Thursday 24 October 2013

NBS plug-in for Vectorworks 2014

We are absolutely delighted to have another plug-in for a leading international BIM design tool now released.

At the Vectorworks 2014 road shows over recent weeks the NBS Annotator Link tool has been getting some great feedback. We now have free tools available for three of the leading BIM design tools (ArchiCAD, Revit and Vectorworks) and this is super news for users of the NBS Domestic, NBS Scheduler, NBS Building and NBS Create specification systems.

The software development was a joint effort from the R+D team at NBS that developed the NBS API and then the Vectorworks UK team that did "the magic" at their end to join both packages together. Some screenshots below...
Launched at the Vectorworks 2014 road shows
The Annotator window allows the user to pick from clauses in the project specification
An integrated NBS toolbar within Vectorworks
The specification may be launched from within Vectorworks and then modified
The user is then notified of any modified or removed annotations
The annotations on the drawings are then updated from the modified specification without the need for manual typing
NBS subscribers can access the technical guidance and links to standards and regulations
Technical information from over 20,000 construction products may be browsed from within Vectorworks
Many thanks to Martyn from Vectorworks for all of his support with both our NBS National BIM Library developments and also now for making this plug-in happen. Vectorworks users that would like this plug-in should go through their normal Vectorworks support channels.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

The original NBS Specification Manager promotional video

Rewind back to Autumn 1990...

...the first bit of construction software written for the UK market on Microsoft Windows 3.0* was released. BDS Software part of Newcastle University and owned by Professor Steve Lockley wrote NBS Specification Manager for NBS Services... and that is the reason the NBS Research and Development team is here today. Some screenshots and a retro video below...
The famous Specification Manager juggler splash screen
A drawing board - not a computer in sight!
Who needs t'interweb when you can have thousands of books on book shelves across the office?
Good old "F30" used for years in NBS demo videos
Accompanied by a suitably futuristic purple light is... a computer!
Write your spec to the left - guidance and standards to the right - what's changed?
Manufacturer information from Celotex
(23 years later, still a valued customer of ours and now taking National BIM Library)
Export the data to COBie? I don't think so - printer paper with holes in will do
Watch the video below...

For more memories on our dedicated '40 years of NBS' page see:

Also, anyone want to guess the architectural practice? Add your comments below.

* Prof Lockley promises me that this was the case.

Monday 21 October 2013

Specifying sanitaryware with Twyford Bathrooms SpecMaster

At NBS we have just finished delivering the SpecMaster on-line specification system for Twyford Bathrooms:

I include a few screenshots below to introduce what we believe is probably one of the most advanced specification systems in the world that works entirely through a web browser.
(Click on the images below to see them a little larger).

Fig 1 shows that the web browser is split into three areas. The left hand-side is a library of content from Twyford Bathrooms. The user may search or browse through the items - it possible to see previews of the products, indication of price and also filter results to quickly find the assembly that will be specified. The central area of the screen is the project specification. To the right is a list of the spaces in the building. The specified assemblies are associated with the spaces.
Fig 1 - Select your sanitaryware from the Twyford Bathrooms library
When a user specifies an assembly they are led through the product specification decisions in a simple wizard. Only compatible products are offered as options - this results in a robust specification where the correct products are specified to work with the parent assembly. For example, only the compatible brassware is shown for a specific bath assembly in Fig 2 below.
Fig 2 - Configure the specification linking child products to the parent assembly
Fig 3 shows how easy it is to associate the assemblies with a space. This can be done through the context sensitive options or by simply dragging and dropping.
Fig 3 - Associate the assemblies to the spaces within your building
Fig 4 below shows that it is not just the specification that is built into the data model, but also quantities. Against each item specified in a room type, the user may add the quantity. This allows a quantified list of products to be generated, either for pricing by the contractor or to work directly with Twyford Bathrooms.
Fig 4 - Specify the quantities in each type of space
In terms of publishing information from the data model, the user may choose to publish to PDF, Word or Excel. They may classify the information by traditional CAWS or Uniclass 2. In terms of the information structure a number of options are available including "traditional NBS specification" and "room based specifications with quantities".
Fig 5 - Many different publishing options for the specification, space and quantity information
Fig 6 shows an example PDF output with table of contents, page numbers and headers + footers.
Fig 6 - A professional looking PDF "print out"
...and finally, our R+D team at NBS have aligned the database structure so that output from the Twyford Bathrooms specification system can be imported into NBS Create should it be desired. Fig 7 below shows the flow of data from one system to another.
Fig 7 - It's even possible to import the content into NBS Create
It is a completely free system to use and it's very easy to register and sign up - please take the time to check it out at:

For a case study on the story behind this development please see our website:

Sunday 20 October 2013

Responsive Web Design - Case study RIBA Plan of Work 2013 website

Responsive web design is a way of creating websites so that the pages you design display beautifully to the end-user no matter what device they are viewed on.

The problems it solves are things like horizontal scroll bars when the user makes a web browser narrower, having to "pinch and pan" the screen when viewing on a mobile devices, or not being able to use certain functionality as mobile do not have "hover" functionality.

.net magazine listed this as the number 2 web design trend for 2012 (behind progressive enhancement) and Mashable has called 2013 "The year of responsive web design".

At NBS we try and be innovative and respond quickly to new technology. So responsive design was important to us when we were asked to develop the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 website, which was launched in March this year.

The website looks great on a traditional computer (as you'd expect)...
On a lap top
Try the same website on an iPad horizontally and it looks like this...
iPad horizontal
Tilt the iPad vertically and it looks like this...
iPad vertical
On an even smaller screen, the exact same web pages are smart enough to deliver a different user experience. So on a iPhone horizontally the page changes to...
iPhone horizontal
...and then finally, crunching the pixels down to the pretty much smallest possible screen size, on the iPhone vertically it still displays the key information in a useful, user friendly way...
iPhone vertical
This approach to web design is something that we are now taking into all new projects. We will be re-launching next year with a fantastic new user experience. So expect to see more of this in future from the NBS R+D team.

And of course a little shout out to the interface designer who actually did this work - @StylizeRuss (also responsible for the BIMBingo sheets).
Sketch showing considerations of the fluid grid and CSS rules

Thursday 17 October 2013

The RIBA Plan of Work 2013 Toolbox

Yesterday the latest RIBA Plan of Work 2013 publication 'Assembling a Collaborative Project Team' went live.

One thing that has been fantastic about the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 project has been the way that at NBS we have been able to work with the RIBA authoring and publishing team to produce digital versions of each publication.

In March when the plan was launched, the NBS team produced the website - all of the content in a modern online digital form - and with some added extras like the ability to customise the plan to fit a particular way of working.

Now in October, with the latest RIBA POW publication, at NBS we have worked with the author Dale Sinclair to produce a free Toolbox download containing examples of the practical tools described in the book.

There are words written about this elsewhere - so I'll list a few hyperlinks below as opposed to repeat them.

1. The book
Dale describes the book in his article at the RIBA Journal website:

2. The free toolbox
I have written an article on that describes the Toolbox. We have also recorded a short training video that gives a bit of help on how to use the tools:

3. Hear from the author
Dale is one of the main speakers at our NBS Live conference on 26th November. If you'd like the chance to hear from industry experts such as Dale and many others (including Peter Hansford) then sign up now:

...and I'll finish off the blog post with some screenshots...

Fig 1 - Project Roles Table
Fig 2 - Design Responsibility Matrix
Fig 3. Multi-disciplinary schedules of service

Friday 4 October 2013

BIM in the UK - International Conference

Such is the world-wide interest in ‘BIM in the UK’ currently that today I attended my third international event on this subject in Aarhus Denmark. Previous events have included:
BIM in the UK day - NBS, Laing O'Rourke, Arup and Foster+Partenrs
I think it’s fantastic that UK organisations are being asked to share their experience with the world. Today in Aarhus, in front of 300+ delegates, it was the turn of Laing O’Rourke, Arup, Foster+Partners and NBS to speak.

I kicked off the event. It was nice to have a full hour to speak, it gave a great opportunity to take a good look at the UK Government BIM Strategy and the progress to date over the first couple of years. I then had a enough time to show off some of the free resources to the UK market such as strategy documents, PAS 1192:2, RIBA Plan of Work 2013 and associated Toolkit and the NBS National BIM Library. Telling this story, using software from ‘project preparation’ through to ‘hand over and in use’ is fun and although it is a little risky the technology didn't let me down.
Answering questions following the presentation
(Picture courtesy Claire Wanjiru Bay Jensen) 
Next up was Andy Radley from Laing O’Rourke (LOR). At LOR they talk about ‘digital engineering’ as opposed to ‘BIM’. The digital engineering part is not an ‘addition’ to the role – it is ‘within’ the role. Andy showed how all projects across LOR are assessed for their adoption of digital engineering and how it is now built into their staff training programme. It was fascinating to see how on a project the model had many uses from winning bids through to generating site health and safety induction information. The ‘Shard’ Leadenhall Building case study is always a fantastic story to hear. In addition, seeing how their ExpLORe manufacturing plant produces ‘Built off site’ elements and systems to lower risk and reduce build time is a real piece of industry leadership. Having BIM components that model these items allows their designers to work within these constraints for their designs.
Andy Radley from LOR shows their  BIM objects representing their "build off site" structural elements and systems
Health and Safety information is now delivered to site visitors via the BIM
It was then lunchtime; our hosts took us for a tour around the school of architecture. A few photographs from this tour are below…
Staircase in the school of architecture
Neatly stacked pile of chairs - art?
The students have a common room filled with Lego Architecture
Following lunch, Martin Simpson from Arup delivered his session look at BIM from an engineer’s point of view. Martin has worked on many sports stadium and some of the digital design work from Arup here was amazing to see. I'm not sure how many design firms around the world have internal programmers who write code in Microsoft Visual Studio to design buildings – but it was amazing to see what Arup are doing. Martin made a number of interesting observations. In terms of really pushing technology and design, he compared this to Formula One racing – the latest innovations here make their way down to the wider industry – anti-lock brakes being one of these. In terms of the new Formula E series, if this takes off, this should really drive the electronic car industry. I also liked Martin’s slide on why you should never try and predict how technology will go in the future. He included some quotes from the past:
  • Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons’ – Popular Mechanics, 1949
  • I think there is a world market for maybe five computers’ – Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
  • There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home’ – Ken Olson, president and founder of DEC
Martin Simpson ARUP shows a few of their beautiful stadiums
With stadium like this - you have to think 3D
The final presentation of the day was from Stephen Holmes from Foster + Partners (F+P). The majority of F+P’s work is overseas and they have a truly international design team based in London. They have recently taken on additional construction professionals so they no longer simply offer an architectural service. It was interesting to hear how they work through the night at their London office to service their international clients.
Again, as with other presentations (and as expected from such leading construction organisations) some of the buildings and designs Stephen put on the screen were amazing.

One great thing to see in Stephen’s presentation was a mention of NBS Create as a key part of the information (the ‘I’) in BIM. Sometimes BIM presentations get sucked into the familiar design tools from the big international vendors – so it was nice to see a non-geometric BIM tool like our NBS Create getting a nice mention.
Stephen Holmes from Foster+Partners shows a stadium they designed
A bit blurry - but great to see "NBS Create" (top left) listed on a BIM slide from Foster+Partners
Unfortunately, the trip was a very quick one – less than 24 hours in Denmark – so it was back in a taxi and to the airport and home again. But still a great experience, and a real honour to be speaking about all of the great things that are happening in the UK BIM scene alongside such super speakers.
The speakers
(Picture courtesy Claire Wanjiru Bay Jensen) 
The evening before - perfect preparation - lager and Bew-Richards-Wedge
Early in the morning - plenty of construction work currently in Aarhus