National Standards Evolve Slowly

15 Aug, 2007 By: Heather Livingston

While the National CAD Standard plugs along and plugs in, the National BIM Standards Project gains momentum.

Last month polled readers on which CAD standard they use for AEC. The poll ran for about six weeks and received 529 responses. The significant interest it generated led us to wonder what’s currently happening with the CAD and BIM standards and how close they are to an update and to being viable for the industry. Here’s what we found.

NCS Update
Version 4 of the U.S. National CAD Standard (NCS) is expected to be released in PDF format this fall. The NCS consists of three publications: The AIA’s CAD Layer Guidelines, the Construction Specification Institute’s Uniform Drawing System (Modules 1-8), and the U.S. Department of Defense Tri-Services CADD/GIS Center’s Plotting Guidelines. The coordinated NCS provides owners and AEC teams consistent and efficient communication, plus reduced costs for developing and maintaining standards and transferring design data to facility management.

Although adoption of the NCS is voluntary, a document released by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) Facilities Information Council (FIC) shows that currently there are more than 5,000 National CAD Standard licensees, with many of those holding site licenses, which allow for 10 users per license. According to David A. Jordani, FAIA, chair of the FIC Board of Directors and of its NCS Project Committee, when you begin to extrapolate the number of licenses to the number of people who actually use it on a number of projects, the significant reach of the NCS becomes immediately apparent. “We know we’re into tens of millions of drawings that have been impacted by the NCS,” Jordani said.

The degree of NCS adoption can vary largely according to the size of the firm, Jordani explains. “There are some who adopted rather religiously and with all of the modules; there are some who choose to use modules because they feel that that’s the real value of using NCS; and then there are others who will go through and use NCS essentially as a point of departure and tailor it to meet some of their business requirements,” he said, reflecting the breakdown of the CADalyst poll in standard usage.

Obstacles to NCS Adoption
If the NCS was devised to help reduce costs for creating standards and transferring design data to facility management, why haven’t all firms adopted the standard? One simple reason some firms have yet to adopt the NCS is that they may have some existing processes and need to devise a migration strategy. Jordani pointed out if they’ve already developed tools and procedures around that, then they have to determine if, how, and when to make the transition. Additionally, some clients demand things in a way that differs from the national standards, yet the firm still needs to provide those services. 

Another obstacle to universal adoption is exposure and the commensurate failure to see the real value of having a standard, explained Jordani, who believes that the exposure will become less of an issue in the near future because NIBS is working with software developers to integrate the NCS as part of their product offerings. “I think that one of the barriers really is that even with PDF copies, people still have to go ahead and familiarize themselves with [the NCS],” he said. “If it is inside the software, it becomes harder to avoid using the standard instead of just going ahead and adopting it.” Altiva Software already has incorporated NCS v3.1 into its latest iteration of CADconform, its add-on that integrates with MicroStation and AutoCAD to promote and enforce 100% conformance to CAD standards. FIC reports that CMI, a third-party vendor for AutoCAD also is in the process of developing an NCS plugin.

The National BIM Standard
As BIM continues to grow in AEC design software market share, so, too, does the need for a BIM standard. As the FIC Web site states, the National BIM Standards Project Committee (NBIMS) is seeking to “improve the performance of facilities over their full life-cycle by fostering a common, standard, and integrated life-cycle information model for the AEC & FM industry.” The draft version of NBIMS was released this spring, with the final version due out this fall. While the draft v1 consists largely of introduction methodology information, work has already commenced on v2. According to Alan Edgar, associate AIA, chair of the NBIMS Project Committee, v2 will include more specification-level standards.

Whereas CAD standards really focus on printed output for documents, the BIM standard looks at the issue of interoperability so that software manufacturers can build products that will be able to interact with the BIM model and not require custom interfaces for different BIM models.

“If I go ahead and author the BIM model using Revit or Microstation or Graphisoft, at some point in time I can reach in and get that data using a product like Maximo, a computerized maintenance management system,” Jordani explained. “The standards will be developed such that the people who are writing Maximo are going to be able to understand the structure of the asset model inside a BIM model that’s compliant with the national standard, so they can automatically populate information on the assets for preventative maintenance activity. It’s really much more focused at the level of being able to ensure that software developers have a standard that they can write to.”

Barriers in the Road
As to the actual realization of a unified BIM standard, Kristine Fallon, FAIA, chair of the AIA’s Technology in Architecture Practice Knowledge Committee, believes that the AEC industry will still be waiting a while longer. She cites two significant challenges in creating the national BIM standard. “First is deciding what are the important model views that the industry needs,” she said. “The National BIM Standard Committee is positioning itself in that, but so far hasn’t really accomplished it. How do you identify the key views and bring together organizations and companies [that] may be competitors to agree on the scope of that model view?” The second hurdle is the need to develop a technical specification that can be implemented by the software vendors and that shows an ROI attractive enough for them to sign on. “It requires an awful lot of organization across the many stakeholders in the design construction industry.”

Fallon also said that there is a “huge need” for workable implemented model views of the Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) and that only a couple are widely implemented: the Coordination View and U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) Spatial Program Validation View. “There are many other views that need to be developed, standardized, and implemented that have not yet been defined,” she explained.

Doing It Right
Fallon believes that GSA has done an excellent job with its Spatial Program Validation View. “Because they’re a very large consumer of buildings, they got all the major players in a room and worked with them so that all the major BIM modeling tools now support their particular model view. The GSA said this is how we define a space; this is how we calculate space; these are the IFC entities we think you should use to encode that information. All these software vendors can now output that IFC information. That’s a good step in the right direction,” she said.

The American Institute of Steel Construction also is on the right track with its steel-specific standard, Fallon believes. “They got the whole industry together: the structural design firms, detailers, fabricators, erectors, and got them all interested in being able to streamline information flow. Then, in the initial round, they had 12-14 vendors who do steel detailing, fabrication, structural analysis, or steel design and layout software to support that standard.” Because of the enhanced coordination and communication and resulting lack of redundancy, the steel standard has effectively reduced the time from project commencement to erecting the steel.

“We need to see things like that happen for many, many aspects of the AEC industry,” Fallon said. “The question is: How you put a mechanism into place that allows that to happen, makes people aware if three different groups are embarking on the same effort, and brings the vendors along so that they actually implement these standards once they’re developed? That’s a really important effort that needs to be undertaken.”

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