openBIM for Infrastructure

Jeffrey W. Ouellette, progress advocate for the global built asset industry

Technical Committee Co-Chair, bS-USA

Technical Room International Project Coordinator, bSI

Senior Advisor, Software Vendor Engagement, TPF-5(372) BIM for Bridges and Structures, HDR, Inc.

For almost two decades, the building industry has been engaged in a digital transformation known as Building Information Modeling, where changes to project design and delivery, as well as operations and asset management workflows are augmented by extensive digitization of the information and processes throughout the lifecycle of a project. The leveraging of numerous tools, platforms, and computing methods to create, manage, manipulate, and make use of data, while disruptive, can be seen as an inevitable evolution for an industry catching up the with 21st century promise of computing ubiquity. As rough as the road has been to get to where we are now, this evolution has finally reached a critical point in becoming the de facto standard of the building industry and kicking off a more rapid evolution in the infrastructure industry.

In the last five years, we have seen the concept of BIM being introduced to the infrastructure domain, in part by some stakeholders who have been participating in the building domain efforts and by others who have been watching and learning from the successes and mistakes being made. Overall, the owners of infrastructure systems like roads, railways, waterways, and utilities, along with components such as bridges, tunnels, and ports, have quickly come to understand the value of creating a digital stream of information to deliver and manage these valuable, extensive, and enduring assets. One of the most important aspects they’ve recognized early is the need for open interoperability of the data created, shared, and used for various processes and workflows throughout an asset’s lifecycle.

Figure 1: An x-ray view of the ramp and bridge BIM for I-80 / I-380 Interchange in Iowa City, Iowa. Image courtesy of HDR, Inc. ©2020

In the buildingSMART community, this is known as ‘openBIM’, where the greatest value is recognized, not in the tools, but in the data itself and the ability to own, freely exchange, and act on it based on open, vendor-neutral, and international standards, like Industry Foundation Classes (IFC). openBIM is also an important basis for further leveraging the information in the concept of ‘Digital Twins’, where a completely digital doppelganger of an asset can be connected to its analog counterpart, communicating in real time via a data stream between sensors and controlling devices and systems, sometimes leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI), in making optimal operations and maintenance decisions. Without openBIM, trying to have totally independent control and ownership (e.g., no permanent ‘lock-in’ to a single or small group of vendors) of all the information created by so many stakeholders and their tools is nearly impossible.

Over the past five years, public infrastructure owners around the world, like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), ÖBB-Infrastruktur AG of Austria, French railway manager SNCF Réseau, the Swedish Transport Administration Trafikverket, and the China Railway BIM Alliance, to name a few, have collectively invested over 10 million Euros (~12.1 million US dollars) to embrace openBIM for infrastructure through the expansion of the buildingSMART International IFC schema (IFC4.3) and the creation of national project delivery and asset management standards based on openBIM principles and technology standards. In a relatively short period of time, we are seeing a stunning digital transformation of the global infrastructure industry with a core requirement for implementing open data standards.


Figure 2: A rendered view of the BIM for Port Arthur Fuel Terminal, Port Arthur, TX. Image courtesy of HDR, Inc. ©2020

For more information about openBIM for infrastructure, please visit the following links:

Building Information Modeling for Infrastructure, U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

TPF-5(372) BIM for Bridges and Structures, Transportation Pooled Fund Project, FHWA, AASHTO Committee on Bridges and Structures, and more than 20 US states

IFC Bridge, IFC Road, and IFC Rail, IFC infrastructure deployment projects, buildingSMART International

IFC4.3 Release Candidate 2 (RC2), buildingSMART International

The buildingSMART Virtual Summit, recordings of the Opening Plenary, Infrastructure Room, and Railway Room sessions