BIM promises a future where all parties can collaborate by sharing project information from initial design through costing, build, delivery and ongoing operations. According to Trimble MEP’s Charles M.E. Lekx, real value can only be achieved when all parties across the construction sector operate in accordance with the same industry standards.
Growing BIM adoption and a need for uniformity within the construction industry worldwide have led to various public and private initiatives to develop standards that overlap in places. Harmonisation will be required as the opportunities for collaboration increase. Well-known standards in the UK and Ireland include ETIM and ETIM MC (European Technical Information Model), the Uniclass 2015 classifications, and the uniform GTIN code, also known as EAN / UPC issued by GS1 and, within the electrotechnical sector, the widely used Luckins data standard (part of the Trimble family).
Global problems, global solutions
Globalisation means teams can be working on both national and multi-national BIM projects. Incompatibility between local country, regional and international standards could potentially get in the way of further BIM adoption, which is why the standardisation issue needs to be addressed on a global basis.
Significant progress is being made towards international standardisation by institutes such as the ISO with its work on the standards EN ISO 19650, EN ISO 12006-3:2016 and EN ISO 16757. Trimble is also one of the driving forces behind buildingSMART International, the organisation that created the IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) standard for data exchange between different software applications.
Even if all parties involved on a construction project work to the same BIM standards, the BIM process itself is still subject to continuous development. Over the years BIM has, in addition to geometric and dimensional data, come to include trading data to support activities such as estimating and procurement, the stages that would typically follow the modelling stage of a construction project.
With the diversity and complexity of both building products and components increasing and manufacturers making more granular information about them available, this trend is expected to continue.
“Removing ambiguity is a key goal for standardisation, and can benefit the procurement process by reducing risk.”
Without standardisation, it is easy for this growth to lead to confusion and wasted effort. An example of where we see clear signs of confusion is around the terminology “Level of Information” and “Level of Detail”, which lack clear definition. Without further agreement, misinterpretation will, in spite of everyone’s good efforts to come to a standardised approach, result in models that cannot be accurately shared.
Content is central to reaching seamless collaboration across the entire BIM project. BIM content increases the value of a model in a BIM environment across all project phases: design, calculation, ordering and construction, and even after, and so to ensure that the content is valuable for all project partners, uniformity and quality are of great importance.
By adopting international standards the content of, for example, Trimble’s cloud-based component library, LUCKINSlive, is universally and interchangeably applicable in all BIM designs. It offers a bundling of: parametric, attributed and trading data; technical data sheets; operating instructions; selection charts; installation manuals; and geometric information of more than 1.5 million components sourced from more than 900 manufacturers.
By aligning with international, cross-platform standards that meet the need for high-quality and uniform content, such as ETIM, ISO and COBie, while being adaptive to national or even local standards, such as the German VDI 3805 and Italian UNI 11337, Trimble facilitates flexible and guaranteed data exchange.
Trimble uses the Extended MEPcontent Standard (EMCS) for the internal process as well as to be able to comply with the ISO 9001 standard, not only because this standard describes how the BIM objects are constructed, but also because this document can be used in projects all over the world. This gives MEP engineers access to high-quality and uniform content, enabling efficient collaboration in global BIM projects.
One of the issues with the explosion of data is ensuring the objects being used in the model are themselves accurate in terms of geometric/dimensional data and any enriched data is also kept up to date (which is particularly important for pricing data).
In addition, the data should also be versioned. This then allows a model to be viewed as designed and also automatically refreshed to identify issues that may arise from manufacturer specification changes over time. This is particularly important for long-running projects where it is likely that products will be ordered at the appropriate construction phase.
Removing ambiguity is a key goal for standardisation, and can benefit the procurement process by reducing risk. Generally, the cost incurred when an individual product arrives on site and fails to comply with the intended use is insignificant compared to the cost associated with the delay caused by identifying what should have been ordered and arranging the replacement. Exponential costs are then incurred if this happens over multiple products.
Interpretation of units of measure and stock units are a constant problem when placing orders. Take for example a scenario where a cable run of 500m is laid out by the engineering department. Is this product being sold as a reel of 500m or in 1m lengths? Incorrect specification on the purchase order can easily lead to a costly problem on the installation site.
Additionally, understanding what is included (or not included) with a product is important. Let’s add an air distribution unit to our example installation: the flow rate needs to be controlled by restriction rings, these are available to order separately, but are they also included in the base product and if so, how many?
As systems become more integrated, standardisation and good-quality data will ensure the risk of miscommunication is reduced. It is vital to realising the gains that BIM offers to the supply chain that all parties in the construction industry work more closely together. Harmonising existing standards is a step on this important journey.
Charles M.E. Lekx is business development manager at Trimble MEP.