BIM Boozled

By Chris Witte; Marketing Director (Knauf Insulation Northern Europe)

It dawned on me the other day just how important it is for manufacturers to get their act together on the opportunities and threats that Building Information Modelling (BIM) creates for us at the bottom of the construction food chain. I joined the newly formed BIM for Manufacturers and Manufacturing industry group and found out a few things I suspect should have been more widely known earlier.

It turns out that level 2 BIM (the bit that hits us in 2016 as part of the Government Construction Strategy) doesn’t require product manufacturers to actually produce BIM objects for all or any of our products.

I actually knew this at the start of 2013 when we, (Knauf Insulation) bought into the need for action, to go up the learning curve on BIM (but had perhaps forgotten this as we dived into the detail). We worked with Metz Architects and produced a suite of IFC files and BIM objects to cover off the main design authoring tools. But had we created a Rolls Royce when a Ford Mondeo was all that was required?

Arguably yes. The requirement for 2016 (for public sector projects) is for manufacturers to complete a Product Data Template, which can be used to populate a COBie spreadsheet. But those templates have not been created yet (they are due in the next few months). Should we as manufacturers wait or be proactive? We took the risk and decided to be proactive.


I think it was the right decision for a number of reasons. Firstly, we didn’t have an in-house resource capable of creating objects in one authoring tool, let alone four! Working through some option scenarios boosted our understanding of what was best from both a specifier (often more interested in a through wall construction – material layer set ) and our perspective at this stage. We learnt that every Object developer and library resource does things differently and charges differently.

Secondly, there was little senior management awareness of the emerging opportunity / threat. One or two other parts of the organisation outside of the UK were also taking their first tentative steps, but there was no central coordination.

Thirdly, even though a third party is creating the Objects, we had to supply all the information, and therefore have an intimate understanding of the information in our Objects, and the future possibilities to differentiate through additional information and therefore protect a specification.

Finally, we have c 20,000 downloads from our website and BIMStore’s on line library; so we have some valuable feedback on how to improve our Objects and information about which authoring softwares are preferred by our specific stakeholders; and which of our product Objects and material layer sets are most popular. We have recently started to experiment to find the best marketing communications route to raise the profile of our offering.

3D Render - Masonry Cavity Wall  Full-fill with built-in glass mineral wool Earthwool DriTherm Cavity Slab

3D Render – Masonry Cavity Wall
Full-fill with built-in glass mineral wool
Earthwool DriTherm Cavity Slab

Today, senior management are sufficiently convinced to be calling for dedicated internal BIM resource and there is a structured group-wide exchange of information across all geographies. Manufacturing trends tend towards more specialisation within a given plant and greater geographic coverage; so our Objects have to be developed with multi code and multi language in mind if we are to minimise complexity. We are starting to work with BuildingSMART on how best to take this internationalisation of BIM Objects forward.

The issues that remain from my perspective are:

  • Interoperability – why should product manufacturers still have to create Objects for Revit, ArchiCAD, Bentley, Vectorworks , IFC etc? I have been listening to the software vendors for three years saying they are all collaborating and moving towards cross design tool compatibility. I sense there are small steps towards convergence, but not enough in time for 2016. IFC is the solution but I’m told it has too many limitations, with potentially several years of development needed. How do we accelerate the development of parametric IFC? Of course my argument is flawed because we are not required to produce Objects for level 2 BIM in 2016. However, some specifiers are already stating that they will (for 2016) require BIM objects from manufacturers. The only way to get an “access all areas“ ticket is to have BIM Objects and IFC that can produce a COBie.
  • Data Templates – Product manufacturers have to be a key stakeholder in the creation of these. Different stakeholders have different information requirements but they all say there is too much information in a COBie. From a product manufacturers perspective, we can’t be expected to tailor product information on a by project basis and then update for each project specific data drop. There has to be a solution where we provide all the data at once. The specifier can then select the information sections and the level of detail they require at each data drop.
  • There has to be a cost effective route for SME’s to enter the game. The developers of BIM objects see pound signs flashing before their eyes, and good luck to them;  but they should support a cost effective entry point. At the moment I sense the conversation is “You need this and it costs this“.

One of the key roles of BIM For Manufacturers and Manufacturing (in my opinion) has to be to champion access for all; and then find the best communication routes. The rest of the industry has had years to consider the right way to make BIM work for them. Product suppliers are late to the party (not our fault!) and have just 18 months (minus the time it takes to finalise the product data templates) to gear up.

In summary, there is still a long journey for us. It feels like we are only at base camp looking up at Everest; so if you haven’t commenced your journey yet, my advice is start soon.

 Further Reading:

2 thoughts on “BIM Boozled

  1. Thank you for this post as it is a rare glimpse of how a manufacturer feels about the upcoming BIM reform in the UK.

    I would like to comment regarding your process of thought and about your perspective.

    First of all, regarding your premiss, you say “we are not required to produce Objects for level 2 BIM in 2016” it is technically true, but in practice it is not a very good idea for any AEC manufacturer who wants to be “part of the game” in 2016. here is why:

    It is “technically true” that the requirements for 2016 are “just” a COBie in .xls format containing information only (the “I” of the BIM) however, the power of BIM is the fact that it is now possible to attach data to geometry. i.e putting all the information a manufacturer wants to vehicle towards a specifier (or any AEC professional) inside a 3D model of his product.

    In his (excellent) book “BIM Demystified”, Steve Race claims that it is possible to do BIM without (“proper”) BIM software and in fact, some Architectural practices have been doing so for years. True. BIM is a process, a working method and in no way a software or “the 3D” as many people might think wrongly. So yes, theoretically it would be possible for manufacturers to just use “PTDs” or “PDS” that are unrelated to any specific 3D model. This however, given the advancement of today’s technology and the way architects practice their trade – would be rather unfortunate.

    In the matter of fact, it is VERY HARD to create a COBie without a BIM software. The UK Government asks for a COBie starting january 2016 but do you know how those COBies are created? a COBie is basically the gathering of all relevant data from all the components of a BIM model, their interactions, their whereabouts in the project, their occurrences and of course – all the data the manufacturer provides about his product (norms, price where available, duration of life etc etc.) A COBie is normally structured by room / space and thus will provide for any specific spot in the model how many windows, doors, are there, what is the volume of air to be heated, which material is the floor made of and so on. In sum, a COBie is a database containing aggregated and processed information about any given project. It is a data projection or “extract” of a 3D (BIM) model who has components that are rich with information.

    a COBie can be AUTOMATICALLY created by a well configured BIM software. It is, however, EXTREMELY LABORIOUS for any architect to try and create such a file manually as it will oblige the architect to go piece by piece, room by room and corridor by corridor, collect relevant data, calculate the air volume, the Sqm of walls to be painted, the lightbulbs to be changed etc etc.

    So yes, the government cleverly(!) asked “only” for a COBie as a deliverable in 2016 (along with the traditional plans, sections, elevations etc) but it has done so simply in order not to give preference for one BIM format over another or, if you want one BIM software over another. In practice, it would be virtually insane for an architect to try and generate a COBie manually. And in order for COBies to be generated automatically by a BIM software the BIM model needs to contain BIM components from manufacturers that contain their data.

    By asking only for a COBie, the government gives the architect free choice of his BIM software. But DO NOT mistake this for “all we manufacturers need to provide is just the info” as in practice, info that is not attached to a 3D BIM model is virtually useless.

    Making a COBie by hand is like trying to dig an underground parking with a tea spoon instead of a bulldozer. The technology exists, use it!

  2. Chris, I’ve send a request over on LinkedIn. I would like to have a brief chat about how you feel the public sector can support manufacturers to explore and adopt BIM.


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