Harnessing the power of Digital Products and the openBIM Workflow
Accelerating the link between digital assets, digital workflows and now digital products was top of mind for delegates at the latest buildingSMART International Summit, as they discussed how to exploit the power of openBIM across the asset lifecycle, which is key to truly transforming the management of our built environment.
Around the world, the future of our built environment depends on doing more with less and on achieving better economic and social outcomes for communities. That means creating new, sustainable solutions that will both protect our natural environment and meet global targets for cutting carbon emissions.
As nearly 450 delegates, the Summit held in Lillestrøm, Norway heard about openBIM and the use of data is central to achieving these goals.
The architecture engineering and construction sector needs to lift its gaze and accelerate investment in digitisation. It needs to use the power of data analysis technology to enable better decisions; decisions that will be critical to delivering the vital better outcomes today and in years to come.
At the heart of the solution is a new focus on the assets, projects and programmes that deliver the greatest positive impacts on lives and communities and exploit the power of new tools such as artificial intelligence to free professionals from mundane tasks and create more time for creativity.
Accelerating digitisation across the lifecycle
The challenge for built environment professionals is to accelerate the design, development and operation of our critical assets more sustainably and with better economic and social returns.
It is a growing challenge; with the global population heading towards 10bn, the need for new infrastructure is outstripping the available resource to deliver. Technology provides vital tools to fill this gap. The use of openBIM helps find faster, better outcomes; placing data in the cloud provides the norm for collaboration.
Central to this digitisation effort is the need to link digital assets and workflows with newly emerging standards around digital products, which are set to be embedded in European legislation, and should create a truly integrated and joined up approach to sustainable asset management across the full lifecycle. The use of sensors to enable routine data capture in operation can bring digital asset models to life and has the potential to save 15-20% of operational cost.
This so-called “Trinity of Digital Twins” sees the digital twin of the asset merge with the product twin to create the vitally important performance twin.
This latest summit content therefore, for the first time, included specific discussion on digital products alongside the more traditional themes of standardisation of digital assets and digital workflows.
“We talk about Trinity of Digital Twins; focus has to be on performance across the asset lifecycle. 85% of carbon emissions are in the operations phase so the full potential of the BIM model is not being realised.” Christiane Mann, Vice President, Head of Industry Affairs, Siemens Smart Infrastructure
Digital products – the fundamental building blocks
buildingSMART International sits at the heart of the global challenge to transform and digitise management of the built environment, helping asset owners and their supply chains to fully understand and embrace the need to adopt open data standards to enable seamless information exchange throughout the entire value chain.
Products are the core of every built environment asset designed, constructed and maintained, ranging from the humble brick or roofing slate, to more complex drainage or power supply equipment, to pre-fabricated modular components or high-tech management and monitoring systems.
As a new area for buidingSMART International, delegates heard detail and examples around the emerging need to ensure products are structured in the right way to ensure the data can be made available for the entire lifecycle.
The proposal for a new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), was published in March 2022 as the cornerstone of the European Commission’s goal to encourage more environmentally sustainable and circular products. The proposal builds on the existing Ecodesign Directive, which currently only covers energy-related products.
The proposal establishes a framework to set ecodesign requirements for specific product groups to improve their circularity, energy performance and other environmental sustainability aspects. It will set performance and information requirements for almost all categories of physical goods placed on the EU market – in short, if you wish to sell a product in the European Market you will need to comply.
The new ESPR sets requirements across a range of performance aspects including:
- product durability, reusability, upgradability and reparability
- presence of substances that inhibit circularity
- energy and resource efficiency
- recycled content
- remanufacturing and recycling
- carbon and environmental footprints
- information requirements, including a Digital Product Passport
“Next year is the 50th anniversary of the first barcode being scanned and as this technology found, digital transformation requires change - and change finds resistance. We need to make the change towards digitisation of products our next mission possible.” Enzo Blonk, Founder, Konsenzo and Geir Paulsen, CEO, GS1
The Digital Product Passport
The new Digital Product Passport (DPP) is central to the new ESPR and will provide information about the environmental sustainability of every products. It is expected that this information will be easily accessible by scanning technology and should help both consumers and businesses to make better decisions when choosing, operating, maintaining and replacing products.
The development of the DPP is at an early stage with discussion and consultation on-going around issues such as how to store this data – whether for example to use a database or a complex system – and how to best access the data in use. Machine readability and machine interpretable of that data will be key to the success of the DPP.
There are strict rules around the existing CE product regulation that are not necessarily understood that well by the BIM community and it is clear buildingSMART International standards do not yet align and connect with the product standards.
As part of the efforts to accelerate DPP development, the private sector is involved in the on-going work to help the European Council to decide how to set up the DPP database or system for digital construction products. Work starts in October and it is expected that the first update progress report will be available in around 6 months.
“The digital product passport will be mandatory if you are to get you CE mark and sell a product in the EC. It is a digital passport that connects a physical product to its digital twin.” Lars Fredenlund, CEO, Cobuilder
Extracting value from digital assets.
The summit heard from a range of local Norwegian client organisations to highlight the power of standardisation as an enabler for asset owners to drive towards better overall outcomes for their communities and asset operators.
However, the need to continually focus on the end user was reiterated – too often the focus of digital technology and standardisation is limited to the construction phase only.
Accelerating the use of digital tools was also stressed. The built environment sector sits at the bottom of the digitisation disruption curve when it comes to the management of assets with so many other sectors way ahead and investing much more to accelerate their digital transition.
That said, it was pointed out that the built environment is one of the harder sectors to digitise – the digitisation of mortgage applications, for example, is considerably easier to achieve and to win buy-in from customers. Experience from other sectors suggested that any digital transition must be people driven from strategy to operations with emphasis on using data to first run the business better before looking to transform it.
“We love our products but we are not in love with our product. We need to think about the whole lifecycle of the asset not just the construction of it.’ Brendan John Slater, Head of Data Analytics and Enterprise Architecture, Statsbygg
“The use of model based design and products with standardisation has improved our information flow. But it has also highlighted the extent to which we are reinventing wheels.” Kristin Lysebo, Manager BIM and Geomatics, Bane NOR SF
Understanding the digital workflow opportunity.
Given the many challenges faced by the built environment sector from acute shortages of manpower and available skills and the growing demand for assets to be as sustainable as possible, digitisation is now an essential tool across the lifecycle of design construction, operation and management.
The summit heard that much of this digitisation effort had begun to move towards a new focus on data, the ability to effectively gather vast quantities of useful data, to systems to verify and maintain accuracy of that data, and the new tools and technologies to extract useful value from that data.
This change has seen the state of the art of integrated digital delivery now bringing together data from many different sources and many different projects – prompting the move from the established concept of the Common Data Environment as the single source of truth to now creating a fully Connected Data Environment to manage live, constantly updated and useful data.
The key to understanding this new workflow is to understand that digitisation of the built environment assets enables data to be used better used – it does not create the data in itself. Active management of that data gathering, management and use – often with assistance from new Artificial Intelligence-backed tools - is the critical element in boosting overall outcomes from built environment investment.
“We cannot keep doing what we have always done – everything today must be sustainable for tomorrow. Our insistence that projects are designed in BIM from day 1 has had a positive impact on the supply chain in terms of its digital capability.” Wong Wei Loong , Director Building Projects, JTC Corporation
Points for discussion:
- What can the software community do better to enhance the workflows of clients?
- How can the industry and owners become more focused on understanding the problem rather than solutions?
- How can we use digital twins to create real lifecycle advances in performance?
- AEC is a slow digital adopter – what are the missing skills?
- How might AI transform the use of data in the built environment?
- What are the common themes between digital products, assets and workflows as we consider the benefits of openBIM?
- How can organisations make the most of openBIM and the support from software?
- What can buildingSMART do better to accelerate digital transformation?
“Consistency is key to digital building design and planning. We need to think big about the process of construction and the whole asset lifecycle – that means being efficient in the way that we approach every problem and truly believe in collaboration and interoperability.” Anna Merkler, Business Process Expert, Schindler Management Ltd.
Author: Antony Oliver