Steve Thompson, Chair of BIM4M2 and Market Manager for Construction and Infrastructure at Tata Steel discusses the game-changing potential in efficiency improvements that BIM offers, but says it will only be deliverable consistently with clear definitions of what information is required and a menu of information for a project team to select from
The recent BIM4M2 survey of manufacturers highlighted a number of things, one of which was that manufacturers are often asked for BIM objects or ‘all of your BIM’, without it being clear what information is really being asked for. To use the well-known quote from Theodore Levitt, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” When someone asks for a BIM object or ‘all of your BIM’, what they really need is information in a digital, exchangeable format that supports their project activities. There are significant efficiencies that can be gained within the supply chain if we all work together to ask and answer the right questions.
Beyond the commonly accepted information requirements to enable exchange such as IFC and COBie, the information necessary to meet these requirements can vary significantly, and can have a huge impact on the results. If too much information is included for the sake of covering the bases, this can provide unnecessary constraints on the supply chain, but also miss the opportunity to get the most suitable products and solutions into the project efficiently.
A manufacturer may have a range of available products to suit a generic application. The specifiers may look at the range of products and identify those that are suitable for the project they are working on, and specify a range to work from. The contractor may then look at what he can deliver at an acceptable cost and timescale that falls within the range identified by the specifiers. The asset owner and FM organisation are likely to have a set of criteria for ongoing maintenance and renewing of the products, but that view may only include a small range of products already selected. In other words, the proportion of products within a range that meet all those requirements is unlikely to be a large proportion of the full product range as a result of over-constraint. This can be the story if information is thrown over the wall between players, or BIM objects passed between stakeholders without a clear definition of what information is required.
It’s important to understand the impact of exchange of information on the supply of construction products, not just on their specification and installation.
How does a product get from its specification and production through to its integration within a built asset? What complicates the issue further is that the distributor of the products may look at that original range of products and decide that he can only deliver a proportion of those products to a project based on his view of timescales, costs, etc.
So how do we increase the likelihood of delivering the right products and information to suit everyone’s needs? We need to increase the depth of field (distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appears clear) and field of view (the extent of the observable world seen from a given viewpoint). We need to define information requirements based on purpose, not just by product type and generic application, and ensure these requirements are clearly shared through two-way communication between players if we are to benefit from some of the available efficiencies in the supply chain. These include reducing delivery times by providing information on clear decisions that impact on the supply of products, followed by early supplier awareness of product decisions. If people want a quarter-inch hole, let’s understand that’s what they want and make sure that’s what we help deliver; not just focus on delivering a drill without understanding which drill bit we need for the job in hand.
I’m hopeful that the BIM Toolkit will help us achieve this, supported by the further development and application of PDTs (Product Data Templates), enabling each of the players within an asset’s and product’s lifecycle to increase the depth of field and define information requirements. It’s important that we don’t overload models with unnecessary information and constraints, but that instead we make information available for project teams to use where appropriate. For this we can learn from the concept of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) used in the manufacturing and other sectors, and looking forward to Level 3 and Digital Built Britain, real-time analytics will make the potential opportunities for improved efficiencies much more transparent.
For example, supply chain partners may be assessed based on their performance, measured throughout a number of projects instead of data being exchanged and validated only at key project stages.
So to summarise, BIM is a process which offers game-changing potential in efficiency improvements, but these will only be deliverable consistently with clear definitions of what information is required at a project and discipline level (including product supply), and by enabling project teams to select relevant information to answer those requirements, nothing more and nothing less; that is the concept behind PDTs, a menu of information for a project team to select from.
Steve Thompson RIBA
BIM4M2 – BIM4 Manufacturers and Manufacturing