file formats like Excel, Word etc. and it is difficult to implement a standardised procedure without homogenous or compatible templates," explains Demattè.

Experts point to the advantages of such an approach. "Content management [such as BIXS] is an important part of BIM in terms of trying to collect all different pieces of information so there are less chances of making mistakes and more of using the right information," says Martin Simpson, visiting professor in innovation at the University of Salford's School of Built Environment, UK. "Nevertheless, a lot of the problems that happen on site have to do with lack of coordination of information and the most effective way to do full coordination is to create virtual prototypes. If you first build in virtual space like they do in the aerospace industry for instance, you make mistakes in a virtual environment, where it is easier to correct them than in the real world," Simpson adds.

Other experts agree. "It is always useful to share information in a and BIXS is a huge step away from using e-mail, the typical way of doing it", tells Bjørkhaug. He warns: "as long as the data shared is in document formats, there is no automatic flow of information from phase to phase or actor to actor. Information still needs to be read and reprocessed by humans."

Despite the advantages provided by BIXS in exchanging information between partners, it does not allow automatic information searching and sharing. For example, "there is no easy way to find out for instance how many electric pumps or temperature sensors are expected to be in the various buildings", tells Demattè. Typically, this information could be extracted from a virtual model, built on standardised data, not on information stored in folders with a tree structure. Demattè concludes: "In the future, we could think of collecting all the information in buildings virtual models."

Explore further: Dubai plans to build 3-D printed office building

Related Stories

Building eco-friendly straw homes - panel by panel

Nov 08, 2013

The EU project EUROCELL ('EU market development of ModCell: a prefabricated eco-building system utilising renewable materials') is paving the way to using straw bale as a building material, employing a method ...

Turning a building green is a question of control

Jun 12, 2013

Sustainable buildings partly depend on control strategies to be energy efficient. Implementation of possible control systems are now under study for two of the three showcases buildings, developed under the ...

Energy aware means energy efficient

Sep 20, 2013

'Smart Grids' are the future of electricity supply, allowing consumers to become interactive participants in a supply network that includes decentralised as well as centralised power generation. 'Information ...

Recommended for you

Revealing faded frescos

16 hours ago

Many details of the wall and ceiling frescos in the cloister of Brandenburg Cathedral have faded: Plaster on which horses once "galloped" appears more or less bare. A hyperspectral camera sees images that remain hidden to ...

Device could detect driver drowsiness, make roads safer

17 hours ago

Drowsy driving injures and kills thousands of people in the United States each year. A device being developed by Vigo Technologies Inc., in collaboration with Wichita State University professor Jibo He and ...

New capability takes sensor fabrication to a new level

Jun 30, 2015

Operators must continually monitor conditions in power plants to assure they are operating safely and efficiently. Researchers on the Sensors and Controls Team at DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory ...

Smart phones spot tired drivers

Jun 30, 2015

An electronic accelerometer of the kind found in most smart phones that let the device determine its orientation and respond to movement, could also be used to save lives on our roads, according to research ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.