Before diving into this blog piece i wanted to explain first that whilst i am an ArchiCAD user i always try to look at the bigger picture of BIM, particularly with regards to data. In fact i am becoming more and more uninterested in what can be done in ARCHICAD. There are already plenty of users focussed on asking Graphisoft for ARCHICAD feature improvements that are primarily designed to benefit the model author. My focus is all on the data and how we can use it and export it. For me, my simple mantra is if you can’t export it from an authoring package, and generate a benefit to others, it doesn’t exist. This perhaps may seem a little extreme but with this thought pattern it allows me to focus on the bigger picture of BIM.
I would therefore like to think that the blog pieces i write are as useful to users of other authoring platforms as they are to an ARCHICAD user. If nothing else you may begin to understand a little more about ARCHICAD. And there is no harm in looking at how another authoring tool functions. So after that brief introduction, now on to this blog piece…
A lot has been said in BIM circles about the idea that some software currently is not really able to be used in BIM workflows, particularly though when it comes to the ‘I’ in BIM. That included me, until now!
I have been working on standard data sets for our projects in ARCHICAD for the past 6-12 months and this got me thinking about whether i could use these data sets and apply them to any object, no matter what the content was created in.
In the latest release of Graphisoft ARCHICAD, version 17, there is now a direct import of SKP files from Trimble SketchUp *. The import has been available for a number of versions as an add-on (otherwise known as a plugin) but i am always wary of these having been burnt in the past. But as part of our roll out of ARCHICAD 17 i thought i would see what this new embedded functionality was actually like. I wanted to see if i could make the imported content ‘intelligent’, particularly though in relation to IFC and COBie.
I started by going to the Trimble 3D Warehouse to find an object and downloading it. For this exercise i chose an Eames Chair but this works for any object.
Image: The Eames Chair object as it appears in Trimble 3D Warehouse
I was then simply able to go to ARCHICAD and choose File > Open. The process of conversion of course depends on the size and complexity of the object but the speed seems generally pretty quick for most objects. For this particular object it was about 20 seconds.
Image: The object after opening in ARCHICAD
So here is the clever bit. As part of our office template we have created what are known as ‘Favorites’ in ArchiCAD. I have blogged about this subject before over on the Shoegnome website run by Jared Banks. See my post – “If you haven’t discovered ARCHICAD Favorites, you haven’t discovered BIM”. These basically allow you to preset a variety of settings. This includes geometry, 2D graphical display, settings for IFC exchange and most importantly data. This data can include anything from standard IFC fields, COBie data and user defined fields. Typically you would select an object and then set it up accordingly with the correct settings and data you need. However with our approach we are now beginning to work the other way around. We select our data and settings first before even considering geometry or appearance.
Once we have our core data set and settings, we can either configure an object or select an entirely new object. Provided this new object is selected in line with the data and settings we can pretty much use any 3-dimensional object. So i simply selected the correct ‘Favorite’ and then selected the object i had created. This meant we had an object that had correct IFC settings but also the data we wanted to attach to it. I then simply added a description of ‘Eames Chair’ (this description also populates the Component Description field). I can now place these wherever i need them in the model.
Image: A dataset that is added to the object in ARCHICAD
Image: The object replaced in ARCHICAD with data set included (note: the textures are lost but this can be rectified with a little work if required for visualisation)
Typically we can go back and add further data at different RIBA work stages depending on the requirements of the project. This is in line with our Level of Information (LOI) documentation we have developed.
So the next step was to export the IFC. I exported the object from ARCHICAD as ‘IFC 2×3 Coordination View 2.0’ and reopened the file in Solibri Model Viewer (a free IFC viewer available for both PC and Mac). I was able to check that the data and geometry was still intact.
Image: Object exported to Solibri Model Viewer with geometry on the right hand side and the data bottom left
Of course this workflow experiment with SketchUp can be extended to other formats we can import into ARCHICAD. So we have now tested 3DS files with similar results. This will allow us to use content that may have been created in Autodesk 3DS Max for example which we use in our visualisation workflows.
This opens up lots of possibility for using objects in our BIM workflows but there are some words of caution. The biggest concern with importing non-native files is the quality of the objects you are importing. In particular heavy geometry will potentially kill files and more importantly is the geometry even correct? With ARCHICAD’s Morph tool we could do some cleaning up but this does add some time to the process.
If we want excellent 2D representation we would need to convert the imported objects into ARCHICAD objects and sort out the 2D representation. Again this is not particularly difficult but does add some more work.
Some objects we experimented with required a little more modification in terms of unifying geometry but this was a fairly quick process.
Lastly it should be noted that the objects are intelligent in terms of data but are still somewhat dumb when it comes to geometry. We can amend geometry but it would need to be done manually rather than within any parametric capability. This is not ideal but its not the end of the world if objects are used sparingly.
However, native content should always be the de facto standard for content! This ‘experiment’ is largely just that, but i am always looking at how we can use other software in our workflows. You wouldn’t want to start flooding your authored models with non-native content but equally where there is a particularly specialist object that has been created in another software package and we can import it, we can make use of it, make it ‘intelligent’ and export it to other software. In IFC terms you wouldn’t actually know the difference.
Just for a bit of fun…
Of course not all BIM testing is a dull affair, so here is one with something for the Star Wars fans out there!
Image: R2D2 in Solibri Model Viewer – includes COBie data allowing the client to import R2D2’s data into a Facilities Management (FM) system
* Of course all software has its strengths and weaknesses and all software serves the purpose it was designed for. Trimble Sketchup does have plugins such as ‘Dynamic Components’ which increase parametric capabilities but we have never been able to find anything that allows direct IFC exchange or supports COBie data. If anyone knows different, i will gladly update this post accordingly. Trimble’s acquisition of Sketchup from Google in 2012 may see developments in this area given Trimble’s commitment to BIM and interoperability with other software solutions. But in the meantime this was a workflow that could allow Sketchup content to be used for IFC/COBie in our work with ARCHICAD if required.
Rob Jackson, Associate, Bond Bryan Architects