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Planning to do military work? You’ll need to know COBie

Mar 21, 2014

Planning to do military work? You’ll need to know COBie

COBie stands for Construction Operations Building Information Exchange. It’s the smarter brother of building information modeling (BIM)—a method to capture information electronically, avoid redundancy, and present a project owner with well-organized, systematic information on a delivered building. It will also save sheet metal contractors something very important—money.

You’ve heard of “as-built drawings?” This is “as-built information”—easy to assemble (for contractors) and easy to access (for facility management/maintenance people).

COBie isn’t new; it’s actually been around for quite awhile. However, beginning with federal fiscal year 2015 (starting Oct. 1, 2014), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will require COBie from contractors on all Army Military Construction (MilCon) projects, buildings built around the world, including many significant U.S. government-funded projects in the United States.

Will other entities, inside and outside government, follow the Corps’ lead? Possibly. Some organizations (including the UK government) are already mandating COBie in construction documents.

Importantly, at this point the Army’s MilCon program makes the Corps perhaps the largest U.S. government organization in the business of constructing and delivering new buildings.

Why COBie now?

“We now have a COBie standard, arrived at via the voluntary ANSI process, that’s accepted and in place,” answered E. William “Bill” East, P.E., Ph.D., of the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center. Dr. East has been integrally involved in moving COBie from a good idea to a national standard.

Another reason for the Corps to embrace COBie, Dr. East said, was that the electronic information system just makes sense—at least from the perspective of a building owner.

“COBie provides a value-added product that will make facility operations easier,” Dr. East added. “What’s important is to note that contractors are already doing most of the work involved in COBie. They are providing the information needed—warranties, repair information, and so forth.

“COBie just systematizes it.”

In a recent phone interview, Dr. East provided a real-world example of where COBie would provide savings. “An engineering student who now works with me spent a summer working elsewhere as an intern. Her assignment—for three months, mind you—was to photocopy paper documents to put together an operations and maintenance manual. That’s how they had her spend her time.

“When she got here, and realized what COBie can do . . . well, she became a bit exasperated.”

How contractors benefit

Project owners and their architectural/engineering firms may well gain from COBie, but will sheet metal contractors realize benefits, too?

Dr. East’s answer: “If you do COBie, you will be saving effort. You will avoid the redundant efforts involved in collecting information . . . collecting it over and over and over again—on the same project.

“This isn’t a new thing. There are 30 providers of commercial software products, including construction software companies and those supplying software for facility management, with products that integrate COBie, right now on the shelf.

“So the sheet metal contractor is going to save money, compared to the manual process involved in doing the same work today.”

The future is finally here

Dr. East noted that, while the COBie requirement that the Corps of Engineers will impose in October might surprise some in the construction industry, it’s been coming for three decades.

“In 1983, the National Academies of Engineering looked at the prospect for using computers on construction sites. You’ll remember that, in 1983, the personal computer was relatively new. The Academies’ report was that the personal computer had the potential to be a big help in managing information on a construction project.

“They were right. Now it’s happening!”

For contractors interested in getting ahead of the curve, here are a few places to find information about COBie:

An article describing COBie by Dr. Bill East (posted 1/29/14) from the National Institute of Building Sciences.

COBie Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from the National Institute of Building Sciences.

List of commercial software available

Videos about COBie (posted by Dr. Bill East)