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Beginning in fiscal year 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will require all Army design-build and construction contracts to use the Construction-Operations Building information exchange (COBie) standard. The directive will be released as a USACE Engineering and Construction Bulletin.
All component data and documentation for the Mark Center in Alexandria, Va., which accommodates 6,400 federal employees, was turned over in electronic format using the COBie standard.
The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) developed COBie in a national collaboration as the first in a series of U.S. National Building Information Modeling Standards published by the buildingSMART alliance. The standards are intended to improve efficiencies and reduce costs throughout the facility acquisition life cycle.

The conventional practice of gathering as-built information at the end of construction is expensive and subject to transcription errors. Relying on site surveys once the facility is complete results in omissions because equipment or utilities often are inaccessible. COBie streamlines the delivery of asset information using a standard format to capture construction submittal information when created. The result is a higher quality product through the collection of as-built equipment information while the project progresses.

What does this mean for the construction industry? Builders play a key role in COBie’s implementation because submittals comprise the bulk of construction handover data. New information is not required for COBie; however, submittals must be provided in a COBie-compatible format. The consolidated set of COBie information becomes the foundation for operations and maintenance manuals and allows that same information to be directly imported into the building owner’s facility management software.

What does this mean for the customer? While building owners receive more efficient facilities, the information provided does not always allow them to operate their facilities as efficiently as possible. Facility managers face months of time finding information from boxes full of paper and inputting handover documents into their maintenance and facility management systems. In the meantime, maintenance staff may forgo a search through all these boxes when doing their work, leading to inefficient or incorrect operations. Despite the high cost of producing these paper documents, the majority of them are never used.

COBie is implemented through a new specification, the Unified Facility Guide Specification 01 79 00, “Construction-Operations Building information exchange.” The specification is currently out for industry-wide review. Industry members can visit projects.buildingsmartalliance.org/files/?artifact_id=6674 to download the specifications and suggest improvements.

The specification calls for four types of submittals.
  • COBie Information Delivery Plan requires contractors to document their plan to deliver the COBie data required in the specification, similar to existing quality control or safety plans.
  • COBie-Specific mirrors deliverables provided at major design and construction milestones.
  • COBie-Formatted transforms documents already required to be submitted elsewhere in the contract into mini-COBie files.
  • Photos used to document installed equipment.
While contractors might wait until the end of a project to create COBie-based handover information, it is possible to collect as-built COBie data while the job progresses. The COBie Information Delivery Plan requires contractors to document how they plan to collect COBie data, including identifying a single point of contact who is responsible for collecting and submitting COBie data to the owner. If subcontractors will be responsible for entry of COBie data following equipment startup and commissioning, those plans must be documented. Contractors also are required to document how they can eliminate post-construction equipment surveys through the collection of COBie data.

COBie-Specific submittals accompany the delivery of project drawings, including early design, coordinated design and construction documents, sets of plans, and specifications. COBie-Specific submittals require the COBie data to match the information found on the design drawings in room and equipment schedules during the design phase. During construction, COBie-Specific submittals are provided at the beneficial occupancy and fiscal completion stages. During construction, the COBie data must match the information found on the design drawing schedules as updated with as-built equipment information.
COBie eliminates paper copies of documents such as drawings, warranties and maintenance schedules.
COBie-Formatted submittals are an existing submittal that has information provided in a customized mini-COBie file. The contractor can submit these mini-COBie files (even if they need to be printed out) and collate the information to keep an accurate list of equipment as-builts. There are a lot of options for the collection of COBie-formatted submittals. For example, contractors can edit COBie data in spreadsheet form by keeping one central master list and then making smaller subsets to give to subcontractors to update.

The USACE will be providing a free COBieServer tool to export COBie-Formatted submittals so they can be updated. When these files are loaded back into the COBieServer, the master list will be updated. If a contractor wants to create its own COBie-Formatted submittals, it can use the Open Data Kit project’s FormHub.org to create a smartphone app for field data collection. In addition, a wide variety of commercial off the shelf software for contractors can assist with managing and updating COBie data.

Examples of COBie-Formatted submittals include:
  • installed equipment;
  • approved submittals;
  • test reports;
  • warranty information;
  • spare/replacement parts;
  • preventative maintenance schedules;
  • operations and troubleshooting schedules; and
  • signage and door schedules.
The last type of submittal required by the specification is installed equipment photographs. Two photographs are required for each piece of equipment. The first is a photo of the equipment nameplate. The second is a photo of the installed equipment after it has been started but before insulation covers the equipment and associated piping.

As with any general specification, UFGS 01 79 00 will be customized for each project contract and adjusted for the specific workflows of a given contractor and construction management office. Some COBie customizations will be made based on the nature of the contract (design-build versus construction). Other customizations may dictate the use of a specific customer’s requirements for categories describing rooms and equipment. For example, customizations related to workflow can be made if the project team uses an electronic submittal processing system. 

Bill East is a senior research civil engineer at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign, Ill. For more information, visit www.erdc.usace.army.mil.

Online Training Opportunity
To assist contractors working on USACE projects, the Engineer Research and Development Center is working with professional and trade associations, including Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Associated General Contractors and the American Institute of Architects, to conduct training. ABC held the first national COBie training session last October. It is available at www.abc.org under the Academy for Construction Ethics, Compliance & Best Practices. Additional training is being scheduled for local ABC chapters. To arrange a training session, contact ABC Director of Member Services Jen Huber at huber@abc.org.


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