AECbytes Product Review (November 17, 2011)
I last reviewed the model-checking application, Solibri Model Checker, in March 2009, when it was in version 5.0. At that time, I provided a detailed overview of the application, and explored how it allowed checking the quality of BIM models for various uses such as spatial coordination, quantity takeoff, or energy analysis. Subsequently, we looked briefly at the “Deficiency Detection” capabilities of the application which were introduced in version 6.1 the following year and showcased at Autodesk University 2010.
Let us look at the recently released version 7 of the application and see what progress it has made since the indepth look that we took at it in early 2009. A quick overview of these enhancements includes significant updates to the already user-friendly interface that I wrote about in my last review, new capabilities for the BIM QA/QC (Quality Assurance/Quality Control) process and workflow, as well as improvements in processing power and performance. (Please note that it is important to read the 2009 review to get an understanding of how the application works, as that will not be repeated here.)
Recall from my review of version 5.0 that the application had three main components at that time, and these were indicated by their respective tabs at the top of the interface—Model, Checking, and Presentation—for navigating the model, checking it, and compiling the results into presentations to facilitate the coordination sessions and populate the audit trail. In the new version of Solibri Model Checker, the interface has been expanded into five tabs, as shown in Figure 1: File, Model, Checking, Presentation, and Information Takeoff. The Model, Checking, and Presentation tabs look similar and provide the same functionality as in previous versions. There are, however, some minor enhancements, such as the option to view a Navigation Map in the lower, right corner of the window in the Model tab, which helps you get better oriented while viewing and navigating the model. This Navigation Map has been opened for the model being viewed in Figure 1. It can be resized, if required, in addition to being turned off.
Figure 1. The interface of Solibri Model Checker v7, which has added two brand-new tabs, File and Information Takeoff. The Model tab is shown here, with the Navigation Map turned on. The model can be navigated using the model tree, and the properties of a selected element can be seen in the Info pane in the lower left corner.
Let us look more closely at the File tab of Solibri Model Checker, which is brand-new. (We will also explore the new Information Takeoff tab in the next section.) The new File tab is intended to consolidate all the functionality previously available in the File menu, as well as promote better organization and efficiency by listing all the recent models that have been opened as well as the locations from which they have been accessed. Entries in both these lists can be tacked, as shown in Figure 2, denoting that they are the most frequently used—they are then automatically promoted to the top of the list, so that they can be accessed more easily, possibly compiled into some kind of project “dashboard.”
Figure 2. The new File tab of Solibri Model Checker v7, where the most frequently used models and locations can be “tacked” to be automatically arranged at the top of their lists.
Also new in this release is the option to add “roles” for working with Solibri Model Checker. Every role has specific Rulesets, Classifications, and Information Takeoff definitions associated with it, which become available once a role has been selected. For example, Figure 3 shows the rulesets, classifications, and Information Takeoff definitions associated with the role of the “Architect” that has been selected. The ones that are marked by a yellow star are those that will automatically be opened when you open a new file. Role can be selected from the list of pre-defined roles that Solibri provides, but firms can also create their own roles or modify the pre-defined ones to better suit their workflows and processes.
Figure 3. The Rulesets, Classifications, and Information Takeoff definitions that are associated with the pre-defined “Architects” role in Solibri Model Checker.
Other options that are available in the File tab include access to the various Settings of the application, Help information, and the option to open the Ruleset Manager in a separate window. As shown in Figure 4, the Ruleset Manager is similar to what was available earlier, allowing you to view the different rulesets used by the application in more detail as well as edit them, if required. Rules are still critical to the application, as they are what allow you to check a model for the satisfaction of specific criteria. In the Ruleset Manager, you can browse through all the rulesets, and change the parameters of specific rules to configure them to fit project specific or firm specific needs. For example, you can specify what should be the minimum thickness, length, and height of walls; the ratio of the window area to the floor area of spaces; the maximum allowable distance of any space to the nearest exit when checking for valid escape routes; the allowable overlaps when checking for intersections between any two types of components; and so on. You can also create whole new rulesets from the rules existing in the Rules library, configuring their parameters as required.
Figure 4. The Ruleset Manager for browsing and editing rulesets in Solibri Model Checker v7.
The new Information Takeoff capability was actually introduced in version 6 of Solibri Model Checker. It allows users to collect information from the BIM model, organize it, visualize it, and report it by exporting the information to any other application such as estimating, energy analysis, spatial coordination, and so on that works with building data. Thus, the basic functionality is similar to Autodesk Quantity Takeoff or QTO (see the AECbytes Tips and Tricks article “A Quick Primer to Using Autodesk QTO for Model-Based Takeoff”), except that Autodesk QTO works with Autodesk’s proprietary DWF format, while Solibri Model Checker works with the open-standard IFC file format which can be exported from any BIM application. (Note that Solibri Model Checker also supports the DWG format, but only to allow MEP content to be coordinated with other disciplines until MEP model developers can work on exporting high fidelity IFC files.)
The type of information that can be collected by Solibri Model Checker from a BIM model includes spatial areas for area calculations, exterior wall areas for energy calculations, volumes, the count of elements such as doors and windows, and so on. The kind of information that is collected depends upon the Information Takeoff definition that has been selected. If no definition has been loaded yet for a model, you are asked to select one from a list of available definitions. You can also load several definitions for the same model and select the one you want to use from a list showing all the ones that have been loaded. These definitions should have been associated with the role that was selected earlier, shown in Figure 3. Once a definition has been selected, you can either select the “Takeoff All” option or the “Takeoff Selected” option to set the takeoff process in motion and see the results. The “Takeoff Selected” option is helpful if you are interested in only specific components that you have selected and added to the selection basket instead of the whole model.
Figure 5. Performing an Information Takeoff for the whole model for “Building Element Quantities” in Solibri Model Checker v7.
Figure 5 above shows the takeoff results for the “Building Element Quantities” Takeoff definition for the whole model. You can customize the display of the results by adding and editing columns, sorting by a specific column, rearranging the columns, and so on. You can report the results for further analysis by exporting the report in Excel format, as shown in Figure 6, if required. Needless to say, the user of the Excel report needs to know exactly what building information it contains, so that the necessary formulas can be created to utilize it effectively.
Figure 6. Seeing the exported results in Microsoft Excel of the Information Takeoff performed in Figure 5.
There are several sample Information Takeoff definitions that are delivered with the application, and additional ones can be created, if required, as shown in Figure 7. First, you specify the discipline or disciplines that you want to work with, then you define what components you want to get information from and what properties are of interest. You can also define what rulesets should be checked to generate accurate results. All these different Information Takeoff definitions can be shared with other project team members or used on other BIM models to ensure consistency, since the Information Takeoff capability also allows identification of model elements that are not properly classified or should not be present.
Figure 7. Creating a new Information Takeoff definition in Solibri Model Checker v7.
The rationale for model checking, which is the raison d'être of Solibri Model Checker, is even more compelling today than when the application was first introduced over ten years ago. With BIM gaining momentum, an increasing larger number of building projects are being modeled, and it is important for these models to be free from errors as much as possible, so that the data from them can be trusted when used in other applications. Solibri Model Checker enables a BIM model to be checked against a set of rules and identify the problems with it, which can then be fixed in the original authoring application. Rules are therefore the building blocks of the application, and related rules are grouped into larger entities called rulesets, as we saw earlier in Figure 4.
Solibri has continued to expand the number and range of rulesets that are available to use with the application. Thus, it now includes the “Deficiency Detection” ruleset that can be used to detect missing components and non-existing or incorrect information in the model, or in other words, ensure that the model is not “deficient” in any way. The rules for deficiency detection can also detect objects in the model that don’t meet specifications or those whose behavior lacks consistency. Using this ruleset greatly reduces the risks of using the model for area calculations, quantity takeoff, energy analysis, and other applications. As you can see in the rules under the Deficiency Detection ruleset shown in Figure 8, they require a lot more intelligence and knowledge about how a building is constructed and do not rely simply on collision detection of building elements, which is what clash detection applications like Autodesk Navisworks and Bentley Navigator rely on to carry out their coordination tasks. While you can also do clash detection in Solibri Model Checker, using the Clearance ruleset for example, you can do a lot more intelligent “checking” of the BIM model using its wide range of rulesets, such as checking for accessibility, egress, or so on.
Figure 8. Checking a model using the Deficiency Detection ruleset in Solibri Model Checker.
An important enhancement in Solibri Model Checker is the ability to automatically generate a “section box” around the problematic components when the results of checking a rule are visualized, as shown in Figure 9. This makes it easier to focus on the problem and see the exact situation. Another key enhancement is a Hyperlink Manager that enables the use of the model as a centralized user interface to coordinate activities, specifications, building code and BIM requirements, construction phase documents, etc. Links can be added at any level within Solibri Model Checker and to almost any element, including rulesets, models, types, components, issues, and slides.
Figure 9. The ability to automatically generate a section box to better visualize an issue detected by the application.
In my last review of the application, one of the aspects I had criticized was the documentation, which I found not sufficiently detailed to speed up the learning experience. This has been addressed in the new release by not only improving the quality of the built-in Help file, but also by providing video tutorials explaining different aspects of the program, making it much easier to learn and use. There are also additional resources online focused on explaining specific areas of the application such as information take-off or the deficiency detection ruleset. Solibri also publishes an annual magazine that compiles the use of the application by firms in projects around the world.
Given that Solibri Model Checker is one of the few applications available in the AEC industry that actually incorporates some level of intelligence about building design and construction, it remains a mystery as to why its use is not much more widespread and commonplace than it currently is. The only time I heard it being recently mentioned in a presentation was at the Revit Technology 2011 Conference earlier this summer where an HOK representative described how it was used to effectively coordinate Revit models … along with Navisworks. In contrast, nearly all the presentations by construction firms at the AGC BIMForum held in San Diego that I attended earlier this year talked of how they use Navisworks for coordination and clash detection. Of course, Navisworks is now an Autodesk product, with a vast sales and marketing machinery to boost its implementation, so this is understandable. But Solibri Model Checker does so much more than Navisworks, and while it has its share of success stories, especially in Europe where Solibri is based, it does not enjoy the perception of near-ubiquitous adoption that an application like Navisworks has, at least in the US. Solibri Model Checker is gaining some momentum in FIATECH and the GSA, which is promising. But ultimately, its success can be largely measured by commercial adoption—we need to hear a lot more from firms who are actually using it.
It’s possible that an application like Solibri Model Checker continues to remain ahead of its times, which points to the sad state of the AEC industry—for all the promise of BIM, we are still not really using all its intelligence and the information it can make available to us. Hopefully, we will get there sooner rather than later, and the “model checking” of BIM models will become as critical and commonplace as the “spell checking” of text documents.
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She email@example.com.
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