Identifying and naming the individual elements present in a building information model is key to the success of its subsequent maintenance, as John Sands explains.
9 October 2014
As BIM experience increases, a number of key issues are becoming apparent.
One such example is classification - what 'things' are called. If you have a vast quantity of data or information, that can be a very powerful resource. However, all that potential may be difficult to realise if you can't find the particular piece of information efficiently when you need it.
Classification can be defined as: 'the act or process of dividing things into groups according to their type'. Classification has been used in the construction world for many years, often without the users knowing it. For example, many engineers would recognise that a section called 'T10' in their specification dealt with 'gas/oil-fired boilers'.
This came from a classification system called Common Arrangement of Work Sections (CAWS), which covered architectural and MEP elements for construction projects.
Subsequently, Uniclass was derived from this system and gave the opportunity to classify 'things' in different ways, not simply as a system or an object. Uniclass was based on the general structure described in ISO 12006, which promoted the use of classification classes, each of which relates to a classification need.
As well as products (or objects), some of the other classes suggested by ISO 12006 are:
- Entity e.g. a building, a bridge, a tunnel;
- Complex (a group of entities) e.g. airports, hospitals, universities, power stations;
- Space e.g. office, canteen, parking area, operating theatre;
- Product e.g. boiler, door, drainpipe; and
- Facilities that combine the space with an activity that can be carried out there, e.g. operating theatre.
Indeed, other classes can be added to a classification system such as 'system', which works very well in an MEP environment. Similarly, an 'activities' class would be very helpful to define a range of activities which might be able to be done within a particular space, as an alternative to using the 'facilities' class.
Although consultants and contractors have managed well using just a couple of the classes above, other groups have found great benefit in classifying in a number of different ways. For example, it would be very helpful in a hospital FM environment to use the 'spaces', 'activities', 'systems' and 'products' classes.
In a hospital it is useful to classify the 'spaces' in the first instance by type, and then to classify each space further by which 'activities' can be carried out within them. From this it is possible to classify the 'systems' that support the spaces and then the 'products' that form the systems. A practical example would be if the chilled water system was taken out of action then you could quickly see which spaces were affected - an operating theatre.
Once that's known it is simple to determine which activities cannot be carried out - a number of planned operations. Also, other products or equipment can be identified which can now be worked on as the system they belong to is not working - chillers or chilled beams.
In this era of greater collaboration it is not enough to know what we are calling things, or which classification system we are using. We must communicate with whom we are working to make sure that the solution suits all of us, and moreover that it is suitable for the whole life of the asset and not just the design, or the construction phase.
It may be that a new classification system is required to satisfy all parties involved in an asset and to make information available throughout its whole life. This is no simple task, and it becomes more complex when the range of assets is considered in both buildings and infrastructure.
It is tempting to try to find solutions to what we do individually, but it is vital that any solution must be suitable for all stages of an asset's life, for all types of assets and for all those involved in the asset. Once this has been achieved, the full potential of BIM can begin to be exploited, and tangible benefits demonstrated in the use of information management processes.
John Sands is principal consultant of BSRIA's Sustainable Construction Group