Analysis

Interview: Tarmac’s Emma Hines - Supporting clients with BIM objects

24 July 2016 | By Tom Ravenscroft

Emma Hines, senior manager sustainable construction at Tarmac, explains how the company is going about the task of digitising its products.

Why did Tarmac decide to digitise?

We are continually looking for ways to enhance our customer offer, to ensure we are ahead of the curve in delivering solutions that help customers make business better. BIM is about generating and managing information about an asset.

The data and modelling enables whole asset lifecycle management that can be used to make intelligent decisions about future design, operations and change.

We support this collaborative way of working and believe that using BIM combined with other innovative technologies will result in better, more sustainable and efficient methods of designing, building, operating and maintaining assets.

Developing product-specific BIM objects was a logical step for Tarmac to provide design teams with the level of detail they need about our products and solutions, for them to make more informed specification decisions.

We believe that product-specific BIM objects will help to drive sustainable construction and the move to a more circular economy. That’s because they have the ability to showcase the sustainability credentials of the products and solutions being used, so designers can map out the implications for any changes in specification, along with the whole-life and reuse potential.

If a designer changes the material they’re using, not only can they understand the impact and benefits of that choice on acoustics or the broader thermal efficiency of the building, but they can also understand the intrinsic sustainability credentials, such as whole-life impacts of carbon and water or whether the product has responsible sourcing.

What advantage do you think digitising your products will bring?

Our BIM objects are helping us to collaborate and have conversations earlier with customers and supply chain partners. Early engagement is critical to helping build sustainability into the fabric of an asset, which improves the understanding of a material’s performance and has the potential to reduce construction time, improve efficiency and deliver long-term cost savings throughout its life and after.

BIM enables project teams to identify the right product for the job and support more informed up-front decisions about the choice of materials and understand their impact upon sustainability performance, based on actual real-life information.

This can include environmental product declarations or responsible sourcing, embodied water and carbon, recycled content and recyclability. These are all critical factors that allow us to adopt a long-term approach and improve the whole-life sustainability performance of buildings.

This is particularly important because there has been a trend for some of these factors to be overlooked. We often get asked about a material’s sustainability credentials after the design process is completed, or worse, following construction. We must get beyond this retrospective approach and I’m confident that BIM and our objects can help.

How did you prioritise what objects to digitise first?

In 2014, we launched our first BIM objects for readymix concrete because the generic objects for this material were not meeting customers’ needs.

In practice, specifications are much more specialised than that and evolve all the time. BIM objects need to demonstrate the sophisticated attributes of materials. With readymix concrete, we are not only able to provide information on things like durability, strength and mix design but we can also give other details such as thermal mass capacity and embodied carbon.

How many objects have you digitised/how many to go?

We have created objects for 14 different product lines, including asphalt, building product and concrete solutions. For each one, there are multiple objects included within the download, demonstrating the variation and range of solutions.

The objects not only contain the digital representations of the products themselves but also include indicative designs for their inclusion into projects.

What staffing requirements or recruitment challenges did digitisation bring?

Our in-house team was equipped with the skills and expertise to deliver our portfolio of BIM objects. But it is important that we continue to develop our skills so that we can stay at the forefront of our industry and continue to offer the best products.

We are also embracing the ongoing changes in technology to create value for our customers and differentiate us in the sector.

What was the biggest challenge the digitisation process?

Externally, a key challenge faced by manufacturers is the current lack of a common language for sharing information and the absence of an agreed understanding of the information required at the various stages of a project. This is further complicated by the different terminologies used across the industry and the range of information requested from multiple disciplines.

All manufacturers are facing the challenge of distilling a mass of information – including dimensions and tolerances, performance characteristics, installation detail and maintenance guidance – into relevant, structured and consistent data which can be presented in a format suitable for exchange with the engineer, contractor or other interested parties.

We are beginning to see this change, but more work is required and the need for collaboration across the whole of the supply chain cannot be underestimated in this process.

Do you think you are ahead of the game compared to other manufacturers?

The development of our digital offer has provided customers with some of the first BIM objects for heavyweight materials. We’re proud of that but we’re also committed to evolving these solutions too. We need to ensure that we provide customers with the most relevant and useful information.

A business of our scale and size is operating across a range of very different sectors which all have different requirements for digital construction. The needs of building designers are very different to those of engineers working on infrastructure schemes and our proposition has got to keep evolving to meet all of these requirements.

To what extent would you recommend manufacturers use external agents to digitise objects?

I think all companies need to make decisions based on their particular business at a point in time. They need to consider their commercial strategy and proposition and the in-house skills they have at their disposal. But we all have to be aware that the industry is rapidly evolving and the rate of evolution is only going to increase.

How do you think the industry can encourage other manufacturers to digitise?

Many manufacturers clearly understand the commercial imperative to digitise and they want to engage with this process. But we also need to see more private sector clients demanding that projects are BIM Level 2 compliant and encouraging their supply chains to become more BIM literate. Inevitably, that requires more clients and their procurement teams to embrace this too.

We’ve all got a responsibility to not only bang the drum for BIM, but to also share insight and feedback with colleagues from across the industry. Tarmac is actively engaging with the wider construction supply chain through our work as an active member of BIM for Manufacturers and Manufacturing (BIM4M2).

We believe that product-specific BIM objects will help to drive sustainable construction and the move to a more circular economy, because they have the ability to showcase the sustainability credentials of the products and solutions being used.– Emma Hines, Tarmac