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Numerical standards and certifications to increase efficiency in the development of underground infrastructure projects – BIM for tunnelling

by Michel Rives from buildingSMART International 



Transformation of the construction and civil engineering business processes through digital means (BIM) requires to rely upon open standards ensuring advanced, solid, industry-centric mechanisms that can guarantee professionals with vendors’ proprietary formats independence, for projects and assets related information exchange, as well as for data storage, and this for the long run.

In view of this, buildingSMART International (bSI, www.buildingsmart.org) launched in June 2019 the development of a neutral format, IfcTunnel, to structure and optimize data exchanges for underground infrastructure projects that complement the already available standards for the exchange of roadways, railways and buildings projects information. The international team (40 experts) that drives this effort is made up of tunnel owners, general contractors, civil engineering, systems engineering and geotechnical consultants and BIM-for-Infrastructure specialists, and has defined the functional scope to cover the life cycle of a tunnel (functional program, design phases, construction, project acceptance, tunnel operation, monitoring and maintenance). 

The methodology followed has developed 30 use cases identifying the information exchanged over such a cycle from a business logic (geotechnics, excavation and support, operating systems) as well as in terms of the nature of the objects required to describe the underground projects components (geo-positioning, geometries, semantics and functional capacities). The results were presented to 3 panels of more than 100 international experts gathered in November 2019, March and May 2020 leading to a final requirements report (June 2020) the basis upon which the second phase of the project was initiated. 

This effort has led to the release (December 2021) of an IFC conceptual model for underground infrastructures that covers geotechnics (factual data, interpreted models, soil-structure interaction data) , excavation methods (TBM or Drill&Blast methods) lining and support technics, as well operating systems (ventilation, lightning, draining and dewatering, LV/HV energy provision, firefighting, safety & evacuation) allowing for the implementation of IfcTunnel-based data exchange abilities in the professional design and BIM software available on the market, and will then enter into the ISO standard creation process (mid-2022) extending the ISO16379 norm. 

The above descripted initiative is also shared in bimonthly joint committees with the International Tunnelling Association (ITA-WG 22) so to ensure that it matches the needs of the industry.

Bottom line, BIM Tunnelling will help facilitate through, IfcTunnel and ISO normalisation, the many, iterative exchanges that happen between geotechnicians, civil engineers & systems engineers, who have been confronted so far with the inefficiency associated with the use of heterogenous software tools creating artificial silos.  In addition, whilst creating lean development processes amongst their contracted providers (consultants & contractors), the IfcTunnel standard and data dictionary provide infrastructure owners with a semantic-rich, neutral, persistent way of capturing projects data to optimize their documentation and their operation. For further information please contact michel.rives@vianova-systems.eu  or visit the bSI website www.buildingsmart.org

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