FM product selection, procurement and delivery - going digital with BIM

A lot of time is spent by Facilities Management staff making product selection and procurement decisions. Where can I find a replacement part for the broken component? Do they even make them anymore? Should I replace a spare part or change the whole product. What quantities should I order? In addition to the actual decision and ordering process there may be days and man hours wasted going on site to track down the make and model of the broken component, or going to the local supplier checking if it is available.

The nature of building products and technical components are changing. The handed over facilities at the end of a typical building project are becoming more and more complex. Much more of the items can and will break down. The number of potential products to select from are exploding, the documentation requirements are growing and the lifecycle of products are shortening.

The construction supply chain is going digital and global standardisation efforts are making the selection, ordering and delivery of products and related documentation more automated and streamlined. A lot of infrastructure are being established based on the needs of the construction industry. As Building Information Modelling (BIM) processes are expanding out of its design roots there is a need for lifecycle BIM data management both in tools and in standards.

Manufacturers product listing. GTIN identification and ETIM classification added
Manufacturer adding standard identification (GTIN) and classification (ETIM) to online product catalogue. Leter in this article we will explore what these standard identifiers are

Procurement for maintenance, break downs and renovations and refurbishments is a big part of the total trade volume for building components and building materials. The share will only grow as the need for constantly evolving assets will continue to increase. The need for energy efficiency and the potential of smart buildings will drive a lot of modernisation and refurbishment efforts and put many breakable components into the facilities.

Not much work has been done looking at the procurement and e-commerce part of facilities management and lifecycle BIM. In this article we will do just that. We will look at evolution and trends in product databases and online marketplaces. We will look at the key enablers for standardization, including global identifiers and standardized ways to describe product performance data.

As you can imagine there are huge potential savings if you have the correct data, the correct processes and the correct systems. Supply chain backbones are being established internationally and locally. Proper data and logistics integration are making it possible to keep the Asset Information Model up to date and realising the cost and resource savings owners are expecting from lifecycle BIM and the digitisation of the FM sector.

As we will see there are tools and infrastructure being developed that can drastically improve product selection, procurement and logistics. Facility managers can benefit from work from construction and e-commerce in general, but processes and tools need to adapt for the use cases of operators as they are usually more ad-hoc and on-demand in nature.

The use cases presented will show

  • The importance of having the correct data in the asset database
  • The possibility of using e-procurement as a tool to keeping models and documentation up to date
  • The possibility to using e-procurement as a way to gradually establish an asset information model

You will see that the marketplace is in flux. Local initiatives are being rolled up into global standardisation efforts. Local industry supply chains are being challenged by global marketplaces. Also there are big initiatives underways for adding structured data sets to replace a lot of the PDF based documentation of today.

During this evolution of the market you will see many competing and overlapping initiatives. The clear winners have not emerged in all areas or the likely winners have not expanded to all geographies or all industry disciplines yet. This means that multiple standards need to be supported until the market stabilises.

To be prepared and align you need to need to know about both global and local initiatives. You need to follow and align with the likely winners but also keep your options open and support local specialities in the interim.

Sample use cases - going digital with BIM

There are many different use cases for e-procurement in facility management. Example use cases are given below.

  • You want to replace spare parts as part of scheduled preventive maintenance, e.g periodic changes of ventilation filters and wearable parts.
  • Something breaks down and you need to replace it with the same or a valid replacement component. Examples could be a light source, a sensor or a window.
  • Something is broken but can be fixed. You need to make a “fix or replace” decision based on cost, availability and time to fix/ replace for each of the alternatives.
  • You are doing modifications to an existing facility, e.g. adding a new dividing wall. You want the new products and materials to match the existing - same door & door handle, similar finishes for walls.
  • You are doing a larger renovation. You will replace most of the materials but still want to use the model to get quantities. You also want to make product selection decisions based on feature requirements, e.g. sound proofing, thermal insulation, environmental impacts to keep the performance of the whole asset intact

The list goes on. Facilities managers are often responsible for larger expansion projects that are more similar to normal construction projects. The work are done by external designers and contractors, but the FM still want to make sure some product decisions are made based on best practices and lessons learned taking a portfolio view of asset management.

How the construction supply chain is being digitised

There are many developments in the construction supply chain driving product data management and e-procurement forward. Most of these can drive efficiencies in facility management and lifecycle asset and product data management as well.

The construction products manufacturing chain has created data, standards, identification systems, data exchange messages for years. This has evolved based on decades of demand and continuous improvement. The industry has built up systems with unique identifiers, classification systems, performance values and datasheets to document features and performance. Documents specify installation instructions, operations and maintenance guides, environmental impact, health and safety hazards etc. Some to satisfy regulatory demands, some to satisfy buyers requirements and some for helping efficiencies in logistic processes.

How design, specifications and handover in construction is changing

Design and delivery of buildings are changing with BIM. Intelligent models with geometric and structured data are being developed. The assets are built virtually before they are built physically. At handover the building owner potentially have a “digital twin” that represents a virtual copy of the handed over facility. This Asset Information Model describes what products are in the buildings, their designed and delivered performance, where they are located and how they fit together in systems.

During design architects and engineers use BIM tools to add generic objects with performance requirements to the ever evolving model. A critical point for lifecycle BIM is where products are selected and installed and modifications are made on site. The model then needs to be updated with what was delivered and installed. In practice this rarely happens today but it is a big push from large owners to make it happen and the market is responding with solutions. Two main solutions to satisfy this need are

  1. Databases of manufacturers BIM objects with both geometry and structured data are being made available for designers, contractors and subcontractors. This will allow for replacement of generic objects with specific objects (or modelling a new model with specific objects).
  2. Structured database management systems are being built to collect structured data about the delivered products. To support this process and provide the required data in a common way standards for product data templates are being developed. Manufacturers can then take the structured data in product documentation and put them in these standard data-sheets that can populate databases. The same data can then be delivered when the product is ordered, adding to the handover database for use in facilities management.

In practice a mix of those solutions will be needed. Designers need ways to enrich their models in their design tools. Contractors and suppliers needs ways to build a handover database based on their procurement processes. These two worlds need to meet to create a complete handover set.

The future of product selection

The next logical step then is using the structured product data to make product selection decisions. Combining the requirements of the specified product with the structured and standardized data in the product databases means you can get a list of the products and suppliers that satisfy the requirements. Combined with pricing information in an online marketplace this will make you able to select the cheapest or most capable products (whatever your decision criteria may be). Or similarly structured data will make the bidding and negotiation process more efficient. With a structured model you can make this process as big or small you want. Shop around for one product or make a competitive bid for all the standard building materials for the whole project.

Common product databases

As product logistics are being standardised within disciplines and geographies product databases are being established. As an example in Norway there are one common database for building materials, one for electrical components and one for plumbing and ventilation products. These assign their own identification codes to each of the products assuring the uniqueness across the different suppliers and their common use across sellers. Product manufacturers use a common template to keep product data updated. This standard product data is feeding into the systems of all the major wholesalers and data warehouses, being the backbone of both their physical stores and their e-procurement initiatives.

Common product database feeds data to online shop
Common product database feeds data to online store. The product database indentifier (NOB nummer) is the key that connects the flow of data

Similar systems are established or are expected to be established for other countries. This means that manufacturers only have one database (for each country) to update and the flow of data and documentation to each of the stores are updated one place. It also means that buyers can find product data and make store purchases based on this identifier.

Globally unique identifiers

Manufacturers often have global markets and are pushing for standardisation across disciplines and across geographies. They want a common identifier for their products and a common data and documentation template to fill out. Similarly large contractors want to bid on projects across geographies and they want common processes across their company. Based on these needs there are global standardisation for global trade already established.

GTIN (Global Trade Identification Number) is a global unique identifier. It is maintained by the global non profit organisation GS1. GS1 maintains codes that are guaranteed to be globally unique. In addition to the unique number GTIN is also integrated with barcodes and QR codes.

In the supply chain GTIN-numbers are assigned at different packaging levels tailored for the different needs and uses during the materials flow. We are usually only interested in the F-pak which is the consumer unit, either a single product or other end user package. In addition to this there are other GTIN numbers for trading units (e.g. what the shop orders from the wholesaler) or Transport packaging (e.g pallets for transport from manufacturer to wholesaler).

Because of the popularity and usefulness of GTIN the product databases with their own unique identifiers are also adding GTIN number and support using them for lookups. In the example below the NRF-number is the primary key for the common HVAC and plumbing database (NRF-databasen). In addition they have added the manufacturer's model number and the GTIN number for the relevant packages (often just the F-pak)

Product database with own, manufacturers and GTIN identifiers

Three different identifiers - manufacturer, regional and global ids

Standard properties and performance data

Until now product database structured data has been mostly product descriptions and images (for sales and marketing), logistics information like order number, packaging, weights and sizes. More detailed data of the products has been there (it is required based on multiple regulations) but it has been locked down in documents and not been available for structured lookup. The market is now asking for being able to query that data and use it for product selection, matching required performance with real performance. They want to find the cheapest and most accessible products that fit the specifications. There are multiple initiatives for doing this, both local and global.

One international initiative that are gaining strength is ETIM. ETIM started out in the Netherlands for electrical components (the abbreviation stands for “Electro Technical Information Model”). Now it is spreading into other domains and geographies usually by regional product databases adopting the ETIM model when adding generic structured data to their existing product data.

Find ETIm class
Find class in ETIM

ETIM is a uniform classification model for technical products. Even if the classes belongs to groups all the class values represent a flat structure. The classes are translated into many languages and there are official synonyms to support efficient lookup. In addition to classifying product categories, ETIM standardizes features, values and units. See example listing below.

ETIM classes, features, units and values
ETIM standardizes classes, values, units and values

The big online platforms

If you want to see where this are heading try going to amazon or google to search for some equipment or appliances. With the GTIN number you will get available products, replacement products, reviews, product recommendation etc etc. The big marketplaces will evolve and so will the construction supply chain - they need to innovate and provide additional value to avoid being short-cutted by the big horizontal platforms. FM can benefit from the developments in both if they have their data, processes and systems in order

Googling for GTIN product number
Googling the GTIN number give you access to online shopping and manufacturer's documentation

Getting started

There are big regional differences and the marketplace is in constant development. It is therefore hard to give specific advice that are valid globally. There are some generic advice for getting started however :

  • Capture unique product identifiers as part of the handover process and as part of product procurement during operations. This will make it easy to order replacement parts and it will make it easier to lookup additional product data and documentation. As there are currently no “one common code to rule them all” you should track both the manufacturer's model number, the global GTIN number and any relevant common product database code that is relevant for your region.
  • Keep track of performance requirements and design capacity - e.g fire, sound, insulation etc - to be able to do lookups based on performance data.
  • Integrate your BIM for FM with product databases and procurement portals - this will support decision making and streamline the process of ordering of products
  • Make sure product documentation gets delivered with the physical products - and keep the link for updates
  • Continuously evolve and try out new approaches. The market is constantly evolving and you may need to reconsider your processes at regular intervals.

Let us know if you have questions or comments on this topic. As we keep improving the integration between Areo more and product databases and marketplaces we will continue to share our experiences and best practices. If you are interested in following this and other BIM for FM and lifecycle BIM topics, please sign up for our newsletter