Comment: Nick Tune – What I’ve learnt since launching a data services start-up

CoBuilder chief executive Nick Tune, also a board member of BuildingSMART UK and formerly director of digital and data at BRE, on what he has learned about the industry’s data-handling skills since launching the UK division of Norwegian company CoBuilder.

In June 2015 I left BRE after 10 years and set up coBuilder UK, a company that seeks to revolutionise the way construction data is exploited along the construction supply chain.

I wanted to improve the way manufacturers share data, and contractors collect and create accurate as-built models, so that clients and facilities managers can manage their assets based on validated and complete as-built data. Isn’t this one of the main reasons the industry is implementing BIM after all?

Over the past nine months, it has been great to get into the coal face of actually delivering data and as-built information models. But here is what I have learnt about the “maturity” level in this aspect of the BIM process.


Among manufacturers, there is a lot more knowledge as to what BIM is than I expected. However, many are very confused as to what information/data they should be giving to their clients. The confusion is centred on two areas – BIM objects and Product Data Templates.

Many manufacturers have been told they need to produce 3D BIM objects for their products, when often they don’t. I would like to take this opportunity to clear this up.

3D manufacturer-specific BIM objects are a useful tool for marketing a product. By purchasing 3D objects, manufacturers create value for designers by allowing them to better visualise their projects by attaching specific products to their models.

Some designers take advantage of this and select specific BIM objects, however many would rather use a generic object and then specify the product properties that are required so that the construction team can select a product that meets those properties.

It is important to note that a specific product that is specified in a model does not always become the product being installed, as the contractor will often compare alternatives to choose the best fit between price and the required product performance.

So the utility of 3D BIM objects really depends on the type of the product. Some manufacturers’ products are not available as “generic” objects – examples might be bulky pumps or M&E equipment that has to fit in a defined space. That creates the need for producing specific 3D objects that allow the design team to ensure the object fits and that no clashes occur.

Other types of products like sheeting, boarding, and insulation, for which a specific geometry is not important and often not visualised in the model in such a detail, in practice do not need 3D objects. This applies to many types of products on the market, which means it can be inefficient to create and host objects for products that don’t need them.

However, all products on the market need to make their product properties (such as fire rating, U-value, flow rate) available in multiple BIM formats and languages. In that way, the manufacturer’s data can be attributed to the geometry in the model.

If you are a manufacturer considering digitising your products, I would suggest you think whether a BIM object is required for a) marketing purposes, or b) for specific geometric purposes, or c) is not required at all.

Second, check what your clients, designers and contractors actually require to make their life easier. On this point, it is very interesting to note that Skanska has publicly stated that it does not require 3D objects as they only require specific property data from the manufacturers. [Editor’s note – Skanska is currently using coBuilder’s GoBIM on a live project].

Product Data Templates

But when it comes to the type and format of data to share there has been confusion as to whose Product Data Templates – defining the format/properties of the data that you should share – are the right ones to use. PDTs have been produced by NBS and CIBSE, and many organisations have developed their own versions of them.

In my view, there will never be a perfect PDT as each client will have their own data requirements and their own language needs. For example, a client may only want four specific product properties and they may want them in German and in IFC. Another client will want 10 properties and will need them in English and in COBie and Revit.

Therefore, in my view the starting point for naming and defining a product’s properties – such as wind resistance or thermal transmittance – should always be the relevant European and British standards, including Declarations of Performance, Environmental Performance Declarations, or Safety Data Sheets. For the names of products themselves, the starting point should be Uniclass 2015.

From this point, you can always map all of the data to the other languages required such as IFC, Revit, ARCHICAD, English, and German etc.

My advice to manufacturers on PDTs is to consider the interoperability of data and who offers to prepare internationalised product data.


My findings are that all the major contractors have bought into BIM and have BIM teams, which are trying very hard to get BIM Level 2 adopted through their businesses (some more successfully than others, but I’m not saying who!).

The BIM teams are all very motivated and passionate, which is great, but both small and large organisations have many hurdles to overcome. For this reason, most big organisations have case study projects to develop standard working practices to show the rest of the business how to implement them.

What makes their life difficult is the standard of EIRs they have to work with, as most of them, I have seen, have not set out the needs or the purpose of doing BIM for the client. More specifically, the clients are not quite explicit on what they require, especially in regards to the data they will need. In most cases the contractors have to rewrite the EIR and develop the BIM Execution Plans.

Fortunately, the quality of design models have generally been good and the contractors are developing well thought-out process for delivery projects with the aid of BIM.

It is the delivery of the as-built model that needs a lot of attention, as the quality of information at handover is in most cases very limited and the O&M manuals are often missing many legally required documents.

Also, a great practical obstacle has been that the COBie file, required at handover, has to be hand written by either a consultant or the contractor, which is very time-consuming and costly. Still, I haven’t yet seen an as built information model with the accurate PDFs, COBie and 3D models that has been produced the way I am describing.

For this reason, coBuilder has been welcomed by contractors, as we have been helping them deliver accurate as-built O&Ms, COBie and models via coBuilder’s ProductXchange.

So in conclusion, the industry is rapidly moving towards BIM adoption and it is a sharp learning curve for everyone. In regards to BIM Level 2 adoption, as long as the clients specify in detail what they require when it comes to project/data deliverables, the industry will be able to meet the challenge and BIM will become the norm.

When it comes to the type and format of data to share there has been confusion as to whose Product Data Templates – defining the format/properties of the data that you should share – are the right ones to use.– Nick Tune, coBuilder

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  1. I agree that each client will have their own need and own requirements for data and geometry.
    At the same time I think that this industry is at a point (in lifecycle BIM) where you cannot just focus on your needs and wants. You have to see what is possible and achievable at what cost and then define you ambition level after that, taking incremental steps in the right direction. You will then have a vison as a guiding star and a specific asset information requirment for each project. You need to specify what you need early in the process but be open to discuss changes along the multi-year project period.

    I believe that in an ideal world (and I think we will get there) generic objects will be used from early design and then be replaced with specific objects when real products have been selected/ procured. In this ideal world BIM tools should be able to work intelligently with the “material objects” you describe (the sheeting, boarding and insulation). Specific geometry may not be important but the information is needed in the model to provide heat transfer analysis, quantity take offs, procurement planning etc. The model should at all time represent a virtual intelligent model of what will be (and later what is). The sooner you get the data into the model the sooner you will benifit from it.

    But the world is not ideal. We have to meet it where it is and work together to help it improve. I agree that at this stage for many projects it may make more sense to link structured data to their generic objects than updateing their models with specific objects.
    What we do not want is design models with a mix of generic and specific objects that do not get updated as the real products are selected, installed and handed over.

    For more background on our views on BIM objects head over to

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