Without well-organised, comprehensive and connected content the opportunities available with BIM will not be achieved.

Director of The National BIM Library at NBS and also a Director of buildingSMART UK&I
Twitter: @ianchapmannbs

Through Building Information Modelling (BIM) the construction industry is undergoing its very own digital revolution. Tools are developing rapidly, processes are changing and this will all lead to better value for money and better buildings. Software technology will take care of itself but effort needs to be placed on the all-important ‘I’ in BIM. Without well organised, comprehensive and connected content the opportunities available with BIM will not be achieved.

The need for construction information is not new; it has been prepared, shared and used for centuries. What is new is the opportunity to:

  • build upon information throughout the workflow in a more efficient way
  • collect information in a standardised manner
  • use technology in analysing that information more thoroughly.

Other industries are busy collecting information in far greater frequencies and volumes than ever before; with information collection comes analysis that can result in vastly improved intelligence and more informed decision-making. Just look at the plethora of apps now available for mobile devices.

You can track every step, every mile, every heartbeat, every calorie and every unit of alcohol consumed. Collecting health information regularly and on a large scale has proven to help identify problems before the patient experiences any symptoms. The same can be said for the ‘health’ of construction projects and the resulting built asset. By analysing the data, issues can be spotted before they become a problem. Preventative measures can then be implemented, which will inevitably result in better buildings from both value for money and user experience perspectives.

The amount of information produced by the many parties involved in designing, constructing, using and maintaining a built asset is vast and more often than not it is created in different ways using a variety of methods.

To achieve data integration, industry needs a common approach to information and the necessary protocols and standards put in place. While collecting data is necessary, it is also important to avoid information overload by developing methods that allow individuals to focus on providing, accessing and using information that really matters at any given point in time.

The Government’s BIM Task Group labs area website (bimtaskgroup.org/task-group-labs-portal) is full of help as to the way forward in this regard. There is the digital plan of work; its stages 0-7 are discipline independent and encompass the whole project life cycle. Guidance describes the digital plan of work as the “articulation of the project delivery stages and the level of detail/definition that needs to be delivered by each supplier/discipline to the employer at any point in time”. This, essentially, defines the information that needs to be created and supplied throughout life of a built asset. Why is this important? Well, the answer can be found in the data hierarchy section of the labs area.

The Ministry of Justice created a set of “plain language questions” that, as a client, they intend to answer at each stage of a construction project. Key decisions such as whether to proceed to the next work stage or not will be made based upon the answers to these questions.

A series of properties can be collected at each stage for objects such as ceiling systems, structural elements and products, and recorded in the demand matrix section of the labs area. Project information is added to the demand matrix at each stage so that it can be reviewed, and this is where the COBie testing tools come in. Information collected in a common format can be readily compared with previous stages and analysed. If the ceiling budget changed from stage 3 to stage 4, it can be automatically reviewed.

The tools on the BIM Task Group labs area give us a glimpse of some simple automated checks that can be achieved with applications such as Microsoft Excel. NBS is a member of the BIM Technology Alliance which supports the government’s BIM objectives. Together with other members of the alliance, we are developing software solutions that will enable sophisticated information checking and analysis.

The electronic co-ordination of information between disciplines as part of the design process, that has been a regular activity since the introduction of CAD, is rapidly being surpassed by the need to integrate information. Project teams embracing integration are standing out from the crowd and winning business. NBS BIM content supports this integration. BIM is all about supporting the workflow and the role BIM content plays in achieving this is central.

The National BIM Library features concept objects for use at early project stages, generic objects for use when design decisions have been made and then proprietary objects for use once manufacturers have been selected. Pictured from top to bottom: Concept tile, generic tile, Kalzip tile

Most built assets start with the site arrangement, masses and forms, and evolve at each project stages with increasing levels of geometry and technical detail. Developments such as shopping centres and university campuses are combinations of buildings, roads, pavements, bridges and external spaces.

As the project progresses, buildings become combinations of activities and spaces which, in turn, are defined by elements such as roofs, walls and floors. With further design work the elements become combinations of systems, such as blockwork walling, plastering and painting systems. Finally, once product selection decisions have been made, these systems become combinations of products. At any point these objects can be described in generic or proprietary terms — roofs for example. Also, at any level or project stage, these objects can be described in performance terms — thermal performance for wall elements and acoustic performance for ceiling systems for example.

The availability of BIM content to support this process is critical to the success of BIM. BIM objects are needed for use at all project stages and are provided by the free to use NBS National BIM Library. The approach taken by the National BIM library is as follows. Concept objects such as a wall element can be used for space planning during the early project stages. Once the internal arrangement is completed the concept objects might be replaced by generic objects such as brickwork and blockwork. Generic objects are valuable as they enable precise solutions to be determined at subsequent project stages.

This deferral of decision-making is commonly influenced by factors such as method of procurement and design duties. Generic objects when partnered with performance criteria are a valuable component of the information evolution for a built asset. Once constructed, a built asset is a combination of proprietary and site built products.

The availability of manufacturers’ BIM objects is an important factor in the achieving success with BIM. The number of manufacturers engaging with BIM is rising but not fast enough.

Those that are investing will benefit sooner and be in prime position for centrally funded and private projects adopting BIM. Designers and contractors will become reliant upon these BIM objects and use them to optimise the supply chain for greater efficiency and accuracy. A manufacturer who does not make BIM objects available will lose out to competitors that do.

Manufacturers’ BIM objects are the digital representation of their product ranges and NBS is working hard with manufacturers to extend the availability of proprietary BIM objects.

The construction industry needs a comprehensive library of manufacturer objects, these objects need to be of the right quality and connect with generic objects and associated technical specifications. Achieving consistency between generic and proprietary information is what NBS has been doing for 40 years and our entire product range is geared around supporting the plan of work. Products such as NBS Create exist to support the information evolution along the project timeline with content, tools and guidance that enable outline specifications to become performance specifications or detailed product based specifications. This is no different to our approach with the National BIM Library; it has concept objects for use at early project stages, generic objects for use when design decisions have been made and then proprietary objects for use once manufacturers have been selected.

Integration of BIM geometry information and BIM technical information via NBS plug-ins for applications such as Revit and Vectorworks is starting to show the benefits of BIM. In years gone by, many project claims were attributable to poor coordination of information. Now, being able to synchronise and verify a BIM design with the associated technical specification using plug-in technologies is possible and will bring design and specification activities far closer. Mistakes in the contract documentation such as items annotated on a drawing using a reference that does not appear in the specification can now be archived in history.

However, BIM does not stop when a building is handed over. The government’s soft landings project is all about collecting information and analysing during the in-use phase. Is the building performing as designed? Were the energy targets met? Using soft landings lessons learned can be fed back into the briefing process for new projects; this is how clients, design teams, contractors and manufacturers can truly benefit from BIM. The “I” in BIM is vast and there can never be too much information; but at project level, it is making the information concise and work hard that is crucial.

BIM is about avoiding information loss and encouraging information accumulation through the normal project stages. In time, the construction sector will move from a focus on information collection to information connection. Connected information will lead to insight, and analysis will lead to prediction. And that is when buildings become intelligent.