In my book, I devote a short section to discussion of the file formats commonly used in construction collaboration. A more comprehensive overview of the subject is given in David Harrison’s Stress-free blog, in an article entitled Why Autodesk should ‘Open’ DWF. David extends the analysis beyond my basic comparison of DWF and PDF formats; he covers the benefits and limitations of:
- bitmap images
- vector-based images
- Office productivity documents
- traditional 2D PDF
- Flash animation
- proprietary 2D/3D CAD format
- Standard 2D/3D CAD format (DXF, OpenDWG, OpenDGN)
- Proprietary Building Information (BIM) Model
- Standard Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) Model
David points out the key requirements of AEC information exchange: consistency and protection of intellectual property.
On the first, he believes that design information formats (as opposed to data oriented formats) and their associated reader applications employ measures to ensure that information exchanged with team members is displayed in a consistent manner across all platforms.
However, the intellectual property issue is perhaps harder to crack. David writes:
“Increasingly for many AEC professionals the digital model is the lifeblood of the design process and the source of most chargeable activities. Literally giving this model to untrusted members of the design team could compromise future income streams, devalue their role in the design process, or raise legal liability issues if the model was used inappropriately in such activities as simulation and engineering studies. Formats for design information exchange protect intellectual property by enabling the author to communicate a limited subset of the entire digital model in a manner that cannot be reutilised for anything other than its intended purpose.”
This sums up the traditional view of projects in which designers are loathe to trust any other member of the project team. And yet, in the UK construction industry, at least, some teams are being encouraged to embrace collaborative working. My previous post, for example, was about the new JCT contract, and the news release twice uses the word “trust” in its description of the contract’s underlying principles:
“The new contract is based on trust and fairness: the overriding principle, which is stated early in the contract, is ‘collaboration’. The purchaser and the supplier – the terms used in the contract – should have the intention to work together with each other and with all other project participants in a co-operative and collaborative manner in good faith and in the spirit of mutual trust and respect.”
I am looking forward to seeing how the new JCT contract works in practice. As an advocate of collaborative working and promoting transparency within project teams, I will be particularly interested to learn how far designers embrace the principle of trust in sharing design data.