Defining Digital Built Britain


Paul Oakley, BRE BIM Director examines the current state of play in the drive for coordinated data standards for information exchange, in order to deliver on the Digital Built Britain goals…

The BIM Level 3 vision for Digital Built Britain involves seamless information sharing across semantically linked systems using open data standards. It states that “Over the next decade technology will combine with the internet of things (providing sensors and other information), advanced data analytics and the digital economy to enable us to plan new infrastructure more effectively, build it at lower cost and operate and maintain it more efficiently.”

However, on Saturday I was asked the question by an eight year old which throws the whole concept of this vision into doubt. “What do we call the two sides of a rectangle?” I then had to explain that this is the question that I have been asking all over the world, including the plenary at the buildingSMART International Summit in Singapore and the present answer is “whatever you want…” However, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all agree on a standard definition, delivered in a standard text case and that these definitions were mapped to an international dictionary (IFD) of terms to allow translation into any language?

Basic shape definitions which would allow shared information sources to update the parameters on BIM objects are only one aspect presently unresolved. There are still many requirements for basic definitions required to allow information exchanges to make the BIM Level 3 dream come true. The reality is many are presently struggling with BIM Level 2 deliverables, due to a lack of consistent data standards for the most basic things, and many are blaming COBie (Construction Operations Building information exchange) as the exchange mechanism, rather than the poor data management processes they are presently using.

Many commercial library providers have recognised this problem, but have complicated the issue by attempting to differentiate themselves from the opposition and create their own bespoke methodology. Manufacturers attempting to engage within the BIM process are paying large sums of money hoping they have backed the correct commercial BIM Library supplier, such as NBL, BIM Store or BIM Objects. The issue here is that each use their own BIM Objects standard; claim compliance with the British Standards by interpreting them differently and leaving chaos for those trying to deliver coordinated structured project data. This was proven by the recent Product Data Capability Trial undertaken by buildingSMART UKI and published in the July edition of OPEN BIM FOCUS.

The issue of a coordinated data standard for information exchange has been around for many years. Initial work on IFC Property Sets addressed some of the issues in the late 1990s, but these have not been developed further for many years. Specifiers’ Properties Information exchange (SPie), CIBSE and others have started producing Product Data Templates for specific products. BIM for Manufacturers, under the BIM4M2 title have also been looking at the issue whilst BRE have been looking at BIM Object Data Standards to aid with its own digital application solutions and along with bSUKI, have been working with the buildingSMART International Product Data room attempting to reach a global solutions to this problem.

What has been established is that we need an international standard made up of both International and Local nationalised requirements for product data templates, developed and approved by the appropriate experts within their field. The buildingSMART product room has been looking at the international work being undertaken within this area and similarities across international boundaries have already been established. BRE is presently creating a tool for the UK to aid Data Product Templates and linking the requirements to the buildingSMART data dictionary. This will help the various groups identified above in undertaking this aspect of work to create and validate Product Data Templates based upon International standards, but also extend these where gaps are established. The PDTs established will have the appropriate rigor associated with them and will be available for manufacturers to implement as they require.

The Product Data Templates are just collections of agreed data that should be provided by Manufacturers, Suppliers and Library vendors. These are structures by property sets which are in turn standard collections of attributes delivered in a consistent manner to aid the information flow.

The intention is to aid the industry by providing application programing interface (api) services to make it easier for both suppliers and consumers of product data to share information using web service linked tools. Implementation of the product data template (PDT) by manufacturers into product data sheets (PDS) will enable designers using BIM authoring tools to directly link to the latest manufacturer’s information.

The intention of BRE, buildingSMART UKI and many others sharing the dream is to provide the UK industry with a standardised data structure for building products and materials in order to facilitate the Digital Built Britain vision. However, there are still many basic issues for BIM Level 2 presently left unresolved. So what are we going to call those two sides of the rectangle?

Paul Oakley

BIM Director


Tel: +44 (0)333 321 88 11


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