Comments on the Breakfast 2011

Yesterday, I was at the BIMserver Breakfast, in Amsterdam (which is not too far from Leuven by train). At this event, people could download, install and run the Open Source BIM server, to collaboratively host building projects using IFC files.

The BIM Server software

The free, java-based server is easy to install, as it is completely self-contained (even includes a small http-server) and cross-platform. As admin, you can set up some project and define users.

BIM Server (left) and Web administration interface (right)
Currently, this is mostly a specialized, domain-specific, content-management system:
  • Projects contain name, description, sub-projects and geo-location;
  • IFC files can be uploaded and downloaded;
  • people can make revisions (new versions);
  • sub-projects define user roles, e.g. architect, structural engineer, MEP;
  • there is a modelbrowser, which shows the IFC model structure and can be used to make queries (request for particular objects to inspect);
  • RSS feeds allow you to subscribe to revisions;
  • There is a compare option, but only version 1.1 will allow you to compare using the IFC name;
  • You can "tag" certain revisions, e.g. for particular milestones in the project;
  • You can branch a project revision, to make it into an independent, new alternative project.
This is Open Source software and is under active development. There was even a particular event to create add-ons during the OpenBIMweek, from which this event was a part.

Query on the BIM Server
Some notable features, which are more domain-specific:

  • Exporting IFC models to e.g. Google Earth is possible, but this generates a simplified version of the model (only walls, roofs and floor slabs, IIRC);
  • There is an optional WebGL viewer included (which works best using e.g. Google Chrome browser);
  • External viewers are being developed, which connect directly to the BIM server, allowing users to load and view a particular revision;
  • Connections to Alfresco and Sharepoint are being developed;
  • You can merge sub-projects (a simple merge and a smart merge are available, the latter avoiding any double and overlapping items). This takes quite some time as models can become very large;
  • Editing the IFC model is not possible. I assume that it could technically be possible by writing an add-on that interacts with the database, but the question is if that is really what you want to enable.

All in all, a very promising software and we intend to use it throughout a new project where we ask students from different schools to collaborate and communicate, using 'any' BIM software that is compatible with IFC (and probably also use BIM viewers).

The BIM Server Breakfast Event

The event itself was very informal. In the style of "Sit down, plug-in your earphones and start doing something." Luckily, the people from where available for questions and explanations. I would have preferred a bit more structure and guidance. After all, when going all the way to Amsterdam to follow web-movies which can also be followed at home, you need some additional incentive.

Luckily, I also had a few nice talks about BIM, IFC, integration with ArchiCAD, possible solutions for workflows, integration in education etc... which all made the trip to Amsterdam worthwhile. And I had a meeting in Rotterdam the same day, which was also quite productive.