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IFC: Why now?

Discover how this standard has become mandatory while working with interoperability and BIM projects

Published: 12/07/2018

Country: United Kingdom

What is IFC?

The Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) is a common standard for data exchange in the construction industries. It allows construction professionals to share information regardless of the software application they're using. The data used during the whole lifecycle of a building remains stored and can be used again for multiple purposes. No need to upload it a second time. 

The IFC is an object-based file format developed by buildingSMART International. The main goal is to facilitate interoperability within the construction sector, and it is used in BIM-based projects. It is the best option for working with standardized file formats and will be required for more owners and projects in a near future. In northern Europe, some countries like Denmark have promoted its use for publicly aided building projects. Their neighbors, the Finnish state-owned facility management company Senate Properties, now requests the use of IFC compatible software and BIM in all their projects. Also, in the Norwegian Government is mandatory the use of IFC BIM projects. In the industry, many municipalities, private clients, and contractors have already integrated this format in their business. 

IFC, its different uses 

With the use of BIM on the rise, the exchange of information is a requirement. These requirements are included in the so-called BEP or BIM Execution Plan, but not all of them are the same. Actually, there is a varying quality of the importers and exporters of BIM tools today, and most of them require custom settings. However and like every tool, IFC has its strengths and weaknesses. It is important to be familiar with them in order to know how to use IFC properly. Let's explore how IFC works!

Nowadays, the IFC format is used for the design (visualization and clash detection) and construction phase. During the first stage, the design team will be able to merge or reference discipline models regardless of the original application. IFC files are also used to import data from one application to another. However, this process involves a loss of data and object intelligence. Having a virtual open format building allow contractors to do the first approach to the design and arrange the schedule. 

Once we export, the IFC model contains not only the building geometry and building data but also all the information held in native BIM files. By exporting the native data into an IFC file, the data can be transferred between applications. This operation is free and well documented and allows to be used by hundreds of other BIM tools and applications. 

The structure of an IFC model

As we said, a model contains both geometric and non-geometric data about the building project. For example, a window is classified in the building domain and the system as a window. This element contains attributes and properties attached to them, for example, maintenance instruction, model number, size, etc...

The properties have a specific structure and they gather around the so-called 'property sets'. Some of them are defined in the BEP or in the IFC standard. However, IFC also has other ways of grouping elements, for example, the ones that work together like water supply, air inflow, etc... 

Relationships between the elements of the building are also defined by IFC. Some of this links are used to create the connections we already talked about like types, property sets, etc... and the rest of them, are used to describe how the building components become the building itself. Normally, the connections include both spatial structure and how the spaces get grouped into zones. 

The future of IFC

To sum up, IFC is a data model that is used to characterize both building data and geometry across the building lifecycle. It has become an open ISO standard that has the support of the industry and is being promoted by a non-profit global organization. The use of IFC is mandatory for BIM interoperability and the tools that are being used in construction tools that already support this format. 

Aware of the significance of working with open standards, buildingSMART International has created a Professional Certification Program. The first part of the Program is called Individual Qualification and aims to standardize and promote OpenBIM training content, support and accredit training organizations and testing and certifying individuals. 

It is expected that the program will become a milestone in the construction industry. It will provide a reference for professionals working in BIM, and will also assist employers looking to hire BIM profiles. buildingSMART International will not provide the training itself but will support and accredit training organizations to deliver approved courses. Therefore, when two architects from different countries meet they can speak or work in the same language, although they have different methods. 

Nowadays, the Program is being implemented in 12 countries around the world like Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom and it's expected to include the rest of the leading BIM countries in the near future. 

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