It is often said that variety is the spice of life, but the reality is that we live in a world that is defined by standards, many of which we take for granted.
Where would we be without standardised batteries (IEC 60086-2), standardised car tyres (ISO 4000-1), standardised credit cards (ISO/IEC 7810), standardised MP3 audio files (ISO/IEC 11172-3) and standardised units of measurement (ISO 80000-1)? March 2014 saw MEPs approve a new EU directive aimed at reducing unnecessary electronic waste and replacing costs for consumers. It is estimated, for example, that the 30 different types of mobile phone chargers produce 51,000 tonnes of e-waste every year. Some disagree with this approach, claiming it will stifle innovation; but reducing the variety of chargers around the home has to be a good thing and innovation is only stifled if the standardised unit is not allowed to develop. Good standards provide clear requirements that set minimum conformity specifications and strike the right balance between too many and too few varieties; this works in the best interests of both the product supplier and the consumer. Whilst standards often define minimum requirements, products may often exceed these requirements and offer enhanced levels of performance. This is a good thing; successful innovation relies on improvements from a good common standards base.
Standardisation is often driven by the need to mass produce, but standards serve many purposes ...
Early standardisation examples include the British Standard Whitworth screw thread devised by Joseph Whitworth in 1841 and the standardisation of railway track widths which enabled mass production of track couplings and signalling devices. Standardisation is often driven by the need to mass produce, but standards serve many purposes. They enable trade, improve safety, facilitate efficient use of resources, reduce time, improve quality, permit compatibility and aid integration. Businesses and and consumers benefit from them the world over. The benefits of standards for manufacturers include: streamlining the manufacturing process, reducing waste, lowering production costs and reducing variety of stock. For consumers standardisation offers greater value for money, fitness for purpose, safety, product quality and a means of accepting or rejecting goods or services based upon conformity to a standard.
Standards exist at various levels: international, national, regional, company and professional. There are over 30,000 current British Standards alone and NBS specification content is affected by an average of 150 British Standard revisions each month, a task that takes the NBS technical team many hours of updating work to complete.
Vast amounts of information are created during the construction phase but much is lost or wasted. We need to safeguard against information loss and start managing and analysing information digitally. BIM is not architecture; it is data management.
In the world of BIM, the BIM Task Group has published a variety of standards including BS 1192-4 (Collaborative production of information Part 4: Fulfilling employers information exchange requirements using COBie – Code of practice), PAS 1192-2 (Specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of construction projects using building information modelling) and PAS 1192-3 (Specification for information management for the operational phase of construction projects using building information modelling). These encourage standardisation and are focused on the production, exchange and use of information as the means of delivering improved performance across the whole life of a building. Vast amounts of information are created during the construction phase but much is lost or wasted. We need to safeguard against information loss and start managing and analysing information digitally. BIM is not architecture; it is data management.
The NBS National BIM Report 2015 shows more and more buildings are being ’built with BIM’ and this provides us with a fantastic opportunity to revolutionise the way in which we interact with the information concerning a building. To achieve this we need to standardise the digital building blocks used to create virtual buildings. These building blocks are commonly known as BIM objects and they are valuable digital assets.
BIM objects represent the construction products that form a built asset. Unlike consumer products, there is very little information standardisation between construction products, which makes comparing them very difficult. Selecting and purchasing a camera is made easy by the retailer. They establish standard properties that are typical of these devices and representative of the primary purchasing decisions. For each product, they capture and share the values with the consumer, making camera comparison effortless. If cost is more important than megapixels then the choice is obvious. This is only possible through standardised information property sets. This standardisation of information is at the heart of the UK BIM strategy. The information exchange facilitated by the staged COBie data drops is all about collecting information that can be compared in various ways. With COBie, construction data can be compared across project stages; typical questions are: Has the cost changed? Has the delivery time improved or reduced? On a broader scale, being able to compare construction data across numerous built assets will help to achieve greater whole life value. By comparing project to project, data optimisation becomes possible, lessons can be learnt from what works well, and this knowledge can influence future projects, refurbishment works and maintenance activities.
A BIM object is a combination of many things:
- Information content that defines the product.
- Geometry representing the product’s physical characteristics.
- Visualisation data giving the object a recognisable appearance.
- Functional data, such as detection zones, that enables the object to be positioned or behave in the same manner as the product itself.
For each of these BIM object essentials it’s important that a standardised approach is taken, as creating digital buildings using a consistent kit of parts will yield all of the benefits that standardisation brings. Objects will be efficient to use, more easily comparable and will be interoperable.
From the outset, the NBS National BIM Library set an industry standard. NBS created objects with a core property set that:
- Aligned with COBie 2012 UK.
- Adopted a consistent approach to classification.
- Provided a simple integration with NBS Create.
- Applied a standard naming convention to objects for ease of use.
- Standardised approaches to the level of detail and object presentation.
All of which support efficient workflows and enable the creation of high quality digital building assets.
By standardising the information within objects, they can be compared and an appropriate selection for the project made. Common approaches to the modelling of the physical characteristics of products make the BIM objects simple to use, affording the designer a reliable, consistent and intuitive experience. The hard work is in the detail; for example, BIM objects in IFC format. These IFC files are manipulated so that they have their information properties consistently grouped and organised; this makes their use in various BIM software straightforward and consistent. Another example is the use of standardised properties. The benefits of this become obvious when using objects from more than one manufacturer in the same project. When creating schedules that span products from many manufacturers, the use of a standardised property set enables information relating to each of these products to be displayed in a single column, much in the same way as the number of megapixels is listed when comparing cameras. This is the start of the common data environment.
The work NBS has completed with its own information, together with the prototyping NBS provided to the labs area of the BIM Task Group, demonstrates that achieving standardised product templates with clear information requirements for each project stage is possible.
Whilst no two products are the same, the construction industry must work to achieve a common data environment, one that defines the important and useful characteristics, enabling information exchange and use. The work NBS has completed with its own information, together with the prototyping NBS provided to the labs area of the BIM Task Group , demonstrates that achieving standardised product templates with clear information requirements for each project stage is possible. Through Innovate UK funded activities, such as the recent ’A digital tool for building information modelling’ competition, we can expect to see a comprehensive common data environment becoming a reality.
In the pre-CAD days, standardised pencil leads (ISO 9177-2) were used to create consistent line thicknesses on drawings so that information could be conveyed clearly and precisely, but times have changed. The shift from standardising the tools of the trade to standardising the information of the profession can and will make BIM a success.
About this article
This article originally appeared in the NBS National BIM Report 2014.