Comment: Martyn Kenny – In BIM world, we need standardisation

A key challenge faced by manufacturers is the current lack of a common language when sharing information and the absence of an agreed understanding of the information required at the various stages of a project.– Martyn Kenny, sustainability director at Lafarge Tarmac

For the UK construction industry to increase its international competitiveness it must embrace an increasingly digitally-connected world. But the sector’s digital transformation will require companies throughout the supply chain to become “BIM literate”.

To meet the government’s BIM Level 2 by 2016 target and the wider sustainability ambitions set in the Construction 2025 Strategy, there is an increasing need for construction material suppliers and manufacturers to provide critical information to optimise construction, maintenance and whole-life performance.

A key challenge faced by manufacturers, however, is the current lack of a common language when 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 construction disciplines.

A common language is intrinsic to delivering the right data, to the right person, with the right level of detail. Manufacturers in particular face the challenge of distilling a mass of information – including dimensions and tolerances, performance characteristics, installation detail and maintenance guidance – into relevant, structured data presented in a format suitable for exchange with the engineer, contractor or other parties.

An important step to delivering a common language is the Digital Plan of Works (DPoW), a classification scheme and a free-to-use system for managing the flow of design and construction information, which is being project managed by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) on behalf of the UK BIM Task Group. Once the project is completed – a consortium is due to be selected by October, and will then be expected to complete the project by March 2015 – the DPoW will provide greater clarity on the information needed at each stage of a project.

This, combined with work being led by the BIM for Manufacturers and Manufacturing (BIM4M2) working group on standardised data templates, will help to develop a common language and set of data flows.

Standardised data templates will provide a consistent approach for product manufacturers by generating a single template for each product type that can be readily understood by all users. These data templates should then allow BIM data operations to be automated and users to extract the information they require.

Standard product templates will also support the delivery of sustainable construction projects by providing information upfront, which will help to move away from the current trend of requesting sustainability data post construction. Lafarge Tarmac, for instance, is routinely asked for information on carbon footprint, but less requests are made for other important sustainability credentials such as responsible sourcing, embodied water, recycled material content, operational performance, end of design life adaptation and recycling.

Standardised BIM templates will therefore help specifiers to make more informed, holistic decisions about the whole life performance of the building or infrastructure, helping to reduce waste, lower carbon and costs, and use finite resources more efficiently.

Through BIM, we now have the opportunity to create, use and share information more effectively to unlock more efficient methods of designing, creating and maintaining our built environment. But to derive maximum benefit, we have to make sure we also develop the right digital infrastructure to support those goals.

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