Cracking the USACE BIM Code

The USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) is currently on a very aggressive roadmap for the adoption of Building Information Modeling (BIM) for its projects. The specific contract requirements for these projects are causing much confusion and forcing many firms to rethink their own BIM adoption. The purpose of this article is to bring to light some of these issues and how they will affect BIM purchases and workflows.


12 thoughts on “Cracking the USACE BIM Code

  1. I’m interested in a longer discussion about a couple of points in this article: Mainly parametric search, the use of OmniClass properties, and the sentence “…never really addressed the issue of translating this parameter’s function”.

    Second, I recently looked into the history and building blocks of BIM, all the way back to ISO 10303 STEP, the EXPRESS language and so on (slides available from recent conference at NIST). Is this problem based on the split around 2004 when some vendors (ArchiCAD, Revit) used object-based building data models versus others (Bentley Architecture and Autodesk Architectural Desktop) using hybrid applications with the building data model on top of the geometric data model? Ref: Lachmi Khemlani’s “The IFC Building Model: A Look Under the Hood” AECbytes Feature (March 30, 2004)

  2. The question that occurred to me when I read this article is why the Corps of Engineers was making this request for a specific target format? Clearly, they might have chosen to require functional specification of what they wanted to achieve in the use of BIM. For example, they might have insisted on certain types of contractual relationships that would encourage close collaboration of the project team such as IPD. They might also have required that all team members supply files that could be integrated into a common building model that could be used for a variety of analysis functions (quantity takeoff, cost estimating, clash detection, 4D CAD, energy analysis, etc.). By requiring a specific format, the COE is really saying that they would like to focus on a given system for BIM creation and analysis. This is a legitimate approach to reducing the training requirements within COE and to increase the effectiveness of their use of BIM. However, it might also lead to the types of problems described in this article which really do not assist the advancement of the application of BIM and lean technologies and their associated processes. In summary, I think that a functional specification of what the COE would like to see resulting from using BIM would be a better approach to their goals.

  3. Will perfect interoperability ever be achieved?

    BIM can be compared to the CAD/CAM method that has been used in the automotive and aerospace industries for many years and I recall how the Airbus A380 production was delayed by almost 2 years because one team used a slightly older version of the software, thus producing data that was incompatible with the other consultant. They struggled despite using the same software and years of expertise. How are we going to achieve that level of interoperability in the building industry with consultants using completely different software?

    For the One Island East project in Hong Kong, the client imposed Digital Project on all the consultants and covered the cost of hardware, software and training associated; maybe this is the way we will have to work in the future.

  4. I’m living the dream of dealing with this challenge first hand. I have been working on the IFC issue myself recently. I exported IFC from Revit MEP and generated a 3D PDF as another test of interoperability for general viewing purposes knowing that so many non BIM users can and do utilize Adobe Reader. Not a bad alternative for distributing BIM information to the non BIM user within a project team and between consultants. I found that the element properties were retained. Deke Smith of the bSa posted my results on the bSa General Forum a few weeks ago.

  5. This article at last outlines part of the problem of what is referred to as BIM. The AEC industry is indeed confused about what it really means and a much wider discussion is needed. I see on some forums that this seems to be centered around Revit as the only BIM solution. This problem has existed since the mid to late 70’s when 3D solutions were first available, and as stated, no real solutions were or are available to achieve interoperability. The drive to force stakeholders to adopt BIM will also force them to settle on single platform solutions, in the short term, as far as sharing information is concerned. There is a bigger problem to solve and that is integration and collaboration. Some major projects that have achieved a BIM like solution on a single platform have found that even in this environment, different organisational teams are unable to exchange or share information because the data is generated to satisfy each individual’s needs and not the project requirement. A myBIM culture. This will require considerable understanding of the project supply chain through changes in its education, its fee structure, contractual requirements and its willingness to be open and accept the needs of the project.

    Last of all we need to understand what we mean by interoperability as the total sharing, exchange, and reuse of all data produced throughout the process, the management of the process and the data (Information Management). Just sharing documents in viewable formats is not interoperabilty or indeed integration.

  6. “By BIM’s very nature, older CADD-type parameters such as layers and colors are obsolete. ”
    That tells you all, doesn’t it?
    That’s the Revit sellers’ mantra: “Layers are obsolete, layers are obsolete”.
    As if a Toyota suddenly decided to make their car’s wheels square, because “round wheels are obsolete.”
    So, what’s your beef? The end of Autodesk hegemony?

  7. Clients are totally justified in requiring a specific BIM application or set of technologies. They should not carry any ‘social responsibility’ if they opt not to support or encourage cross-platform interoperability. I think we sometimes consider non-proprietary interoperability as a goal in itself rather than one route towards achieving integrated project delivery. Also, this kind of interoperability is not a prerequisite for achieving IPD but rather a sign of its maturity…

  8. Some great comments posted here and that is what I was hoping for.

    I don’t have a problem with clients requiring specific programs to be used. I do have a problem when that client is the US Federal Government. We are not allowed to mention a single vendor in our specifications.

    My “beef” is as much with how the industry is selling BIM interoperability as with a single source requirement. I feel sorry for Graphisoft, Nemetschek, et al because they seem to be really left out of these contracts. I’m just concerned that BIM is too new with translation issues a long way from being sorted out and many vendors are not giving the users the real picture.

    The translation issues in a BIM world are going to continue to be a big issue. One application’s advantage of how it digitally represents objects may be the very thing that causes translations to fail. This is all about “intelligence” and each product will use a different intelligence. The key to interoperability will be to have “dumb” translations format and software with the features to assign their own intelligence to the resulting objects. Not an easy task and why at the end I made the flippant remark about walls.

    BIM is a new paradigm that we haven’t fully grasped. CADD was easy – replace a manual procedure with an electronic one. What is BIM the electronic version of? Conceptually, it’s a hard thing to grasp and manage. I’m finding out that there’s so much more to “doing BIM” than just being competent with a given software package. And some of this have been very, very costly lessons indeed.

    Thanks to all that read the article and to those that responded. Keep up the good work!

    “Frustration is a very positive sign.” Tony Robbins


  9. Consternation with the USACE BIM policy peaked after the ENR article in 2007 blasting the Army for their choice to standardize on Bentley, and has arisen several times since then in the form of other articles (or any webinar, conference, or presentation where the USACE briefs their BIM program)! However, without being their spokesperson, it is important to clarify that they only have mandated Bentley use on their Center of Standardization prototype BIMs, and even this language leaves the door open for other platform use.

    With this being said, if other public entities like the Air Force, VA, Public Health Services, etc., wanted to model their BIM adoption strategy after another similar “BIM pioneer,” it is notable that the GSA approach focused much more on defining their internal user requirements, and then soliciting for BIM authoring tool vendors to demonstrate compliance. This approach is being accomplished now through the Army’s ERDC lab’s (Dr. Bill East’s) initatives like COBIE, SCIE, and more.

    The old adage is still true: You (the owner) cannot get what you want, until you know what it is. At least the Army knows what it is they want. As MG Bo Tenple said, “The Corps is not in a rush, but they are in a hurry.” Maybe that is a good thing.

  10. Your assessment on the confusion among firms to adopt (Bentley) BIM, is correct. In this economic slowdown, firms are looking for opportunities to expand their business, but are cautious about additional investment on new technology (software, hardware, training, and transition costs). This has created a sort of a vicious loop, which firms seem to be struggling to break through.

    One of the solutions that may be helpful for such firms is to partner with BIM production specialists. Such a partnership not only enables the consortium to bid for USACE projects, but also ensures that they are able to deliver in the prescribed BIM format. This also help firms to avoid the cost of BIM adoption (till things improves), and keep their bids competitive, thereby improving their chances of winning the project.

    Interoperability of non-Bentley BIM objects imported into Bentley BIM, is also a problem. As external BIM service providers work on multiple BIM platforms, being production-oriented, they may be able to help in such bulk conversion tasks. Such partnerships also allows design firms to spend more time on their core competencies, while multi-disciplinary model coordination and interoperability issues can be handled by the third party. This “workshare” approach has not only changed the way BIM projects are designed and constructed but, in my experience, also accelerated and facilitated implementation of the IPD process throughout the AEC industry.

  11. Patrick Suermann is a wise man to notice the hurry and David William Edwards deserves kudos for re-stirring this pot. It is a good thing that the Army Corps of Engineers is in a hurry to gain the benefits of BIM in support of their mission to defend the United States of America.

    As Patrick pointed out, Bill East’s work at the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center is worth noting. It paves the way for a low-level-of-detail interoperability that can meet the Army Corps’ Design/Build Attachment F BIM contract.

    As long as all parties agree in Section of Attachment F that the Construction-Operations Building Information Exchange (COBIE) file format meets low-level-of-detail requirements, almost everyone can easily be in compliance.

    Then team members can fulfill Section of Attachment F by demonstrating how their data can be made available in Bentley Workspace. James Salmon, Esq. has worked with BIM Education Co-op members to create a presentation showing how this can work when approached with new contracting processes smooth the use of new software. It is not easy, but it is possible.

    The COBIE demonstration on March 11, 2008 in Baltimore showed three ways it is possible. There will need to be process adjustments and refined programming to allow continuous process improvement, but today that is what all professionals understand is part of their job.

    The challenge is not the unknown interface of software, that is a constant for the foreseeable future. The challenge is the establishing the will to overcome challenges for the success of the Army’s mission. Let us not forget that our efforts play only a supporting role for the brave men and women who put their lives at risk in order to protect our democratic ideals. I might disagree with why our Commander in Chief deploys troops, but that does not diminish my desire to save resources so they can be used to ensure every one of our service men and women come home safely to their families.

    So while the Army faces the same BIM interoperability problems that all companies, institutions, agencies and individuals face, it is clear what they want and why they want it. It is also clear that many good people are going above and beyond the call of duty in an attempt to support the Army’s struggles with BIM. It is appropriate that the Army wants to be a leader in resolving the conflicts between BIM software programs. By enlisting the BIM community in the mission to reduce waste, reduce costs and improve quality in the facilities that support our troops, the Army makes citizen/soldiers out of all of us who struggle for interoperable solutions.

    It sounds overly patriotic, jingoistic and simplistic to equate struggling with software to the struggles my friends and family are facing in combat. However, supporting our troops with methods for improved building performance is probably the best use of my time and many others who are focused on this issue. Thank you Major Patrick Suermann for your rare service to both our country and our industry. I appreciate your perspective and offer whatever I can do to help you. With respect, Michael Bordenaro.

  12. If I as a designer must write performance based specifications for USACE projects without any mention of the product I am using as the basis of design, how in the world can the USACE require me to use a specific software?

    I have spoken directly with the COE regarding their decision to mandate Bentley “BIM.” Since the COE has an enterprise license agreement with Bentley and gets the software at a very inexpensive rate, I was told they basically made the decision out of convenience. My company also has an enterprise license agreement with Bentley, but that does not mean that we would use a Bentley product if it is not best suited for the type of work we are doing (unless of course a misguided client was forcing us).

    Their main goal is to build it better, cheaper and faster. The “cheaper” part is to use BIM and the Centers of Standardization projects to reduce (and in some cases eliminate) the designer’s fees.

    If I am being asked to participate in marginalizing my profession, I certainly should be able to select the tool in which to do it. I can assure you it will not be a 3D CAD software masquerading as “BIM” with very limited bi-directionality or parametric capabilities such as Bentley Triform/V8/Architecture.

    I have been working in AutoCAD since R10, and spent 6 years working with AutoCAD Architecture (ADT). It was a tough decision to move away from a way of working that I had so much time and money invested in, but after using Revit, I soon realized that a central database workflow was the future and that 3D CAD had been pushed as far as it can go. I’m disappointed the COE does not have the courage to do the same.

    I am very confident that the COE will be forced to open its projects up to a wider variety of software platforms in the near future. Until then, I will continue to spend more time managing CAD standards and moonlighting as a software programmer rather than focusing on designing better buildings in order to get a 3D CAD software to pretend it is a true Building Information Model.

Comments are closed.