Corps of Engineers Pilots COBie
By William East, PhD, PE, F.ASCE

The Mark Center, also known as the "BRAC 133" project, had all component data and documentation turned over to the customer in electronic format that uses the COBie data standard. Photo by Marc Barnes

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used the Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) in a "mega-project" for the first time, with design and construction of the new Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. The Corps’ New York District managed the project, providing1.7 million square feet of facilities for the end user, Washington Headquarters Service (WHS).

The district developed a request for proposal (RFP) that specified COBie, in addition to building information models (BIMs) for each facility. Originally, it also required four sets of as-built drawings with Mylars, but WHS wanted only electronic files at turnover – requesting no hard copies of anything.

COBie, a data standard that is part of the National BIM Standard-United States™, provides a tool to capture and record important project data at its point of origin. This project information includes equipment lists, product data sheets, warranties, spare parts lists, preventive maintenance schedules and other, often unique, data. The information captured using COBie is data essential to supporting operations, maintenance and asset management once the building is in service.

The common practice of gathering this information at the end of construction through a "job crawl" is expensive, time-consuming, late and often inaccurate. The COBie approach is to use an accepted national data standard and enter the data as it is created during design, construction and commissioning.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) requirement for the Mark Center grew out of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act to provide a new workplace for some 6,400 employees. The initial plan was to consolidate DoD workers from rental properties dispersed throughout the National Capital Region into facilities at Fort Belvoir, Va. However, community and developer concerns about the existing transportation infrastructure near the fort led DoD to opt for a new complex to be built in Alexandria with access to and from Interstate 495.

The Mark Center’s main buildings include office workspace, an operations center, conference rooms, passive and active information technology components, a video teleconferencing center, training and instruction facilities, an auditorium, a physical fitness facility and cafeteria. In addition, an access control/visitor center, remote delivery facility with warehouse, and parking garages for 3,300 cars comprise support structures.

Capturing data using COBie for this number of diverse facilities would prove to be challenging. The design documents were developed in BIM and, due to the size of the project, the general contractor, Clark Construction Group, dedicated on average two full-time staff engineers to manage COBie and BIM during the design and construction phases.
Designed to accommodate some 6,400 federal employees,
the Mark Center includes several facilities with thousands of
components, many of which were barcoded as part of the COBie process. Photo by Marc Barnes

The engineers’ first challenge was to determine exactly what COBie data would best serve the future property manager. Once they had identified the requirements, the project team launched a four-phased approach to data submittal. About midway through the project, they exported data from the BIM models created by the architects. That included information about spaces, finish, door schedules and so on, which was extracted for populating the COBie spreadsheet. Next, they received a large portion of the mechanical and electrical data that would be needed for populating the operation and maintenance (O&M) staff’s facility management system.

The electrical and mechanical contractors had a huge amount of data to provide for such a large project. At the district office, engineers with BIM experience did most of the quality assurance work, which also took a considerable effort.

In the third phase, the contractor wanted to add document identification references to the facility data captured using the COBie format. (You can list this in the spreadsheet used to capture the facility data and then link to the actual documents.) They had decided to enter all of the documentation as pdf files including the as-builts. Also, to meet a WHS requirement, the project team bar-coded many building components with links to the component data and documentation. This means that a specific light fixture or blower motor has a unique bar code that links to information about its specific location within the building and further links to parts lists and other submittals produced during design and construction.

The last phase, prior to final submission of COBie data, provided no new information. The purpose was to identify any changes that occurred since the previous submission and adjust anything affected downstream. For example, changing just one room number can require changes to numerous other data points to ensure accurate linking of all building data.

The Mark Center complex was completed in August 2011, 37 days ahead of schedule. The Corps’ first large implementation of COBie provided a learning experience, producing many lessons-learned for future projects. It also highlighted some issues that the COBie development team is already addressing. For example, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is producing a guidance document that will facilitate the selection of appropriate COBie data to collect for a specific project.

In addition, while the Mark Center project team ultimately had to enter some data manually, the eSubmittalSM feature of ProjNetSM provides for seamless, secure data transfer and interfaces with the Resident Management System/Construction Management System. The Corps has issued a new Engineer Regulation, ER-415-1-10 (30 April 2012), that authorizes eSubmittal℠ for transfers, reviews and storage. ProjNet- eSubmittalSM is the first of three ProjNetSM applications that, by the end of fiscal year 2012, will deliver as-built building asset information to Army Departments of Public Works through the COBie format. The additional applications, currently under development for the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, are the COBie Model Server and the eComissioningSM application.

The Corps’ New York District is currently managing another project requiring collection and production of building data using COBie. This time it will be used for a smaller, more manageable project at Fort Drum, N.Y. The district will pilot the new ProjNetSM tools as part of this project.

Corps of Engineers Headquarters (HQ) is seeking more candidate projects on which to apply the COBie building data collection process and provide better turnover data to building maintainers and users. HQ is coordinating these COBie pilots to accelerate the learning curve in the interest of providing added value to Corps engineering and construction customers at a reduced cost.

William East, PhD, PE, F.ASCE, is a senior project leader at ERDC’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Ill.


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