How will BIM benefit product manufacturers?

I think that manufacturers can benefit from BIM, but only if they work to integrate with the BIM process. The trick is to understand the process that the BIM models and teams working on it go through and understanding how they can help with it. If your products can be delivered in forms that BIM programs understand and is useful to the team, then it will make it easier for them to include it on a project (i.e. specify it). Alternatively if you can utilise the BIM models for the production of your product, then it’s helps with the integration of your work into the BIM process.

So much of BIM is about integration. It is a virtual model that integrates the different teams, geometry and data into one model for coordination. It is this model/database that holds parameters about the construction of the building and the parts that make it up. The key is for the manufacturer to make it easy for the design team to integrate their product into the design, the easier it is, the more the product will be specified… at least in theory.

To dive into this further, we must see that there are two streams for looking at this question:

  1.  products that design teams include in their designs; and
  2.  the other being products that are fabricated for a specific project.

Let’s start with the first steam: products we drop into the design. As a design team puts together their BIM models, they will be looking for components to go into their model. These can include furniture, operable walls, catering equipment, light fixture, and mechanical fan units (just to name a few). Although a lot of the time, teams will use generic components in their BIM model, if they are looking for someone specific, having access to as a component that they can drop into their model does help. As an example, if I wanted to add a Skyfold operable wall to my Revit model, I would download the model from their website or component website and drop it into my model as it comes in at the right size. It is parametric so I can properly adjust it to the size of room I am designing. Usually components like this also have properties built in so I can schedule out the information. This is an example of what I would say manufactures should consider. Try to provide their content in a form that can be used by the design team and provide them access to it through the manufacturer’s website or a portal (ex. Autodesk Seek). This is where BIM offers benefits to the manufacturer, as a way in to the specifier. Unlike traditional CAD where you drew something close and then put a note saying refer to specification, BIM models once you know what the product is, you want to represent it as close to the real thing. This is the real benefit to BIM and virtual design and construction. However there are some issues to keep in mind.

The challenges for the manufacturers include:

  • Providing all products in all software platforms is an heavy investment: this is more than it was with traditional CAD. Currently most CAD programs can exchange DWG/DXF files without too much trouble but BIM programs are much more specific and don’t like exchanging content (Revit doesn’t understand a Microstation component). IFC is not the answer… not yet.

  • Even if you supply the content, it doesn’t mean the design team will use it. Office workstations/desks are a good example of this as teams will likely put in a generic desk even if they know it will likely be a specific manufacturer. However once a product is decided (ex. specific chair) or if they don’t have a generic version (as in the Skyfold example above), then we might look for one.

  • Contrary to the above point, if your product has been specified and installed on a project, contractors and designers that produce as built BIM models, may be seeking out your content to replace generic components. These “as-builts” models are a record of the actual construction and can go on to form part of the facilities management therefore having the actual product is more useful. So there is something to be said for communicating to the group ordering and marketing to the as-built producer.

  • Provide it in a way that is easy for individual access. In the past I’ve dealt with furniture manufacturers supply complicated installs of their whole library rather than a system that allowed users to grab one desk or a chair. Design teams do not have time to install something, they need to grab it and drop it in.

  • Include enough information, but not too much. BIM still has limitation and manufacturers have to understand those. Whoever you hire or train to create your content need to understand those limitation. Although components can be super-parametric, have loads of detail put in them, and be customised with lots of parametric data, these will not always help the design team if they slow down what we do. It also might be fine when you are dealing with one component, but fill an office tower with light fixtures and suddenly you might have trouble.

  • Talk to your users and get feedback. If you provide a way for them to feed back to you on the components you put out, than they can help you improve them. Ask them what platforms they work on too.

So how about the team that fabricated products from BIM designed models? This could include custom joinery/woodworking, curtain wall systems, steel fabrication, etc. This side is much more about being ready to deal with what the design & building teams produce. If a manufacturer has access to a building produced as a 3D BIM model, it is rather a shame that they wouldn’t take advantage of it and just produce everything in 2D. Or if they produce things in 3D but not reference the original model.

To illustrate this, if a mechanical fabrication company/contractor needs to build a system to fit in a space in the plant room, building it in a compatible program could allow them to see how it fits into the available space. In an example of a more traditional sense of “product,” furniture dealers and manufactures that request flat CAD drawings, are losing out of the advantage BIM typically can bring in quantifying and scheduling components. Curtain wall systems are very often already modelled in 3D to work out all the quantities, dimensions and manufacturing of subcomponents. To model all this from scratch when there may be opportunities to utilise an existing model, would be extra work and not efficient.

Further to these example, challenges for the fabrication side of products include:

  • Getting models from multiple platforms: there are multiple suites that can produce BIM and it’s finding a way to translate the model into a useable format for the program you use.

  • Returning as built information in a useable format: even more difficult than the above is being able to integrate your design back into the as-built models. Some programs can accept the data easily for coordination (such as Navisworks) but others do not like that data unless it truly it’s own native format (such as Revit).

  • Look for ways to integrate your tools and theirs: to the two points above the industry is being pushed for more integration between software platforms, but it’s not always straightforward. Therefore you might have a lot of work on your hands to find the best process.

  • Shifting the mindset into designing in 3D and integration with a virtual model: Some manufacturers in similar fashion to design teams, are not use to having to think about the projects/products in a virtual 3D environment. It usually takes some time to get into the process of building virtually before you build it physically, but once you get use to it, there is usually a lot of benefits to be gained for the extra work done up front.

Originally Posted in response to the the question on Quora:

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