What is an IFC & why is it good for AEC

Posted by Kate Barlow on 25th April 2019

IFC stands for Industry Foundation Classes. It is a platform-neutral data exchange format for architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) and it allows us to take building information models (BIM) from one software to other. IFC is supported by over 100 software applications to enable better workflows for the AEC industry.

IFC is an open standard so it:
  • supports broader adoption,
  • can be used for data exchange as it remains impartial and
  • cannot be monopolised by one software developer.

Open standards support innovation; and open source BIM software usually relies on IFC.

IFC allows BIM to be processed from different sides by different parties involved in a construction project. The IFC format improves collaboration because it preserves the building element data and this allows file exchange to be more meaningful for everyone involved. If the BIM has only one body of up-to date information, we can avoid errors and conflicts in our projects. For example, we can use software to help us detect clashes between structural elements and air ducts. This is a common problem that arises because different specialists use different software for different aspects of the design and the clashes are impossible to detect unless we put the model together in IFC. Having one source of “truth” creates a common understanding between all the specialists involved in a construction project.

As IFC is platform-neutral it does not dictate what software has to be used to design building elements. This allows every supplier in the project to use their preferred tools, as long as they can export their work to IFC format. This allows the specialists to continue to use their specialised software suites and still allows all the elements to be combined and co-ordinated.

Taking IFC into Unity Models

In Tridify, we use IFC so that we can process files from any BIM software. IFC also ensures we deliver consistent visual output, regardless of the software that was used to create the model. You can take any IFC model into Unity in its entirety, preserve all the data and create a solid foundation for any interactive visuals or use in VR or AR applications. This makes engineering systems accessible for VR/AR interaction and applications.

When you use Tridify’s service, you can produce rich interactive models that allow access to all the information included in original model. Without this information, your 3D model is similar to a cardboard scale model with nothing more than surfaces and basic colours. When you build an information-rich model in Unity you can view it floor by floor. It allows you to isolate elements of same type, edit materials en masse and explode the model by element. You can search for building elements, as well as searching by parameters that have no visual representation: phase of construction, structural position (as for external and internal elements), fire resistance, etc. You can easily display phases of construction as an animation, or slice the model by discipline (HVAC, structural, architectural) as elements are grouped by type, and phase data is attached to every single element.

If you created a model (with same level of detail and amount of information included) manually in Unity it would require a lot of tedious work. With Tridify, you can automate this process as long as you can export source BIM to IFC.

As AEC projects are submitted in digital format it is important to use common standard for information exchange. Years ago the common exchange standard would have been paper blueprint album that would be submitted to the authorities. These days, using digital models IFC has become the common denominator and industry standard. This is also true in other sectors, for example, a widely adopted universal standard is the USB in electronics. Maybe over time IFC will become the only one used for exchange of BIM.

Increasingly the IFC open exchange standard is becoming more widespread and is being adopted as the normal procedure for submitting public development projects. Already IFC is an official international standard (ISO 16739-1:2018) and use of IFC is compulsory for public building projects in Finland, Denmark and Norway.

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