Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie)

by E. William East, PE, PhD
Engineer Research and Development Center, U.S. Army, Corps of Engineers

Last updated: 03-03-2014


Today, most contracts require the handover of paper documents containing equipment lists, product data sheets, warranties, spare part lists, preventive maintenance schedules, and other information. This information is essential to support the operations, maintenance, and the management of the facilities assets by the owner and/or property manager.

"Normally it takes us 3 years to get as-builts after the financial closeout of a project. Now I can get a pre-built equipment list before the building even breaks ground? Outstanding!"
– Deputy Director, Department of Public Works

Gathering this information at the end of the job, today's standard practice, is expensive, since most of the information has to be recreated from information created earlier. COBie simplifies the work required to capture and record project handover data.

The COBie approach is to enter the data as it is created during design, construction, and commissioning, see Figure 1. Designers provide floor, space, and equipment layouts. Contractors provide make, model, and serial numbers of installed equipment. Much of the data provided by contractors comes directly from product manufacturers who can also participate in COBie. Please see Project Delivery Teams for more information.

Flow chart illustrating the information taken down between the design and build stages and the build and operate stages of COBie

Fig. 1. COBie Process Overview

Since different parties, using different kinds of software, all need to interact with COBie information, COBie information can be displayed in a several different formats. All of these formats provide a completely interoperable view of the underlying information specified by COBie. For designers, COBie can be created using a "Save As..." and selecting the IFC file format. Builders may want to use specialized commercial software to update the COBie data with manufacture's information, or directly enter information in a spreadsheet display of COBie data. Facility operators can import COBie data, formatted in either IFC or spreadsheet, directly into asset and maintenance data.

There are many different types of projects, so COBie can be extended and specified to support specific requirements of an owner or facility type. Owners can replace the default OmniClass categories, with categories that they use. Fields required for specific types of buildings may also be added to the COBie format simply by adding columns to the COBie spreadsheet. Attributes for spaces and equipment may also be specified. Another project, the Specifier's Properties information exchange (SPie) project aims to develop national standards for that can be enforced through the delivery of COBie data.

"The COBie project was a rarity in the depth of input brought by all the levels, Regional, ERDC, and the professionals at the installation. Too often when we're developing business processes we try to do it without the active involvement of the people actually doing the work. The COBie project was different."
– Regional Department of Public Works Business Management


This is a general description of COBie. To determine if your specific software complies with COBie requirements, please see the COBie Means and Methods page. There is also an on-line COBie2 training program.

A. Early Design Stage

As the design begins the vertical and horizontal spaces that are necessary to fulfill the owner's requirements for the building, facility, or infrastructure project are defined. Within these buildings, facilities, or projects are also defined the different types of systems that are needed to satisfy the owner's requirements. Please see Project Planning, Delivery and Controls for more information.

Visual chart of COBie data: A 'common' grouping is the base with blocks labeled Contacts and Documents as well as blocks labeled Issue, Coordinates and Attributes; above on the right side is a 'build' area with no blocks; to the left is a 'design' area with blocks from bottom to top Zones, Space, Floor and Facility

Fig. 2. Early Design Stage Information

Figure 2 illustrates how this information is provided through COBie. COBie data begins with the listing of one or more Facilities (i.e. buildings or projects). Each of these facilities has one or more Floors. Within each floor there are Spaces. In buildings, these spaces will typically have room numbers. Outside the building, spaces can be referenced by function, such as "parking lot" or "patio seating." For non-building projects COBie users can create "floors" and "spaces" that provide the most meaningful partition of the physical regions that comprise those projects.

Since a significant benefit can be achieved for Asset Managers, COBie allows the exchange of space function and area calculations provided directly by the designers' CAD or BIM software.

Early in the design, projects are developed by listing spaces and identifying specific functions required to meet the owner's requirements. To allow these spaces to perform as intended, specific building Systems, are also required for all projects. For buildings, these systems include: electrical, heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), potable water, wastewater, fire protection, intrusion detection and alarms and other systems. In COBie, there must be at least one System for each Facility.

B. Construction Documents Design Stage

As the design progresses the material, products, and equipment needed for the building are specified. The types of products are most often displayed as finish, product, and equipment schedules. The use of these schedules for any variety of reasons, including quantity take off, asset management, and of course facility maintenance and operations requires multiple, error-prone manual transcriptions. The organization of product and equipment information within COBie is shown in Figure 3.

The types of equipment are listed along with the specific location of each of these types. Product's properties are listed as COBie common attributes. With these data structures, COBie transfers schedule information from designers to builders and later to operators. Information within the COBie file allows the designer to identify fixed or movable property. See Real Property Inventory (RPI) for more information.

Visual chart of COBie data: A 'common' grouping is the base with blocks labeled Contacts and Documents as well as blocks labeled Issue, Coordinates, Attributes and Connections; above on the right side is a 'build' area with no blocks; to the left is a 'design' area with blocks from bottom to top Zones, Space, Floor and Facility; tied into the Space block are blocks System, Component and Type

Fig. 3. Construction Documents Stage Information

Components are organized into systems that are also listed in COBie. These systems provide specific building services to building occupants such as alarms, electrical, fire protection, HVAC, plumbing systems, and others. Currently an optional COBie set of data are the connections between equipment. Connections allow the designers to specify how specific pieces of equipment are logically connected. This would allow, for example, a worker to know what other equipment would be effected if a valve closed.

During the design there may be documents of interest pertaining to specific parts of the building. These documents can be linked by reference to the COBie 'documents' data. Designers may also specify the requirements for documents in COBie. One of the most common lists of required documents is the submittal register. The submittal register is a key aspect of COBie since it is the approved submittals during construction that comprise the bulk of construction handover data sets.

C. Contractor Quality Control Stage

As the project progresses from design to construction, the next stage of the project that contains COBie data occurs when the contractor provides submittals for the designer specified required documents. COBie information exchange allows electronic copies acknowledged or approved submittals to be directly linked to specific types of materials, products, equipment, and systems within the building.

The majority of these linked documents are provided as PDF files from documents already created by product manufacturers. Shop drawings should be lined in their native CAD/BIM formats as well as in PDF-views. Scanned or photographic images are required for submittals that require physical samples. When the COBIE data is transmitted these files are provided with the COBIE file on a single COBIE data disk.

It is during this stage that construction contractors have a choice about how to implement COBie. They could continue to create facility handover data at the end of the construction process and simply scan and link COBie data. While meeting the COBie requirement, the effort does little to streamline the process or reduce the cost of the submittal process. If, however, the construction contractor and the owner utilize and electronic submittal register, there will be virtually no cost for the collection of submittals at the end of the project since these documents will all be provided in the submittal register software. A not-for-profit eSubmittal program is available through ProjNetSM.

Inquiries to large and small general contractors across the country have indicated that they are ready to provide electronic submittals, if only construction managers and owners would accept such submittals. Unfortunately it is the case that, the ability of contractors to meet the requirements of COBie exceeds the current level of expertise of owners to accept and process electronic submittals. Given the cost and time savings opportunities for contractors, it is possible that the use of eSubmittal programs can significantly speed the delivery of accurate COBie data.

D. Product Installation Stage

Visual chart of COBie data: A 'common' grouping is the base with blocks labeled Contacts and Documents as well as blocks labeled Issue, Coordinates, Attributes and Connections; above on the right side is a 'build' area with no blocks; to the left is a 'design' area with blocks from bottom to top Zones, Space, Floor and Facility; tied into the Space block are blocks System, Component (and Installation) and Type (and Warranty)

Fig. 4. Product Installation Stage (Part 1) Information

Once the construction contractor procures the specified materials, products, and equipment they are installed. The manufacturer and model for all products are listed under Type data. Documentation of manufacturer and model can either be documented at installation or during the prior submittal process. The serial numbers for as-installed equipment and/or tags are documented in the Component data. Since room names change, contractors can also provide the room number tag if that number differs from the room listed on the original design.

While large projects will be able to support the purchase and use commercial software to document installed equipment, the majority of construction in the United States is accomplished by small contractors who may not have access to such software. For these companies direct use of a 'locked down' version of the COBie spreadsheet should be very satisfactory. Unlike the manual creation of equipment lists required today, contractors only need to change the room location for equipment if there is a change order related to that equipment.

It is important to note that the requirement of contractors to provide equipment and valve tag lists is already a requirement in virtually all construction contracts. COBie requires nothing new, simply a change of format in existing contract requirements. The Contractor is free to use COBie as part of their traditional process or take the COBie Challenge to eliminate the end of project "job crawl" in lieu of simply typing in the serial numbers of equipment and tags as they are installed.

Warranty information associated with bulk items (such as carpet) or one-of-a-kind products (such as medical equipment) are identified by Type. The component's installation date provides more detailed warranty start dates if needed.

E. System Commissioning Stage

Once the equipment is installed and tested, the systems are turned on and made operational for O&M staff. In COBie, there are several documents that describe system operations. These documents include Instructions, Tests, and Certifications. As with all other submittals COBie documents are provided in native or PDF format and referenced in the COBie Documents data set.

The final stage of commissioning is to develop scheduled or preventive maintenance and other types of plans that support long-term facility operations. In COBie there is space for the following types of plans: Preventive Maintenance (PM), Safety Plans, Troubleshooting Plans, Start-Up Procedures, Shut-Down Procedures, and Emergency plans. These plans, or the documents containing these plans, are provided through the COBie job data.

Visual chart of COBie data: A 'common' grouping is the base with blocks labeled Contacts and Documents as well as blocks labeled Issue, Coordinates, Attributes and Connections; above on the right side is a 'build' area with blocks Spare, Resource and Job tying into the Type block of 'design'; to the left is a 'design' area with blocks from bottom to top Zones, Space, Floor and Facility; tied into the Space block are blocks System, Component (and Installation) and Type (and Warranty)

Fig. 5. System Commissioning Stage (Part 1) Information

In addition to listing specific types of job plans, COBie requires the identification of critical resources needed for these job plans. Often special Materials, Tools, or Training will be needed before starting a particular job. These resources are identified in COBie as Resource data. As with other manufacturer provided and commissioning agent augmented information, spare parts data may be provided by document or by individual spare part records.

Manufacturers often provide job plans and parts diagrams with product data sheets and catalogs. The need of construction contractors reference a consolidated set of manufacturer data in such large documents should be a short-term effort. Once the COBIE format is established in the construction industry, manufacturers will begin to provide COBIE data directly to construction contractors along with PDF catalog cuts. Manufacturer's suggested maintenance plans, as well as standard warranty and replacement parts are also specified with the product data in the SPie project templates.


COBie data is created by designers and expanded by contractors using a variety of software solutions. Commercial design and construction contractors support the direct delivery of COBIE data as part of their current products. On the O&M side, several Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) have implemented direct import of COBIE information. The COBie team has conducted multiple COBie Challenges where software vendors have demonstrated their products ability to produce and/or consume COBie information. To see the state of compliance against the COBie requirement please see "COBie Means and Methods."

The links below allow you to access the native and test files, as well as vendor presentations made during the COBie Challenges:

Current Status

COBie was approved in the first round of balloting for the National BIM Standard, United States. The approved ballot approves COBie version 2.26 to be part of the NBIMS-US.

Three previously published updates noted in the COBie 2.26 ballot have now been incorporated into COBie version 2.40. The first of these changes is the inclusion of standard product information needed for the Specifiers' Properties information exchange project. The second of these changes was the inclusion of the "Assembly" worksheet that allows designers, builders, or manufacturers to specify custom product assemblies such as Air Handling Units or electrical distribution panels. The third change, the addition of the "Issues" worksheet, was required to comply with European standards for the identification of occupational safety and environmental compliance issues. This transition did not change balloted COBie 2.26, but only extended the approved version to meet international requirements. Following balloting the COBie 2.4 extensions sometime in 2012, no changes to the COBie format are currently anticipated.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Templates and Additional Resources

COBie Videos

Please request additional topics.