Thursday, 31 January 2013

NBS Green BIM Conference

Today, for the third time NBS teamed up with New London Architecture to put on a free BIM conference. The theme this time was BIM and sustainability. The NBS speaker was our "Head of Sustainability" John Gelder - so I had the pleasure if sitting back and enjoying the morning whilst eating biscuits and drinking cups of tea.

Peter Murray, chair of NLA, and our own NBS CEO Richard Waterhouse started the day by asking the questions that we'd explore through the conference, can we reduce environmental impact without increasing capital costs? can we pass information to building operators and occupiers so that operational costs can be reduced? can BIM help with these challenges?
Fig 1 - Waterhouse and the Wedge
Fig 2 - Unfortunately not all occupiers understand how services operate
All presentations will soon be up on our website - so for now in this blog post - selected slides and pictures...

Casey Rutland from Arup Associates was first up and he looked at using BIM in new build and refurbishment work to lower environmental impact.
Fig 3 - Property sets associated with the geometry
Fig 4 - Simulation during design-time to ensure optimal performance
Chris Boyce of Capita Symonds looked at one particular project St Silas School and went through the design stages from sketches on paper through to construction.
Fig 5 - The sustainable school example as featured in Nov AJ
Elrond Burrell from Architype then gave a super presentation on Passivhaus and BIM. Elrond worked on the first BREEAM excellent Primary School in England and 3 of the first 4 Certified Passivhaus schools in the UK. He believes we should push much harder than the targeted 20% savings the Government are looking for - "we can achieve this just by building what was designed". In his example school, the savings on heating were 80%. See image below...
Fig 6 - The energy savings possible
After the break we heard about FM from the public and private sector. The biggest environmental impact by far is in the operation of a building. It was only right that we had a decent session from an FM point of view. Roy Evans represented the UK Government's BIM Task Group and then Marilyn Standley from BIFM gave the private sector view.
Fig 7 - The UK Government Hypothesis
Fig 8 - We must learn from every building and continue to get better
Brendan Patchell from Rider Levett Bucknall did a presentation that was strengtehened by slides showing many detailed figures. The work they are doing benchmarking different types and constructions of buildings for the Cabinet Office was particularly interesting.
Fig 9 - How much a school costs to build in the UK
At NBS we already work very closely with BRE, examples of this are in NBS with the third party certification specification choices and the comprehensive BREEAM guidance. Daniel Doran from BRE showed how they are experts in environmental impact data. This was demonstrated nicely with their IMPACT dataset that is being released as a module within IES in the next few weeks.
Fig 10 - BRE - delivering structured environmental impact data into BIM software
And finally.. John Gelder from NBS wrapped up the conference. Three key messages from John:

  1. Operational and embodied carbon are important - but sustainability is much more - material waste, water usage, pollution, health...
  2. We need structured information so that BIM can best help with environmental impact
  3. Manufacturers need to structure their environmental credentials in a way that they can easily be imported into BIM tools
Fig 11 - NBS Head of Sustainability John Gelder walked from Newcastle to London to
minimise his environmental impact contribution with respect to attending this conference
Final thoughts from me...

It was nice to have a BIM conference around a particular theme. Of all the current construction topics of interest (eg. contracts and law, health and safety, regulations, standards etc...) I think sustainability is probably the one that works best for me. I am by no means a sustainability expert, but I cannot help thinking there is an analogy here with the food and drinks industry. We make our own choices with what we eat - but all food now is clearly labelled - we can see what the sugar, fat, carbohydrate, alcohol etc content is in a standarised form.

In construction, we have fantastic technology now. But the structured information is way behind. What is a products embodied carbon content? How many miles from the quarry has this product travelled? How does the energy efficiency of manufacturer A's insulation compare with manufacturer B? Has this got third party approval? Until this information is structured and provided free to industry by the manufacturers then life will be difficult for the many construction professionals who want to make a difference.

And finally, it was a slight shame that we didn't have a presentation from a Landscape Architect (kicking myself a bit here). In addition to embodied carbon and carbon in use - planting can of course provide a positive contribution. A contribution that grows over the years as the plants and trees mature.

But all in all, a really interesting day - good to see some familiar faces. As always, please feel free to add comments in response to this post.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


Delivering fantastic insight and commentary to the Twitter community
Today I received my 1,000th Twitter follower.

Just over a year ago I had resisted the pull of Twitter. I didn't see where it fitted in between Linkedin and Facebook.

LinkedIn was clearly for your professional CV, connections and sharing information...

Facebook was for keeping in touch with friends and posting embarrassing photographs that you wouldn't really want anyone else to see...

So where did Twitter fit into all of this?

I guess the great thing about Twitter is that it can be about anything you want it to be. A staggeringly large public message board that you filter as you like. "Show me the tweets that just my contacts have posted", "Show me just the tweets that anyone has posted on this conference", "Does anyone else in the country think this chap on Newsnight is an idiot?".

And then underneath the sharing of information there is the building up of connections and getting to know people who work in the same industry as you.

Anyway - I think it is safe to say that I like the whole Social Media revolution, but I'm no expert by any means - anyone wanting to browse around some good blogs on Social Media and Construction - check out the blogs below:

Thursday, 24 January 2013

BIM Objects from Manufacturers

Throughout last year I blogged and spoke a lot about BIM. We launched the National BIM Library and there were further developments to our specification product that is “built for BIMNBS Create Most of my blog posts and presentations were around the need for generic structured information and the need for this information in the central BIM to be coordinated with the information external to this (such as the specification model).

Throughout all of this, what is really nice to see is that over recent months the volume of NBS BIM contents from manufacturers is really growing. Looking at the National BIM Library it can now be seen that there are now a number of manufacturers on board. Also, there are a growing number of manufacturers that have objects in development.
Fig 1  - Manufacturers now live on National BIM Library
Leading the way working closely with manufacturers and producing this content is Drew Wiggett our Head of Product Information. Drew has many years in practice working on projects using BIM. Prior to joining NBS he was one of those that rolled out a BIM way of working at Ryder Architecture and worked on projects such as Durham Johnson Secondary School and many other education and commercial sector projects.
Fig 2 - NBS Head of Product Information Drew Wiggett
The construction industry is sending out a clear message to the supply chain. This message is that manufacturers must digitalise their products so that this information can be used in the design, construction and operation of buildings. This message again was reinforced in the UK Government’s Pipeline for Growth report that was published before Christmas.
“… work with the trade bodies to ensure that construction manufacturers can supply BIM information to the industry”
NBS are here to help manufacturers in their BIM journey and the three unique reasons we find that manufacturers are joining National BIM Library are as follows:

1.  Engaging with the whole market

We've had over 50,000 downloads of objects on the National BIM Library. Looking at the statistics of what BIM platform users are downloading the proprietary objects for is fascinating. This market share is represented in the pie-chart below. Revit is clearly has the largest market share. However, although this is significant, it is still less than half of the market of those using BIM design tools.

What is unique about National BIM Library is that all manufacturer content comes in ArchiCAD, Bentley, IFC, Revit and Vectorworks formats. This ensures that a manufacturer can get their content to the entire market.

A nice analogy is to ask whether an organisation would invest in a website that only worked for customers running Internet Explorer on a PC? – the answer is clearly “no”. The website would be expected to work on within Google Chrome and Safari on the Mac, and the iPhone and the Android phone and surface tablets.
Fig 3 - BIM tool market share

2. Consistency and quality of information

The second unique benefit of National BIM Library is the consistency of information between generic objects and the proprietary objects. As a design develops concept objects will be replaced with generic objects, these generic objects will be replaced with proprietary objects. There will be times during a projects development that there is a mix of objects. To truly see the benefit of BIM it is crucial that there is consistency between the naming of the property sets within the objects.

The screenshots below shows the depth and consistency of the property sets comparing generic and proprietary objects from National BIM Library.
Fig 4 - A Knauf AMF ceiling object scheduled against a generic ceiling object
Fig 5 - A Kalzip roof object scheduled against a generic roof object
In terms of standardising property set terminology and levels of details NBS are on the groups defining this with representatives on the BSI B/555 BIM Standards Committee and buildingSMART UK.

3. Being part of the entire project work-flow

Finally, the National BIM Library is not a simple silo of BIM content. The objects link to other related information that construction professionals throughout a project timeline. From discovering new construction products and technologies with to browsing catalogues using Products can then be specified using the NBS specification products, before the objects can be dropped into the model. Finally detailed installation and maintenance manuals may also be found on

The screenshot below shows an example of this related information from Triton Systems:
Fig 6 - Triton Systems - related information
So exciting times as the National BIM Library grows and grows. We have more exciting plans for new generic content in 2013 – so keep an eye on and this blog for more information in the coming months.
Fig 7 - A quick render using objects from Jackson Fencing
Fig 8 - IFC property sets showing sustainability credentials from Kingspan Insulation
Update 27th January - I promoted this blog post on our National BIM Library linkedin group and got this really nice response from John Evans Associate Director at Capita Symonds Ltd:
Fig 9 - Linkedin Discussion group

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Zero carbon, zero cost

Today, with some assistance, I constructed a zero embodied carbon, zero capital cost building. In fact it was zero labour cost too - due to volunteer child labour.

Admittedly the volunteer labour left the construction site before completion (to play on the Wii due to cold fingers and toes). This left me to finish things off.

Unfortunately I don't think the expected life of this magnificent piece of architecture is more than two or three days though.
Little Hamil hard at work
A master piece
And still going strong at 0645 the next morning
Update: 29/01/13 - it lasted for seven days...

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

IFC COBie Report 2012

Four or five months ago we were approached by Dave Jellings from the Open BIM Network who asked whether NBS would be interested in supporting a trial to see whether the IFC file format could be used to generate COBie datasets. As COBie is the file format that has been mandated by UK Government, we thought that this would be of interest to the construction industry. By running the trial on behalf of the Open BIM Network we also felt that it would give us a good insight into the industries current capabilities when it comes to creating COBie data.

Seven or eight tier one contractors agreed to take part in the challenge. We provided a building information model in Autodesk Revit and IFC2x3 format. The software vendors Graphisoft and Vectorworks then created equivalent design models in their native formats with corresponding IFC2x3 files too. This allowed each contractor to analyse the model using their chosen software applications.

The main challenge we gave to the contractors was to create the COBie data file, but we also looked at whether deliberate problems in the model could be found and then whether subsequent modifications could be verified.

The activity, the files produced and then the written feedback and the feedback received in a half-day user group meeting was fascinating.

The report on these findings is a free download from the NBS website:

My thoughts:
Firstly, IFC can definitely be used as an intermediate format to produce COBie datasets. When people report problems  with the use of IFC they are always glitches in the geometry or visuals. The good news about COBie is that it is all about the objects and their property sets. So the hierarchical nature of IFC (building, spaces, type objects, component objects, property sets) makes this map perfectly to COBie. As COBie is originally a buildingSMART Alliance initiative this is no surprise. "COBie is a subset of IFC" is something that is often said.

In terms of the specific task of creating COBie from IFC, Solibri Model Checker in particular (which has always worked of IFC as the base file format) was very good once the IFC had been exported from the BIM design package.

So overall - very positive. However, there were also a number of recommendations made in the report. Looking at these now, there are three that really stood out for me. The good news is that I think that the parties involved in these respective items recognise this and progress is being actually already being made on all three.

1. "The group felt that there are weaknesses in the IFC import /export processes in existing software products..."
One way for this to improve is for users of the products to request it. Over the last year or two, as part of a growing move from lonely-BIM to collaborative-BIM, I think this is now happening. If you check the release notes from some of the BIM vendors you will see IFC mentioned a number of times everytime a new release or service pack comes out. Examples of this are below:
- Autodesk Revit 2013 Update 2 - release notes
- Graphisoft ArchiCAD 16 - feature list

2. "buildingSMART must enforce IFC import/export routines in the  commercial software. To do this they must ensure their IFC certification programme does effectively enforce the quality of the data flow..."
This was discussed at the "BIM for free" event last year. Following my blog post after this event Jeffery Ouellette from Vectorworks responded:
"Well, this IS being done, right now: 
Right now, we are anticipating the first Export certifications to be completed Spring 2013."
One idea I have been keen on for a number of years here is that there should be some independent IFC test file that each software application can be marked on depending on its ability to accurately represent it/read the data. The web community has done this for a number of years with the ACID3 test. The quality of web browser when it comes to open standards has improved beyond belief going from the days of Internet Explorer 6.
Could a similar test be developed by buildingSMART that gave a very public test of graphics, visuals and data?

3. "The industry needs well defined model view definition  for each COBie data drop. From this can come clear guidance on the 'level of detail' required at each COBie data drop..."
Asking for classified objects, their relation to spaces and their COBie FM properties (installation dates, warranties, supplier names) is a challenge. But a challenge that can be overcome with current technologies. But the bigger challenge is around the level of information required within these objects over-and-above the basics. This is the information that is found in the Attributes table in the COBie data set.

Does the client want every single parameter for each object to be dropped in here? - I think this is unlikely - the volume of unnecessary data would be huge.

So what data is needed? And which data drop is each piece of data needed for?

Take a Door for example - when does the client want to have the fire rating and acoustic rating added to the spreadsheet? Data drop 3 perhaps? Well... what about other properties such as air permeability, blast resistance, smoke resistance, wind resistance, weather tightness, inclusive design and then also the properties of frame, leaf, glazing etc... Defining all of this in a construction dictionary, for all major construction systems and products - and then defining at what level this information is required is a huge challenge. Can anyone truly say they have met the Government's 2016 targets until this task is done?

In the report, Nick Nisbet from the UK BIM Task Group explains the progress on this task...
There are already a couple of formal 'MVD's which define the maximum information content of COBie drops up to Tender and up to Handover. The UK documentation already contains extensive text and illustrations of the client Purposes and the content of the Drops. We are now working on developing these and the templates already published, into tables of object Types, groups of Attributes and the expected delivery based on the new CIC stage-gates. These schedules will then represent the minimum requirement for each Drop.
So three big recommendations - but good news that all are progressing.
The user focus group
Next steps:
Having a group of tier one contractors giving up their time and looking into this from private sector point of view is an extremely good thing.

The next steps that were discussed were (1) merging more than one model - so for example architecture, structural and services models developed in different software applications and (2) looking a little more under-the-hood into the specification properties within the objects.

As we stray into specification, it probably wouldn't be right for NBS to run the next trial. But through our membership of the BIM Technology Alliance we will certainly fully support it and offer NBS software and NBS content for the future stages.

So some thoughts from me - but please find the time to download and read the final report...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

BIM - Pipeline for Growth Report

Just before Christmas the Government published a "Pipeline for Growth" report around BIM - it has been written to indicate where the Government thinks future opportunities lie for organisations within the UK construction industry.

The full report may be downloaded for free on the BIM Task Group website:

The essence of the report is that BIM will enable those at the leading-edge to really make a mark world-wide. The Government would clearly like this to be UK companies leading the way internationally. By developing these capabilities, global opportunities can be maximised and we can become an major supplier of BIM services and software.

A three point action plan is outlined:
  1. Fully commit to the current UK Government BIM programme
    The report gives an overview of the progress against the current UK strategy with progress and examples from those involved at a central and local Government level.
  2. Aim for growth
    There a number of recommendations here, I summarise them below:
    (a) Target international opportunities
    (b) Engage with the EU - in particular to help shape standards and practice
    (c) Encourage software and technology innovation at home in the UK around BIM
    (d) To work with the trade bodies to ensure that construction manufacturers can supply BIM information to the industry
    (e) Develop more "Build of Site" capabilities
    (f) Get the full benefit of BIM during the operation phase
    (g) Enhance the Government webs portals to allow a BIM way of working
  3. Create the future through continuing to develop ability
    (a) The "Build Digital Britain" vision - what is level three BIM and how can we make it happen in the UK?
    (b) Collect BIM project data, analyse it and learn from it for the next projects
    (c) Smart communities and future cities - the build environment and IT devices working together
It's interesting to reflect on the section on growth opportunities looking inwards. At NBS, we are innovating through content and software development around BIM, looking at international opportunities, supporting manufacturers on their BIM journey and investigating FM. So we maybe tick three or four of the seven boxes that the Government list.

Patrick MacLeamy
Throughout the report there are also many comments from well-respected thought-leaders in the BIM community. So much good stuff here - but if I was to pick a quite, I'll choose Patrick MacLeamy CEO of HOK...
"The UK programme based on the BIS BIM Strategy is currently the most ambitious and advanced centrally driven programme in the world. The UK has a window of opportunity to capitalise on the success of its domestic programme and to take on a global leadership role in BIM exploitation, BIM service provision and BIM standards development.   In taking on the role it will greatly enhance the global image of UK designers, contractors and product manufactures which in turn will translate into winning new work, growth opportunities and increased employment."
It's a 25 page publication - so I'd strongly recommend reading it and not just glancing through this blog post...