buildingSMART alliance COBie: Case Studies and Innovations

COBie: Case Studies and Innovations

DECEMBER 6, 2010
By Bill East, PhD, PE - Engineer Research and Development Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Executive Summary

The Construction-Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) format provides the vehicle for the delivery of open standard building information through the planning, design, construction, and commissioning phases of a project to facility owners and operators. COBie is the United States version of the international buildingSMART format called the Facility Management Handover Model View Definition (FM Handover MVD). Software companies have demonstrated their ability to produce and/or consume COBie information at four major public events between 2008 and 2010. More information on COBie, including the list of software using COBie may be found on the Whole Building Design Guide's COBie page.

For the Dec 2010 EcoBuild America it was determined that focus of the presentations would move from software companies to public demonstration of the use of COBie in practice. The presentations in this session not only identified several projects where COBie is being used, but also identified how companies are using COBie as a strategic tool to transform their businesses from document-centric to information-centric basis.


COBie is an example of a performance-based format for the contracted delivery of building information. The objective of the COBie specification (DOC 35 KB) is not to change current requirements for information exchange, but simply to change the format of these exchanges from documents to a format that can actually be used by all authorized project stakeholders.

The COBie Means and Methods page documents testing and self-certification efforts of commercial software companies. Implementation support for COBie may be found either through the list of software companies listed on the COBie Means and Methods pages or through public forums such as the COBie Linked-In COBie Group.

Business Drivers

The business drivers for COBie implementations are as varied as the members at the EcoBuild America presentations. Several presentations during this challenge reflected the interests of large public owners to obtain actionable building information. Presentations also demonstrated the value of streamlining business processes during construction to eliminate waste associated with duplicative data capture and re-entry. The business drivers are also most clear to large build-operate firms who realize both the reduction in first costs of data capture but the direct savings in long-term operations and maintenance costs resulting from having accurate as-built and as-operated building information. Savings may, however, be of higher proportional benefit to even the smallest contractor who's overhead costs to produce documents are much higher on the few smaller projects they run per year versus an office with fewer large project with its own project staff and trailer.

To begin to quantify COBie business drivers, the National Institute of Building Sciences and Engineer Research and Development Center commissioned the Pennsylvania State University to develop the "COBie Calculator." The objective of the COBie Calculator is to calculate the estimated benefit from implementing COBie-based business practices all project team members as defined in the Life-Cycle information exchange project.

Case Studies

The previous public COBie events focused on live demonstrations of the feasibility of using commercial, off-the-shelf software to consume or create COBie information. In this Dec 2010 COBie event, the presentations were Case Studies of the actual use of COBie in a variety of different settings.

COBie Software Update

New COBie Software

Starting in March 2010 evaluation of COBie applications changed from a Quality Control oriented process to a Quality Assurance oriented process. In the current QA process software companies use the materials provided for the March 2010 event to self-evaluate. A set of documents is then provided and an on-line presentation made to evaluate the accuracy of the information provided. The COBie sessions during the Dec 2010 EcoBuild America also contained the presentation from the latest company to be self-certified against the COBie criteria.

More information available on the use of Latista to support COBie may be found here.

Existing COBie Software Notes

During the December 2010 EcoBuild America sessions, several other companies made COBie-related announcements regarding the use of COBie information in their products. These announcements included:

  • AutoDesk:
    • Revit 2010 COBie templates are available.
    • Link from Revit to Maximo to use COBie
  • ArchiBus has a new COBie connectors tool.
  • ArchiCAD is working with AECInfoSystems to support COBie in the U.S.

COBie Innovations

Once a common framework for information exchange can be set, innovation is a natural by-product. This is because efforts once focused on wrangling data among systems, over and over again as software versions are updated, can now be focused on using a common set of information of known format in novel ways. During the December 2010 EcoBuild America sessions two COBie innovations were presented.

Innovation 1. COBie extensions for sustainability.

In the fall of 2010 the Engineer Research and Development Center contracted with Carnegie Mellon University to identify the extent to which LEED documentation could be derived from lightweight building information models, such as those provided by in COBie format. In the following presentation Dr. Krishnamurti demonstrates the progress made to date on this project.

The result of this research project is expected to be released as a research prototype tool and a set of COBie extensions that support LEED data collection. When the tool and documentation are completed, by summer 2011, this information will be provided through the buildingSMART alliance website.

Innovation 2. Life-Cycle information exchange

In reviewing the exchanges needed to support the delivery of spatial requirements and scheduled products and equipment through COBie, previous COBie certification and challenge events have focused on the exchange of large, complete models, at project phases. These "phase change" exchanges do not reflect business imperative to capture COBie directly during the life-cycle process. A major innovation presented in this project is the ability to delivery open COBie sub-views for the discrete exchange of BIM data by authorized parties.

The Life Cycle information exchange model provides the description of all full and partial model exchanges needed to deliver COBie data for all exchanges typically identified by contract and by practice. This first presentation of the LCie concept in the United States provides the background on the project and provides the official release of all sub-view schemas, examples, and preliminary contract language needed for implementation.

COBie Fact or Fiction

According to attendees approximately 100 people attended the presentations on Monday of the EcoBuild America conference. The message received from these presenters was clearly that the use of open standards by builders, operators, and owners is currently being used for the benefit of each party in the process. By the end of the show, however, there were several diverging opinions being circulated. To separate fact from fiction, the following assertions about COBie are provided, along with the "true facts" of the situation.

1. COBie is a new requirement - FALSE

COBie is a specification for the delivery of existing deliverables that are currently required to be provided in paper format. Instead of recreating this information paper every time you need to submit it, why not let the Commercial software that has implemented COBie simply export COBie data for you?

2. COBie is a spreadsheet - FALSE.

COBie information may be exchanged in a variety of different ways so long as that information can be mapped to the international Model View Definition called the Facility Management Handover Model View Definition. The important issue with COBie is the content of the information, not the format. The display of FM Handover MVD data in COBie spreadsheet format is a human convenience only. Of course people could, if they needed to, and had appropriate business processes in place, update BIM data in COBie and import that data back into a building model, as has been demonstrated in the LCie project.

3. COBie requires OmniClass - FALSE

COBie does require classification, but the use of OmniClass as that classification is only one example of the Classification to be used. If you look at the COBie spreadsheet the classification to be used may be easily replaced with the classification needed by any owner.

4. COBie cannot be customized - FALSE

Many people have indicated that COBie is not ready because it does not include a specific data field that is required for them. COBie is, by definition, extensible by the addition of an arbitrarily long set of Attributes for any COBie supplied information. The problem with respect to this question is that given that COBie now defines 90% of the requirements owners and others are having to think, often for the first time, about what data they actually need to run their buildings.

5. COBie requires designers to do contractor's jobs - FALSE

The COBie specification clearly states that the party responsible to create the information is the party responsible to provide that information. Thus Builders provide serial numbers and installation dates, not designers.

6. COBie is mandated by the Corps of Engineers - FALSE

As of Dec 2010, the Corps of Engineers allows teams the option of providing COBie, under the terms of design-build requests for proposals on fewer than 10% of its projects. The Corps is, however, beginning to conduct a series of pilot projects to deliver COBie on a broader range of projects. If these projects are successful, it would be expected that some type of updated COBie specifications will be used to update standard Facility Handover and other Unified Facility Guide Specifications.

7. COBie costs extra - FALSE

Waiting until the end of a project to collect, scan, and enter COBie data into a spreadsheet will take about the same amount of time it currently takes to copy, organize, and box paper documents to deliver to the owner's boiler room. This, however, is not the point of COBie, is it? No, the point of COBie is to provide a platform for the exchange of this information upstream making currently profit-eating jobs, such as job crawls and production of paper manuals a thing of the past. The COBie Calculator will allow you to directly show the benefit of this early delivery of building information, versus adoption of COBie as simply an exchange of current document-centric business process.

Existing COBie Software Notes

COBie 2.30 extensions were also presented. These backward compatible extensions simplify zone and system identification, provide improved mapping to IfcProduct objects, and support integration of the COBie effort and the SPie project.

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