Building Information Management (BIM) Council Bridge Information Modeling (BrIM) Standardization

Building Information Management (BIM) Council

Bridge Information Modeling (BrIM) Standardization

Supporting Organization: U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Bridges and Structures



IFC Bridge Design to Construction Information Exchange (U.S.) was developed under contract to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration by the National Institute of Building Sciences. In the future a BIM Council committee will need to be formed to advance and further develop the work started here for bridges and other infrastructures and to support the introduction of this work to a future version of the National BIM Standard–United States® (NBIMS-US™).

Scope / Problem

Advancing the capability of computer modeling and analysis tools and techniques is clearly in the best interest of the U.S. bridge engineering practice. Without industry consensus standards for Bridge Information Modeling (BrIM) and related data exchange protocols, there is no common way to integrate the various phases of a bridge design and construction project and benefit from that information in the inspection, maintenance, and operational phases associated with its asset management. This work seeks to develop, validate, identify gaps, implement, and build consensus for standards for BrIM for highway bridge engineering.

Description / Background

Over the last several decades, many industries have benefited from the efficiencies generated by moving from document-based information exchanges to integrated data models. The construction industry (including the building and heavy/highway industries) has lagged behind the manufacturing industry in this regard for various reasons. These include much lower economies of scale due to larger numbers of industry participants, larger diversity of domain specialization, and the high level of detail that is often very project-specific and might not be leveraged for future use.

Following the pattern of other domains, progress will be made as business processes are mapped and implemented throughout the bridge industry. When the steps in a business process are defined, one sees how data changes form as it is passed from one job function to the next, similar to the old “telephone game”. Very often data is transformed as it is passed to the next job function as paper or in a PDF format, both of which require the receiving party to have to re-enter partial data for use for their job function. The steel industry (AISC) defined a business process many years ago around a standard they had implemented called CIS/2. In documenting their business process, they were able to observe the number of times data was transformed at each job function (information exchange) and the time and effort it took to accomplish that along with the data and integrity loss. Recently, AISC moved to a new standard, Industry Foundation Class (IFC) (International Standards Organization (ISO) 16739), because they realized that they could not interface with the rest of the construction community, or expect the rest of the industry to change to CIS/2. In changing to IFC, it gave them the opportunity to re-examine their original business processes (2nd generation) and work to eliminate some of the cycling between paper/PDF and data, and keep data in a usable format throughout the business process, only printing documents when needed for legal purposes from the full set of data. They are now using the data as the truth, and the paper as the physical representation of that truth. This reversal of thinking allowed them to optimize significantly their business processes. They from an IFC data model by delivering CNC (computer numerical control) commands to robotic fabricating equipment, thus eliminating significant risk, job steps, and the chance for error, without affecting their ability to print off a paper/PDF version, if needed, at any point in the process. This advancement has eliminated the need to generate and approve shop drawings, for example.

When industry practitioners, as has been demonstrated in the steel industry, obtain consensus on their common business processes and therefore standardize those business processes, it becomes cost effective for software vendors to develop software built around business processes they can rely on as representing common needs. Having common processes potentially expands their market making it more profitable to develop the software.

Expected Result

Today the bridge industry remains largely paper centric. It operates as if the paper is the primary document and is not yet of the mindset that paper is only a representation of the data that can be produced when or if needed. The end result is that in current practice digital formats are typically provided for convenience only, and are explicitly disclaimed to be relied upon as part of a contract. It is felt that the cost of doing so exceeds the benefit, which is in reality, the absolute reverse of the desired state. It has always been the case that the data is what drives the production of the paper. This project seeks to reduce this barrier by establishing the digital standards necessary for bridge information modeling (BrIM) with process documentation that can be referenced in contracts, similar to how other reference standards are used today, such as ASTM design standards.

In developing BrIM standards, as with any information standard, the primary goal is to create, interoperable and repeatable processes that will ultimately result in optimized technical solutions from engineers, owners, and software providers.

Additional Information:

A complete project report entitled Bridge Information Modeling Standardization that summarizes the study of domain data models for bridge engineering in a format usable by A/E/C/O domain experts is available from the FHWA website here. The Report is in 3 volumes plus an introduction:

  • Introduction: The Introduction provides an overview of the project and other report volumes and presents the findings and conclusions reached.
  • Volume I: Exchange Analysis - Volume I describes the development of the process map for the bridge life cycle, which identifies types of information flow (exchange requirements) among activities in the process.
  • Volume II: Schema Analysis: Volume II describes standardization efforts related to bridge information modelling, and performs a cursory review regarding the specific technical structure and functionality resulting from current standardization efforts.
  • Volume III: Component Modeling: Volume III of the Report describes the modeling of specific components of bridges to the level of detail conveyed on design contract plans, using two real-world case studies.

As part of this work, a detailed analysis of data structures, schema extensions, process workflows, and testing of sample data was carried out. It is provided within separate documentation intended for software developers, referred to as the IFC Bridge Design to Construction information exchange (U.S.), it can be seen here. To obtain a zip file containing the complete specification, contact Roger Grant at NIBS. The exchange specification is subject to the following licensing.


Creative Commons License
IFC Bridge Design to Construction Information Exchange (U.S.) incorporates parts of the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) model by buildingSMART International subject to the following copyright notice

IFC Bridge Design to Construction Information Exchange (U.S.) was developed under contract to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration by the National Institute of Building Sciences. Extensions to the IFC model developed under this contract are copyrighted by National Institute of Building Sciences and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

References to this work should be in the form of: National Institute of Building Sciences (2016) "IFC Bridge Design to Construction Information Exchange (U.S.)”, National Institute of Building Sciences, Washington, DC. (cited DD-MMM-YYYY).

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