Unique BIM product library for Water & Sewer

A library of digital 3D models of water and sewer products is now freely available in the cloud. The open library of the WS industry's ´building blocks´ ¬can strongly improve the industry´s efficiency – a promising outcome from a Norwegian R&D project led by Oslo VAV and Trimble.

The vision has been to create a common object model database, a common understanding, and a uniform industry practice that enables all project participants to collaborate through a central project model. In addition to Oslo VAV and Trimble, Vianova Plan and Traffic, Baezeni, the Association of Norwegian WS Pipe Wholesalers and Norsk Vann have also contributed to the R&D project.

Why a BIM Library?
As with other engineering and construction domains, also the WS industry has a strong need to utilize 3D engineering and BIM to increase efficiency. But the threshold to exploit 3D design is relatively high, especially in the municipal sector. Consequently, a lot is still designed in 2D.

WS drawings are costing between NOK 40,000 and 80,000 to keep up-to-date throughout their project lifecycle. All together this represents a lot of money spent for a municipality. Updated BIM models however, more or less eliminate the need for drawings, and can significantly reduce total costs. The administration of WS data is done much more efficient in a 'living' BIM model – being enriched all the way from the design and construction phase through ´as built´. This leads to easier operation and data management for the agency.

“The new BIM library will make it significantly easier to switch to 3D engineering and to build up 3D design skills in the municipalities,” says Mats Fensholt, project manager and Trimble´s responsible in the R&D project. “We believe the product library will strongly promote the use of BIM in WS projects. The goal must be that everyone shall be able to use 3D.”

3D for all – for free
The technical base of the R&D project has been Trimble´s open model library 3D Warehouse and their 3D tool SketchUp. The reason for this choice is that both of the tools are freely available and have become de facto standards in their field.

SketchUp, previously owned by Google, is today one of the world's most used design tools for creating digital 3D models. The tool is free, intuitive and flexible, and designed for creating 3D models of all kinds. Google's original intention with SketchUp was to use it in managing all buildings of the world. In Trimble's version, SketchUp is available to everyone – for any type of 3D design worldwide.

Free model store
3D Warehouse is the world's largest digital object library and contains millions of open SketchUp 3D models contributed by users. The library consists of 3D models of all kinds of things – such as buildings, windows, doors, furniture, cars, boats, toys – you name it – models that are free to download and reuse in your own design or engineering. It's free for anyone to use, save and share models.

3D Warehouse however, contains to a lesser extent, detailed and accurate niche products that can be utilized professionally – especially with respect to WS. This is precisely what the R&D project aimed at finding a solution to – together with minor efforts from the WS industry's own players.

Open and free product library
Therefore, all product providers have been given free access to SketchUp and 3D Warehouse in order to enable them to upload their product models and corresponding documentation to exclusive WS object catalogues in the library. The ownership and updating of the product content is the responsibility of the product suppliers. Trimble's role is mere to operate the WS library in 3D Warehouse and to allow for technical support and training for users wishing so.

The open SKP format of SketchUp is the data storage format of the library. Product models can be exported to AutoCAD using a plugin and be imported/exported directly to/from Novapoint. Novapoint 21 now has its own SketchUp button that makes this very easy. Trimble has made a link to SketchUp which allows you to put product models directly into your Novapoint/Quadri model.

Additionally, an API (Application Programming Interface) is offered to other tool vendors, which can be used to upload their models to 3D Warehouse. The R&D project does not want a monopoly situation about formats or the use of the library and results. The WS model library shall remain free to all – also internationally – which is something local suppliers can make use of market-wise.

Removes bottlenecks
“The product library becomes a link between the user, the product supplier and the market,” points out Mili Myrteza Terstena, WS engineer at Trimble. “Here everyone can easily post and update their product models, which will immediately become visible and available. Suppliers can choose to upload their products together with their associated documentation or link to the products on their own web site. They can also link to the wholesaler´s database – and can decide if the product models are to be available publicly or privately.

Simple, economic data storage
“Also the users can create their own collection of product models they use mostly, for example according to the municipality norms. This makes it easier to find the products you are working with and saves a lot of data space on their own machines. The municipality can thus use 3D Warehouse to manage its product models instead of having them reside on different servers here and there.

Leads the way for other municipalities
As the country's leading WS player, Oslo VAV's role in the R&D project has been to provide professional advice and testing of the results. The agency has also created a 'Getting Started´ booklet and a demo project to ease the implementation.

“A publicly available product library consisting of the suppliers' 3D models can contribute significantly to better coordination and management of the underground infrastructure,” says Terje Rødberg in Oslo VAV. He has been a key member of the R&D project´s management team. “Always updated 3D models throughout the lifecycle of WS projects can lead to significant efficiency savings and higher quality of the infrastructure. All information about the WS objects can be enriched and utilized at all stages and project phases.”

One aspiration of the R&D project has been to harmonize the results with the BIM standardization efforts in general in the building and construction industry, including the national road and rail administrations´ BIM model manuals. So far, most focus has been put on the object geometry in the library database, and not so much on attributes and information about the objects, but this will come eventually, it is disclosed.

Appeals to the entire WS industry
“We now hope that the professional authorities and industry will welcome the new product library. As the requirements for 3D design and interdisciplinary collaboration are becoming increasingly important in new projects, we think this will be a much-appreciated industry portal that will make 3D and BIM easier – for all parties,” sais Trimble´s Mats Fensholt.