What is COBie?


Last week we looked at why we need COBie. This week I’m going to look at what COBie actually is. COBie is a vehicle for sharing what is predominantly non-graphical data about a facility. It was developed in the US by the US Department of State, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Veterans Association and NASA – so don’t let anybody tell you BIM isn’t rocket science, because it is!

There was some UK involvement from both Nick Nisbet of AC3 and also Vinci UK were involved in the development too. The UK Government, when they came to look at what data formats to adopt for the whole life of their assets, looked around the world and saw that COBie had been developed and licensed its use.

COBie is a standard subset of IFC – the Industry Foundation Classes – it’s just that bit of data from IFC which relate to the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) and Facilities Management (FM) of assets and this is delivered to client in the form of a spreadsheet.

Now, I fully expect that you’re saying: ‘What? A spreadsheet? Surely we’re heading towards a digital world where spreadsheets are a thing of the past?’ However, there were good reasons for this.

Firstly, using a spreadsheet allowed the participation of the smaller members of the supply chain – for example – if a small sub-contractor supplying maybe 5 radiator types to a project they would just need to complete the very few lines that relate to their manufactured items and would be able to submit them to the design and construction team for incorporation into the COBie spreadsheet for the job as a whole.

By adopting COBie in the form of a spreadsheet it also meant there was no additional software investment by Government because almost every civil servant has spreadsheet software already on their desktop. If I’m honest, I think the spreadsheet itself can be seen as a short term step.

What you can see below is a COBie spreadsheet – or at least a bit of a COBie spreadsheet, as a full COBie spreadsheet will consist of 19 individual tabs:

The spreadsheet is coloured up and the colours mean:

  • Yellow: Required checkable data
  • Salmon/Pink: Data that is related to other sheets
  • Purple: Data that comes from different softwares
  • Green: A whole series of fields that may or may not be required by the client

It’s important to remember that COBie isn’t a single thing – it’s something which is defined by the client at the start of the job in the EIR (Employers Information Requirements).

To help you understand how COBie works here is a simple diagram detailing the main tabs within your COBie spreadsheets – you can see that everything centres around ‘Components’.

Components are the individual examples of items that may have been placed within your BIM originating software. In the graphic below we can show how COBie could relate to a bar within a hotel.

In this instance, we have a ‘Beer Pump’. A beer pump will sit within a space – or a room – or in our example, it sits within a ‘Bar Area’. And of course, a bar may be part of a collection of rooms – in this case part of the ‘Entertainment Area’ within a hotel – a collection of rooms is what constitutes a ‘Zone’.

‘Zones’ may also stretch across several floors, which is why we also have a designation of which ‘Floor’ a particular room is on – and all of those items sit within a ‘Facility’, which is the asset we’re talking about – in this case a hotel.

So what we’ve done now is locate a particular item within a room, within a group of rooms of related function and within a floor or across a number of floors. So you can see that although our beer pump is a single component it has relationships with several of the other tabs within the COBie spreadsheet.

But that’s not all, a beer pump is also part of a wider system – the system in this case is the beer delivery system, consisting of kegs, pipes and pumps etc. Of course, the component maybe one of a number of similar components – or ‘Types’ – in this case we have six individual beer pumps attached to our bar.

We can also relate ‘Jobs’ and ‘Resource’ to our beer pump – which is where maintenance comes into our diagram. In this case a job maybe cleaning the pipes and that job may take two bar staff – so that’s our resource set against the job. Of course there may be a number of different jobs you want to relate to your beer pumps.

And finally, you may want to know that you have spares – so here you can see that we have three spare pumps in our cellar in case something goes wrong. This is basically how COBie works – you’re just relating a whole bunch of different functions to a single component.

There are other tabs within COBie, for example ‘Documents’ which will also be filled in – but it all works like this, and it’s pretty simple. It’s a great way to note what your assets are – and with them being in a readable format it’s easy to interrogate this information.

Of course as this single component is replicated on a large job – perhaps on a hospital – you may have hundreds of thousands of components for which you need to do this job. The job isn’t hard – but it needs to be done – and if we can automate this process it will make our lives a lot easier. Certainly a lot of what COBie is can be generated from your individual Building Information Models.

It’s also important to realise that COBie is not just about buildings – it’s equally about infrastructure.

You can see in a similar way it centres on ‘Components’

In this case our component may be a light fitting on the Central Reservation (being a linear location), of a length of road, within a region of a road, within a facility (such as the M1 or a full road system). This light fitting would also be part of a full ’lighting system’ and would have jobs relating to it – such as changing the lightbulbs, which would have a resource set against it and back at the depot you would keep your spares – so you can see that COBie works in a very similar way for infrastructure.

It’s worth viewing some COBie videos that have been produced in the US to get a further understanding of COBie. You can see these videos here: http://www.wbdg.org/resources/cobie.php

In further blogs we’ll look at COBie within the UK.