Interoperability in the AEC industry

One of the biggest challenges in the construction industry comes from different teams working in silos. These separate work processes can result in miscommunications, coordination issues, and various risks resulting from a lack of collaboration. 

BIM is the solution to silos in construction work processes. The problem is that many AEC companies are worried about a lack of interoperability, and see it as a BIM barrier.

Interoperability may be seen as a challenge, but it can ultimately enhance work processes if you have the right tools. Let’s take a deep dive into interoperability, how it works, what different exchanges involve, and why it is critical for BIM adoption.

man in a suit interacting with a graph

What is Interoperability?

In simple terms, interoperability is when two different systems can work together and exchange information. You see interoperability in computing, where one form of software can work and interact with another. When two different devices made by separate manufacturers work have the ability to work together, that is interoperability.

With software, users want to switch between different products without having to reenter their data each time. Their data should stay the same and be able to transfer between these different systems. This is important when it comes to BIM.

In BIM, interoperability is when different teams and organisations can share the same data on a single project. All information on a project is stored in one place, and it can be accessed by various disciplines using a range of tools. 

The concept of interoperability is essential for BIM to work and provide advantages to the AEC industries.

What Does it Mean for BIM and AEC?

Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) all need to have access to interoperable systems for BIM to work. These are the main players that create the models together with many other stakeholders in the process who have to rely on this information (Project Managers, Clients, etc.). So, each organization will need to be able to access the same information and use it with their relevant tools. 

Here are some critical points for interoperability in BIM and AEC.

Planning / Construction Phase

Planners in the AEC industries use an exclusive format for model creation. This proprietary approach allows those who have access to the same software to work together and access the same information. 

There are many stakeholders in very different fields that will need to access this data. Tapping into this data can either be achieved through only one single software option (native BIM) or through using standard processes and neutral file formats (open BIM).

Native BIM is really hard to implement as it requires the same software for every stakeholder even though the might have different needs. They have various requirements for software, so a single platform won’t work for everyone. Open BIM, on the other hand, allows the exchange of information across a range of software systems, thus providing interoperability.  

Operation / Renovation

Interoperability is not only necessary during the start of a project, but it may also be needed many years down the line. If a building needs any renovations or remodels, for example, then all AEC individuals involved will need to access the same information and work with it. 

The problem is that proprietary file formats may not be accessible or won’t open after a few years. The lack of access could be due to changes in software and configurations over time. 

If you use native files for archiving, you create room for uncertainty. You really don’t know what software standards may look like 5 years down the line and whether the building information will be relevant to new systems. 

Using open file schemes, like IFC, guarantee that you can use your models and data along the entire life cycle of a building. Interoperability plays a major role in integrating future software that we are not yet sure of. 

Two Ways to Exchange

When it comes to BIM practices and interoperability, ‘exchange’ is a critical word. To better understand the process and idea behind exchanges in construction projects, let’s focus on one simple element, such as a window. 

To build a window, you will need involvement from a range of different areas. The processes that go into making a window include architectural drawing, building physics, tender planning, and many more. Lastly, a contractor needs to build the window.

Each of these different processes and individuals makes a contribution to the information for the window. At the same time, each party needs to take away certain information about the window. The old-school approach is to use drawings each step of the way and exchange these between the different parties. This can cause certain risks and miscommunications. Using an interoperable BIM platform, like bimspot, is a smarter, more streamlined choice. 

Representational State Transfer (REST) API is a form of architectural software that creates interaction between RESTful web services. This approach exchanges information directly between proprietary systems. REST API is far too complex a system for it to work out in this case. API REST requires way too much effort for the software developers to integrate and maintain all needed software out there.

This is why a common language is needed. Industry Foundation Class (IFC) is the standard here. IFC makes up the base of BIM data exchange methods. It is the standard that various stakeholders use for communication. This is an excellent example of interoperability in action – where multiple departments can use one standard to maintain a clear and consistent flow of information. 

Final Thoughts

BIM promotes collaboration and a single source of project data. This approach is completely reshaping the AEC industries by offering a more innovative way to work. The advantages of BIM are significant, with this approach providing far superior end results to any project. For BIM to work successfully, interoperability between software systems is vital.

Interoperability allows for better planning, better construction, and improved management after the build has been completed. It improves collaboration, communication, and it helps to achieve a stronger end result. 

If your business is looking towards BIM as the future of AEC, then you need interoperability between systems. To make this easier, be sure to check out bimspot or contact us for more information.

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