Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Amazing time-lapse video of Newcastle

Over 6,000 still-shots, over 1TB of data. The result - a beautiful video showing Newcastle.

Be sure to check out Jack Fisher's (a Newcastle University student) website: -

Nice to see our offices in a couple of the shots too...

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Think BIM Leeds – Half Day Conference – BIM and FM

One of the regular BIM conferences I attend is the fantastic quarterly Think BIM event. It’s a pleasure to chair as the quality of speaker is so high and the variety in activities is always of interest.

Deborah Rowland – Ministry of Justice
The first speaker at this July event looking at BIM and FM was Deborah Rowland who is Head of Property Asset Management for the Ministry of Justice and Government Soft Landings (GSL) Lead. Deborah talked about how at an early stage in any project the operational costs should be considered and not just the capital costs. What is a client’s requirements in terms of annual cost to run the building? In terms of GSL, the key elements moving this forward are:
  • A stewardship group and individual champions of the initiative
  • Ensuring wider-industry adoption and supporting academic research
  • Reviewing projects to demonstrate the benefits
  • A continued focus on standards such as PAS 1192-3 and the incorporation of GSL in BS 8536
  • To have one eye on Level-3 BIM
When considering the state of FM for BIM in July 2014 the benefits and challenges are as follows:

  • Improved tender accuracy by using collected information from previous projects
  • Early engagement of FM professionals in a project provides a better outcome
  • Designing for the whole life cost of the building and not just the construction
  • The ability to visualise and plan operations via the model
  • Ensuring digital information is contractually delivered
  • The enormous task of “what to do with existing estates?”
  • Keeping a digital asset information model up to date
The strap line on Deborah’s last slide was “BIM + GSL = Better Outcomes”
Rowlands - FM will keep the BIM data alive
Jon Chown – Skanska Facilities Service
The second speaker was Jon Chown a director at Skanska. Similarly to Deborah, Jon looked at the challenges the industry faced. He listed these as:
  • FM not being involved in the design process
  • The quality and structure of information at handover
  • A lack of digital data capture during the operation of existing buildings
  • A lack of a structured post operations investigation (POI) survey data feeding back into the next design
The challenges are not a technology issue, but a quality of information issue. “Put rubbish in and get rubbish out”.

Jon’s suggestion was that the industry needs to firstly get the data right and then look at the technology. Where Skanska had seen successes over recent years were:
  • Through creating standard Skanska-wide templates for information collection for all projects
  • Through giving asset operational information back to the design teams
  • By encouraging collaboration across all of the organisation
  • By implementing standard processes
The presentation demonstrated that no Government mandate for BIM is necessarily needed for private sector work. The private sector will see the benefits and roll out a BIM process regardless. Reflecting on this personally, I think this is true, but having a common process defined centrally means that there is commonality across organisations and not one process and set of standards for organisation 1 and another for organisation 2.

Skanska is an organisation where BIM has been mandated by its board in Sweden on all projects world-wide. The biggest technology they currently see is a lack of interoperability between different software packages. However, “even with the best technology in the world, if you don’t have the information you have nothing”.

Jon’s final thoughts were:
  • When an organisation adopts BIM they must accept that they are going to change their processes and information structures
  • Sort out process and information first then get the technology to fit your requirements. BIM is 10% technology, 20% process and 70% people.
Chown - a familiar theme - "The most important word in BIM is Information"
Roundtable 1 – Peter Barker, BIM Academy

The roundtable discussions are a particularly engaging part of the Think BIM conferences. The first of these I attended was hosted by Peter Barker MD of BIM Academy.

Some of the notes from this roundtable included:
  • A big problem, even when FM people are included early on, is that current procurement is about contractors delivering projects with clear objectives about reducing construction costs. This means the focus is all about capital expense with operational expense and client outcome suffering.
  • The thoughts around the roundtable were that if some incentive was there in the procurement process to reward better design and a focus on client outcomes then this would help the “FM and BIM” issue. “The thinking behind GSL is great, but it needs some teeth”.
  • The importance of structured information in a standardised format was mentioned again and again during the day. The standards and guidelines are complete, but what is missing is standard product templates, a unified classification system and the ability to use this construction language to define who is doing what and when.
  • There was some interesting discussion as to how much information is needed for FM. Is it just the 20% of the federated BIM that is needed for weekly/monthly operation and maintenance? Or is it 100% of the information so that when the building is altered or refurbished then the work can happen efficiently and the existing spaces can retain their original performance?
  • There was also some good discussion about how much information should be geometry? How much should live in property-sets? And how much should be in linked PDFs? Equally, when considering property-sets, how much of this should be in the design models (ArchiCAD/Revit) and how much in external databases?
    (All great debate – leave your comments at the bottom of this blog post if you have an opinion…)
Peter Barker leads the discussions
Roundtable 2 – Paul Connell, Open Data Institute
For my second roundtable I changed topic a little and sat in on a session on “Open Data” with Paul Connell and Matt Edgar.

The open data initiatives are now being used every day. Weather and travel apps use open data. When someone searches for cinema listings using Yahoo, Bing or Google then results are returned using common open documented data structures.

The thinking is that many more people benefit if data is open, there is more innovation and those organisations contributing to the open data initiatives receive more back than they put in.

Two good examples were discussed:
  1. The Open Street Map initiative (see video below) and how it was used during the Haiti earthquake to mark up real-time information about access routes and the location of utilities. If this information was all controlled by an private organisation in a proprietary format then this would not have been possible.
  2. The Metro timetables – an organisation such as this can put their data online and then the market (big software companies or hobbyist programmers) can compete to produce the best apps for this market. The Metro organisation benefits as their services receive free promotion and free functionality.

The UK Government’s freedom of information initiatives were particularly well received. In particular the push to provide PDF, XML, information at the website. The more public information that is open and well-structured then the more information that will be at the public’s finger tips to ensure that the correct top-level decisions are made and justified.

With respect to construction, it comes back to what is the user requirement? What information do people need? This all ties into the level-2 BIM strategy, structure the information in a standard digital way, then start collecting it, then query it to answer the information requirements.
Duncan Reed and Deborah Rowland share a room for their respective round tables
Final thoughts
The day then finished with an international presentation on buildingSMART, COBie and Data Dictionaries followed by Pecha Kucha presentations. One of these in particular was particularly engaging with a live demo of taking physical information to digital through laser scanning.

If I was going to take three points out of the day, they’d be:
  1. A client must not select a process that focuses purely on the capital cost and project duration at the expense of outcomes and operational costs.
  2. The quality and value of structured information comes as priority number 1. Technology and software is there behind this to support.
  3. When designing a building, the standardised information from the operational phases of previous buildings must be utilised.
Nice to see the NBS National BIM Report getting presented back to the UK from the USA by the international speaker
From physical to digital - a live demonstration of laser scanning
The participating countries in the buildingSMART Data Dictionary Pilot
It's not all work, work, work - beer and BBQ time to finish

Friday, 4 July 2014

NBS Plug-in for Autodesk Revit in action

On Wednesday I blogged that our latest NBS Plug-in for Autodesk Revit was live.

Mike Lister from Kay Elliott Architects was kind enough to send a few screenshots through of it being used on a live project.

We'll hopefully work this up into a full case study on our website, but some screenshots below for now...
The full drawing sheet with 3D model view and floor plan (click for larger)
Same floor plan zoomed in to show annotations to NBS specification
The Annotation Report being used to help coordinate the information in the model and specification
If you are interested in showing some of your live projects that are benefiting from improved coordinated project information through using National BIM Library and the NBS Plug-in - please drop me an email or tweet.

To download the plug-in for free please see:

...and of course a thank you to Kay Elliott Architects - why not check out their BIM page at:

14,600 days old

Birthday weekend starts today.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

New Small Practice BIM publication from NBS

The new BIM publication from NBS and edited by Robert Klaschka "BIM in Small Practices: Illustrated Case Studies" is now available.

Robert has over 15 years experience working in the UK and Europe in architecture and design and is a real thought leader in terms of Building Information Modelling. The relationship between Robert and NBS goes back to when he was a member of our very first Advisory Panel.

The publication contains a number of illustrated case studies. As part of this year's National BIM Report we did a feature on some of these practices. Within this piece previewing the publication I also gave my two pennies worth on the issue on BIM and the Small Practice...

Each year, the NBS National BIM Report presents the findings, across the UK construction industry,
Mr K
regarding BIM attitudes and adoption. However, looking a little deeper at the findings, we can see that there is a split in results between those from small practices (five employees or less) and the rest.

An example of this can be seen by looking at the questions on BIM awareness and BIM experience. In small practices, 35% were using BIM, compared to 61% usage in larger practices. With respect to BIM maturity, of those small practices which have adopted BIM, 35% have worked on a Level 2 project, compared to 55% in larger practices.

So, why is this the case? Speculating on the reasons behind these findings, it may be that it is more difficult for smaller practices to find the funds to invest in technology and training; it may be that there is less client demand or that the central UK Government mandate is less relevant; or it may be that collaboration is less important on projects of a less complex nature.

However, there is evidence to the contrary, indicating that adopting BIM should actually be easier for a smaller practice. Smaller organisations often have agility, whereas larger organisations often do not. The analogy ‘Is it easier for a speedboat to change direction or an ocean liner?’ is often used here. In addition, it is argued that BIM offers the opportunity for a smaller number of people working on a project to offer greater value.

Eight short opinion pieces are included here from those working in small or medium practices who have adopted a BIM process. They provide good insights into what is possible for those who embrace new technology and processes to put together more coordinated designs.

Click image for larger view - preview in this year's BIM Report
The publication also has contributions from John Enyon and Dave Philp and a section on the UK BIM community from Stefan Mordue and Rebecca de Cicco.
Mordue and Cicco
For more information see RIBA Bookshops:

...and finally, nice to see now Robert has a book out, he doesn't forget about those that helped him to the top (the BIM Dog)...

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The top three enhancements to the NBS Plug-in for Autodesk Revit

In August 2012 we released our first NBS plug-in for Autodesk Revit. I'm please to say today that our third major release of this is now live. It can be downloaded for free at the URL below:


The latest improvements have been completely user-focussed. We invited a selection of 20 of the great and good from the UK BIM community to a workshop last year and asked them to rate 15 or 16 ideas we had.

What they told us they wanted, we delivered. Some screenshots below from the top three features. Click the screenshots to see the images full screen

1. Better integration with the specification
Figure 1.1 below shows that integrating objects in the model with the appropriate clause in the specification is now even easier. There is an in-line search feature that is pre-populated with the classification code - this means that if a door object is selected, then it automatically shows the various door types to pick from. In addition, a brief description of each system object is displayed to make it easier to pick the correct clause.
Fig 1.1 - Now easier to associate the correct project specification clause
A frustration users of the plug-in voiced was that NBS Create had to be opened to view the specification associated with each object. So, in the latest version, a new viewer has been developed that allows the specification to be previewed from within Autodesk Revit without taking out an NBS licence.
Fig 1.2 - A specification viewer written for the plug-in
The Viewer also has hyperlink functionality so that linked clauses can quickly be viewed. For example, if there is a set of clauses detailing the workmanship for a door, the user may click the links to quickly view these. There is also the ability to hide and show data associated with each clause such as its classification or who last edited the specification and when.
Fig 1.3 - Hide/show options and hyperlink functionality within the Viewer
2. Tagging Revit materials and 2D objects
When annotating models, it is not just the system and component objects that need tagged - but also what is shown on detailed sections through the model.

With the new NBS plug-in, it is now easy to tag 2D objects such as wall-ties and also material objects such as plasterboard, insulation or tiles. Where this information is modelled (and not drawn) then the NBS reference is also presence in any schedules or material-take-offs from the model.
Fig 2.1 - Tagging Revit materials
3. Tagging your own Revit families with NBS and office master references
The third big feature that was requested by users was the ability to tag any objects with NBS codes in the Revit Family Editor. All National BIM Library objects already have the correct NBS classification codes, but where offices have their own objects, it is now a click of a button to access the correct code so that all objects can be part of the NBS BIM ecosystem.
Fig 3.1 - Tagging objects from the Revit Family Editor from NBS and your NBS office masters
Over and above these big three improvements, we've also tightened the whole user interface, made improvements to the logging on mechanism for viewing NBS guidance, enhanced spec creation using NBS and office master clauses, improved the drag and drop feature for National BIM Library objects
Fig 4.1 - National BIM Library objects - easy to access using the NBS Plug-in
So, Autodesk Revit users, please check it out and let us know what you think. If anyone sends in any screenshots of it working on their projects I'll blog about it or do a little case study article on our website.

Download it for free now at:

Monday, 30 June 2014

Crossing the Atlantic? An in-depth guide to BIM in the US vs the UK

This is a guest blog post by Rachel Burger.

Rachel writes for Capterra on the topics of Construction Management Software and BIM. Founded in 1999, Capterra is a website that helps connect buyers and sellers of business software. Over 3 million people use Capterra annually to find and compare virtually any kind of software for their for-profit or non-profit business. Rachel wrote the Top 38 BIM Resources blog post where she kindly cited this blog. I emailed Rachel to say thanks and she kindly offered to put her opinions down on the differences between BIM in the USA and BIM in the UK.

The “special relationship” between the United States and United Kingdom is difficult to describe: We Americans, the freedom-fries eating, world-saving cowboys, consider our best international buddies to be the politest people in the European bloc. And while we pal around the world flaunting our best-friendship, we sometimes look at one another and beg the question, “Why on earth would you do that?

In my particular case, it’s the UK BIM system that causes me to ask that question. Both the UK and the US regularly use BIM, but its implementation on the macro-level is vastly different. Before exploring why the UK’s BIM practices are particularly strange to an American, let’s examine the differences between the two territories.

In the 2014 NBS report, Ian Chapman declared that “Standardisation [is] the spice of life… Where would we be without standardised batteries, standardised car tyres, standardised credit cards, [etc.]” Conformity, he argues, creates “clear requirements,” “works in the best interests of both the product supplier and the consumer,” and helps further innovation because it “relies on improvements from a good common standards base.”

Indeed, BIM managers in the UK seem to take on the “standards are God” approach. Companies using BIM for the public sector must make sure that they are compliant with COBie, CIC, and/or other standards. There has been increasing pressure on the private sector to adopt BIM standards.

The US, on the other hand, has a mess of standardization tools. If a company wants to design a building for a government agency, they have to comply with the individual agency’s needs (for example, the Army Corps of Engineers, General Services Administration, and Department of Veterans Affairs all have their own standardization systems). Within the private sector, each industry, such as health care, has its own internal standardization methods, though it’s not formalized.

BIM Growth
BIM usage has grown dramatically over the past few years in the United Kingdom. According to the NBS National BIM Report 2014, “In 2010 BIM was very much a specialism of a small number–13 percent–of practices. Now the majority of practices have adopted BIM. In the last year, 54 percent had used BIM on at least one project. That’s 15 percent more than last year.” Awareness of BIM technologies was at 95 percent in 2013.

In spite of the UK’s gains, BIM is more widely spread in the United States. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of construction firms using BIM in the US went from 17 percent to 71 percent - a 318 percent increase.  BIM is now by far the industry standard in drafting and design.

Green certification
Another differentiator between BIM in the United Kingdom and the United States is green certification. BREEAM—or the BRE Environmental Assessment Method is the UK’s most popular green certification program. Exactitude is the most important part of BREEAM certification - which can make it pricey. However, it is independently audited and specific to the UK’s legislation, making it easier for UK contractors to follow.

While LEED exists in the UK, it is the industry standard in the US. While LEED is not independently audited, those who review buildings for LEED requirement don’t need outside training or an assessor. LEED is based on a points system.

Why These Differences Matter
BIM in the UK and US are not so different. After all, both industries rely mostly on Revit and ArchiCAD to model buildings, and a building in Los Angeles still has the same essential components as a building in Glasgow. What strikes me as the biggest difference between the two territories is government involvement.

I spoke with Jeff Gravatte, the CEO of CADD Microsystems, a US company that provides construction engineering software solutions and training to a wide range of customers. He noted that, “The [UK] government is making a big leap by requiring models to do their designs in their building. That will push people to figure out the process… [and] being so forceful will be good. But there’s going to be a lot of bumps along the way.”

The UK, in comparison to the US, has dragged a bit in BIM implementation. The industry has needed a nudge for some time now. Since the government has mandated that all public-sector construction projects will be delivered using BIM by 2016, the UK has seen astounding growth in BIM adoption. While my American anti-regulation alarm is tingling, I’d say that what the UK has done for its public sector is not bad.

But as for the “bumps along the way,” rushed implementation is still concerning. Gravatte also added, “People focus a lot on the tools, but the process is far more valuable than the tools. The focus should really be on processes and removing excess steps.” There has been some effort to focus on process—I thought that Building did a particularly good job - but less so from the regulating bodies. It’s possible that UK businesses will be taking too many shortcuts, shortchanging their long-term ROI potential. Of course, one way to help construction companies perform their best is with construction management software, but it must be a part of the greater evolution from CAD to BIM. The rush to 2016 may be too much for many smaller firms.

There’s also much to be said about the UK’s efforts to expand BREEAM. One aspect of LEED that many US contractors appreciate is its transparency—everything that an engineer needs to know is readily available on its website. BREEAM, while recognizing that it has made leaps and bounds in improving its transparency, is still largely difficult to understand and forgoes democratic improvements.

That said, it’s a good thing that BREEAM and LEED compete with one another. Each standardization system has its benefits and drawbacks. From what I’ve seen, the two systems are happy to use each other’s ideas to grow and better benefit the market.

In sum, our fellow construction engineers across the pond are not so different from us. They’re getting pushed to implement BIM—perhaps before they’re ready—but have seen positive growth and ROI from it. To better accommodate this change, the government should focus more on process instead of benchmarks. They may see better building designs—and more long-term success—if they do.

Rachel Burger -

If anyone has any comments about the difference between BIM in the UK and the USA - please add them to the comments section of this post below...

Friday, 13 June 2014

Help Beta Test Our NBS Software

At NBS we design our software firmly around our users' needs. We have a number of methods of receiving user feedback such as customer visits, surveys, advisory panels and user days. However, one particular useful way of receiving immediate user feedback to software design proposals and developments is through our Beta Test scheme.

We regularly host web-presentations and do visits where we get feedback on up and coming developments. We also send pre-release versions of the software to users for them to assess and feedback.

We are currently running a set of sessions over the next month on NBS Create - so if you use NBS Create and think you can help us fine-tune our proposals please contact us...

NBS Beta Testing


Emma has some excellent NBS Create feedback sessions planned for this month
Seth is our Beta Test coordinator