Tuesday 23 February 2010

For Software Developers - The NBS Annotator API

With the release of the NBS Building, NBS Engineering Services and NBS Landscape 2010 software we will also be releasing an API so that CAD software, in-house developers and hobbyist programmers can write code that can interface within the NBS specification data model.

This blog post gives a preview of what is coming up. Full documentation and sample code will be uploaded to theNBS.com in March/April 2010.

Update 31st March 2010
Download NBS Tools for free: http://www.thenbs.com/NBSTools/
Download Annotator API documentation: http://www.thenbs.com/support/annotator/

The walkthrough below is aimed at VB.Net developers, but the principles apply for C# or C++/VB6 using COM.

1. Set up references
Install the NBS Tools MSI and then reference the DLL:
C:\Program Files\NBS\NBS Tools\NBS Annotator\NBSAnnotationManager.dll

2. Associate model with specification
The user browses to an NBS specification or schedule of work:

The code below shows that an AnnotationManager object is created and then the file path for the specification is returned from the SelectSpecification() method.

 3. Annotate the model from the specification
The user annotes the model from clauses in the specification.

The code below shows that an Annotation object is returned from the SelectAnnotation() method. The Annotation object contains properties such as clause number, clause title, unique ID...

4. View technical guidance from the model
The user views technical NBS guidance and links to standards and regulations from within the model.
Note: The technical guidance may only be viewed by users with a valid NBS licence.

This is a simple method call ShowGuidance(), an Annotation object can optionally be passed as an argument to select a specific guidance page.
5. Display an annotation report
The user is about to issue the model and the specification and wants to check whether there are any errors in the annotations.
A collection of Annotation objects must be passed as arguments to the DisplayReport() method.

This is the first time we have ever released a software component for others to use, but hopefully this will be the first step in integrating data in a specification with other data models such as CAD, schedules and bills of quantities.

Friday 19 February 2010

Follow the NBS Tweets

If you are a Twitter fan then you may be interested to know that NBS has a twitter feed.


We now have almost 200 followers. Watch out Stephen Fry!

Monday 15 February 2010

Manufacturers hosting NBS Plus product information on their own site

Manufacturers that are part of the NBS Plus service can embed their NBS Plus content within their own website.

This gives the adding benefit of providing designers an easy way to grab a product specification even when they are not using NBS.

Step-by-step instructions on how to do this are given and examples of some of the manufacturers making use of this feature are below.

Friday 5 February 2010

Displaying the NBS Guidance within the software

On occasions, customers tell us that the NBS Building software would be better if it contained the same amount of technical guidance that is in the NBS Building binders.

The truth is, every single word of technical guidance in the binders is also available in the NBS Building software. For NBS Building Full Service subscribers, this is electronic technical information equivalent to:
  • 13 physical binders
  • 5,300 A4 pages printed double sided at Arial 8 point font size.
So the challenge in the software is to allow customers to easily browse this enormous amount of information and to display the right information to the user when they require it.

Clause guidance
You may be aware of the NBS Guidance that is displayed within NBS Building, when a clause is selected.

Figure 1 below shows the guidance for clause M60/740, displayed when it is selected for editing.

Fig 1 - NBS clause guidance

Further guidance is also shown when options are selected within a clause. Using the blue arrows within the document window opens the clause editor. When the clause editor is open, drop down values are displayed to help you complete the specification accurately and efficiently.

In the Guidance window, external references appear as in green with an arrow (>) symbol. Clicking on an external reference source will display a pop-up window that provides further details of the reference. For references from websites and advisory organisations, a link is provided so you can click through to their website for additional information. External documents such as British Standards and building regulations approved documents are linked through to The Construction Information Service or NBS Building Regulations.

General guidance

NBS general guidance is also accessible from NBS Building. This is information that is not specific to a single clause, but generally to the whole work section currently open. This can be accessed from the entry page to the work section as shown in Figure 2 below. For a work section such as F10 Brick/Block Walling, this amounts to ten physical pages of 8 point text of useful technical information.

You can open NBS Building and browse or search this guidance at the early stages of a project, before beginning to write a specification.

Fig 2 – Accessing general guidance

The general guidance for each work section is grouped into key topics for ease of reference and there is a table of contents as an introduction as shown in Figure 3. Regular themes that run throughout NBS guidance include design, health and safety, the environment, thermal performance, maintenance and contractual arrangements.

Fig 3 – Topics within general guidance

As with the clause guidance, there are links to external references throughout and, where relevant, detailed tables providing general technical information on the specific work section. This can be accessed at any time from within the ‘general guidance’ link within the NBS Guidance tab.

Fig 4 – General guidance content
Guidance when creating a specification

One other feature related to guidance in NBS Building is the ability to view NBS Guidance when creating your specification. This function is designed to allow you to have the latest guidance easily accessible, enabling an accurate, up to date specification to be produced.

Figure 5 shows that, at the point of creating the specification, work section B12 Conservatories has been added. The scope information is designed to help you determine whether any further work sections need to be added to the specification being written. General guidance in these other work sections can be accessed by clicking the relevant links.

Fig 5 – Guidance when creating a specification

Referring to NBS Guidance regularly will help to ensure consistency and reliability throughout the specification writing process and minimise the risk of incurring extra costs. Within the software we aim to make this information easily browsable and to make the right information available to you in a context sensitive way.

Thursday 4 February 2010


This blog normally focuses on the software behind the NBS. But at a recent customer focus event a member of the panel handed me a copy of the original NBS from 1973.

I include a few photographs below...

Fig 1 - The original NBS in 1973

Fig 2. Illustration showing how the NBS specification fits with reference documents, the drawings and the quantities

Fig 3. Making the national master spec content project specific through striking items out and adding values by hand.

Fig 4. Manufacturer advertisement showing pictures of inspirational buildings

And a few extracts from the Preface written by the Chairman of NBS Ltd, Sir Robert Matthew,
Publication of the first edition of NBS is the culmination of a long period of intensive effort by many people and organisations in the building industry...
...The NBS presents architects, structural engineers and quantity surveyors with a unique opportunity to re-appraise and develop their specification practice. The benefits will come to them and to the industry as a whole in the form of better and more efficient building. I strongly recommend its use.