Industry associations have an important role to play in the digital transformation

Modified on November 8, 2021

In March this year, the European Confederation of Woodworking Industries, CEI-Bois, initiated a pilot project together with Cobuilder to help manufacturers digitise their data and make it available in a machine-readable and standardised format. As part of the pilot project, the CEI-Bois initiative TIMBIM will create a common data dictionary and common data templates that are based on relevant harmonised product and test standards and are applied across all European countries.

We spoke with Hansueli Schmid, one of the members of the CEI-Bois workgroup that manages the TIMBIM project, to learn more about the development of the common data structures for the European timber industry.

Product information is essential for all processes in a construction project

Hansueli is a project manager at Lignum, the Association of the Swiss forest and timber economy, where he manages the Swiss wood BIM library He is also a member of the steering committee of buildingSmart International Product Room that focuses specifically on the robust and efficient use of product data as part of openBIM.

“Product information is essential for smooth processes throughout all planning stages. Products are the variables in the gigantic interrelated systems that we call buildings. Products make up the different components, which in turn comprise the building. If we as an industry want to transform digitally, we need to start with the smallest elements of the system. We need to digitise product information in a way that allows algorithms to recognise and access those variables. We should also be able to provide and exchange this information across the entire industry. This is a prerequisite for the adoption of new digital technologies, processes and business models within the sector “, explains Hansueli.

Developing and managing the Lignum database has given Hansueli a lot of insight into the benefits of digital data. The database started as a catalogue that provided architects with all the necessary data for sound insulation of various components, such as walls, ceilings and roofs. Throughout the years, the tool has been in continuous development and currently provides structured information on technical performance of materials and components within the different basic requirements on buildings, e.g., fire, environmental properties, etc.

The adoption of standardised data structures is paramount

“Now we are looking forward to structuring our collected data through the standard-based data templates that we are developing together with our European partners in the CEI-Bois initiative TIMBIM. Many people talk about BIM, but few realise the importance of product data. Seamless collaboration is only possible if we follow commonly agreed frameworks developed for the entire construction sector. This is why, the adoption of data structures based on existing standards is paramount to ensure full interoperability”, continues Hansueli.

The first batch of data templates developed by the CEI-Bois workgroup is expected to be made available to all member organisations through a public webpage by the end of 2021.

The workgroup consists of representatives from the national associations of Sweden, Finland, Austria and Switzerland, who have been working in Cobuilders standard-based data dictionary Define to implement all the relevant standards for authoring and structuring digital data. Some of the members have worked on developing the required properties for describing wood products, while others have been performing the tasks of subject matter experts to validate and approve the newly created content according to the process described in the standard for interconnected data dictionaries EN ISO 23386. This ensures that the data created by CEI-Bois is of high quality and can be used throughout different systems and tools by all members across Europe.

The progress on the project

“Working with colleagues who have different backgrounds and competences has been a great experience. Being able to get different perspectives has been very beneficial to help us develop a common understanding and a full picture of the topic. This is essential to ensure that our common data structures can serve the entire industry. Of course, the whole process is work in progress. Once the first batch of data templates is released to all our members, we will be able to get additional input and continue to develop them further”, explains Hansueli.

The next step in the project is to launch an API service that will enable member organisations to integrate the new data models in other digital solutions and databases. Such is the case with Lignumdata, the BIM object library of the Swiss timber industry, where all standard-based properties developed in Cobuilder Define will be mapped to the already existing data.

“Once we manage to develop and make the common templates available to the members of European Confederation of Woodworking Industries, I believe that the next important phase of the project would be to agree on values and develop generic products. This way everyone across Europe will be able to easily access structured product data on wood to work with. The multitude of possible products made of wood is going to be a major challenge for our industry”, says Hansueli.

Industry associations have an important role to play

Many of the actors in the timber industry are small and medium businesses that are at different levels of digitalisation. This is why, being able to offer comprehensive generic products that can be representative of the products offered by the entire industry is a very important step to meet the information needs of all construction actors when incorporating woodwork in their projects.

“Our goal with this pilot project is to prepare the European woodworking industry for its digital transformation. Industry associations have an important role to play in this process. I believe that it is their responsibility to take the lead, coordinate with other countries and guide their members into the digital shift. The standardisation of templates and exchange formats is crucial in this process, and I am firmly convinced that standardisation bodies also have an important part to play to facilitate the transition of the construction sector. Industry standards are published in many different languages. In the same self-evident way, there is a need to translate our standards into one machine-readable language.”