The journey isn’t over

BIM has transformed manufacturer's presentation of their information, but there are more changes ahead

Manufacturers of building systems and products have always prioritised putting their technical information in front of architects and engineers, to make it as easy as possible for decision makers to specify them on projects.

Thirty years ago this information was physically distributed: manufacturers’ plastic drawing stencils and associated paper catalogues were kept in the office library. By the turn of the century, the stencils were beginning to be replaced by 2D CAD blocks, with the catalogues distributed as digital PDF files on the world wide web. Today, in 2015, this digital revolution is continuing and the industry is now one year from the government mandate that all centrally funded construction projects will use building information modelling (BIM).

Initially, BIM was in many ways 3D CAD. Manufacturers started to make available 3D objects that looked like their physical systems and products. This allowed for the rapid generation of plans and sections from a 3D model. It also presented new functionality such as modifying the geometric level of detail at a click of a button. But BIM has moved on since then. The geometric issues are now taken for granted and discussions are squarely focussed on the information. This is the I in BIM.

With BIM, each 3D object can have embedded and linked information. This could be the manufacturer product reference of a window, the recycled content value of an insulation board or the expected life of a boiler. This information can then be extracted from the model for scheduling and data analysis. The principles of providing geometry in terms of stencils and information in terms of a catalogue remain – but it is now delivered through a powerful digital object that performs both functions.

Setting the standard

There is, however, a big caveat here: the information must be authored to an industry standard. Architects and engineers do not want to have to post-process information because each manufacturer authors the data in their objects to a different standard. When they schedule information from different manufacturers they want it to align. When they perform an energy calculation based on objects from different manufacturers, they want the information to be consistently presented.

A core objective in the government’s 2025 strategy paper was to digitise the product manufacturing industry that serves UK construction. This will both benefit projects here and also create fantastic opportunities for UK manufacturers overseas. The combination of digital BIM objects and distribution through multiple-channels on the web will be a once-in-a-generation ‘game changer’.

With one  year to go until the 2016 BIM mandate, the discussion on whether BIM is a good idea or not is over. However, the key question manufacturers must consider in terms of their BIM approach is this: What is their strategy in terms of the information in BIM? 

Dr Stephen Hamil is director of design and innovation at the NBS