At Productspec we are proud to host and provide BIM data for a portion of our clients. Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the software driving this data revolution are now more accessible than ever and it is well and truly time to assess the why and how of getting involved. A question that was raised 20+ years ago with CAD but has a different answer with BIM.

Historically CAD objects were created either as 2D or 3D objects. These files were saved with a simple file name and limited referring info, UA4528.dwg or Exit Sign.dwg was anyones best guess? And in some cases numbering in the 10s or 100s of individual files representing iterations of the product. This is/was a nightmare for everyone involved, for specifiers and suppliers alike. Selecting the correct product and the file related to that product requiring blind luck or insider knowledge. And with no standard approach to govern the creation of this content there was no guarantee that they would work smoothly with other content, which often meant editing or tidying the file up before use. Often this process resulted in the architects and designers creating the objects from scratch potentially missing vital information and saving it to the office library (Door2.dwg or drawing1.dwg?). All of these steps fraught with error and peril in the search for one important piece of certainty, dimensionally accurate content.

The reasons for accurate content are obvious in the built environment. Does object X fit with object Y’s dimensions A and B? And the CAD object could answer that question. But now we have BIM; and this allows us to answer so many more questions. At Productspec we look at each product and/or range of products that requires BIM and look at the practical implications for both the specifier and manufacturer. I’d like to give you an insight into our process and approach.

We have helped our clients create BIM objects from varying levels of current information. Some have a data sheet or brochure, some just the product and others the dreaded 10s or 100s of CAD files created overseas or years ago with a short obscure file name. Thankfully computer software has advanced to allow file names longer than 9 or 11 characters! Which is a start to finding the right object, but there a more significant advancement worth mentioning. The introduction of information rich databases. Which is basically what BIM is at it’s core, a database with 2D and 3D visual representations of a building. And this is where things get really interesting.

As Chris Welch mentioned in his article in May, BIM objects can be parametric. This starts to solve the iterations of files for every product. Dimensional values are now stored and can be changed on the fly for each product of a similar grouping. This means that for many of our clients having only a handful of files that represent an entire range of objects and their dimensions and properties. This means the specifier can select the appropriate product and also have the ability to try other options or recommendations. We also have the ability to design the content to have real world limits, further driving the correct specification of products. Examples of this include limiting a product to its available sizes, like we have created for some of our piping suppliers. Or change elements in response to user inputted dimensions, as we have done many times for Holyoake and our garage door suppliers.

The next opportunity we have is to include more information or metadata. In the leading BIM software packages we can now store further information like website links, important or critical product data, SKUs or product codes, material data and so much more. Previously this detail or data that was often stored on datasheets, external documents (brochures, PDFs, etc) and your website. This required the users to search and seek out the additional data, which is made easier with both Productspec and Smartspec, but we also advise bundling this information within the content. Chris Boyle has written a great article about the metadata initiative that Productspec will continue to support and be directly involved with. At the end of the day the more we convey about a product the better informed everyone will be.

Potentially everyone has something to gain from this information. The architects and engineers already benefit by sharing their models and utilizing the information both 3D modelled and the metadata. This collaboration is now the expected norm on larger projects and will only continue to grow. And now we are seeing more and more of this sharing filtering throughout the project team; from construction, quantity surveying, the client, and right through to facilities management.

Ultimately what this has meant is that everyone expects a certain level of information about objects. Where as before generic objects may have had their place, we see the requirement of manufacturer specific information or objects to be stored in BIM. In practice this means that placeholder objects from the early design stages are replaced by manufacturer specific objects or approximations as the project develops. There are varying requirements that demand this process; from obtaining a better understanding of the design, or providing as-built information about the building for asset and facilities management.

Some practices have committed individuals to creating these objects as best they can, or just running with the out of the box content. Both situations, depending on the user, don’t provide that level of detail that is being asked for more and more. Also this content has many of the shortcomings present with the old CAD files, lack of information and potentially inaccurate dimensions. This is where we find that working closely with our clients in creating accurate and meaningful digital assets or content of their products is the best outcome.

Many of the firms I deal with on a daily basis jump on Productspec regularly to download our existing content for their current BIM projects. If you’d like to find out more about reaching this audience with information rich and accurate BIM content contact us for advice on your product. And we will work with you updating that old CAD library, distilling your datasheets into BIM, or creating new content.