Why Do Specifiers Ignore Your BIM Content?

I’ve been on this quest for four years now – what is manufacturer BIM content, and what makes it usable?

The trouble is, everyone wants something different. Let me try explain this further.

The Generic Argument

As I understand the perspective of some architects, before a building becomes such, it is just a design, a concept. One that a contractor may never build.

The argument here is why should a designer spend time researching thousands of products for an initial concept?

Hence the call for basic, generic BIM content which allows them to get the design done.

The Manufacturer Argument

I understand the generic argument but with my manufacturer hat on see another way to progress.

Say the building does go ahead – products throughout still need specifying. I see this as the responsibility of a designer. A designer who has created the model and understands the requirements of the building’s users.

In a perfect world the design stage would include specific products. This information would go on to benefit the entire construction process.

If designers use manufacturer BIM objects, specified products are within the limits of manufacturing capability. The data from these objects could also make for accurate budgeting. (OK, the budgeting idea is perhaps me gazing into the future a little here but why not?).

Using manufacturer content also gives the end user an as-built model with accurate data to manage the building – is this not the ultimate goal?

What can manufacturers do today?

The Generic Vs Manufacturer debate is on-going but I believe there are steps manufacturers can take to better the chances of their BIM content getting used.

Reduce LOD (Level of Detail)

Thousands of products go into our buildings today. One healthcare project I saw had over one million components.

As much as I understand you are proud of your products, your aim should not be to produce an exact digital replica as a BIM object.

Only model visible elements, E.G. for a set of drawers, only model the front face, not the inside of the drawer. Don’t model screws, bolts or your logo – no-one but you cares about this level of detail.

This is not why I make the point though.

Every extra bit of detail you model within your BIM objects will increase file size. So say you model your logo on the product – let’s say this increases file size by 50 KB (not much).

But, what if you have 1,000 of your products in the same building? That’s an extra 50,000 KB (50 MB) of unnecessary data impacting on the performance of the building information model.

If other manufacturers do the same, multiply this by thousands of products and you get the picture. The BIM becomes unmanageable.

So to give your BIM content a fighting chance of getting used, keep the level of detail to a minimum.

Relevant LOI (Level of Information)

While LOD focuses on the visual aspects of your objects, LOI focuses on the data in the background.

Level of information is the most important and useful part of manufacturer BIM objects. This data is what the contractor and facilities management need to construct and maintain the building.

Don’t get carried away though. The aim is still to product lean objects with only relevant data.

So what is ‘relevant’ data?

This is a topic worthy of it’s own area for discussion. With this in mind I have spent several months researching and putting together a new resource:

Guide to BIM Object Data

BUT FIRST, I have one more piece of advice for manufacturers looking at, or already involved in BIM.

Avoid LOL (Level of Laughter)

OK, I know what LOL stands for because laugh out loud is exactly what I have done on viewing some claims of manufacturers who have invested in BIM.

BIM objects don’t give your products super powers.

You still have work to do to present your products and their features in an informative manner. The BIM community are an educated bunch and will sidestep manufacturers with unrealistic claims.

Be honest, don’t oversell your capability.

Think of BIM objects as providing another tool to specifiers, a digital tool, one that could lead to greater cooperation between you and your clients and customers.

  • Have you invested in BIM objects? What are your experiences to date?
  • Where do you stand on the Generic Vs Manufacturer debate?
  • Do you have any advice for manufacturers looking at BIM?

Leave your comments below.


  1. Darren Lester

    Great post Craig.

    I think you’ve actually highlighted the two key issues with the current approach to manufacturer content, which is slowing down adoption.

    Firstly, the content creator model is based on a Field of Dreams, ‘build it and they will come’ approach.

    Pay lots up front to have your products modelled, dump them in a library and hope it generates some demand. This simply doesn’t work.

    As you point out, there needs to be flexibility as each project/specifier has a different requirement. Then on the marketing side, creating BIM objects will not magically make your products sell themselves.

    Second point is misleading information. This is coming from all sides. Companies with something to gain are producing reports and surveys making all sorts of ridiculous claims about adoption – essentially scaremongering companies into taking action. Claims like 30-40% of manufacturers have BIM objects and 50% are planning to by 2016 is just not true.

    These reports are based on tiny datasets, and are biased towards early adopters in that they are called a BIM survey – if you have no interest in BIM, you’re not going to fill it out!

    A quick look at the 2 leading content providers shows less than 300 manufacturers with BIM objects – there maybe a few others not on there, but you’re looking at a number closer to 0.01% of the UK market.

    Then you’ve got the other side where early adopter manufacturers don’t want to be left in the cold – the early mover advantage has probably not been as beneficial as they thought and they don’t want to ‘look stupid’ for adopting a lame duck. So actually, for some manufacturers, and the individuals responsible, there is a validation that will come by more companies adopting and therefore a good reason to oversell how successful it has been.

    Overall, as an industry, we need to be more open and honest about what is going on. It is still a very, very immature market and we need to treat it as such. Convincing ourselves despite what the facts are won’t help anyone.

    Great to see you sharing your experiences so openly, hopefully more will follow!

    • Craig Sewell

      Cheers Darren.

      Agree with your comment about reports suggesting where the industry is at with BIM from such a small number of respondents. It’s misleading and quite honestly scare tactics.

      What’s needed is some honesty (I’m hopefully doing my bit!) and education that BIM (or ‘digital process’) can benefit manufacturers internally and this is a better driver for investment.

      BIM is not something you simply buy, place on your website and wait for the rewards – it’s hard work – work that leads towards greater cooperation with your clients and customers.

  2. Very nice work Craig.

    Reading your posts is a constant reminder that I need to get my own blog back up and running (albeit on my own company platform now!).

    You raise some fantastic points that are worthy of their own dedicated posts in isolation, which I will hopefully do myself in time, but there a couple of immediate points that come to mind.

    Investing in a BIM strategy will ideally incorporate a value proposition for the manufacturer that extends beyond the benefits of utilisation of your content by specifiers, as you rightly point out with regularity in your posts re: Cubicle Centre’s overarching BIM strategy. But with respect to the ‘content utilisation’ discussion in this particular post, I agree that it’s important that manufacturers are realistic in their expectations of what BIM content creation, motivation to undertake this process and what it will achieve.

    A lot of manufacturers I have spoken with about the subject seem to be ‘waiting’. There are a number of reasons but they often resolve around waiting for things that will provide them a degree of certainty. Waiting for a (magical) industry-wide BIM content standard that provides clear, unequivocal definitions on how content should be created for every possible building product. Waiting for everyone to start working on the same authoring platform. Waiting for everyone to agree to utilise manufacture-supplied content in their workflow. In my opinion, these manufacturers are waiting for something that will likely never happen and they run the risk of simply doing nothing and being left behind in the process. Let me put it this way, I’d like to be an investor in a product manufacturing company who competes against other manufacturers who are simply doing nothing in BIM right now. Anyone out there want to offer me shares in return for BIM strategy / content services? ;)

    For manufacturers assessing the value of an investment in a BIM content creation strategy, I’d tell them not to be deterred by target clients who for whatever reason won’t use your content. Inevitably there will be part of your ‘BIM target market’ who are utilising a BIM authoring software that you don’t have (native) content for and users who only utilise generic content as part of their workflow. Instead of focussing on this fact, look at the clients who potentially will use the content you create and assess these metrics as part of your feasibility.

    To put this another way, your product(s) won’t suit every project and not every designer will like your product(s), but you still make product(s). Why? Because you don’t need to cover every single part of the market to be successful. The same goes for BIM content. If you believe there are enough of your clients who will utilise your content to provide you a competitive advantage leading to a healthy ROI (over and above other ways you could spend the same amount) you should do it. Importantly however, you need to create your content with your clients’ needs in mind and you need to focus on quality in what you are creating, as you point out in this post. If you focus on your driving home your own branding, USP and IP objectives via your content you are destined to compromise the usability of your content and shoot yourself in the foot.

    Another comment on the timing and waiting game some manufacturers are employing at present. If you feel that it is inevitable that you will need to create BIM content at some point in time for your products, doing it sooner will give you greater likelihood of being first to market (or one of the first) and therefore much more likely to see good ROI on the money that you spend on your BIM content library. i.e if the development cost of a base content library is ‘X’ (and this will be roughly the same regardless of when you spend it, now or later), and ‘Y’ is the ROI, ‘Y’ will inevitably be more substantial if you’re early to market, therefore making it a far better investment than if you were to wait.

    Anyway… I really need to get my own blog up and running (again) rather than hijacking yours. Hopefully there’s something of interest in my above scribbles.

    Keep up the great work with the blog, Craig.


    • Craig Sewell

      Thanks for sharing all the way from Australia Luke. I know you have experience similar to myself working in-house for a building product manufacturer so it’s great to get your thoughts.

      You make a super point: “you don’t need to cover every single part of the market to be successful.” I speak from experience saying that product manufacturers can use BIM to cement relationships they already have with design and build clients.

      Good luck with the blog – look forward to reading your posts.

  3. Stefan Mordue

    Nice article Craig. Like you say, in a perfect world the design stage would contain specific products but this of course has a number of variables. I would also argue that in an ideal world the amount and level of information should increase as we progress across the project lifecycle and that we make informed product decisions based upon carefully considered performance requirements.
    If we take the RIBA plan of work as an example, at Concept stage 2 – we may not have any graphical information at all (or maybe perhaps just a symbol) but we may have a simple description outlining the design intent. At Stage 3 – design, we are considering overall performance of the end deliverable, for example structural, fire, acoustic etc. Then at stage 4 technical design we may be prescribing generic products that then meet the desired overall performance requirements or manufacturer products that meet the generic product specification.
    The reality of construction projects as you rightly point out is that they may never be built, but also they face other hurdles such as funding issues etc along the time line. We also have to consider the procurement method and who is making the product selection. This is not always the architect or designer, and may be to the ‘contractors choice’ if on a design and build route. Another point I would make is that Architects will be using a wide range of objects, not just from BIM object libraries or manufacturers websites, but also content they may have developed in house or the standard out of the box content that comes with the BIM authoring platform of choice, of which most of this is generic content.
    I always think of objects as placeholders of information. Not all the information has to ‘live’ in the object and Information t develops over time. I see a real value in manufacturer content but for me personally I would suggest that you need to start with something, before product selections have been made, and is more often than not going to be a generic object. The other argument I would make is that the more generic content out there that compliments a manufacturer’s product then more likely it is going to get specified.

    Look forward to future blogs!

    • Craig Sewell

      Thanks for your insight Stefan and also your help with the BIM Object Data Guide.

      Whenever I discuss the level of information in objects I can’t get my head around the phrase ‘too much information’. I think this is perhaps why you have mentioned not all the information has to live in the object.

      OK, if manufacturers were embedding large PDF files in objects I could understand, but URLs, text and numbers – surely we’re equipped to process this simple level of data? Going back to the guide I suppose this is where the data values are important – making sure manufacturers are entering relevant data in the correct format.

      Thanks again Stefan.

  4. Chris Ashworth

    It is worth remembering that before BIM came along architects used generic and performance specifications on many projects and nominated on very few. They did this for many reasons – because it was a D&B project, to give the contractor the opportunity to shop around, because they did not know how to design the details. BIM does not change this – yet.

    I would agree that many companies do sit passively waiting for their BIM objects, or NBS specifications, or CPD seminars to bring them work. All of these are sales tools and need to be used effectively to engage with the specifier and help them to design their projects. It’s called selling and has to be done in a subtle way when you work with the specifier.

    • Craig Sewell

      Thanks for your comments Chris.

      BIM has changed this in some instances – Space Architects are an example of designers that, where possible, will specify manufacturer specific products at design stage.

      I agree many still go down the generic specification route but I can see so much potential in embracing the process as Space Group have and will continue to advocate this approach.

  5. Carl Collins

    There are some reasons that I, as a designer, do not use manufacturer generated content that have not been covered here. I’ll sketch them out below:
    1. I am not paid to specify a manufacturer for building services (MEP). We design systems that the contractor’s supply chain specify actual products for.
    2. The most important part of a “BIM Object” is the information. While the titles of this information are roughly congruent between manufacturers, the GUID (Globally Unique ID) are often different, this means that my chosen platform (in my case Revit) does not see this data as being the same. So a parameter for a power requirement, say, in a light fitting, will not be the same parameter as a power requirement in a chiller, so I can’t use the data to calculate building loads.
    3. The objects that often get created are not tested in real use environments. How do I know this? I’ve tried using them and they don’t work. An example would be a drainage pipe fitting. I can bring a specific object into my piping preferences and as soon as it is required, the system breaks, or the fitting appears sideways (yes, that really has happened).
    4. What platform are you creating your content in? I use Revit, but many others are available and they all (well, almost all) need content in a different format, so how do you make content for all and not exclude users of other platforms? You certainly don’t want to spend the considerable sums required to make the content over and over again…

    • Craig Sewell

      Hi Carl,

      Thank you for the insight into how you operate at Arup.

      Agree that information is key and we too have had issues internally with GUID’s. I believe this is where a mapping process comes into play but, I have no experience of this as yet.

      I would argue that there is also some good BIM content out there Carl and you should consider most manufacturers are still on the path to finding the right level of content.

      Whether it’s different platforms or a different level of definition, I believe manufacturers will be better equipped to deal with these issues with in-house capability.

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