Architects have been delivering construction information, drawings and specifications for centuries, so why now the focus on the importance of ‘data’? What has changed? The emergence of BIM and VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) has allowed the industry to focus on how and for which purposes we use data, writes Drew Wiggett, Head of Product Information at NBS.

I have worked in a number of architectural and design practices throughout my career. I’ve always been very engaged and have contributed to best practice for delivering construction data. Thinking back, each individual company had their own processes which worked well and served the desired purpose. However, time was often spent deliberating on the best approach to numbering drawing sheets or to standardising the amount of relevant data indicated on a drawing. I was often in discussions with contractors about how much information to include. Where did my responsibility end and that of the specialist designer begin?

I can specifically remember working in a framework arrangement with a number of other architects and delivering education projects with one contractor. Much of the data that the contractor received would have been different but should, in fact, have been the same. The contractor would have had to use this information for tendering and pricing analysis purposes: trying to align data that was very similar, but not quite the same.

The emergence of BIM makes these types of conversations and examples seem obsolete. We now have standards and tools to allow the consistent delivery of construction data, and the development of the NBS BIM Toolkit will assist in clarifying the level of detail and information required for a project.

Sharing product information

A key element for achieving this consistency of data is the way in which manufacturers make their product information available to the industry.

The sharing of product information is not new in itself. Like architects delivering construction information, manufacturers have shared product information for centuries. I recall browsing the libraries of the practices that I worked for, flicking through catalogues of product information and searching for that nugget of information which would convince me to specify a certain product. Of course, times have moved on: manufacturers’ catalogues are now digital .pdf versions of the paper catalogues that I would have read. But do they satisfy the digital requirements of the modern designer working in the BIM environment? They are undoubtedly a good start and are easily accessible online, but designers are still presented with the challenge of interpreting the product information and deciphering the different terminologies used. This is where BIM can help.

Product Data Templates

BIM creates the opportunity for manufacturers to think about how they present their product information for use not only by designers, but also downstream by contractors and facility managers.

The BIM Task group called for product information to be presented within a standard product data sheet.

“Manufacturers who supply digital information to the industry are encouraged to make their information freely available in the form of a product data sheet which as a minimum should respond to the NBS ‘data required’ template and/or (where appropriate) parametric 3D BIM objects aligned to this template. Manufacturers and product data templates are not limited by the ‘data required templates’ in the NBS BIM Toolkit and manufacturers can add further information to identify their key selling points e.g. to support analysis etc.”

Source: BIM Task Group Newsletter no. 45, July 2015

These product data templates were a key deliverable of the NBS BIM Toolkit and enable product information to be provided in a standard format. This product information can then be used by the designer to answer the client’s requirements, by the contractor for tendering purposes, and by the facilities manager for asset management.

The NBS BIM Toolkit website currently has over 5,000 product data templates, freely available to download and use. As stated by the BIM Task Group, these are the minimum information requirements for BIM Level 2, so manufacturers may wish to include additional information.

Once a manufacturer has populated a template with their information to produce a product data sheet, they should make it available for the industry to use either by promoting it on their own website or on product information websites such as ribaproductselector.com externallink

A designer wants to be able to drop a BIM object into the project model to see how it fits and integrates within its surroundings.

The benefits for designers include easier collation of information and product comparison. Making the process smoother
and simpler for the designer should, of course,be at the forefront of any manufacturer’s mind.

The BIM Task Group also noted the opportunity for manufacturers to deliver 3D BIM objects. These objects, containing data as captured in a product data sheet, allow a designer to integrate the BIM object within a project model. Once integrated, information can then be extracted as required to satisfy the project data delivery requirements.

Why are 3D BIM objects more attractive to a designer than data supplied in a product data sheet? The simple answer is that designers want a smooth workflow that doesn’t involve reworking or stepping out of their natural environment. For a designer, this is very much about producing digital designs. A designer wants to be able to drop a BIM object into the project model to see how it fits and integrates with its surroundings – is it the correct size, is there sufficient installation space, does it clash with adjacent features? Once an object is in place then the data interrogation and extraction can begin. Reports can be produced documenting the quantities and location of objects.

A key document for manufacturers to read is the NBS BIM Object Standard. This document sets the national and international baseline standard on how to create BIM objects.

The NBS National BIM Survey 2016 revealed that: Designers are looking to manufacturers to provide them with BIM objects.71% agree that ‘we need manufacturers to provide us with BIM objects‘.

The NBS National BIM Library has been developed as a key repository for manufacturers’ BIM objects, allowing simple downloading and integration into a designer’s workflow.

This is a very exciting time for the industry as a whole. The world has watched the UK move towards BIM adoption.

To allow this to continue, we must now work with the standards and guidelines that have been developed, and manufacturers need to fully engage with the process and produce product information that is suitable for BIM. Digital Built Britain is the future of the UK construction industry.


This article features in the National BIM Report for Manufacturers 2016. You can download your full, free copy of the report (.pdf, 3.19Mb) which includes comprehensive analysis of this years' findings alongside specialist insight and case studies focussed on real-world BIM implementation. Articles from the report also feature on theNBS.com.