Product Data Templates are industry agreed templates that manufacturers complete to capture all necessary data relating to their products in a consistent way. Which all industry professionals can then use with subsequent benefits for all.
The manufacturer takes the template and creates however many completed sheets they need from it (PDSs), depending on the number of products they have.
Recently, news broke out over a major alignment in the murky realm of these Product Data Templates, Lexicon, and a tool called BIMHawk by CIBSE - each of importance when it comes to manufacturers being able to get their data to the right people in a standardised manner.
So here's BESA’s David Frise to tell us what went on, why, and what it means for us all:
Give us an idea of the importance of PDTs, what problem/s do they solve?
PDTs are really important because the key thing about BIM is understanding what data information is out there, what format is it in and applying it from site to site in a consistent manner.
Now from a MEP contractor’s perspective doing this is very attractive because currently, if you think about simple things like providing “as-installed” information; every singly site is slightly different but you have to provide the same information albeit in a slightly different format.
This can create a runaround for many parties because there’s not a clear concise definition of what was to be provided, when it was to be provided and the format it was supposed to be in. So if PDTs are used this standardises it across different sites for different teams, with the potential to make for far greater savings for all.
The information about the same product would be provided in the same format and the only bit that would change would be things like serial numbers and specific items that are bespoke to that site.
PDTs allow us to do this cheaply, quickly and easily.
It's somewhat "behind the scenes" but in layman’s terms, what is the purpose and function of Lexicon?
The Lexicon process sets out how we will format these templates and where the data will go, to make it easier for people to standardise their PDTs etc. BIMHawk is a tool that will use the lexicon process to allow it to be used in other areas or with other software - which the lexicon tool also offers - but both are underpinned by the lexicon process. The beauty here is that we didn’t end up with two separate processes, which the industry needs like a hole in the head, although there's nothing wrong with multiple tools of course.
You said yourself the mandate was six months ago, why wasn’t this resolved sooner?
I guess because both products were still under development and it necessarily took a considerable amount of time to finalise. What it needed was recognition of the benefit to all parties working together rather than separately, such that it was a win-win rather than a win-lose, and that takes time.
It especially takes a lot of time because you don’t think of all the details when you first come together. Which means people have to allow for a bit of give and take on either side, but when working collaboratively as they ultimately do they can achieve almost anything.
Also let’s face it, it’s far better for the sector to solve its own problems and get collaborating in a cooperative sense - frequently with competitors - but always for the common good. Rather than complaining afterward.
What role did BESA play specifically?
Well we kind of brokered the first meeting on the basis that our contractors really didn’t want to see two systems on the market. Or potentially three, or four. So that’s why it was great to see people like coBuilder coming on board too.
Alternative formats do not meet the requirements of honouring a common way. But when it comes to multiple tools then fine, but make sure it's the same process behind them.
The above is to be applauded but is there still slack in the system? As in, are there items/ processes/ operations out there that are redundant that are still in need of review/ streamlining?
Oh for sure. I think just because we've got this agreement doesn’t mean we’re home and dry by any stretch. There's a huge amount of work to do and people are largely doing it voluntarily too. Putting in a huge amount of effort for the common good.
Indeed if we are to get BIM to work for the construction industry then we have to do the basic stuff or you can’t get any of it to work at all. There are many people devoting their time and effort to this in groups like the UKBA, buildingSMART, CIBSE BIM Group, CPA, BIM4M2, BIM4FitOut because the results at the end of it will be significant for the entire industry and it's genuinely worth doing, and worth doing well.
So what is the next major hurdle to solve in this area?
Getting the templates out there and populated really. Everything has a template, or at least everything that needs to have a template has a template, and one that the industry has agreed to. As for other hurdles well there is a lot of work around the buildingSMART data dictionary and other things to make this truly international, which is really where we’ve got to be. But we are getting there, slowly.
Please provide a snapshot of BIM adoption today, as you see it?
Our BIM4 group is full of people who are practitioners and experts; and by experts I mean they’re doing the nitty gritty and trying to make this stuff work. And they still complain... in fact no, let’s start with the positives.
They see that progress is being made and they are developing processes that mean BIM is being used more usefully and more appropriately on site. But they still tell me that there’s a lot of BIM-wash out there!
A lot of shall we say trying to shoehorn BIM into typically analogue processes. We are still in an analogue industry but this is a digital tool so you don’t get sufficient time before you’re on site to do all the “chasing the design” - which really doesn’t take advantage of what BIM should do at all (which is to build it digitally first and then build it, or assemble it, on site).
We're in that transition mode which means that you can still end up chasing your tail and BIM at the moment can be just an additional cost and little more than cad.
But on other sites the clients really do get it - they understand it, there’s time to develop the design properly and there’s a genuine understanding across project teams about what you’re trying to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it. I think that’s really the thing we should focus on overall.
In a nutshell when you set up something new and you start to develop new ways of doing business there will be teething problems, and that’s pretty much what we’re seeing.
When, and what were you doing, when you had the “lightning bolt” moment that BIM would be such a big part of your future?
When I was contracting I did a lot of 3d cad and walkthrough type work for companies like the National Grid. As much from a H&S perspective really and I thought even then that it was fantastic and had a very high “wow” factor. But it was equally practical for the fitters and installers on site to see what they were going to build too.
However the real “lightning bolt moment” for me was when I realised it was all about the data and the way you handle the data and how that can save you so much time. Especially when it comes to doing repeated work of a very similar nature.
If it’s clear what it is, where it is, when it is being delivered what format it is in then it becomes a yes/no “have you done that?” “yes I have” type situation where you can do everything asked of you confidently. Whereas with the current “non-BIM” system, without PDTs or a formal EIR process, there's always room for someone to go back to a previous arrangement and adjust the terms which then costs you hours and hours to sort out.
In fact I remember when starting to use cad instead of paper, architects soon cottoned on to the fact that we had a cad system and instead of saying “can you have a look this” it changed to “can you have a look at this, and this, and this, and this” so all the time that we saved introducing cad actually got eaten up because you were then developing wall design options and the like.
It’s all a bit like that with BIM I guess at the moment, but again it’s going from an analogue to a digital environment and we have to get used to using these new tools and these new processes and roles. Which we seem to be.
Could you give us a very brief introduction to BESA and how do people become involved?
The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) represents mechanical and electrical contractors generally on the larger size, where BIM becomes especially relevant, and we have over 1000 members. Or, more officially:
The Building Engineering Services Association is the UK's leading trade organisation for building engineering services contractors – representing the interests of firms active in the design, installation, commissioning, maintenance, control and management of engineering systems and services in buildings. BESA’s 1,200 members have a combined turnover of £3.5billion, and it is estimated that they are responsible for the installation and maintenance of some 80% of the country’s industrial and commercial hvac systems.
Many thanks again to David Frise and the wider team.
The BIM Hub seeks to encourage manufacturers to get on board with this as soon as possible and get their data available in a structured and suitable manner as per PDTs.
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