Tuesday 27 April 2010

Journal Article - NBS Specification Software Enhancements

A copy of the article I have written for the up and coming NBS Journal is below.

The NBS Journal contains specially-written articles on specification, and is available twice a year. The current edition and all previous NBS Journals are available to all as PDFs from the NBS website.

NBS Building, Landscape and Engineering Services Software Improvements

The recent 2010-1 update of NBS Building, Landscape and Engineering Services includes a number of significant software enhancements, following over a year of development work. Head of NBS Software Development, Dr Stephen Hamil, presents these in this article.

1. Integration between the specification and CAD

At NBS, one of our main priorities is to develop our existing products in-line with our customers’ needs. To prioritise these enhancements to the software we have a number of customer focus groups and we also have a yearly customer satisfaction survey.

One of the most requested features has been to make it easier to annotate a CAD model from clauses in a project specification. The Annotator application is now installed with your NBS software as part of the NBS Tools suite of the software. This application allows you to quickly access the clause number and title from your project specifications when making annotations in your CAD model.

The Annotator application works through copy and paste; this means it will sit alongside any CAD software such as ArchiCAD, Microstation or AutoCAD. Subject to having a valid NBS licence, you can access NBS technical guidance using the Annotator. This allows you to browse the general guidance in work sections at early design stage to benefit from this comprehensive and trusted NBS information.

Figure 1- Using the Annotator from NBS
In addition to the Annotator, it is now possible from within the NBS software to export to keynote format. This allows you to work with project specification keynote references within AutoCAD, Revit or Microstation. Using this method of working, within CAD you can annotate an element type once and then quickly access this same annotation from all of the matching element types within your model.

This work is very much seen as a first step towards further CAD integration and we are currently researching and prototyping methods to take this integration further.

2. Publishing enhancements

A number of enhancements have been made to the publishing engine. The way the headers and footers are generated has had a complete overhaul. It is now possible to have mixed styles, a separator line and for the text to grow to fill the available space. This is demonstrated in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2 – Improved headers and footers

Another key improvement to the published document is the ability to clearly indicate how clauses have been revised when re-issuing a specification or a work section. The screenshot below shows two clauses that have been revised, one has been removed and one has been added as new. This helps communicate any changes made to the specification clearly to the other members of the project team. Figure 3 below shows an extract from the re-issued specification.

Figure 3 – Revisions to the specification

3. A new search facility

It is now possible to search NBS libraries, project documents and office standards from within the software. Initially, this is useful when you are creating a specification and do not know exactly where to find the content in the NBS libraries. For example, how many customers know where to find fascias and soffits (G20) or underslab insulation (E20)? This search facility allows you to preview the clause and view the guidance prior to adding the work section to your specification. This search facility can be launched through clicking on the search button on the main toolbar.

In addition to searching for content in NBS you can also search for content in your project specifications and contract preliminaries. Once you have found the clause that you have searched for, double click on it to open for editing in the main software window.

Figure 4 demonstrates the user searching a project specification for a particular manufacturer. It can be seen that all of the product clauses in which this manufacturer is specified are returned and can be quickly previewed. 

Figure 4 – New search facility

 4. Financial summary

For smaller projects without a bill of quantities, it is now possible to publish a financial summary at the back of your specification for the contractors to price. Rather than the contractors providing a lump sum cost based on the specification and drawings, the project can be broken down to allow improved analysis of the tender costs and a clearer demonstration to the client of how money will be spent.

Like the Annotator application, the Cost Tracking application is installed as part of the NBS Tools suite of the software. This application also enables the creation of a spreadsheet to allow costs to be tracked through the construction phase of the project.

Figure 5 displays a tender analysis report generated within the Cost Tracking application. Contractor prices are arranged from lowest to highest against a pre-tender estimate. The variations in costs for each priceable item are clearly shown.

Figure 5 – Tender analysis within the Cost Tracking application

5. Further integration with CIS and Building Regulations

The final major enhancement to the NBS software is the facility to seamlessly link with The Construction Information Service and NBS Building Regulations. If you are a subscriber to these services, you can enter your user name and password once and then immediately click through from the NBS guidance to the relevant technical information.

Figure 6 - External links within the NBS Guidance

Figure 7 - Seamless links through to The Construction Information Service
Larger practices can securely enter a company username and password to these services in their NBS office settings file. All users of the NBS software in the office can then immediately click through and download documents such as British Standards, BRE publications and Building Regulations without the need to log on individually each time.

6. Further information

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