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Putting Building Information Models to the test

Editorial Type: Review     Date: 09-2013    Views: 2440   

The industry finally seems to be catching up with Solibri’s Model Checker thanks to all things BIM, writes David Chadwick

I was given a demonstration some years ago of Solibri Model Checker (SMC), when it first poked its head above the parapet. I thought it a great idea, but felt it was somewhat ahead of its time, and would be beyond the deployment of many organisations, who might struggle to realise its full benefits. That was before BIM came along and changed everything though!

Now we are deep in BIM territory, and amassing all the data that SMC needed when the software was in its infancy - except that the information available has become so large and complex that we now have difficulty in selecting the bits crucial to running a project accurately. Which is exactly the scenario that SMC was designed to address in the first place!

SMC is a rules-based model checker. It enables companies to build cost-effectively and with less risk by analysing building information models for design integrity, data quality and physical aspects such as on-site safety. The system "X-rays" a building model, revealing potential flaws and weakness in the design, highlights clashing components and checks whether the model complies with building codes, protocols and an organisation's best practices. This goes far beyond the clash detection that and other products have been doing to date.

Core to SMC is model checking, but in addition it has a powerful data extraction capability which Solibri, the company, doesn't really emphasise. SMC doesn't check models in the way we have come to understand by looking only at the model geometry - it also checks the data that comes with the model against its own dictionary, which can be best described as being a spelling and grammar checker for BIM models, used to check the information about the model elements in a building and their relationship to each other. SMC checks that every volume created by the authoring tools matches the adjoining walls, that floor slabs are set at the right level - performing a complete space check according to space rules - and determines whether they have spaces, if they are named, are they bound, and if they overlap other spaces or walls.

COBie demands no less accuracy - and, to reinforce this message, consultants are encouraged to ensure models have been thoroughly checked by whatever means, as post-production audit tools ensure that COBie sheets, containing inappropriate data, are rejected.

Contractors, therefore, can carry out checks on a consultant's model, and where checking results show issues these and the models can then be passed back to the consultants for review and comment. By using the free Solibri Model Viewer consultants, or indeed any stakeholder, can view both SMC model files, which typically contain a federated model - multiple models combined - with any issues found by the rules engine, and open standard IFC files, exported from any number of IFC compliant software solutions. As Solibri Model Viewer also includes mark-up tools it can be used to record the exchange of comments in the determination and fix of an issue.

Checking model data using SMC is not just about walls, spaces and volumes. Holding customisable rule sets in different categories of folders enables SMC to check anything that can physically be described. In excess of sixty rules already exist which can be used out-of-the-box or user customised and additional rules can be developed to meet specific needs. The rules provided cover a wide range of situations including the relationships between doors in walls, the size and configuration of windows, the specific types of room fittings that clients want installed, the space required between toilet bowls and inward opening cubicle doors (a major design oversight and one that the Design Centre, of all places, is very much guilty of!) Having analysed design issues within a model, or within a federated model, it can then classify each issue according to a level of severity set by users (or by default).

SMC can also be used for other purposes besides geometric accuracy. It can handle automated space analysis and measurement tasks, relevant for checking whether, for example, room sizes within a care home meet government criteria. In addition it uses sophisticated algorithms for defining escape routes out of a building, by utilising fire compartments and fire exits to plot and visually display the lengths of routes to the nearest safe exit.

We briefly mentioned its use as a clash detection tool which, Solibri says, accounts for less than 5% of the software's functionality. SMC uses an intelligent clash checking system that is based on each component's design discipline and type, and is able to rank and produce reports on the severity of each clash.

SMC can also be used to check any data in a model for revision changes, extracting those it has found and exporting them via templates to a spreadsheet, which can then be used to calculate the cost of such changes. Not only can it check model changes between revision levels, it can provide reports on deficiency detection. In the care home example above, it can even check whether regulated items are missing from a room's inventory.

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