Building Design

Empowering the “I” in BIM

11 Sep, 2008 By: Heather Livingston

Solibri CEO Jonathan Widney shares his thoughts on the direction BIM is heading and how Solibri is finding its niche.


Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Jonathan Widney, CEO of Solibri, about his product's role among rapidly evolving BIM technologies. Widney is an interesting figure in the CAD and BIM world because of his vast experience across multiple platforms. Widney spent 14 years in government service as a Chinese (Mandarin) and Arabic (multidialect) linguist. After that time, he returned to the University of Oregon where he
Jonathan Widney
Solibri CEO Jonathan Widney.
earned his undergraduate degree in political science and international business and completed his graduate studies in public administration, with a focus on Middle- and Far-Eastern business development. For the past 16 years, he has been developing CAD markets in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and most recently in the Americas. In this capacity, Widney has been involved with multiple CAD platforms and tools, both with end-users and with channel partners. In 2001 he founded NavisWorks, Inc., as a subsidiary of NavisWorks Ltd. (United Kingdom). In 2008, he launched Solibri LLC, a subsidiary of Solibri, Inc., based in Finland. Here he shares his thoughts on Solibri and its place in building information modeling.

HL: How has your background prepared you for the CAD market?

JW: I've been heavily involved in market development and have worked with firms from a very small developer all the way up through Autodesk. Before my involvement with CAD, I was a linguist. I speak quite a few languages, among them Chinese and Arabic. The one thing that languages and technology have in common is that they both allow you to bring together more people and focus on issues, not differences.

HL: How does Solibri fit into the building information model?

JW: Solibri Model Checker has been used extensively by the General Services Administration (GSA) and others who are focused on the use of Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) and the use of analysis tools — real BIM versus building modeling — but it didn't have a lot of traction with commercial users. One reason why it was a good fit for me was my expertise in building markets, but perhaps more important, I believe it represents the next generation of tools that are applicable to the development of real BIM. I was pretty successful with creating a market for NavisWorks here, so I have a good understanding of how the tools are being used in the interoperable environment and also am aware of some gaps that technology like Solibri is well positioned to address.

There is a lot of market awareness of BIM right now, but there's also a lot of confusion about what BIM really is and about whether you're creating a BIM or you're BIMing or if this is a BIM model. Solibri really is a model checker, so if you have a model that you create in any BIM tool, it allows you to check that model for a wide range of possible behaviors. It's quite different from anything else on the market.

HL: How does Solibri Model Checker work?

JW: A lot of tools can do interference detection, but a lot of them are just comparing geometry to geometry. Solibri is based on rules, so once rules are established, you have also established constraints. Then, when you're checking models, you're actually checking for compliance with rules. When an issue is identified it tells you what rule has been violated and what the constraints were, so it's very intelligent and much more of an analytical than CAD tool. The rules that could be checked include ADA compliance, ANSI/BOMA standards, egress analysis, energy analysis, space usage, space validation, and even design validation and design quality assurance.

With Solibri Model Checker, you write the rules and then check your model to see how it complies with those rules. I think it represents the move to more logic-based tools, so when you're building your models to be, let's say, green or LEED compatible, you do your model and this will tell you whether or not you actually achieved those results. It's a model checker and what it checks for is totally user definable. There are rules that exist as templates already, by which you can just edit the variables to establish your own parameters and there are new rules that can be written — usually by third parties — for analyzing behaviors such as security, circulation, operational rules, etc.

The way in which rules are input enables the user to do quite a bit of what-if testing. If, for example, you're allowing a tolerance of four inches and it's set for six, you just change it to four inches, then you run your check and it tells you how you did. I think this is part of a shift toward really having the "I" in BIM become very important, when you're dealing with information instead of just the geometry of the model.

Click for larger image This Solibri view highlights the visual image of the interference between a column and the building services components, and it shows the amount of data that is available: the Model Tree Window, Checking tree (what it's checking for), the Results window (identified as issues), and the object information (at a substantive level). (Click image for larger version)

HL: What makes model checking so useful?

JW: This model checking tool is important for checking for egress; for example, it will tell you whether the distance from the inside door to the outside door is within allowable parameters. Or perhaps if the distance of any hospital patient room to a nurses' station can't exceed 100 feet, it will help you analyze that before you build, because a few minor adjustments can put the design in compliance. The value in this type of improved design process is very tangible. I think we're stimulating a lot more thought processes on the part of the people who will be modeling, which is good. We're also able to check very quickly to see whether a design is even constructible. You are able to find all the interferences, faults, and mistakes early in the model instead of finding them in the field.

Click for larger image This screen shot shows a space, and the blue pathways show the best possible exit route from that space. (Click image for larger version)

HL: How do you see BIM programs changing in the next five years?

JW: Innovation still often rests with small entrepreneurial companies that don't share the large vendors' constraints of release cycles and having to integrate the technology with their existing packages. Sometimes the smaller companies can create solutions faster, have more flexibility, and get them to market more quickly. Right now, there are some very smart people who are developing the technology for BIM. I think if we look at BIM and try to define it, it really is the "I" that's important — the information in the middle of it. What information do we want to carry and how do we move from design to review to construct to operate?

I think over the next five years, we'll start seeing a lot more use of models on constructed buildings by the building owners for elements of operations and facilities maintenance. I think the BIM software companies will keep working to improve the tools, and they'll become more robust and possibly more logic based. We're still in the early stages of BIM, and the United States is a very, very big market. It takes a long time to get the same results here that you might have in a small Scandinavian country that doesn't have as many players and people involved in the industry.

When I look at how the GSA is using tools like Solibri, I see them using it to validate space uses, validate whether the space is the right size, and whether it's going to be applied in the right way. They're also validating it to see if the designs are viable and feasible, which is great when you look at how things were done in the past. In the future I think it'll just continue to improve.

Solibri is working closely with agencies such as the International Code Council to further develop the capabilities to automate or semiautomate code checking. I think what you'll see from Solibri is a maturing of the user interface and more functionality.


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Lynn Allen

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