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7 Aug 2011

Inforbix - a look from aside or Web 3.0 is born now

Eugeny Shirinyan

This short note, prepared with the initiative of isicad.ru editorial, combines elements of my general vision as an architect and a kind of interview, born out of my post and its comments that were made by Oleg Shilovitsky and Andrey Shteynbrekher (author of the blog "On Automation" and well-known expert in the field of PDM / ERP). During this interview-dialogue and the preparation of this note it became clear to me how the problem of information complexity of todays design process could be solved.

Information complexity of the project as a todays reality
The issue of the great amount of information is relevant not only for engineers and developers, but also for architects. In addition it is necessary to note that BIM-Technology, Internet communication, interdisciplinary approach, as well as the current fast-paced state of the world not only open up the way for innovation, progress, but also expose to the full extent the gateway to the flow of information and data, that are not quite easy to manage.

Information complexity is a topic where making order through the common means of enforcement and sorting (although automated) is rather tough. I will not compare the information complexity of the design processes in the fields of architecture and mechanical engineering however I will allow myself a couple of remarks.

The difference between architectural objects and engineering products (lets keep those concept separate for the moment, although they are gradually becoming convergent) is the uncertainty of the first and the high determination of the the second. The notion of assembly in architecture has not been yet implemented to the extent as it has been done in car industry. Construction has, however assembly has not. Elements like information re-use, storage and fast easy access to a necessary part of a project are often weak points in many architectural companies. Therefore, I have noted Inforbix among the more traditional PDM-systems and wiki-platforms. The search of information and its efficient re-use becomes one of the foremost tasks in the design process.

As for the design process itself, the higher the degree of certainty of a project , the easier it is to automate this process. In this case the very notion of data and information flow related to the design of the object (product), acquires the ability to formalize and therefore to be more open and available for re-use. In an effort to sort out what is Inforbix and how it can be used in the field of AEC Andrey Shteynbrekher and I have asked the founder of Inforbix Oleg Shilovitsky series of questions.

Q&A

Oleg did a brief introduction, before responding to our questions: The idea of Inforbix is to collect data in the company that located in diverse set of applications and data sources (i.e. CAD files in folders on different computers, Excels, PDF files, databases, PDM/PLM, ERP, etc.). After we collect data, we index information and discover semantic relationships between data. Example - relationships between 3D models in SolidWorks and AutoCAD 2D drawings, BOM in CAD drawing and Excel spreadsheet, Engineering BOM in PDM and Manufacturing Item in ERP, etc.

Andrey: Inforbix is positioned as a system for collecting and organizing product information? How does the service work? When it comes to the product file, what kind of information Inforbix aggregates?

    Oleg: About Product Data collecting: Inforbix collects information about product from the company network. We developed plug-ins that can read data from CAD files, Excels, PDM/PLM systems, ERP systems, etc. So, we are not collecting only public information as you assumed in your comment. The information we collect contains different elements of product data, and this is varied for software, file types, etc. For example, for SolidWorks data, we are collecting file properties, relationships between assemblies, parts, drawings, tables in drawings, etc.
Andrey: If I get it right, on the basis of these data a certain file structure is constructed? Then comes the next question: how do we break down the structure according to its purpose? For example, in the same Excel-file we can have data about the product structure (BOM or specs) and the data about shipping, or repairs .. Will you provide a service on data access for different specialists? Or for the moment it is targeted only at engineers?
    Oleg: No, we are not making any file structures. Inforbix keeps information using our technologies for data storage and indexing. Our applications (i.e. Search and Tables) will provide access to all people in the organization.
Andrey: So, Inforbix provides a service for a company. How do we access this service?
    Oleg: We are planning cloud-based deployment for the moment. Inforbix Apps runs from the cloud servers, but available in your corporative network. It means, this is not *public* services like Google. The initial version will be available only from the cloud, e.g. as it is according to the scheme in this video:
Andrey: I see ... The other point remains unclear however... What kind of applied issues could be solved by using this service: Initial systematization? Permanent use of reference data for designing? As a search engine? In general, we can formulate the question: what gives the customer the use of this service?
    Oleg: This is a very good range of questions. We dont have all answers for the moment. We are working with our Beta customers on scenarios, use cases, etc.
Andrey: How could a product model be previewed? Can we have a 3D-preview or is it only a raster image?
    Oleg: For the moment, preview is png in current version. We have multiple requests from Beta customers to integrate viewers into our services. Lets come back to this question later.
Evgeny: Is the use of Inforbix possible in the AEC-domain?
    Oleg: Oleg: Properly speaking, today, most of CAD systems we support are from mechanical space.
Andrey: How could the duplicated product information be avoided? For instance, there is a wrong data input inside the file structure and then what?
    Oleg: Search and Tables are first two applications. There are more coming. Dashboards, Finding duplicated data, Compare Bill of Materials, etc. We are discussing with Beta customers about what is interesting and will develop more applications based on our ability to provide access to data.
Evgeny: Is it possible to connect data from third-party web-aggregators? A striking example - Architonic, which collected a lot of information on lighting, plumbing fixtures, materials, etc. It would be nice to integrate them into the design process ...
    leg: This is an interesting idea. We have no technological limitation to do so, but this is probably beyond our first release.
Evgeny: You mentioned the semantic relationships between different data groups within Inforbix. Is this principle related to the concept of Web 3.0 as a semantic network? And what makes the construction of the semantic system like Inforbix efficient?
    Oleg: We are leveraging some elements of Web 3.0 and semantic technologies. You can read Inforbix blog for more information.

Conclusion

    I suppose Oleg Shilovitsky emphasizes on creating simple systems with a number of functions appropriate for easy implementation, assimilation and a ossibility to scale the initial system. Exactly for this Inforbix was awarded in the 2011 COFES nomination for Top Technology Award. In his article Roopinder Tara is comparing Inforbix for its easy and efficient use to Google search. He underlines the following important moment in the development of CAD systems - the possibility of a smart search within a rich variety of systems, applications and files used by a company.

    For me as an architect communication with the rest of the design fields is highly important. This sort of communication rises not so common issues of dealing with big data and information flows . This is proven by such events in the design and IT fields as COFES 2011 "Innovation in the face of complexity" and Smartgeometry 2011 - "Building the Invisible: informing digital design with the real world data".


Image.1. Cluster Urban Feeds - SmartGeometry 2011. Diagram showing the collection and processing of environmental data.

As we can see not only the technology of the object itself needs to be actively investigated and introduced, but also the processes of communication, search and storage of information are crucial for a successful project.

As for our questions to Oleg - while I was writing this text day by day new posts were appearing on the Inforbix website, where Oleg continues to reveal the the secret of his innovative service.

About Author
Evgeny Shirinyan, postgraduate student of MArkhI, architect, blogger (CAD&BIM)"

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