(This blogpost was published in December 15th, 2021.) As the InfraBIM Open is getting closer, it is a great time to go back couple of years and examine how Inframodel has developed over the years.
At the beginning of this year, I gave up the chairperson’s gavel in the bSF Infra standardization group (a sub group of bSF Infra) to a younger colleague. It is little bit surprising that 20 years have passed since ‘the starting point’. I think it is a good time look backwards and go through the main steps. Could we celebrate achievements? What have we learned?
The Infra development program, launched in the beginning of the 2000s, also included a humble preliminary study of information management. The study raised the need for and importance of common standardized information. At that time the premise was primarily in the data transfer between infra design software. The problems that have been found also sound very familiar today: many different formats, which do not support intelligent data transfer, lack of know-how, bad documentation, and so on. The study presents different views of the near future of data transfer at different levels: from zero – continuing as is- to open data transfer and even to common open data stores.
These problems in data exchange were considered to limit the possibilities in open competition and introduce extra costs for the planning phases of the projects because of conversions with extra workload and loss of data ‘re-designing’. There were also demands coming from the construction phase to deliver more digital data into the construction projects. Something had to be done!
The most realistic development steps were found to improve and develop the transfer of open data. For this, a feasibility study named ‘Inframodel’ was started. Some parts of data transfer e.g., for bore hole data, need only harmonization and strict guidelines. But actually, the core infrastructure data – road and rail geometry, pipe networks, etc. – needed something new. In the discussions was also a totally new standard, but then LandXML was founded, which seems to include just these base elements we needed. It is a non-proprietary data standard just launched in January 2000, driven by an industry consortium of partners. We also quoted the IFC standard. The building sector has been active with that in Finland. But IFC appears to be just more for buildings…
Thanks to the Infra development program, from this point a long fruitful development co-operation was started between software companies, consultants, contractors, research and educational institutes, and as the main party the big infra clients.
The Inframodel2 2005-2006 co-operation project was the step to enhance the data exchange of design models between existing design systems. The main focus was in LandXML. It was ready to use, but on the other hand the standard was ‘wide and loose’. We needed more additional definitions how to adapt LandXML to the Finnish design principles. In the development project a pilot of the method was run with the existing design systems in real projects. The results of the project, the Inframodel2 documentation, were published for everyone’s use.
To accelerate the implementation, the clients supported extra piloting in real projects. We showed that this is going to work. Inframodel2 was also published as an online document. After that, in 2007, the road and rail authorities set Inframodel2 guidelines and recommendation for use in the hand-over data.
As a result of this step there are intelligent ways to transfer information of road and rail structures. The most important parts were alignments, stringline and surface models, and pipe networks with the specified property sets. The core issue was that each element could be attached to the codes of new Infra2006 Classification. The rich set of metadata of project information was also important. Moreover, that worked quite well between the software involved in the development!
Nevertheless, wider implementation of information modelling was slow. However, the infrastructure sector saw great potential. The development, which started well, should not have stopped. InfraTM (TM=tietomalli=information model in Finnish) was a provisioning project of big infra clients to accelerate information management for the whole lifecycle. At that time, the term ‘InfraBIM’ was also created to differentiate from BIM for buildings. Inframodel was updated to LandXML version 1.2.
A big leap made in the InfraFINBIM development project. The vision of the InfraFINBIM was that in 2014 the big infrastructure owners will order only BIM-based services. The aim was a systemic change where traditional sequential thinking is replaced by intelligent BIM-based service production. The clients supported the development with 30 different pilot projects.
The most important result was the InfraBIM guidelines, which were the first guidelines in the infrastructure sector in the world on such a wide scale. The core trinity of InfraFINBIM Guidelines – terminology, process guidelines and format for data transfer – was mandated to use. The basic Infra Classification and InfraBIM Classification were updated to better support BIM. Inframodel got a new extended version IM3 and user guidelines.
The international aspect had been important already in the beginning of the decade when the Infrastructure room founded in buildingSMART International (bSI) and the development of IFC for Infra started. An important step in the Inframodel project was the LandXML Model View Definition. On one hand, the documentation showed ‘a fast track’ OpenBIM solution based on an existing open exchange specification (LandXML), on the other hand, it has helped in the development of the infrastructure extension for IFC.
In the evaluation of InfraFINBIM it was mentioned as ‘An outstanding example of the radical change in the markets’. As a result, it has also been said that at the beginning of InfraFINBIM there were just a couple of BIM experts, but at the end over 200. A remarkable step also was that 2012 FTIA Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency got the first BIM Manager.
A clear perception of the need for continuing education and maintenance of the InfraBIM guidelines was also formed. There would have been still a lot of work to be done. A home base for that activity was founded at buildingSMART Finland, which was established earlier as a subcommittee under the Building Information Foundation RTS sr. RTS is a private non-profit organization promoting the best practices in zoning, construction, and property management. On the building side, the development activity of BIM was already started in 1996, first as IAI, and since 2007 as buildingSMART Finland.
BuildingSmart Finland (bSF) was a sound collaboration forum to continue the development and dissemination work. On the other hand, there were already tight contacts to standardization work in buildingSMART International, on the other hand, the majority of information services at RTS was produced in committees together with the public authority, other organizations and the best experts in the field.
Hence, the Infra business group was established in bSF in 2014 at the same time with City model and Education business groups. The 2010s have been a very hard-working time in bSF Infra. Fortunately, there have been very capable representatives from Finland in the steering of bSI InfraRoom as well in the core standardization work supported by the bSF Infra standardization group.
The extended Inframodel4 schema published in 2018 and newly structured InfraBIM Guidelines in 2019. The bSF Infra group has been also very active during 2020-2021: support and small updates to the InfraBIM Guidelines and Infra Classification, new proposals for quality checking of infra models and property sets of quantities and costs, participation to the IFC Infra deployment project, studies of mapping Inframodel LandXML and IFC content, and making a new Inframodel roadmap and strategy to the transition from LandXML to IFC.
It has been great to work in a growing InfraBIM community. And now after 20 years it sounds brilliant that from the beginning of 2021 buildingSMART Finland is now officially its own chapter with smart leaders. Also, the big goal, IFC 4.3 infra extension, has been voted as the final bSI standard. Everybody ready for the next big jump! How will the BIM world look after the next 20 years?
Then back to the questions stated in the beginning of the text. What kind of thoughts will this 20-year journey make me think? Maybe first all the people involved in the work. A small group in the beginning but then a growing number of new experts and organisations that have also invested in-kind work in joint development, if necessary It is also fun that many of the core persons have been involved from the beginning to today; but the names of companies or organizations have changed! Today there are international software companies instead of Finnish ones. Also, the field of consultants and contractors has changed.
In general, the InfraBIM guidelines have accelerated the exploitation of BIM, but mainly in the design and construction, not in the maintenance or asset information management. A very important part has been the documented standardized information delivery with the Inframodel data transfer between different applications. They have also introduced new players to the market.
Especially the highlight points have been the implementation of the initial state model and the wide use of machine control guidance. The cooperation and interaction have taken advantage of BIM. As a result of the BIM education served by the institutes and companies the expertise has expanded. The big infra clients have significantly supported BIM based actions. In its entirety, I think in Finland we have introduced BIM in a very practical and agile way.
However, we still need wider know-how and user-friendly tools. We need to open datastores. We need to really enrich the standardized flow of information. Conversely, a huge number of drawings and documents are still required. And a huge amount of manual work. Maybe, as is known, 3d is the first step of BIM and it takes a while to understand, what are the demands for truly machine-readable processes of information.
Also think about how quickly the use of new technologies has progressed: laser scanning, IoT, open data interfaces, virtual models, game engines, drones, cloud base services, artificial intelligence, and so on. On the other hand, we are stuck in old technology, for example, datastores and software. The amount of data grows. Can we catch and standardize the data flow?
So, to summarize: very interesting, lots of work, optimism, challenges, disappointments, hope. Maybe the peer support with those who promote BIM has been the most important issue for me!
Today I can see a ray of hope. There is a growing understanding of the need of the standardization, and of the need to strictly comply with standards in the built environment. Correspondingly, there is a common vision of standardization from different domains – building, infra, land use, and city modelling – in the built environment. A big chance to take the next big step forward together.
I have presented thoughts just in a narrow (Inframodel) slice of my own. Now I have to admit the story of the InfraBIM history wasn’t that short after all. I guess you have similar memories or thoughts. Or have you looked at things from a different perspective?
PS. One important step was forgotten in the story: the InfraBIM Open, held for the first time in 2018 in Tampere! Looking forward to see you next January in Lyon or at least 2023 in Tampere!
Juha Liukas works at Sitowise as a leading expert of information modelling. He has been active in buildingSMART Finland’s Infra group from the very beginning, including being the chair of standardisation group. Juha has worked as a geotechnic planner and he has over 20 years of experience from developing softwares.