Construction product makers are feeling the pressure to provide more information than ever before, now there’s a guide to help them


I’ve recently returned from talking with some of Europe’s leading product makers and distributors at a session in Barcelona arranged by USP, a Dutch marketing consultancy. ‘The implications of BIM for the product sector’ was the topic. Product makers have just been hit by the EU Construction Products Directive and all that sustainability stuff; now we have BIM as an additional burden. It’s too much! What are the British up to? That was the common reaction.

In fact the two requirements are symbiotic: information to meet the Directive really needs to be in BIM formats, plus all the other product information to meet whole-life needs. The EU didn’t see BIM coming when it drafted the Directive. But now it has seen the light, with the Open Market Committee (chaired by British MEP Malcolm Harbour) clearing the path towards digital trading and practice. The Barcelona group included makers who have already dived in, like Kingspan, and others who were still doubtful about its importance or how to do it.

The problems with BIM for makers are that you might be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Specifiers are going to pick products that are formatted for their BIM platform, so if yours aren’t, you will lose customers. On the other hand, BIM tools give buyers the upper hand, as EPOS switched the power from grocery product makers to supermarkets. Product makers have been the most profitable part of the construction industry. Are they headed for demotion as smart search tools find and aggregate the best buys around the world?

The CPA and the NBS have produced a guide called BIM for the Terrified. Their humorous approach tries to say: “you are not the only one at sea, so keep calm and carry on”

BIM asks product makers to provide more information than most ever did, to cover the whole life-cycle with structured databases. It also requires information to be in multiple formats whilst we are still some way off platform interoperability. This has to include the IFC format for interoperability however, to allow users to create COBie files automatically. Data needs to be organised for the data drop pattern of the new Plan of Work, supplying different levels of detail for work stages: the consultant doesn’t need fabrication detail and the facility manager only wants O&M information.

Further stress is added by general contractors all having their own ideas about how they would like the data. That has to be overcome by agreed standards or nobody wins.

Because of the general reaction of the product industry to the demands of BIM, the Construction Products Association and the NBS have produced a guide called BIM for the Terrified. Their humorous approach tries to say: “you are not the only one at sea, so keep calm and carry on”.

Success in BIM for the whole industry will turn partly on the universal availability of products in virtual form, together with all their cost, timing and performance properties. This will improve and speed up the design-build process substantially but it will put Darwinian pressure on makers to adapt to survive.

Richard Saxon is the UK’s BIM ambassador for growth