Product data: The right road ahead 

For the last few years, there has been considerable confusion amongst construction product manufacturers regarding how to make their “BIM” information available to the market. Alex Small, BIM & digital platforms manager at Tata Steel, explains more

With a lack of standards and guidance, many manufacturers have turned to 3D object hosting companies to support them in both the generation and publishing of their information in the form of data-rich 3D objects. Although there is clearly some demand from the market for these objects, they represent a risk to the digitalisation of the construction sector if they are left unmaintained.

With so many 3D CAD formats required to be supported (Revit, ArchiCAD, Tekla, AllPlan etc), ensuring that all your 3D objects and system family files are up-to-date can be a considerable challenge for some manufacturers. For example, at Tata Steel Europe we have more than 6,100 unique products available across our European production units, with new products being added and older products being withdrawn regularly.

As there are 17,500 small or micro construction product manufacturers in the UK alone, it is simply not practical to think that all manufacturers will be able to do the same. Although large manufacturers, like Tata Steel, could resource and afford to manage its objects.

Although the courts are yet to be tested on who is legally responsible for knock-on costs when an object of an obsolete product is downloaded and used in a project, this day will surely come. I doubt that many architects will be happy to foot the bill if they were not informed that the objects were out of date.

However, the bigger issue with static, unmaintained objects is that architects are beginning to realise that they cannot trust the content. As a result, they are starting to resort back to pulling information from manufacturers’ websites – a retrograde step in the digitalisation of the industry.

Data you can trust

Last month, the UK BIM Alliance published its report entitled A Fresh Way Forward for Product Data. This was a report written by the industry following considerable stakeholder engagement. There were several recommendations made, but the ones related to ensuring that product data is relevant, version controllable and useable are really vital.

These can be summarised as follows:

  1. Manufacturers must be able to easily update their product information no matter where it is stored.
  2. Information needs to be split from objects and held separately. Manufacturers should have their own product databases where they can hold, and be responsible for managing, their own information.
  3. Those databases should be linked (ie by API) to any company that hosts that manufacturer’s information at property level. This enables manufacturers to manage one database with all other information automatically linked – ie ‘their single source of the truth’.
  4. The non-geometrical data should be named, based on international standards.
  5. Object hosting companies should use available 3D object creation tools to enable the information to be added/linked to an object ‘on the fly’ (at the point of download). Care should be taken to ensure that parametric object performance is not affected where relevant.
  6. Most hosting companies have existing version control processes to alert users when objects/information in their models have been updated. These may need to be amended so that they trigger automatically when amended and follow a change control management process.
  7. It is a further recommendation that object hosting companies also enable the application of manufacturer’s information to existing/generic objects in models.

These recommendations will allow manufacturers to own and control their data. They can allow it to be used in a myriad of ways, but only as long as a link is maintained back to their managed database.

DNA Profiler – a first step in the right direction

Earlier this year, Tata Steel launched its BIM tool: The DNA Profiler. This was developed by IBM and the German company CADENAS and is intended to be the first step towards a better future for product information.

The DNA Profiler has many benefits:

  1. Provides access to product data from a structured product database.
  2. 3D objects, if required, are generated there and then (‘on the fly’), rather than downloaded from a database.
  3. Enables individual attributes or combined datasets to be downloaded either as a .csv file or embedded in a newly generated on-the-fly object.
  4. Enables data to be downloaded in COBie format.
  5. 3D objects can be generated in a range of Levels of Definition (LODs).
  6. 3D objects can be generated in a range of 3D CAD formats with the user’s selected data embedded within it.

This flexible approach to product information means that architects, contractors and engineers can be assured that the latest data and object information is being utilised.

The next phase of this project will include a plug-in for all CAD platforms, so that the link between the object and Tata Steel’s database is not lost once the object is downloaded. Instead, the data can be kept linked, but not embedded, to the object allowing any data to be accessible – pulled directly from the database.

Interoperable data

A fully digitalised construction industry is only possible when all product (or component) data is available interoperably. This requires open data standards (good work ongoing at CEN level with TC442 working groups on this) and interconnected databases and systems.

As a result, Tata Steel has produced an API to enable its product database to connect to wider systems. This, however, is not enough to ensure that data can be automatically accessed and processed. Working with coBuilder, a key data management resource, enables Tata Steel’s data attributes to be translated into multiple languages and to be machine-readable, using the protocols of the Building Smart Data Dictionary (BSDD).

Although this journey has been challenging, the opportunity now to drive real differentiation through data-driven tools and platforms is truly an exciting prospect. Having the right partners, such as IBM, is key to this success and a bright, connected and enabled future awaits.

For more information please visit

Please note: this is a commercial profile

Alex Small

BIM & Digital Platforms Manager

Tata Steel

Tel: +44 (0)1536 404200

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