The Information Technology (IT) has been able to expand its roots to vast fields since last decade. Every profession seems to be greatly influenced by it and the Architecture Engineering Construction and Operation (AECO) industry is not left behind either. The advent of Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been a boom for this sector. Gone are the days of manual drafting and 2D CAD drawings. The philosophy of BIM has inspired many leading software vendors like Autodesk, Bentley, Trimble, Graphisoft, Nemetschek, etc to develop the modelling software based on the principles of BIM. The AECO industry professionals are very well aware of these commercial products and have adapted them in their day to day services. Majority of prevailing companies delivering CAD services have transformed themselves into BIM organizations and many new companies have also emerged in the industry with BIM tags.
In this huge competitive market of commercial BIM software, how can the Free Open Source Software (FOSS) find their place? For majority of the professionals, such tools do not even exist and for some, these are mere funky toys. The problem may be due to unawareness of such tools or the over popularity of the commercial ones. Some proprietary software have such a strong grip over the market that for most of the professionals, BIM is equivalent to that software. The reason may be the aggressive market strategies by providing free student licenses for a decent period of time and making the users addicted to them.
Then comes another term called OpenBIM. Well, this is a collective movement of the software vendors to enhance their interoperability among themselves using an open format named Industry Foundation Classes (IFC). This is a very welcomed move but the issues and controversies still linger. It’s been more than a decade since the development of IFC but none of the BIM software have been able to implement and obey it fully in their software architecture. One may hear the hurls of several companies claiming to have better IFC compliant software than the other but no one dares to claim themselves as best. It is totally alright to do business in the name of OpenBIM but it is intolerable to exploit and fool the public.
What is the take of industry experts on the idea of IFC? Well, it is really sad to hear from them complaining against IFC as a poor format. But the bitter truth is that the real fault lies in the particular BIM software writing and reading the IFC. There are a number of selfless researchers and industry experts who have contributed their best for the formation of IFC and open standards. But when it comes to developing tools on the basis of this common format, one often ends up in disappointment as much of the essential information is lost due to the incapability of the BIM software.
Open source software find a decent place when it comes to OpenBIM, as the source code is open which gives a lot of freedom to the user. At present for BIM modelling, FreeCAD is the first and only software. It uses IfcOpenShell to export and import its model information into IFC. IfcOpenShell is a free open source software library for IFC. Moreover, it is multiple workbench software integrated with each other. No doubt, we cannot compare it with the billion dollars software but it can’t be ignored too. The advancement in this software is going on steadily. The recent development of the Rebar Addon in FreeCAD has been a great move (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. A typical demonstration of the newly developed Addon of FreeCAD
Second on the list is BIMserver. It is a Java based software that can be installed on a dedicated server or a local host. Professionals of the AECO industry can work on it from remote locations and have Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). Users can upload their respective model of the project on a single platform and update it with the revised versions. One of the important functions of the BIMserver is Query. It is a type of language originally made for BIM to call BIM objects and perform the desired operations. Some of the other interesting features of this tool are model merging, clash detection, revision control. A user can also add his/her programmed service on it and use it for the desired purpose. A snapshot from the BIMserver window has been shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. A sample working project on BIMserver.
In conclusion, we as BIM community, involved in BIM in one way or the other must strive for its betterment as whole. The contribution is not limited to just BIM technology developers, it is the role of BIM process field players to advance in the concept of Open BIM to make it a reality. The solution to the biggest challenge of interoperability lies underneath the IFC and the contribution to its development by the contributors cannot be neglected. As an author of this post, I request you to Say yes to OpenBIM, Say yes to FOSS. Let’s pledge to make this world a better place.
I like to acknowledge my research mentor Prof. H. S. Rai for his selfless and sincere guidance because of whom I’m able to develop this self-learning knowledge and share with our India BIM Association’s community. I’m also grateful to Amarnath CB for his motivation.
Nirbhay Chauhan is a Structural Engineer and a BIM Explorist from Faridkot, Punjab, India. He has recently completed his research on OpenBIM by developing an IFC based rule engine programme in accordance to IS:456 for structural code compliance of RC slab. He is an Active Member of India BIM Association and he is passionate about Free Open Source Software (FOSS) and runs a free website and a youtube channel with the name of Eklavya Self Learning Tutorials. He provides free video tutorials and articles about FOSS BIM tools and his research work. He loves animals and humanity. Feel free to contact Nirbhay on firstname.lastname@example.org