Updated: May 16, 2019
Building Information Modelling (BIM) or Built Environment Management (BEM) or Building Data Management (BDM), there can be many acronyms for this concept. The sole theory behind it is to assemble the building infrastructure and construction information in a way that can be reused in several other customized ways to get the desired outputs or perform certain operations. Once you are done with building up the information and forming a database then it is all up to the capability of particular BIM software to perform certain intelligent tasks and get useful outputs as per the requirements of the user. As Data in its nature is always dead, one cannot criticize the data or a particular file format for being so unintelligent. The point is how intelligently we play with that data.
Another important aspect in the streamlining functioning of the industry practice is to have a standard format for a hassle-free workflow of the information between different software. Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) is an excellent text based format for such transparent transactions of building data. But unfortunately the AEC professionals are still not able to get the best of the IFC. Here again, neither the users nor the IFC are to be blamed.
Excuses apart, the doers from all around the Globe find some or the other way around to get their work done irrespective to the tools they use. The ways may include trying to get utmost use of IFC, playing with the information through some visual programming tools, communicating using the API interfaces or developing their own software. Through these self-efforts and innovative solutions, the users create their own parallel universe of building data management ignoring the established definitions and rulesets of a BIM tool. Let's discuss some of these innovative software and tools.
Open Source BIM Collective: It is a collective of open source developers that develop BIM software tools. The sole concept is to take advantage from each other’s individual tools and have a smooth workflow of data. Through this effort, the tools in the collective individually are aimed directly at a bigger picture of a next level BIM practice that we may relate to a popular term known as Level-3 BIM. (https://github.com/opensourcebim/)
IfcOpenShell: It is an open source (LGPL) software library that allows the users and programmers to operate the IFC file format. IfcOpenShell uses Open CASCADE in its software architecture to convert the implicit geometry in IFC files into explicit geometry that can be read by any BIM tool. Currently FreeCAD and BIMserver are using this library set. (http://ifcopenshell.org/)
Ifcplusplus: IfcPlusPlus is an open source C++ class model, as well as a reader and writer for IFC files in STEP format. Features: Easy and efficient memory management using smart pointers. Parallel reader for very fast parsing on multi-core CPU's. Additionally, there's a simple IFC viewer application, using Qt and OpenSceneGraph. (http://www.ifcquery.com)
xBIM: The xBIM Toolkit (eXtensible Building Information Modelling) is a .NET open-source software development BIM toolkit that supports the BuildingSmart Data Model (i.e. IFC). The xBIM project offers you the codebase to develop your own Building Information Modelling (BIM) solution for commercial, research and open environments. Some of the tools in this toolkit are xBIM Xplorer, xBIM WebUI, Xbim.Cobie, etc. (https://github.com/xBimTeam)
GeometryGymIFC: It contains C# classes to generate and parse IFC files. These classes simultaneously support IFC2x3, IFC4 and Infrastructure proposals for IFC5, and are easily extended for experimental extensions. Primarily these tools target project data exchange. Powerful parametric and generative modelling of projects is enabled by utilizing plug-ins for Grasshopper3d and Rhino3d. Generative BIM data exchange is provided using a combination of OpenBIM formats (primarily IFC) and direct API interaction to popular software including Revit, Archicad, Digital Project and Tekla. Structural Analysis models can be exchanged with many popular analysis software. (https://geometrygym.wordpress.com/)
BIM Bots: BIM Bots provides an interconnected ecosystem of cloud based tools which are are aimed to streamline your workflow, automate your tasks and improve the quality of your work. (http://bimbots.org/)
BIMSie: BIM Service interface exchange: The objectives of this project are to automate interaction between (online) BIM services, giving the industry the possibility to innovate with BIM in the cloud. The goal in this project is to create an open ICT ServiceInterface (an API) for online BIM-Web Services. (http://www.nibs.org/?page=bsa_bimsie)
BIM Surfer: It is an open source web based viewer toolkit for the visualization of BIM data from IFC and glTF. BIM Surfer is one of the initiatives from the open source BIM collective. Most of this work was funded by the Netherlands organisation for applied scientific research TNO. (https://github.com/opensourcebim/BIMsurfer)
BIMserver: It is an open and stable software core to easily build reliable BIM software tools. 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. The core of the software is based on the open standard IFC. (http://bimserver.org/)
BCF Server & Forum: It is a Wordpress plugin to create a 'BCF topic server' from the wordpress installation (including a web service API). BCF is BIM Collaboration Format which is an open standard to communicate about the ‘issues’ of a BIM model during its design cycle. (https://github.com/opensourceBIM/BCF-Forum)
BIM Protocol Generator: It is cloud-based tool that identifies the preferred working methods from project partners and aggregates them into a BIM project protocol. From a project perspective the perfect situation is described and a theory is thought through on how the ideal workflow and working methods would look for a project (http://bimprotocolgenerator.com/)
Open Building Institute: With the mission to make affordable, ecological housing accessible to everyone, OBI system is open source, collaborative and distributed. The library is made available online in standard CAD formats compatible with open source software applications such as FreeCAD and Blender. The library can be directly imported into Sweet Home 3D - an open source interior design application. Once imported into the application, modules can be simply dragged and dropped to create a building design (https://www.openbuildinginstitute.org/)
FreeCAD: It is the first & only free open source BIM modelling software and 3D parametric modeler with FEM and several other multiple integrated workbenches support. It uses IfcOpenShell to export and import its model information into IFC.(https://www.freecadweb.org/)
Dynamo: Dynamo is an open source visual programming tool based on algorithm aided design that aims to be accessible to both non-programmers and programmers alike. It gives users the ability to visually script behavior, define custom pieces of logic, and script using various textual programming languages to build, manage and query parametric BIM models. (http://dynamobim.org/)
There is no doubt in the fact that the author may have missed some other important open source BIM tools and projects. But the sole motive is to recognize the efforts of the open source community who are usually not in the limelight. One can say that the industry is still struggling to implement Level-2 BIM but the research is far ahead which shows some different picture that is much beyond the unstable or changing concept of Level-3 BIM. It is really good to see that the professionals are evolving from ‘users’ to ‘expert users’ and ‘expert users’ to ‘developers’. The urge to get most out of a software is increasing and the intervention of information technology in the construction industry is helping it to progress exponentially.
Er. Nirbhay Chauhan is a Structural Engineer belonging to Faridkot, Punjab. He has keen interests in Open BIM, Python and Visual Programming. He runs a YouTube channel and blog named Eklavya Self Learning Tutorials where he posts videos and articles on open source BIM software like FreeCAD and his research work.