BIM: FOSS Perspective.

Updated: May 16, 2019

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. The AECO industry is not the one left behind. 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 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 firms and many new companies have also emerged in the industry on the name of BIM.

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 even doesn’t exist and for some these are not more than 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 an 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 are still there. It's been more than a decade for the development of IFC but none of the BIM software has been able to implement and obey it fully in their software architecture. One may hear the companies shouting that we are a better IFC compliant software but no one dares to claim themselves as best. It is wondered what makes them not fully digest the IFC. It is totally alright to do business on the name of OpenBIM but it is intolerable to exploit and make fools out of the public.

What do majority of the industry experts have their take on this? Well, it is really sad to hear from them complaining the 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 develop some tools on the bases 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 a multiple workbench software integrated with each other. No doubt, we can not compare it with the billion dollars software but it can’t be ignored too. The advancements in this software are going on steadily. The recent development of the Rebar Addon in it has been a great move, shown in Fig.1.

The second one 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 a integrated project delivery. Users can upload their respective model of the project on a single platform and update it with the revisions being made. One of the important function 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 own programmed service on it and use it for the desired purpose. A screenshot from the BIMserver window has been shown in Fig.2.

So we can conclude that no matter how busy we are in the commercial world but we should find some time for the betterment of the BIM 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 can not be neglected.

Say yes to OpenBIM, Say yes to FOSS. Let's pledge to make this world a better place.

Guest Author

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.