Saturday 26 December 2020

DJI Mini 2 Drone - Angel of the North and Penshaw Monument

I've always loved cool technology, and finally DJI have released an absolutely awesome drone that just about made it into my price range.

The DJI Mini 2 has all of the great features you'd expect from a top of the range drone, but for a few hundred pounds instead of approaching the thousand pound mark.

Check out the awesome footage I managed to take (on a reasonably windy day) after just watching one or two youtube tutorials...

To get the shots in the above video I used the 'Circle' QuickShot mode. You take it out to about 50-60m from the target, click 'Circle', then tap the target and click Go. The drone does the rest. Amazing footage without needing any real flying skill.

The two north east landmarks are:

Discover the DJI Mini 2 for yourself at:

Friday 18 December 2020

NBS - A look back at 2020

As we're approaching the end of the year, I thought I'd look back on 2020 and blog about what we've been up to at NBS.

Let's look at things in three sections 1. NBS Chorus, 2. NBS Source and 3. Other activity.

1. NBS Chorus

We expected NBS Chorus usage to grow steadily this year, but nobody could have predicted by how much. With the majority of our users being forced to work from home, the industry moved away from installed software to cloud software. As a result, we end the year with the majority of those previously using NBS Building and NBS Create now using NBS Chorus for their specification writing.

We recognised that this was the future and we are now retiring our desktop products and focusing all attention on our cloud platforms. Some of the biggest features are looked at below...

1.1 Revisions and publication history

All of the specifications published now are stored in the cloud. Each publication has defined meta data that aligns to the ISO 19650 framework (suitability, revisions, container ID...). Within each specification all items can be classified to Uniclass 2015 and new, amended and deleted requirements are clearly highlighted.

A record of all specifications issued on a project

Further information -

1.2 Import from NBS Building

Last year we implemented the ability to import an NBS Create specification for use in NBS Chorus with the Uniclass 2015 classification. In 2020 we implemented the same process to allow NBS Building specifications to be imported retaining their CAWS classifications.

Traditional NBS specifications - a more modern version of Building in the cloud

Further information -

1.3 Company stylesheets

Content is king. But how the content looks is also pretty important, We've learnt over the years that designers want their documentation, drawings and specification to have the same presentation. By introducing templates into Chorus, users can present their specifications to look as they wish.

Customer title and cover pages and logos, styles and header-footers

Further information -

1.4 NBS Chorus Small Works

We recognise that for jobs of a more simple nature that all of the NBS specification and guidance content is not needed. We introduced a lower price Chorus offering for the smaller practices. Small Works comes with one simple content set, but is still offered in the Chorus 1 or Chorus 2 feature package as we recognise that smaller practices still utilise the best technology.

Chorus small works

Further information - 

1.5 NBS plug-in

In 2019 we worked with partners Autodesk and Archicad to launch NBS Chorus plug-ins. As many of the smaller practices use Vectorworks, it was great to be able to adapt the plug-in to work seamlessly with that design tool too in 2020.

Great seeing NBS Chorus embedded in the leading design tools

Further information -

2. NBS Source

We'd realised that the way we presented our manufacturer product information needed a refresh. Having case studies and literature in RIBA Product Selector, specifications in NBS Plus and digital objects in NBS National BIM Library was a disjointed approach. With NBS Source we brought simplicity and a new offering within a single modern web platform.

Having our product teams focus on only two platforms allowed us to deliver lots of value throughout the year. This will continue throughout 2021. Some of the biggest features from 2020 are below...

2.1 Searching

As the user types, suggestions appear with respect to categories (Uniclass 2015), manufacturers and construction products. Once clicked, the search results are filterable to enable the user to find the information they need quickly and easily. 
All the great search features that users are used to from sites like Amazon, Ebay, Autotrader etc...

2.2 Rich product pages

Through our user focus groups we learnt that specifiers value imagery, third party certification, guidance on application/suitability, standardized specification information and digital objects. Each product page presents this information consistently for each manufacturer. The allows designers, contractors, sub-contracts and facility managers to access the information they need from a single source. 
The technical information specifiers need

2.3 Alignment with the specification

NBS Source is a mirror of NBS Chorus. Specifications are quite often developed generically and then a manufacturer's product that meets this specification is selected. By aligning both platforms and sets of data we make the specification process easier and more transparent for all involved.
Manufacturer technical details aligned to the NBS generic specification structure

2.4 Linked information

The information on Source is interlinked. A user can read a catalogue, jump to view technical information about the products within it, then read a case study about a particular product, download the digital object and finally add the product to the specification.
Relevant information linked together - products, case studies, catalogues, certificates...

2.5 A self-serve platform

...and we have greatly simplified the process that manufacturers follow to enter their data into the system. Technical information is added and aligned to the NBS specification structure, the NBS technical team then moderate this adding any comment. Then this is signed off and the content is pushed live to industry.  
A self-serve platform and QA process to manage the data in the NBS Source system
The content from almost 1,500 manufacturers is incrementally being enhanced on Source each week. The Source content is also presented within the Chorus specification platform.
Visit Source to try it now -

3. Other activity

3.1 Construction Leaders' Summit

Our annual conference in October has an amazing set of speakers over the two days. Each presentation was 15-20 minutes long and we recorded each one and made it available on our mini website:

Whether it is Phil Bernstein, or Paul Morrell or Dame Judith Hackitt you'd like to hear from - check out the presentations on our website.
The UK Construction Minister speaking at the main NBS event, and one or two others...

3.2 RIBA Plan of Work 2020 webinar series

Early in the year we partnered with the RIBA and many leading practices (Aecom, HOK, Scott Brownrigg...) to host free webinars on the RIBA Plan of Work and the key topics that it covers.

These webinars are all still available to view on demand for free on the topics: Introduction - Fire safety - Sustainability - Inclusive Design - Conservation - Information Exchanges - Health and safety
The key topics on every project

3.3 NBS customer stories

Every month in 2020 we've published an article with images and videos on how leading companies are benefitting from their use of Chorus or Source. Check out six of the best below:
Designers and manufacturers working collaboratively in the cloud

3.4 Uniclass 2015

Uniclass continues to grow with classifications added from all sectors of the built environment. Uniclass 2015 is now the primary classification system that under-pins Chorus and Source. It is embedded in the UK BIM Framework and UK Government Departments are working with NBS daily to ensure it covers the scope of items needed to model the built environment.
Uniclass continuing to grow

3.5 Exciting times ahead in 2021

Check out the press release about NBS joining the Byggfakta Group of companies:

To be part of a collection of solutions in the field of project information, specification, product information and procurement that are best-in-class across Europe will be the start of an awesome journey. ...and with Glenigan joining the group this month too there are exciting times ahead.  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Friday 11 December 2020

Classification mapping - Uniclass 2015 to CAWS

This blog posts builds on an article I wrote for - Specifications and classifications

There are a number of use cases for classify assets/things, for example:

  • An annotation on a drawing or schedule;
  • A clause reference in a specification;
  • A Category code in a COBie spreadsheet; or even
  • A label on a physical product
In the UK, the two most common classification systems are Uniclass 1997 (in particular Table L aka Common Arrangement of Work Sections aka CAWS) and Uniclass 2015. 

The need to develop Uniclass 2015 to meet the demands of a digitalized construction industry is detailed at the web page below:

But with roughly half of the industry choosing CAWS and half choosing Uniclass 2015, the question often arises, do they map? and if so how?

In our latest release of NBS Source, all manufacturer systems and products with specifications information now have both Uniclass 2015 codes and CAWS codes. 

Some examples below showing the mapping. Starting with a simple examples and then gradually showing more complex examples.

1. Simple example

One of the aims behind the Uniclass 2015 project was to have a single classification to represent each 'thing' in the built environment. So one classification for a Secondary School (Co_25_10_77) down to one classification for an Interactive Whiteboard (Pr_40_30_25_42).

So in CAWS, is it the same and there is a nice one to one mapping?

Not quite, but almost so in the most simple examples. Consider a daylight pipe.

Source example -

Simple example - Daylight Pipe

There is a one-to-one mapping between Pr_30_59_72_21 Daylight pipes and L10/495 Daylight pipe.

Moving up a level in the tree L10 groups Windows/ rooflights/ screens/ louvres and Pr_30_59_72 groups Rooflights with Pr_30_59 grouping all Openings and opening component products.

By clicking on the classification reference in Source then similar products may be viewed.
- Rooflights filtered to show only daylight pipes

Grouping different types of rooflights together

But this is a one-to-two mapping! What is L10/52 Daylight pipes?

This is the simplified clause in L10 used in the Small Works library. For legacy reasons, there are many products with multiple CAWS references with a specification clause for more complex work and one for more simple work. 

2. Not quite as simple example

The second example is a concrete roof tile.

Source example:

Not quite as simple - a concrete roof tile

In this example, Uniclass 2015 is simple - one code for one physical product. But CAWS unfortunately has a clause for concrete roof tiling and another one for concrete roof tiling with counterbattens. Then, in addition, there are small works versions of both of these.

So analysing 'big data' across many projects with CAWS would need a look up of for four codes.

With Uniclass 2015, a client need look up just one.

Again, the parent groupings allow similar products to be quickly viewed.

View concrete interlocking tiles within the parent category of roof and cladding units

3. Complex example

The most complex example can be seen with products that can be used with many systems. The way CAWS references evolved over time means that there can be a huge number of relevant reference codes. However, with Uniclass 2015 there is only a single code in the majority of cases.

In this final example we will look at lime mortar

Source example:

Complex example - one to many

When the CAWS content was developed, computers were barely used and we lived in a paper world. Now we have modelling tools that can create a link between a parent system and a child product (such as NBS Chorus) or a parent space and a child system (such as Archicad/Revit). So each thing can have a single code and the modelling tool can digitally give the context.

The screenshots below shows one type of lime mortar being used by two different systems. But specified once. By specifying once it makes procurement easier and when potentially defending specification decisions gives context. For clients that want build a digital estate - it makes data querying achievable.

Masonry system A linking to the mortar product 

Masonry system B linking to the same mortar product

The product specified once - but with clear context shown 

To view the mappings, explore NBS Source (free-to-industry):

To specify to the Uniclass 2015 structure, CAWS structure use NBS Chorus (subscription):

To watch a video to learn more about NBS offerings - click below:

- NBS in 60 seconds

- NBS in 30 minutes

Friday 4 December 2020

Working with the NBS specification data

With NBS Chorus and NBS Source, our vision is to (a) first and foremost to produce best-in-class platforms with great user experience and then (b) to open up the data for partners and those with basic programming skills to use.

With both, we have loads of exciting functionality planned for the main platforms, this means that opening up the data access will take a little longer. However, we do allow users to export specifications to the well-structured DOCX format.

Primarily this is for manipulation in Microsoft Word. But as a secondary point of interest, this means that hobbyist programmers can play with the data.

Last Saturday morning @mgjspidey on Twitter let me know that he'd written some code to generate a Revit Keynote file from the DOCX output. As I used to enjoy a bit of programming a while back, I took this as a challenge to dust off the old coding fingers and write some sample code that I'd share with the community. Having some spare holiday days mixed with Covid lockdown boredom also helped ;) 

As the most accessible coding language for Microsoft Office is probably VBA, I wrote some code and popped it up on GitHub.

Summaries of the four use cases are below. Feel free to download and amend the code to create your own use cases.

1. Microsoft Word Macro - Generate Keynote file from Chorus specification

Use case: Revit LT users cannot use the NBS Plug-in for Revit. So a keynote file is required for making annotations.

Coding solution: Open the DOCX file - run the macro - generate the keynote file.

NBS plan: Intend to implement in this within Chorus in 2021, in particular for small works customers.

Generate keynote file from published specification

2. Microsoft Word Macro - Prepare NBS legacy word-processing for importing into Chorus

Use case: NBS customers may have old word processing versions of NBS they want to import into Chorus as record/historic specifications. Unfortunately, the historic word processing format used does not have structure to it.

Coding solution: Open the DOCX file - run the macro - convert to a file that imports cleanly.

NBS plan: Incremental enhancements to the MS Word import feature will continue to be made.

The word-processing file format for the last 25 years :)

The macro loops through the document giving it structure

...and then import well-structured content into Chorus

3. Microsoft Word Macro - Prepare stylesheet for uploading to Chorus 

Use case: It can be quite time consuming to change the colour and font-style for all styles in an NBS print template document.

Coding solution: Open the DOCX file - run the macro - change all of the fonts and colours instantly.

NBS plan: No plan at this stage to develop this into the main software

Choose your heading colour and document font

All changes are made

4. Microsoft Excel Macro - Generate a pricing document

Use case: On small jobs that don't of bills of quantities, a priceable spreadsheet with specification references may be useful.

Coding solution: Open the XSLM file, specify which DOCX file to look at - run the macro - generate the pricing spreadsheet.

NBS plan: Intend to implement in this within Chorus in 2021, in particular for small works customers.

Browse to the DOCX file and click the button

Pricing sheet generated from specification sections

Calculation and currency field types added

I do realise that programming and working with data like this is not for everyone. But hopefully this will spark of other ideas of what the data inside specifications can be used for - ideas worked on can turn into well-worked functionality that makes it into the main product one day too.