Forge with BIM 360 Docs as an IoT Hub

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What are the possibilities when we talk about IoT (Internet of Things) and BIM (Building Information Modeling)? Well, when we integrate through Forge intelligent models and Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, we can have a world of possibilities and insight with machine learning. In this article, you will see how data collected with BIM 360 software to create an inventory were connected with equipment in the building to monitor what was going on and make predictive analysis, in order to cut building maintenance costs.

The Beginning of a Revolution in the AEC Industry

It is not news that AEC is the industry that most needs to improve when it comes to digital transformation. We have been dealing with manual processes and rework for too long and that’s leaving tons of money on the table. Some examples of our difficulties can be seen in a graphic from research by showing the typical collaboration in construction:

Typical collaboration graph
Figure 1. Typical collaboration graph.

From this graph, we can see how dispersed the information is in a construction organization, but how can we evolve the industry to drive digital transformation in the AEC market?

A good path would be to know which technologies are available for this matter. Autodesk cloud technology probably is one of the best technologies launched in the past few years in the BIM world that the mainstream hasn’t yet discovered how to take advantage of. Basically, BIM 360 products and Autodesk Forge integrated with other public cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure can boost the AEC industry to drive digital transformation so that we won’t need to use paper never again.

To understand how this can work, have you heard the concept of a digital twin? This concept is at Gartner’s Top Trends for 2017 and kept expectations for this and the following years in a way to change how things are operated today.

Says Gartner:

“Trend No. 5: Digital Twin - Within three to five years, billions of things will be represented by digital twins, a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system. Using physics data on how the components of a thing operate and respond to the environment as well as data provided by sensors in the physical world, a digital twin can be used to analyze and simulate real world conditions, respond to changes, improve operations and add value. Digital twins function as proxies for the combination of skilled individuals (e.g., technicians) and traditional monitoring devices and controls (e.g., pressure gauges). Their proliferation will require a cultural change, as those who understand the maintenance of real-world things collaborate with data scientists and IT professionals. Digital twins of physical assets combined with digital representations of facilities and environments as well as people, businesses and processes will enable an increasingly detailed digital representation of the real world for simulation, analysis and control.”

Like it is described in Gartner’s definition of a digital twin, in order to use this technology, we need a digital model of a physical thing that can be a machine, an engine, or a building.

The real questions here are how we do that and what we do after creating a digital twin? Dividing the answer in several parts, let’s first check which technologies can deliver the digital twin concept. BIM 360 and Autodesk technology will deliver the digital 3D model, you will model things in Autodesk Inventor, Autodesk Revit, Autodesk InfraWorks and other modeling tools and BIM 360 can bring the cloud power technology to access these models in 3D anytime, anywhere.

Microsoft Azure can be the bridge that we need to collect data from sensors to connect them into the digital world and also delivering the sensor management. A complete vision of digital construction can be found in Figure 2:

The vision combined
Figure 2. The vision combined.

A good way to understand this concept of integrating Autodesk BIM 360 with Microsoft Azure would be to think about Spider Man. When Spider Man is discovering his powers, he made a homemade suite, but when Spider Man meets Iron Man Mr. Stark developed a new powerful suite, somehow is what happens with Autodesk BIM 360 being powered by Microsoft Azure, a good representation is shown below:

Autodesk BIM 360 powered by Microsoft Azure
Figure 3. Autodesk BIM 360 powered by Microsoft Azure.

How can this integration be made? That's what this article is about.

BIM 360 as an IoT Hub

To start making the integration between Autodesk BIM 360 and Microsoft Azure we have to decide on what kind of information we will leave in each product. In 2016, I had a lecture at AU called Useless or Priceless? How to Prepare and Use a BIM Model for FM and Building Ops. I showed how we can prepare a BIM model to be used for facility management. That work was the base for this lecture.

In my opinion, for a digital twin, after preparing the model for facilities, we can use BIM 360 Docs to host the 3D model and access that in an external web application. To do that I suggest you take a look at the Getting Started page of Autodesk Forge. Autodesk Forge is the open API of Autodesk BIM 360 where we can have access to all the tools for development and integration between Autodesk products and Microsoft Azure cloud.

For better understanding of the architecture of the new web application, Figure 4 shows how Autodesk would integrate with Microsoft to create a digital twin model:

Digital twin concept
Figure 4. Digital twin concept.

The web app is a new web application that will create the visualization of the model integrated with the data collected by the sensors. What are the sensors available in the market? Take a look:

Types of sensors
Figure 5. Types of sensors.

And what type of sensors can we use in this architecture? Pretty much every single one since it has these requisites:

• Data encryption with a provably secure, publicly analyzed, and broadly implemented symmetric-key encryption algorithm, such as AES with at least 128-bit key length.
• Digital signature with a provably secure, publicly analyzed, and broadly implemented symmetric-key signature algorithm, such as SHA-2 with at least 128-bit key length.
• Support for either TLS 1.2 (IETF RFC524698) for TCP or other stream-based communication paths or DTLS 1.2 (IETF RFC6347) for datagram-based communication paths. TLS-typical support of X.509 certificate handling is optional and can be replaced by the more compute-efficient and wire-efficient pre-shared key mode for TLS (“TLS/PSK,” IETF RFC427999), which can be implemented with support for the aforementioned AES and SHA-2 algorithms.
• Update-able key-store and per-device keys. Each device must have unique key material or tokens that identify it toward the system. The devices should be able to store the key securely on the device (for example, using a secure key-store). The device should be able to update the keys or tokens periodically, or reactively in emergency situations in case of system breach. Key update might occur over the air or through some other means, but update-ability is required.
• The firmware and application software on the device must allow for updates to enable the repair of discovered security vulnerabilities.

Related: Digital Twin: Bringing MEP Models to Life with David Fink and Alejandro Mata

Security is a big issue and you have to make sure that the connectivity to the cloud covers all these requirements. Also, as the IoT sensor is exposed and need a connection to your network it is an excellent idea to make a board security for these sensors. If you don’t think about board security the chance of hacker to use your IoT device connection to access your network increases a lot. Think about this architecture when it comes to board security:

Web security service (WSS)
Figure 6. Web security service (WSS).

Remote users and mobile users from remote sites and also HQ locations can plug into the Web Security Service—universal connectivity capabilities. Connectivity issues are based upon what the business wants to do and what its requirements are. The core web security service is not only rock solid and very robust access governance for web and cloud use, but also very strong capabilities for threat protection, information security, data loss prevention, integrations, that give a very robust set of security compliance threat protection capabilities across all of these devices. Web Security Service is basically acting as a unifying bridge or gateway to the web and the cloud to ensure that your policies are being enforced consistently across all of these sorts of devices and locations. WSS brings control to the chaos.

BIM 360 Build to Collect Data

Even if my lecture in 2016 was based on BIM 360 Field and not BIM 360 Build, things can still work. For sure at some point in the future there will be a new equipment workflow in BIM 360 Build like there was in BIM 360 Field.

To collect data with BIM 360 Build you can create a checklist with the following fields:

Figure 7. BIM 360 Build equipment checklist.

The checklist will be filled using a cellphone in the field, you will have to consult the BIM model in stored in BIM 360 Docs using the preparation described in the 2016 lecture to see which code will be used.

In terms of systems the key to connect the component in the BIM model and the component in Azure will be the parameter name, in our example will be a sink with the filled field as a “BRSP430_403.01_ZN01_02F_04837_BS05_SINK01”

In the future, you will be able to use Forge API to rebuild the equipment feature in BIM 360 Build. It can be a way to solve the integration process and avoid making things so manually, especially because people in the field will have difficulties to follow this workflow.

Another strategy is to continue using BIM 360 Field equipment workflow until BIM 360 Build has equipment’s. I would suggest to the Field workflow instead of Build until the product become more mature. You can follow the example of the 2016 lecture to know how to collect data using Field and integrating with the model.

Link Equipment in the Building with the BIM Model

To Link the equipment in BIM 360 Docs (digital model) to the equipment in a building (physical model) you will need to make a new web application that will integrate the data of both world. In order to do that the new application will call BIM 360 using these lines of code:

Calling the 3D in BIM 360
Figure 8. Calling the 3D in BIM 360.

In this way, the web application will bring the 3D model visualization to your application with all the features that BIM 360 Docs have to control the model (sectioning, zoom model properties, etc.). Now you will have to collect the data from the sensors in the building consuming the data from Microsoft Azure IoT Hub, to do this you can use this logic for coding:

Calling the sensor data in Microsoft Azure
Figure 9. Calling the sensor data in Microsoft Azure.

You will have to point the URL where you are storing things in Microsoft Azure. This will result in a web application that now can consume the 3D model and also consume the information from Microsoft Azure. You won’t be able to see the sensor data unless you manually point equipment per equipment connecting the BIM model with the physical world.

The best way to do that is to create a dot above the equipment in the 3D model and connect that dot into the sensor data. To create the point in the 3D model in the web app you can use the following logic:

Getting the coordinates to create the equipment dot
Figure 10. Getting the coordinates to create the equipment dot.

The hitTest1 will consume the data of “BRSP430_403.01_ZN01_02F_04837_BS05_SINK01”; it should be something like this:

Our digital twin
Figure 11. Our digital twin.

How to Make Predictive Analysis 

The first thing you will have to learn from what you are collecting is what do you want to see? Basically, with this technology you can do whatever you want to do. The Azure IoT Central is a complete platform that can be used to create the devices, manage the portfolio of devices, and most importantly, create rules for predictive analysis.

This means that you can learn from the data and create rules to warn your maintenance team if something in the field goes wrong. Here are some examples of what Microsoft Azure IoT Central can do:

Monitoring an air conditioner
Figure 12. Monitoring an air conditioner.


Creating a rule of action to be triggered
Figure 13. Creating a rule of action to be triggered.


Making a digital twin model is not as hard as the mainstream might think, but what will take time is to understand the efforts to standardize a process to collect data in the field during the construction phase that will be later used for facility management. A good way to start is to understand your pain points in operating a building and then understand if that is something that can be, somehow, plugged into an IoT system to start being monitored and bring more intelligence to your process. Digital transformation is one step away and all that we need to start changing the future of construction is have the courage to innovate and know the technologies that are available now.

Tiago Ricotta is an architect and urban planner. He has a master’s degree in planning and technology and a master’s degree in business administration, project management professional (PMP). He received a Technical Highlight Award for Creativity and Innovation from Autodesk Brazil, and he has 14 years of experience in the AEC market. Today he is the head of Business Development at Brasoftware Informatics, where he is responsible for integrating Microsoft Cloud with Autodesk and other manufacturing products to drive digital transformation in the clients of his company. Ricotta was an Autodesk Revit Gunslinger (2014) and Insider event participant (2018), an Autodesk University Las Vegas Speaker (2012/2016/2018), and an Autodesk University Brazil speaker (2013/2014/2016). He is an Autodesk Revit Certified Professional. He was the technical responsible for the first LATAM BIM 360 Field / BIM 360 Plan / Building Ops software enterprise agreement contract and implementation.

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