Through its product ArchiCAD, Graphisoft was one of the first companies to provide comprehensive support to users of IFC model-based data sharing. In May 2003, Graphisoft published a release making new functionality available to ArchiCAD users for structural analysis, structural engineering (concrete and steel), HVAC design and performance simulation, electrical design, facilities and property management, and visualization (rendering and lighting).
This BIM release of ArchiCAD can be thought of as a transition from modeling just the shell of the building to modeling the services and systems contained within it as well. In functional terms, the Graphisoft application moved beyond geometric representation toward the integration of design, simulation, and management. Related application areas, such as costing, construction management, procurement, and facility management became more accessible.
Graphisoft says their early support for the IFCs was facilitated by the object model approach they had taken right from the very origins of ArchiCAD. For them it was clear that the building information model — also known as "single building model" — was demonstrably the right approach for offering increased quality, time savings, and better value relative to effort to the building industry.
The drawing-oriented CAD paradigm most readily supports documentation for the design and construction teams. But Graphisoft wanted to give their customers wider functionality and life-cycle support for the assets they design, procure, occupy, and manage. Graphisoft is betting that IFC is the standard most likely to provide long-term support for this expanded CAD role.
Another company betting on the IFCs is Solibri, Inc., founded in Helsinki, Finland in 1999 to produce software for building information model quality control and design process productivity. Solibri software automates model checking and analysis, adding valuable dimensions to BIM use.
Solibri Model Checker uses an object-based "rule engine" to automate "design spell-checking" for a building model. It analyzes models for integrity, quality, and physical security. It reveals potential flaws and weaknesses in the design, highlights clashing (inappropriately intersecting) components, and checks the model for compliance with building codes and with the organization's own best practices.
In recent months, two Solibri customers, Pertti Nousiainen Architects and Pekka Paavola Architects, worked cooperatively to renovate an educational building for the Jyväskylä (Finland) Vocational Institute.
With a large number of technical systems, the building-services design was particularly challenging to coordinate. Mika Kurth from Pertti Nousiainen Architects did the building information modeling. All design disciplines involved with the renovation project produced IFC files that were merged with Solibri Model Checker.
Cross checking, such as detecting air ducts piercing structural components, revealed numerous design problems, which could therefore be corrected quickly in the digital models before they could become expensive construction problems.
Another project to demonstrate Model Checker's advantages was an apartment building in Helsinki designed by architects Ann-Marie Niskanen and Vesa Laukkanen from L-N Architects and built by Skanska, one of the largest construction companies in the world. This apartment building was the first Skanska project in which all designers produced IFC files and then merged them within Solibri Model Checker.
Jukka Hörkkö from Skanska stated, "We wanted to see how architectural, structural, and HVAC models can be brought together for clash checking. We used Solibri Model Checker and IFC files to integrate everything into a single model. After the project [was completed], it was easy to state that the results exceeded our expectations. From now on, we will fix the design problems with a mouse on the computer rather than with a jackhammer on site."
A Solibri project partner, the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland has promoted and documented the benefits of BIM in AEC projects. They have noted improved design efficiency and time savings, improved design quality and engineering accuracy, fast and reliable cost calculations, and better-informed design evaluation.
Global Efforts with IFC
In Singapore, a $22.6 million Construction and Real Estate Network (CORENET) project was established to provide an integrated approvals system based on IFC. The project was sponsored by the Singapore government and developed by IT vendor novaCITYNETS Pte Ltd.
Along with the IAI, novaCITYNETS jointly established a certification process that required IFC collaboration. ArchiCAD was the first design platform to have passed both technical and practice-related levels for automated plan-checking.
CORENET's e-Plan Check software plugs directly into ArchiCAD model data to begin the project assessment. In contrast to other certification systems, this software takes the plan submission process far beyond merely filing, logging, and confirming that the correct documents have been received.
CORENET e-Plan Check allows designers and architects to save considerable time in securing full regulatory acceptance for their projects, a process that can in some cases be measured in years. It seems increasingly clear that IFC-supported projects will play an important role in the future of the building industry worldwide.
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Elizabeth Bollinger is a professor at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, University of Houston, in Houston, Texas.