SketchUp to IFC (and COBie) via ARCHICAD

Introduction

Before diving into this blog piece i wanted to explain first that whilst i am an ArchiCAD user i always try to look at the bigger picture of BIM, particularly with regards to data. In fact i am becoming more and more uninterested in what can be done in ARCHICAD. There are already plenty of users focussed on asking Graphisoft for ARCHICAD feature improvements that are primarily designed to benefit the model author. My focus is all on the data and how we can use it and export it. For me, my simple mantra is if you can’t export it from an authoring package, and generate a benefit to others, it doesn’t exist. This perhaps may seem a little extreme but with this thought pattern it allows me to focus on the bigger picture of BIM.

I would therefore like to think that the blog pieces i write are as useful to users of other authoring platforms as they are to an ARCHICAD user. If nothing else you may begin to understand a little more about ARCHICAD. And there is no harm in looking at how another authoring tool functions. So after that brief introduction, now on to this blog piece…

Creating intelligence

A lot has been said in BIM circles about the idea that some software currently is not really able to be used in BIM workflows, particularly though when it comes to the ‘I’ in BIM. That included me, until now!

I have been working on standard data sets for our projects in ARCHICAD for the past 6-12 months and this got me thinking about whether i could use these data sets and apply them to any object, no matter what the content was created in.

In the latest release of Graphisoft ARCHICAD, version 17, there is now a direct import of SKP files from Trimble SketchUp *. The import has been available for a number of versions as an add-on (otherwise known as a plugin) but i am always wary of these having been burnt in the past. But as part of our roll out of ARCHICAD 17 i thought i would see what this new embedded functionality was actually like. I wanted to see if i could make the imported content ‘intelligent’, particularly though in relation to IFC and COBie.

I started by going to the Trimble 3D Warehouse to find an object and downloading it. For this exercise i chose an Eames Chair but this works for any object.

Sketchup Blog Original Image

Image: The Eames Chair object as it appears in Trimble 3D Warehouse

I was then simply able to go to ARCHICAD and choose File > Open. The process of conversion of course depends on the size and complexity of the object but the speed seems generally pretty quick for most objects. For this particular object it was about 20 seconds.

Object opened in ArchiCAD

Image: The object after opening in ARCHICAD

So here is the clever bit. As part of our office template we have created what are known as ‘Favorites’ in ArchiCAD. I have blogged about this subject before over on the Shoegnome website run by Jared Banks. See my post – “If you haven’t discovered ARCHICAD Favorites, you haven’t discovered BIM”. These basically allow you to preset a variety of settings. This includes geometry, 2D graphical display, settings for IFC exchange and most importantly data. This data can include anything from standard IFC fields, COBie data and user defined fields. Typically you would select an object and then set it up accordingly with the correct settings and data you need. However with our approach we are now beginning to work the other way around. We select our data and settings first before even considering geometry or appearance.

Once we have our core data set and settings, we can either configure an object or select an entirely new object. Provided this new object is selected in line with the data and settings we can pretty much use any 3-dimensional object. So i simply selected the correct ‘Favorite’ and then selected the object i had created. This meant we had an object that had correct IFC settings but also the data we wanted to attach to it. I then simply added a description of ‘Eames Chair’ (this description also populates the Component Description field). I can now place these wherever i need them in the model.

Sketchup Blog IFC Manager

Image: A dataset that is added to the object in ARCHICAD

Sketchup Blog ArchiCAD Model

Image: The object replaced in ARCHICAD with data set included (note: the textures are lost but this can be rectified with a little work if required for visualisation)

Typically we can go back and add further data at different RIBA work stages depending on the requirements of the project. This is in line with our Level of Information (LOI) documentation we have developed.

So the next step was to export the IFC. I exported the object from ARCHICAD as ‘IFC 2×3 Coordination View 2.0’ and reopened the file in Solibri Model Viewer (a free IFC viewer available for both PC and Mac). I was able to check that the data and geometry was still intact.

Sketchup Blog Solibri Model Viewer

Image: Object exported to Solibri Model Viewer with geometry on the right hand side and the data bottom left

Of course this workflow experiment with SketchUp can be extended to other formats we can import into ARCHICAD. So we have now tested 3DS files with similar results. This will allow us to use content that may have been created in Autodesk 3DS Max for example which we use in our visualisation workflows.

Conclusions

This opens up lots of possibility for using objects in our BIM workflows but there are some words of caution. The biggest concern with importing non-native files is the quality of the objects you are importing. In particular heavy geometry will potentially kill files and more importantly is the geometry even correct? With ARCHICAD’s Morph tool we could do some cleaning up but this does add some time to the process.

If we want excellent 2D representation we would need to convert the imported objects into ARCHICAD objects and sort out the 2D representation. Again this is not particularly difficult but does add some more work.

Some objects we experimented with required a little more modification in terms of unifying geometry but this was a fairly quick process.

Lastly it should be noted that the objects are intelligent in terms of data but are still somewhat dumb when it comes to geometry. We can amend geometry but it would need to be done manually rather than within any parametric capability. This is not ideal but its not the end of the world if objects are used sparingly.

However, native content should always be the de facto standard for content! This ‘experiment’ is largely just that, but i am always looking at how we can use other software in our workflows. You wouldn’t want to start flooding your authored models with non-native content but equally where there is a particularly specialist object that has been created in another software package and we can import it, we can make use of it, make it ‘intelligent’ and export it to other software. In IFC terms you wouldn’t actually know the difference.

Just for a bit of fun…

Of course not all BIM testing is a dull affair, so here is one with something for the Star Wars fans out there!

Sketchup r2d2

Image: R2D2 in Solibri Model Viewer – includes COBie data allowing the client to import R2D2’s data into a Facilities Management (FM) system

* Of course all software has its strengths and weaknesses and all software serves the purpose it was designed for. Trimble Sketchup does have plugins such as ‘Dynamic Components’ which increase parametric capabilities but we have never been able to find anything that allows direct IFC exchange or supports COBie data. If anyone knows different, i will gladly update this post accordingly. Trimble’s acquisition of Sketchup from Google in 2012 may see developments in this area given Trimble’s commitment to BIM and interoperability with other software solutions. But in the meantime this was a workflow that could allow Sketchup content to be used for IFC/COBie in our work with ARCHICAD if required.

Rob Jackson, Associate, Bond Bryan Architects

linkedinicon4

This post has been viewed 19820 times.

5 thoughts on “SketchUp to IFC (and COBie) via ARCHICAD

  1. Nicely put guys. I think the biggest problem with using 3d warehouse is the fact that the models are unregulated. I use Archicad and Sketchup in combination regularly and we have some good results. The biggest problem I see is the poly count as it can slow your model to point frustration starts to set in.
    If you are looking for Sketchup models that are low in poly count I would suggest going to http://www.rubysketch.com/ and using the SKPBim models as they have been created to represent the model with a low poly count. It is easy to find good quality content that is accurate. You will also notice that the library has over 500 good quality Archicad models, they are all parametric and save me and our colleges a lot of time. The best thing is they are free just like 3d ware house

  2. Thanks Andrew.

    You are correct that the polygon count can be a big issue and that the content can be hit and miss and this is one of the main reasons for highlighting the fact that if this method was to be utilised, that it should be utilised with care.

    I have now added Ruby Sketch to our Objects page in the Resources area – http://bimblog.bondbryan.com/objects/.

      • Hi Andrew,

        I was aware of the developments with Sketchup 2014. For Elements/Objects its fine although a little limited in terms of creating a true IFC or COBie building model file. I’m sure this will come with further development. Its certainly an interesting and not unsurprising development.

        I downloaded your file and opened in ArchiCAD 17. The object in terms of geometry is great in terms of 3D and after unlocking the layer on which it was placed I was able to amend the materials to suit (the glass that came in was a solid IFC material so I amended to glass). The 2D wasn’t perfect and there is only one pen for the whole object but for this particular object is is perfectly usable.

        The data attached was limited but personally at the moment this doesn’t concern me to much as we apply our own data schema to objects anyway. But the Description field, Element Classification (BuildingElementProxy) and Tag all came through. From my testing with Sketchup you can also add an ID (IfcName). Not been able to get Sketchup’s layer information for IFC to export but not had time to throughly investigate whether this is possible.

        As a user I could add more data once the object had been imported into ArchiCAD. This object would allow 2 workflows – either provide a workflow from Sketchup to ArchiCAD or for use direct in ArchiCAD. Obviously its limitation is its not parametric compared to a GDL object so for one off requirements it could be useful to some users.

        Rob

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *