Collaboration Through Model Federation
What opportunities and limitations are we facing today?
BIM | CIM Collaboration, in general, is a process in which project stakeholders will work together, communicate on progress, issues, etc. with the overarching goal of ensuring that a design is well coordinated. A major component to this level of Collaboration is Model Federation. Model Federation in general has very similar goals, but can also have very purposeful applications and expectations associated with them as well.
While all project team members are chugging away with developing design models for their specific disciplines and specialties using various authoring tools, Model Federation processing is essentially the action of combining all disciple and specialty design models into a “Single Source of Truth”. Once federated, we have an opportunity to further analyze, interrogate, isolate, navigate, and etc., our projects holistically.
As you can imagine, there are many efficiency and time/cost saving benefits to be gained with proper Model Federation processing and analysis. As BIM | CIM designs and authoring tools being leverage become more complex, and with higher expectations placed upon project teams to ensure a well-coordinated model is developed and delivered, Model Federation processes are becoming increasingly critical. Some additional benefits of Model Federation have the potential to include the ability to:
- Perform Issue Tracking and Model Coordination tasks
- Perform Model Validation and Design QA/QC
- Surface Metadata and Custom Properties/Property Sets
- Perform (rough) Cost Estimations
- Perform Quantifications
- Perform additional design and construction analyses as needed
With so many benefits available to us through Model Federation processing and analysis, how could we not want to take advantage of it? Maybe this is another case of it being easier said than done, where design and software complexities can have a tendency to complicate the process for seamless consolidation and ultimately creating that actual “Single Source of Truth”.
Navigating the Model Federation Landscape
Over the past several years, I’ve been on the lookout for a Model Federation process that will support projects containing both BIM and CIM design models that are developed across multiple software vendor provided solutions (mostly Autodesk and Bentley though). The ideal Model Federation process, in a perfect world, would need to provide value and benefits listed earlier. Additionally, this ideal Model Federation solution would have the ability to be flexible to accommodate BIM and CIM design models generated in atypical design software solutions as well, and with minimal to no data loss through migrations and consolidations.
Note: Understanding a lot of very intelligent people are reading this, if you have any recommendations, or have solved this puzzle already, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (Stephen.Walz@hdrinc.com)! I’d love to talk through lessons learned and, more importantly, share with the greater AUGIWORLD community your success stories!
In any event, I’ve found that if you sit on the Building, or more specifically Revit, side of the house, you’re probably reading this and saying to yourself: “Yes, these tools and processes absolutely exist. This guy must be navigating with a map from the 1800’s!” In typical fashion across our industry, project teams generating BIM designs in Revit always appears to be sitting pretty at the top, as they (almost) always get the lion’s share of development attention from software vendors. Major vendors, along with new vendors looking to enter the market within the AECOO space, tend to figure out a way of supporting Revit workflows first. That said, we already have many solutions available to us that support Model Federation processes and provide many of the benefits listed earlier, such as: Navisworks, Solibri Model Checker, BIMCollab, etc., etc., etc. (you get the point).
If you sit on the Civil Infrastructure side of the house, whether your using Civil 3D, OpenRoads, Civil Designer, BricsCAD, etc., you may be a little more understanding and compassionate of my struggles along this journey to find that ideal Model Federation solution; although you still may be saying to yourself: “Although there are no direct routes, there are a few detours and roundabout ways that can get you where you want to go!”
Although I’ve had more success with Autodesk in my career, I will say that Bentley’s more recent approach to their Open product line is refreshing to see, as all models and data are (fairly) easily transferrable across the board; but we all know that working in only one vendor provided solution isn’t always achievable. As it relates back to Model Federation solutions and processes on the Civil Infrastructure side…it’s true, we do have several solutions available to us that support Model Federation processes and provide many of the benefits listed earlier, such as: iTwin Design Review, Synchro, InfraWorks, and Navisworks, with each having their own varying levels of integration capabilities, complications/limitations, and benefits.
If you regularly work with both sides of the house, I’m sure you can relate to my struggles and failure to locate such an ideal Model Federation solution that we can use to capitalize on all benefits listed earlier. Even while navigating this journey with a map from the 2020’s, it sometimes seems that the industry is still pretty far off from developing a practical Model Federation solution that meets all expectations and provides maximum benefits (and is it even cost effective?).
On the bright side, one recently emerging solution that seems to be rapidly rising in this realm is Speckle. Speckle has numerous software connection integrations available to transfer both models and data in a variety of ways. Adding to the fact that integrations have been made with many major BIM and CIM design authoring tools, it’s worth noting that Speckle (at this point) is an opensource solution, making it highly customizable.
I’ve been putting Speckle through the paces over the past couple months and feel that I’ve made a ton of progress to merge both sides of the house leveraging just out-of-the box Speckle connections, although workflows are still a little disjointed. That said, I’m encourage by the fast-track that Speckle is on and have a feeling that we are on the verge of bigger and better things near term…we may just need to learn a bit of coding to get us where we need go (or maybe that’s what OpenAI and ChatGPT are for???).
Although it took a while to get here, I am encouraged by the recent “Open” -ness of technology solutions making their way presence known in our industry, and many of us sharing knowledge and lessons learned as we try to figure out how best to extend those capabilities and integration. That said, there definitely is some very noticeable momentum going on across the AECOO space in general to increase model and data migrations seamlessly, which will greatly benefit our Collaboration efforts and Model Federation processing and analysis as a whole.