Product manufacturers and BIM: the importance of standardised data

Product manufacturers and BIM: the importance of standardised data

Alex Small, BIM and Digital Platforms Manager at Tata Steel outlines the challenges construction product manufacturers face on their route to BIM

Adopting BIM is a multifaceted undertaking for a company of any size, requiring significant investment for the smallest of construction product manufacturers and demanding copious amounts of time from larger manufacturers.

For manufacturers starting out on their BIM journey, one of the most pressing issues can be deciding whether or not to use a BIM data hosting company and, if so, which one to appoint. Part of the reason why this is a daunting task is that the hosting company can also determine the data that needs to be created.

For example, some hosting companies will require a 3D object with all the data attached; others will want to just host the data, not a drawn object. The format in which the information is supplied also needs to be considered, with the options including Revit, ArchiCAD, IFC or XML.

Understandably, for those merely entering the BIM arena, this can be an extremely confusing and time-consuming decision-making process.

Within the UK there are a number of established BIM data-hosting companies; BIMobject, BIMstore, coBuilder and the NBS Library to name but a few.

However, each hosting company requires differing levels of information supplied in varying formats. For example, BIMobject believes that a manufacturer’s data must be linked to the 3D object and to also be provided by the manufacturer to avoid error. Alternatively, coBuilder champions that the data is the key and allowing it to be linked to a generic object or one drawn by the specifier is the ideal process.

BIMstore and the NBS Library also require 3D objects, but both have (historically) different data requirements to both coBuilder and BIMobject.

This is due to the current variation in Product Data Templates (PDTs) from manufacturer to manufacturer, with few common naming conventions. This makes it complicated for BIM hosting companies to define what data they require and for those throughout the construction supply chain to easily compare products.

For example, the length of a steel beam could be under a field entitled ‘length’ from one supplier and ‘total length’ from another. This discrepancy in parameter naming may mean that a computer is unable to compare like with like or to automatically identify certain product characteristics.

Slough bus station

Product data

Standardised product data is therefore of paramount importance, especially when PDTs include a product’s legislative compliance. Within the UK, several layers of information are required, these include:

  • European/ International legislation
  • National legislation
  • Specific market requirements (for example BREEAM)
  • Warranty and maintenance information.
  • Manufacturer and product characteristics

Without a common naming convention (or Common Data Dictionary), this information cannot be compared from one manufacturer to another or be relied upon for the future development of models, tools or other purposes.

To address this issue, the CPA, BRE, BIM4M2 and coBuilder have been working on the development of LEXiCON. This is a web-based tool that will enable PDTs to be accessible to all manufacturers for their products; LEXiCON will ensure that the industry has one agreed PDT for each product type.

Similar developments are also ongoing on a European scale to ensure that LEXiCON, the buildingSMART Data Dictionary (bSDD) and PPBIM (French equivalent) are aligned. This will enable product data generated via LEXiCON to be easily exchangeable and translatable across the continent and across platforms – a significant benefit for large multinational companies such as Tata Steel.

Sharing data

To aid SMEs and the wider industry currently in the process of producing BIM objects, Tata Steel is happy to share its PDTs to enhance and support the adoption of BIM technology.

For companies at the crucial stage of determining how to make their BIM data available to clients, we would suggest seeking advice from BIM4M2, the CPA or manufacturers who have recently developed their BIM offering, such as Tata Steel.  It may be enough to put BIM data on your website for clients to download, or to use just one data hosting company. However, if choosing to work with all four hosting companies, it is best to be prepared for the project to require significant investment as it could easily cost more than £40,000 per year.

At Tata Steel, we opted to work with BIMobject and coBuilder.  This provides two very different routes to accessing Tata Steel BIM data (one with an object, one with data only) but with both accessible, via a third party Revit or ArchiCAD plug-in if desired. This ensures the most cost effective route to reaching the complete construction supply chain, without investing in our own ‘Tata Steel’ plug-in.

LEXiCON is currently in development and promises to revolutionise the provision of BIM data, making the process of creating and providing PDTs much simpler. However, when selecting which BIM hosting company to work with, it is important to become as informed as possible and select the company that best suits your products and audiences.

For more information on Tata Steel’s PDT’s please use the contact details below.


Alex Small

BIM and Digital Platforms Manager

Tata Steel



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