eXpert: communicate better to build better

The range of players working on a construction project is very broad: many sectors work together at all stages from the feasibility study of a structure to its operation, each using a variety of specific methods, conventions and representations. This can hinder communication about the project and induce non-quality costs and delays. But control of building construction and operation costs, and expectations about sustainable development and energy savings are becoming essential. Therefore, these criteria are integrated into the regulations.

The urgent need to take action facing climate change and the increasing scarcity of fossil energies makes it essential to adopt an integrated global approach towards building design, to replace a sequential approach for the architecture and technical design of the envelope and systems. The objective of the eXpert project is to improve electronic communications between all players, using tools designed for and by professionals.

How should progress related to new practices be supported and accompanied? Eric Lebègue, CSTB engineer and manager of the eXpert project Software publishers group, explains: "Concurrent engineering and particularly digital models that provide a visual representation of it, is an answer to this question because it provides a guarantee of sharing and exchange between the different players. Concurrent engineering provides a means of creating a smoother technical information flow, due to standardization and increased security of technical information about industrial projects and products to everyone concerned including the large number of SME/SMIs."

Digital models are now based on a world-wide computer standard (IFC), and avoid the need for reinput in different software and has the advantage of performing sophisticated technical calculations: the term used is software interoperability.

Making use of information technologies
The work consists of harmonizing practices of players involved from the input side towards the output side, over the entire digital system used in construction, starting from surveyors and including works supervision, main contractors, individual contractors, craftsmen and manufacturers, and also building managers, by involving all sizes of professional organizations. Integration of digital models into construction practices will depend largely on the demand by public and private clients, and also on all professional categories - including SME/SMIs – becoming familiar with information and communication technologies – hopefully by the year 2010.

The eXpert project is composed of several groups including clients, project managers, manufacturers, contractors, training organizations and software publishers who will initially work on integrating the digital model into their practices. Groups will subsequently and transversely work on a project making use of cooperation tools on a site.

CSTB manages the group of software publishers. Its role is to list the expectations of these publishers to obtain even more reliable information exchanges about the digital model and to prepare integrated demonstrations for other groups (clients, project managers, etc.). Many experimentation sites are already planned, for example the Burgundy region, and Nice Airport for which CSTB has recently made a virtual model of many extension projects.

Guaranteed durability and quality

International standardization of computer formats was necessary to enable interoperability of all software to professionals. The standard thus created, IFC (ISO) provides users with a guarantee that computer elements can be reused in future decades, due to the ISO standard. It is also a guarantee of quality because the standard stipulates that objects integrated into the model must be described very precisely (characteristics and physical properties of the object), which increases the definition of the rendering of the model on the screen, but also and especially physical reactions of the object. The final definition of the model then depends on the project itself; the sponsor can request a more or less detailed rendering, depending on his budget and how the future model will be used. This standard is derived from work done by the International Alliance for Interoperability, supported by the BuildingSmart network that exists in 20 countries including France.

Project partners

  • AFNOR Association Française de Normalisation (French Standards Association)
  • AIMCC Association des Industries de Produits de Construction (Association of Construction Products Industries)
  • CAPEB Confédération de l’Artisanat et des Petites Entreprises du Bâtiment (Confederation of Craftsmen and Small Building Contractors)
  • CICF Chambre de l’Ingénierie et du Conseil de France (French Engineering and Consultancy Chamber)
  • CSTB Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment (Scientific and Technical Building Centre)
  • CTAI Centre Technique d’Application et d’Innovation pour l’Artisanat (Technical Centre for Application and Innovation for Craftsmanship)
  • IT-FFB Institut Technique de la Fédération Française du Bâtiment (Technical Institute of the French Building Federation)
  • MEDIACONSTRUCT IAI – building Smart
  • OGE Ordre des Géomètres-Experts (Order of Surveyors)
  • UNAPOC Union Nationale des Professionnels de la Coordination en OPC (National Union of Coordination Professionals in OPC)
  • UNSFA Union Nationale des Syndicats Français d'Architectes (National Union of French Architects Associations)
  • UNTEC Union Nationale des Économistes de la Construction (National Union of Construction Economists)