21 November 2017 | by

We expect to be able to carry out tasks now far quicker than we ever have before - whether in our private life or our work environment. Within minutes we can assess our options, make a decision and purchase an item, all with a few swipes of our smart phones, then track its delivery. Why then as an industry do we not have similar processes for construction product selection available to us?

There is no right or wrong method for coming to a decision about selecting a construction product. Decisions can be made based upon performance criteria, certification, location, pricing, availability or green credentials - the list is endless. Designers have a thankless task of specifying construction products,
and those who suggest alternatives such as contractors further down the line also have a similar task in comparing products.

Why is this so? What could the industry do better to allow specification and product comparison to take place in a more efficient manner? At the heart of the issue is product information - data describing the manufacturer’s products - and a consistent method of collecting and presenting this information. The industry is not great at making product information available consistently. This is holding the industry back and will certainly not assist manufacturers wishing to work in a BIM environment.

At the heart of the issue is product information - data describing the manufacturer’s products - and a consistent method of collecting and presenting the information.

Examples of structured product data in use

The NBS works with many manufacturers, collecting product information and presenting that information through services such as NBS Plus and the NBS National BIM Library.

The example above shows product information that has been collected for a number of hand dryer manufacturers. In this instance this information has been added to BIM objects for inclusion within the NBS National BIM Library. This information would have been equally useful in a product website or specification tool.

When viewed side by side in this format, a designer is presented with well-structured information that may assist them in the specification process. The challenge the industry has is that in this instance, NBS has carried out the work to interrogate a manufacturer’s data sheets and brochure and has then aggregated that product information following a standard process. This exercise is not always easy to do and can be very time consuming, generally involving an interactive process and requesting more information or clarification of information from the manufacturer.

Form
High velocity warm air High velocity cold air through HEPA filter High velocity air High velocity air through HEPA filter 
HandDryingTime 12-15 seconds 10 seconds 11-23 seconds 9-11 seconds
ModelReference 5500E Hand Dryer Dyson Airblade dB eXtremeAir CPC Hand Dryer Urimat Favorit Hand Drier
IP_Code IP24 IP24 IPX1 IPx4
ManufacturerName Warner Howard Dyson Intelligent Facility Solutions Ltd Ecoprod Technique
Uniclass2015Code Pr_ 40_ 70_ 62_ 37 Pr_ 40_ 70_ 62_ 37 Pr_ 40_ 70_ 62_ 37 Pr_ 40_ 70_ 62_ 37
Uniclass2015Title Hand driers Hand driers Hand driers Hand driers
Weight 3.0 kg 8.2 kg 3.62 kg 11 kg
Size 265 x 220 x 180 mm 661 x 303 x 247 mm 230 x 249 x 143 mm 330 x 220 x 685 mm
Material Die-cast aluminium Polycarbonate-ABS ABS/ Steel ABS

Table : Structured product information for a range of hand driers

What options are available for manufacturers to assist them in structuring product information?

As demonstrated in the example on the previous page, working with a company that aggregates product information will assist manufacturers as there will be consistency in the information delivered. NBS can provide this service. However, this solution doesn’t suit all manufacturers and some will want to get their house in order internally and distribute structured product information across many channels in the industry.

This is great in principle but still a challenge for the industry. At this stage let’s introduce the idea of product data templates. An idea that has been discussed in the industry now for a few years with little momentum or adoption.

Product data templates are a collection of terms to describe a construction product. In principle that sounds quite simple, but in practice a lot of questions have been raised regarding who is best placed to collate the terms for a product data template, and how we can ensure that a common plain language is used across the industry.

These are very valid questions to raise and there are several initiatives being developed that will aim to satisfy these questions.

In the meantime, however, manufacturers are left stranded. Some want to engage and structure their product information, but what is available for these manufacturers?

One option for manufacturers is to utilise the product data templates that are made available through the NBS BIM Toolkit. These templates use the same terminology as the generic specification that NBS has been developing now for over 40 years. The templates are regularly updated to reflect changes in the industry and the introduction of new product types, and there are over 5000 templates to download. The templates are a great starting point for manufacturers and will assist them in standardising the presentation of their product information.

Working with a company that aggregates product information will assist manufacturers as there will be consistency in the information delivered.

There are a number of initiatives developing in the industry. These include:

  • The European Committee for Standardization CEN/TC 442 WG4 TG2 Product Data Templates
  • PAS 1192-7 Specification for defining and maintaining structured digital product information used for the design, construction and use of a product or built asset.
  • LEXiCON - developed by the Bre on behalf of the Construction Products Association. 
  • The CEN/TC 442 WG4 TG2 Product Data Templates initiative is looking to implement a framework for product data templates based upon harmonised technical specifications under the Construction Products Regulations.

The Construction Products Regulations:

  • Lays down harmonised rules for the marketing of construction products in the EU.
  • Provides a common technical language to assess the performance of construction products.
  • Ensures reliable information is available to professionals, public authorities, and consumers, so they can compare the performance of products from different manufacturers in different countries.

PAS 1192-7 Specification for defining and maintaining structured digital product information used for the design, construction and use of a product or built asset. This publicly-available specification is at the early stages of development. The scope of the document will be a development, approval and management process to create peer-reviewed product properties and product data templates.

The LEXiCON project being developed by the CPA will be an online solution for trade organisations and governing bodies to create product data templates, and it is assumed this will be developed in line with the work being carried at CEN and PAS with the British Standards Institute.

The industry is certainly making some good progress with these developments. However, the development of new standards and processes take time. This does leave manufacturers currently scratching their heads as to what they should be doing now.

Manufacturers should be bracing the digital environment, refocusing marketing and technical budgets away from printed material, and structuring product information so that it is suitable for the many channels where it can be published.

This article features in the NBS National BIM Report for Manufacturers 2017 - download our full, free report today!