May 2015

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Bill EastEMAIL INTERVIEWBill East and Ken Sinclair

Bill East, PhD, PE, F.ASCE, Prairie Sky Consulting

Dr. Bill East is the inventor of the US National BIM standard called COBie (Construction-Operations Building information exchange) and served as the Technical Subcommittee Chair of the most recent US National BIM Standard.  The goals of the US National BIM Standard are to bring together complex planning, design, construction, and O&M processes through shared, structured information.  In the first of several installments on AutomatedBuildings, Bill will discuss the NBIMS effort and its potential impacts.

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SinclairIn Part 1 of this interview you described how the use of shared, structured information might reduce the operational complexity of a facility.  Would you pick it up there?
East:  Certainly, despite the claims of the latest product, initiative, or movement, the increasing complexity of our built environment makes it impossible for people to efficiently run our buildings.  Except in “pure-play” manufacturing plants, the default position for most facility managers is to cover an annoying indicator or disconnect the alarm that is constantly going off.  A change in the way of thinking about building control - allowing those running and using a building to see if the facility is operating as they need it to operate - is needed.  That directly leads to the need for an open standard, common to all building systems, and control stacks that allow innovation without requiring facility managers to get advanced degrees or certifications.
SinclairThere are already so many different standards groups and efforts, which one(s) can we use?
East:  The main problem here is that those developing standards in the controls space have often done so to cement a proprietary position and without understanding that for the information to be of use the facility manager must populate building asset and system inventories.  Collecting such data is impossible today on anything but a toy project. The reason that something “new” is needed is that unless the information about facilities is delivered by those who design and build them, and maintained by those who operate and use the facilities, there will be nothing but toy answers to toy problems.  Such toy problems make a great demo of a thermometer or refrigerator in a residential home owned by a nerd, but are completely non-scaling in the context of mission-critical facilities operated by guys who can’t speak English and don't have high school diplomas.  The United States National Building Information Model Standard (NBIMS-US V3) is how designers and builders will deliver open-standard asset inventories and control system information.
SinclairHow is NBIMS-US V3 organized to accomplish this goal?
East:  The acquisition of any engineered-system can be thought of as having the following stages: requirements definition, design, construction, and operations.  NBIMS-US V3 (and associated projects) have data standards in place to capture the output from each of those stages using ISO 16739, the Industry Foundation Class Model for Buildings.  This is commonly called, simply, “IFC”.  Internationally, IFC has been a work in progress for over 30 years and began with IGES, STEP, PDES, and other efforts.  With advances in technology, IFC-based information systems supporting planning, design, construction, and maintenance systems are now a reality.  Under the IFC schema, domain-specific sub-schema are created through NBIMS-US V3 in a consistent and complementary way so that each party to the life-cycle facility acquisition and operation process can contribute information that would otherwise simply be written on paper and delivered in useless boxes at construction handover.  Getting it all in PDF is worse.  Ever tried to review a 5,000 page PDF file or a set of 2,000 PDF files?
SinclairWhat domains does NBIMS-US V3 cover?
East:  NBIMS-US covers the functionality of spaces within the facility and three domains that require use natural resources:  HVAC, water distribution, and electrical distribution. Information about the required functionality of spaces within a building is identified by the Building Programming information exchange (BPie) standard.  The HVAC standard (HVACie) describes the components that transfer and distribute heat (or cooling), assemblies of those components, and connects those assets to describe the flow of air, water, coolant, etc…  The water standard (WSie) describes the physical components of the water supply, waste, gray water systems, including those devices that transform water from one type to another.   The electrical standard (Sparkie) identifies the devices that consume, control, or transform electricity with our buildings and the circuits, or “connections,” between those devices.   The control system specification (BAMie) identifies control system components and their connections to each other and the underlying systems that are controlled.
Control Solutions, Inc SinclairThere is an interesting commonality between the names of these standards – they all end in the letters “ie.”  I know your last name is “East.” Is your first name “Ian”?
East:  I actually overheard that once at a conference a few years ago... Funny, but not true. “IE” is shorthand for “contracted information exchange”.  This term “ie” is a reminder that for a standard to be used it must be part of contracts.  Designers and builders have to be required and incentivized to provide NBIMS-US data – instead, of delivering paper (or e-paper) documents.   Over 2/3 of the requirements to qualify for consideration, NBIMS-US V3 balloting pertain to implementation support - including the need to have enforceable contracts and implementation of the standard directly within existing, commercial software.  As an example - one of the NBIMS-US V3 standards, the standard covering asset inventory, has been included in over 20 commercial software products serving the planning, design, construction, and facility maintenance and management domains.   This standard, called Construction-Operations Building information exchange (COBie), is mandated for all public projects in the UK and is more and more frequently found in contracts around the world.  So I guess you can say that these standards are actually not new, they are baked into the software that people already use – most folks just don’t know how to take advantage of them yet.
--- in Bill’s next installment he’ll talk about his team’s experiment demonstrating how these standards come together to create a domain-independent, open-standard, self-learning control system.  In the final installment, he’ll talk about what first steps could be taken to capture critical information about every as-operated building asset in the world in two years or less. ---


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