25 June 2020

We hear a lot about digital, BIM, the golden thread, the Internet of things and many similar themes in the industry and press today. How do these impact construction product manufacturers though, and how do you find clarity amongst all of the noise? This article will try to tackle these subjects.

What is it and what do all the terms and acronyms mean?

Firstly, digital construction is simply a term that has been coined to describe how the industry is adopting electronic techniques, such as internet-based software solutions, and generally connecting us all electronically. This reflects our use of technology in our day-to-day lives in these times. The majority of us use smartphones, have social media accounts, stream on-demand TV or order takeaways using smartphone apps. The above are all digital technologies. In construction, digital refers to using the same approach to perform tasks that we have likely always used, but utilising digital applications to make these processes easier.

BIM, digital twins and the golden thread (to name but a few) are all processes that sit under the title digital construction. Digital construction itself falls under the umbrella of the Internet of things. So what are they all about? Firstly, BIM is now a normalized process for managing a project and sharing data throughout that project. Try not to get too hung up on 3D models for now; that is only a small part of what BIM is about, but they are of significance and will be covered further in this article. Digital twins take a 3D model and effectively mirror the as-built building. The building and the model are connected via sensors electronically that report to a software, to monitor things like energy consumption, room use, etc. A useful comparison can be made to modern cars, which have sensors that report back to the dashboard computer to advise if maintenance is due, or if something has failed, etc. The golden thread is a term that resulted from the Hackitt Report. In its simplest form, it refers to the process of capturing all project information (specs, decisions, etc.) in a digital record, predominantly using BIM as the basis. This ensures that when a building is in use, it is as safe as possible and information about it can be accessed easily and clearly. Lastly, the Internet of things (IoT) is simply the term coined to cover the way in which we as a species are relying more and more on digital connectivity. IoT is not unique to construction; it covers all areas of our lives.

The NBS Periodic Table of BIM

How does it affect construction product manufacturers?

Firstly, if you supply products to the sector which are typically specified as manufacturer-branded items, you really need to consider BIM. Today most specifiers will design using BIM processes and software. This means two things for the manufacturers. Firstly, they need to have their product information available in a machine-readable format, which is aligned to industry defined product data templates. This means that the information about your products needs to be able to be pulled from your source into another platform without human intervention, i.e. from a database to BIM software. This needn’t be overly complex or expensive; having your data structured in an Excel template is a good start. Ideally you want to have this accessible online, this could be your own website or a third-party host such as NBS Source. New regulatory changes and the creation of new standards will see more and more reliance on manufacturers providing data this way.

Secondly, there is BIM content, which refers to graphical models. If your product has tangible geometry and, more importantly, if it has unique identity, then 3D models would be benefit your business. In the same way as many manufacturers have provided CAD files in the past, 3D BIM models are required by many designers to add to and make up their building models. This allows the designer to set out the building/ project with accuracy and ensures spatial co-ordination is correct. Then the model can be rendered, which is a means of creating high-end visuals direct from the model. This aids better communication of design intent, something which is key if your products impact the overall aesthetic of a design. Many manufacturers are already embracing this technique and seeing tangible benefits. It helps build the relationships with specifiers, but also it allows earlier capture of sales leads. In a digital world, data is king. This is a transactional scenario, where your data is taken by a third party and in return you capture their data. NBS can demonstrate how this can benefit you, and our contact details can be found at the end of this article.

What can manufacturers do now, to get up to speed?

It is probably best to list these as the top five tasks. In order:

  1. Appoint someone within your organisation to take digitalisation on as a project. It might distract from day-to-day tasks for a short while, but you can do this on a rotational basis, maybe one day per week or similar. The efficiency gains you will get later down the line will make it worth the effort.
  2. Do some research on what data is required for your product/ system types, what formats are being used, etc. and formulate a plan to get aligned.
  3. Tidy up your data. Use an excel file if you do not have access to an online platform, and list your product information in a structured manner, ensuring that all properties in the excel sheet are the same for each product type. This keeps consistency and will aid future use and improvements.
  4. Identify what assets you have for each product you list in the excel file, such as CAD files, images, technical data sheets, installation details, product certificates, etc., and then address those products that have gaps. This will provide you with a consistent data set, which will arm you when replying to and dealing with clients or any future website developments, etc.
  5. Look into creating 3D BIM content of those products which are appropriate. Upload these 3D models to your website and, even better, add them to a third-party BIM Library, such as NBS Source. Specifiers will look at these libraries for content first, as they contain all building elements in one place, thus removing the need to visit multiple manufacturer websites. That being said, don’t disregard your own website; after all, there are no competitors on your own site.

The above will form a good basis for dealing with the digital construction evolution as a manufacturer.

How can NBS help?

NBS have been providing specification and product data solutions for 50 years. As a RIBA company, we are uniquely placed in the construction sector to help manufacturers get their products specified. We have a very knowledgeable team of experts from all walks of life in construction, from architects and engineers right through to manufacturing specialists, and are sure to have someone whom can help solve any issues you may have. Our latest platform, NBS Source, is an evolution of our previous product listing tools. It provides manufacturers a way of aligning and hosting their product data in ways which are compliant with the latest industry digital requirements, host and create BIM content and much, much more. NBS Source allows you to market your products in a unique way with complete peace of mind that you have the future covered.

More information

Feel free to drop our manufacturer team an email: manufacturers@thenbs.com.

View and download The Periodic Table of BIM.