BIM 3D objects, PDTs and COBie: Lessons learned

In June 2015 I left BRE after 10 years and set up Cobuilder UK. I saw that if there was a company that can revolutionise the way construction data is exploited along the construction supply chain, Cobuilder would definitely be that company. Aligned with the company’s mission I felt that it was high time that we improved the way manufacturers share data and contractors collect and create accurate as built models, so that clients and Facilities Managers can manage their assets based on validated and complete as built data. Isn’t this one of the main reasons the industry is implementing BIM after all?

Over the last nine months, it has been great to get into the coal face of actually delivering data and as built information models. Here is what I have learned.


In regards to manufacturers there is a lot more knowledge amongst manufacturers as to what BIM is, than I expected. However, many are very confused as to what information/data they should be giving to their clients. This has been compounded by two things, namely BIM objects and PDTs:

1 – 3D objects aka BIM objects.

Many manufacturers have been told they need to produce BIM 3D objects for their products, when often they don’t. I would like to clear this up.

Manufacturer-specific BIM 3D objects are a useful tool for marketing a product. By purchasing 3D objects, manufacturers create value for designers by allowing them to better visualise their projects by attaching specific products to their models. Some designers take advantage of it and select specific BIM 3D objects, however many would rather use a generic object and then specify the product properties that are required so that the construction team can select a product that meets those properties. It is important to note that a specific product that is specified in a model does not always become the product being installed, as the contractor will often compare alternatives in order to choose the best fit between price and the required product performance.

The utility of 3D objects really depends on the type of the product. Some manufacturer’s products are not available as ‘generic’ objects and that creates the need for producing specific 3D objects that allow the design team to ensure the object fits in the model and that no clashes occur. Other types of products like sheeting, boarding, and insulation, i.e. products for which a specific geometry is not important and often not visualized in the model in such a detail, practically do not need 3D objects. This applies to many actual products on the market, which means that it is rather inefficient to create and host objects for products that don’t need them.

However, what all products need is to make their product properties (such as fire rating, U value, flow rate etc.) available in multiple BIM formats and languages.

In that way what is really useful to the whole supply chain is the fact that manufacturer’s data can be attributed to the geometry in the model.

If you are a manufacturer, I advise you to think of two aspects when you consider digitising your products. The first aspect is related to how you make your product data available in multiple BIM formats/languages, and then if a BIM object is required for a) – marketing purposes or b) – for specific geometric purposes or c) – is not required at all.

Secondly, when in doubt, just check what your clients, designers and contractors actually require to make their life easier. On this point, it is very interesting to share that Skanska have publically stated that they do not require 3D objects as they only require specific property data from the manufacturers, and I am pleased to say that they are partnering with Cobuilder on this.

2 – The confusion over PDTs

When it comes to the type and format of data to share there has been confusion as to who’s Product Data Templates (the format/properties that you should share) are the right ones to use, with many organisations developing their versions of them.

What I would say here is that there will never be a perfect PDT as each client will have their own data requirements and their own language needs. For example, a client may only want four specific product properties and they may want them in German and in IFC.

Another client will want ten properties and will need them in English and in COBie and Revit.

Therefore, my expert opinion is that the starting point should always be the European and British standards for naming properties and Uniclass 2015 for naming products. From this point, you can always map all of the data to the other languages required such as IFC, Revit, ARCHICAD, English, and German etc.

My advice to manufacturers is that it is all-important to look out for a vendor that supports the interoperability of data and who offers to prepare internationalised product data.


My findings are that all the major contractors are bought into BIM and have BIM teams, which are trying very hard to get BIM Level 2 adopted through their businesses (some more successfully than others, but I’m not saying who!).

The BIM teams are all very motivated and passionate, which is great, but both small and large organisations have many hurdles to overcome. For this reason, most big organisations have case study projects to develop standard working practices to show the rest of the business how to implement them.

What makes their life difficult is the standard of EIRs they have to work with, as most of them, I have seen, have not set out the needs or the purpose of doing BIM for the client. More specifically, the clients are not quite explicit on what they require, especially in regards to the data they will need. In most cases the Contractors have to rewrite the EIR and develop the BEPs.

Fortunately, the quality of design models have generally been good and the contractors are developing well thought-out process for delivery projects with the aid of BIM. It is the delivery of the as built Model that needs a lot of attention, as the quality of information at handover is in most cases very limited and the O&M manuals are often missing many legally required documents.

Also, great practical obstacle has been that the COBie file, required at handover, has to be hand written by either a consultant or the contractor, which is very time consuming and costly. Still, I haven’t yet seen an as built information model with the accurate PDFs, COBie and 3D Models that has been produced the way I describing. For this reason, Cobuilder has been welcomed with open arms by the contractors, as we have been helping them deliver accurate as built O&Ms, COBie and Models via Cobuilder Collaborate (previously ProductXchange).

So in conclusion, the industry is rapidly moving towards BIM adoption and it is a sharp learning curve for everyone. In regards to BIM Level 2 adoption, as long as the clients specify in detail what they require when it comes to project/data deliverables, the industry will be able to meet the challenge and BIM will become the norm.


This blog post is written by Nick Tune CEO Cobuilder UK and buildingSMART UK/International member