Friday 7 April 2017

Publishing your specification - Post 3 of 3 (Online model viewer)

This is the third of three posts looking at publishing information from NBS so that it can be used by the wider project team. The first of these posts looked at exporting to Microsoft Word to improve the aesthetics of the published output, the second post looked at exporting to the open data format COBie.

This post looks a little more to the future where the specification can be published to a secure website where the wider project team can view the information from the context of the 3D model.

The traditional method of publishing a specification is to print it out or export to PDF format and send to the project team. A hard copy/PDF record is clearly required (and still will be required) contractually - but problems can arise if multiple copies of this are distributed around the project team and as the specification is intended to be viewed from the context of the design - it means that there is a lot of navigation required to find what is needed. Figure 1 illustrates this.
Figure 1 - Recreating the paper workflow - but with PDF
Figure 2 below displays the concept of (in addition to the PDF record) the specification being uploaded to the cloud in its native format so that the rich data can be viewed from the context of the model.
Figure 2 - Access the model and specification using the cloud
I put together a video explaining this new development...

To try out the functionality, simply create a project in the BIM Toolkit and then hit the 'model' button upload your specification and/or model. This will then be hosted in the cloud and you can invite project team members to view this information read-only without installing any software. These steps are shown below:
A. Select 'Model'

B. Browse to specification and/or model

C. Invite the project team
The specification information may be viewed by clicking on the specification to the left. This also selects any linked instances of this in the model. Alternatively, items in the model may be clicked and the associated specification will be shown.

Models may be in IFC or Revit format. With IFC format the author must link objects using the viewer. With Revit format, the objects may be pre-linked using the NBS Plug-in for Autodesk Revit. Figure 3 below shows the viewer working with the 'famous' IFC Duplex Apartment model. Figure 4 below shows the viewer working with our model of our own NBS office building in Newcastle.
Figure 5 - IFC linked to the NBS spec

Figure 6 - The spec for our cafe roof up in NBS Newcastle
There are lots of nice things to discover such as classification mappings, first person walkthroughs, clause linkage, automated quantities, links to standards, links to manufacturers, standardised object properties - but maybe they are a subject for a follow up post.

Please try out this functionality and let us know what you like and your suggestions for improvement at our ideas board:
- Try it out now -
Give us your ideas

The technology used for the 3D model viewing is Autodesk Forge. NBS are Autodesk Solutions Associate partners.

With all developments, I love to look back at the initial sketches for the idea. Below is a couple of photos from the Forge Conference in 2016 and some sketches on the back of an envelope over a beer with Jim Quanci.

Forge DevCon 2016

Scribbles that start the development process

Thursday 6 April 2017

Publishing your specification - Post 2 of 3 (COBie)

This is the second of three posts looking at publishing information from NBS so that it can be used by the wider project team. The first of these posts looked at exporting to Microsoft Word to improve the aesthetics of the published output. This post looks at the other end of the spectrum - publishing just the data regarding the systems and products that make up the built asset so that this data can then be transferred to other software applications such as FM systems. 

When publishing data with interoperability in mind, it is essential that the data format is to an agreed public standard. Figure 1 below illustrates this in a simple non-construction-industry example. To take contact information from Google into Apple products there is a basic agreed data schema called vCard. 99.9% of the world needn't know anything about this. But the software developers at Google and Apple do. They can then make great products and transfer information reasonably smoothly with the complexity hidden from the 99.9%.
Figure 1 - Interoperability and vCard
Of course, in the construction industry it is much, much, more tricky to digitally model an entire built asset than it is to model someone's contact details. The open data schema that is defined by the UK's Level 2 BIM to do this job is the Construction Operation Building Information Exchange format (or COBie for short).

For more on COBie - please see one of the websites below:
- The 'What is?' page on theNBS website:

Figure 2 - Concept diagram from UK BIM Task Group
Not one tool models the entire built asset. Costs may be contained in cost databases, spaces and instances in 3D models, maintenance manuals on an extranet etc... So no software tool can claim to have a 'big COBie button' that produces a complete data file. Figure 3 below simplifies the data schema of a built asset and indicates in red the information that is contained within a specification. Figure 4 shows how by exporting to an open data format then this information can then be imported into another software application. In this example it shows the information from an 'as built' specification at stages 4/5 of a project then being imported into an FM system for stages 6/7 of a project.

Figure 3 - Where the specification fits

Figure 4 - Taking information from one software package into another
Recently introduced functionality in NBS Create has greatly improved the 'Publish to COBie' feature within the product. Previously it has been possible to generate a collection of CSV files that could then be manipulated into COBie format.

Now it is possible to generate a COBie data file in the properly formatted Microsoft Excel template. Figure 5 shows this option in NBS Create.
Figure 5 - Export to COBie format
At the point of export it is possible to select what codes are required for the Category field within COBie. Figure 6 shows that either the NBS reference codes or Uniclass 2015 classification codes may be selected. The organisation generating this information may also specify their contact details which will be stamped against each row of data.
Figure 6 - Select your classification
Figure 7 shows that a user-friendly report is generated highlighting exactly what information has been exported. All types of activities (such as surveys), systems (such as heating systems) and products (such as air curtains) are exported. If exporting to Uniclass 2015, any items without a Uniclass 2015 code are highlighted. This would typically include product clauses detailing prototyping or samples.
Figure 7 - Export report
Figure 8 below shows the COBie overview worksheet - the contact, system, type and attribute worksheets can be seen to be well populated. Worksheets on Spares, Spaces, Resources, Jobs are empty as this information is not typically modelled in a specification.
Figure 8 - The COBie overview worksheet
The concluding figures below show 'the data' in a format that can be then used for any workflow that supports COBie. The sorting and filtering functionality in Microsoft Excel is also useful for querying this data in the native file.
Figure 9 - The manufacturer contact details

Figure 10 - All of the 'types' of systems and products

Figure 11 - Filtering the attributes to display the information about a specific type
For more information on NBS Create and COBie please see our page on

For more information about NBS for BIM projects please see the page below:

This is part of a three post blog series:

Post 1 - Publishing your specification to Microsoft Word

Post 3 - Publishing your coordinated specification and model to the cloud

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Publishing your specification - Post 1 of 3 (Microsoft Word)

Our users regularly stress with us the importance of publishing the information within their specifications. Clearly, the content within NBS and the functionality to author the project specification is one of the major workflows in the process. But once the specification is ready, it is then shared with the rest of the design team and then this information flows through to the contractor, sub-contractors and the supply chain.

We have been working on quite a lot of new functionality in this area and this is the first of three blog posts looking at how we now provide users with a greater amount of flexibility in terms of how this information is distributed.

Traditionally specifications have been sent to the printer and distributed as a paper document. However, over recent years, digital PDFs have arguably become the publishing format of choice. Figure 1 shows that in NBS Create there are a wide range of formatting options (content, styles, margins etc...) that can be utilised prior to publishing.
Figure 1 - Send to the printer or publish as PDF directly from the software
In our customer satisfaction surveys, one of the biggest suggestions for improvement was to provide the functionality to export to Microsoft Word. This wasn't so that the document could be issued as a Word file. But it was so that some final 'tweaks' could be applied prior to issuing the final contractual PDF.

We recently introduced this functionality and Figure 2 below shows, once exported to Microsoft Word, that the navigation structure and style options are marked up correctly. The navigation tree is shown to the left - the styles such as Heading 1, Heading 2, Title are displayed to the right.
Figure 2 - Functionality to export to Microsoft Word format
Figure 3 below shows how the styles can be changed to a suite an organisations brand identity. The fonts, the sizes, the colours and the spacing have all been quickly modified.
Figure 3 - A well-structured document that respects the navigation and styles within Microsoft Word
Figures 4 and 5 below show that those used to the more advanced functionality in Microsoft Word can take advantage of this to make the presentation of the specification exactly as required. Examples of this could be reducing the page count by adding columns to the document, reducing the margin and changing the page layout. Other examples could be inserting images or tables or cover sheets to add further clarity to the publication.
Figure 4 - Further post processing can make the specification more compact

Figure 5 - In Word - any of the functionality such as customer header/footers/images/tables may be used to complete the document
This functionality is now available in both NBS Create and NBS Building. To find out more please see the links below:
The second blog post in this series looks at exporting the specification to the open data format COBie:

The third blog post in this series looks at publishing your specification and model to the cloud and viewing this coordinating information visually through the web browser: