Opinion

BIM and the Manufacturer, a CIBSE Overview.

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From BIM Journal. Click Here to Read Issue 4

Article 2: BIM and the Manufacturer – A CIBSE Overview

In the first of his two guest articles in this issue, we are proud to invite Carl Collins (Digital Engineering Consultant to CIBSE) to give a timely overview of the Manufacturing landscape in a BIM capacity to date. Over to you Carl...

At present, almost all of the larger product manufacturers in the marketplace have addressed “BIM” and what it means for them in one way or another. What is also true is that smaller and mid-sized manufacturers are starting to catch up as well, especially if their product ranges are aimed at the market sectors that have engaged the most with BIM during the design and construction phases. Given the size and scale of the market itself however, the drivers for doing this are many and varied.

As a consequence of this upheaval, it is important to take a closer look at what those drivers are, how successful these outcomes have been and whether or not this is moving the industry forward.

But first of all we have to qualify that there is still a lot of confusion around what BIM is because, when canvassing opinion, the answer is not a simple one. If you put ten people in a room and ask them what BIM is, you will get eleven answers. They will be broadly similar but each will also contain many subtle differences. This is to be expected as the field, or at least the ‘scope’ of BIM itself is colossal and not too well served by one simple acronym.

For some, it is the process by which we design, procure, construct and inhabit our built environment. For others, it is simply about how data is exchanged. Indeed some will say that it is the data itself that is at the heart of BIM.

With a perception by newcomers that 3D models are the sole focus of BIM, while others migrate onto concerns over ‘4D’ and ‘5D’ there is a lot to take in, no doubt about it. Indeed BIM can be about exchanging data from construction to operations, it can also be about building off-site, it can be about the Internet of Things controlling systems, harvesting data and making our assets more secure. You may recognise your own definition in this list.

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None of these answers are wrong, however none of them are complete. The fact is that there is no single complete answer to what BIM is, which is why it is still being asked.

Over the years I have spoken to hundreds of manufacturers from all over the world, from campus scale Combined Heat and Power systems to manufacturers of quality paints and varnishes. The commonality of all of these companies is that they recognise the need to involve themselves in BIM, as that is the way forward. Indeed an industry “migration” that will see the very standards and processes appear themselves as the migration itself is taking place.

So what have been the common themes that manufacturers have clustered around? There are two main camps that I see emerging and they come from opposite ends of the factory; marketing and technical.

Marketing, doing the job they are paid to do, see BIM as a way of pushing the qualities of the product to the forefront of the mind of the specifier. Some rely heavily on high end graphics applied to objects that are used in design and construction models. Others use clever algorithms and software to allow quick and simple product selection. The tenet being - make it easy to fit the product into a design, and you will get specified more.

While there is sense to this, the technical teams are more interested in getting the relevant information into the hands of those that will actually use it. The traditional approach of information existing in a brochure sitting on a shelf is pretty much past its sell-by date. PDF versions of these brochures are also going the same way and rightly so, as this is not data that can be readily used.

The really smart companies have managed to bang the heads of their marketing and their technical teams together and come up with something genuinely useful instead. Something that looks great as well as just plain works. Whereas others have, on some occasions, simply outsourced their requirements without going far enough to understand what they are really getting into.  

There is nothing wrong with outsourcing, especially where you do not have the skillset in house. Likewise there is nothing wrong with developing that skillset in-house either. The above examples are merely two ends of the spectrum when it comes to manufacturer engagement with BIM. The important critical factor is to understand what is being done and why. When you can answer these questions, everything else will follow.

But what of the short to mid term future of BIM for the manufacturing sector? Well, for some manufacturers the future is simply going to look a lot like the present already does for some of the others. BIM is supposed to be a level playing field and a trailing edge technology: meaning that anybody should be able to participate. However it has not really panned out like this and we need a period of consolidation for others to catch up, where the early adopters have stoically forged ahead.

Digital processes will generally continue to advance at a great pace, of course, but the things to really look out for will be;

  • Fabrication direct from proprietary models

  • Procurement via the model

  • Virtual and augmented realities for on-site workers

  • Far greater “built off-site” activity

  • Greater data exchange consistency between the design and construction processes.

In the longer term, manufacturers should start investigating Products as a Service; essentially renting or leasing a product to a constructed asset for the life of the product, then replacing it  with the new and recycling the old. There will also be Blockchain to watch out for; a method of automating payment for goods or services using trustless crypto-currencies (a technology that I will be covering in a future article).

To wrap this overview up, it can be seen that we have indeed come a long way in a short time in terms of embracing BIM. It does feel like it has taken an age at times, but when I look back at what was being done less than a decade ago I really do see the changes. Old engineers like myself can remember how glacial change can seem to be, but we are now finding ways of working much more closely with design and construction teams and we are learning from one another. Indeed this is the most exciting part of the fourth industrial revolution - because this is what BIM really is.

Read BIM Journal Issue 04 here.

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Nathan Hudson

Hello - Please feel free to drop me a line (especially if you're in Training or Academia - huge developments going on for you here). I am also the editor of BIM Journal.

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