Making BIM work better
The benefits of BIM’s adoption by the construction industry are clearly recognised, but the wider use of BIM has highlighted some challenges. One, the requirement for a data standard on how to share structured data, is being addressed by the new process called LEXiCON. Another, a shortage of necessary skills, will be discussed during UK Construction Week.
Report from – Tom Harvey
A quick recap
With the billions of pounds spent every year on centrally funded building projects in the UK, comes the risk of wasting millions through unclear, inaccurate or incomplete information during and after construction. As part of efforts to reduce this, the government now requires centrally procured public building projects to use Level 2 Building Information Modeling (BIM) as a minimum.
BIM digitally creates a model of a building (or road, bridge, tunnel, etc.) and includes physical and functional information covering its life cycle is attached, including data on the quantities and properties of materials, components and systems.
With the right inputs, the model is designed to change in the same way as a real building. This enables the design team to try out material, component and design variations, and manufacturers to more quickly and easily share information across project teams and supply chains.
An early challenge
Not surprisingly there have been some early challenges in the industry’s adoption of BIM. How - for example - can this huge range of information be shared so that everyone can access, understand and use it? With several ways of defining product data standards it is difficult for manufacturers to provide their information in all of the formats needed by those who wish to incorporate their product data to meet everyone’s needs - and to keep it up to date. There can also be compatibility issues between the different types of software tool used to gather and present product and other data.
A common language
The process called LEXiCON uses the BRE Templater tool which has been developed in response to this issue. It provides a plain language 'dictionary' for sharing product data in a consistent way, to standardise the delivery of product information for use in BIM or associated technologies.
LEXiCON incorporates standards agreed by the Construction Products Association (CPA) and product manufacturer associations, to enable manufacturers to report and measure their products in a way that is accessible to all. It uses tools and templates that can be applied across different formats and software platforms, to allow information to be requested according to the type, level of detail and quantity needed.
As not everyone needs the same information on a product, LEXiCON considers the source of different information requirements, enabling users to select which type of information to share. Based upon the IFC 4x1 schema these sources are broken down into:
- Requirements for the harmonised European Standards (hENs).
- Other Standards’ requirements.
- Industry recognised documents:
- Mandated: such as NRM for Chartered Surveyors, or specific sector requirements.
- Non-mandated: recognised documentation such as a trade association’s technical guidance.
- Industry agreed: terms agreed by the relevant authority as suitable for a given purpose.
- User-defined: additional terms proposed by a registered user and approved by their relevant authority.
When using LEXiCON possible software compatibility issues do not arise. “It doesn’t matter what you use,” says Paul Oakley, Director of BIM at BRE, who has been closely involved in LEXiCON’s development. “LEXiCON employs a standard format that allows you to use any software, whether it’s an AutoCad tool or a database solution. This prevents the incompatibility issues that can arise.
“One simple but unexpected and troublesome example involved two software tools from the same leading provider – one allowed spaces within names and the other didn’t. When data from one was exported to the other for use in BIM, the information was garbled because the spaces couldn’t be translated. If LEXiCON is used to obtain and deliver the data, this sort of thing doesn’t happen.”
LEXiCON has been developed by CPA, with support from BRE and other partners includingLEXiCON board members, ActivePlan, COBuilder and Buildsmart.
BIM Prospects at UK Construction Week
Paul Oakley will discuss LEXiCON during his BIM Prospects presentation for specifiers on providing consistent, accurate and reliable design information in response to employers’ requirements: 4-4.30pm, 12 October.
Digitisation and the skills issue
BIM and LEXiCON are part of the wave of digitisation that many believe must sweep across the UK construction industry if it is to prosper. “I think the full digitisation of construction is vital and can be a massive enabler of change,” says Mark Farmer, author of the influential ‘Modernise or die’ review of the UK construction labour model (see article here). “We are not going to get a modern construction sector unless a digital process forms the backbone of the industry.”
One of the main concerns about the uptake of BIM is the shortage of digital skills across the UK supply chain – but digitisation of the industry could be key to bringing in new people. “When it comes to attracting people - young talent - into the industry, it goes without saying that we must embed digital into the way we all work,” says Mark Farmer. “This means not just designers using 3D models, but also manufacturers of components and the onsite construction workers - everyone in the industry. These jobs must be technology enabled to make them more attractive to kids who are growing up with digital all around them.”
Skills shortage featured at BIM Prospects