Confindustria Ceramica

augmented realityby Thomas Foschini21   Settembre   2020

What is BIM and how it is used?

Confindustria Ceramica is presenting the disciplinary model it developed during 18 months of work with companies, designers and industry experts

A BIM (Building Information Modelling) object is a kind of virtual twin of a physical object and likewise has a shape, dimensions and function. And just as in the real world, BIM architecture displays behaviour that evolves over time and is capable of interacting with other objects that in turn are part of the same digital architecture.
Well aware that BIM has been adopted in Europe since 2007, Confindustria Ceramica set up a working group with the participation of member companies, scientific and research institutions, designers and industry experts to explore how Building Information Modelling can be applied in Italy, particularly in the ceramic tile sector.
The result is a sector-specific disciplinary model unveiled at an online event held on 28 May and featuring talks by the principal contributors to the initiative (engineer Valerio Da Pos for technical consulting and Barbara Mazzanti from Centro Ceramico for theoretical/practical validation of the model), as well as university professors and designers who for years have been studying the BIM environment at various levels, both regulatory and applicative (Alberto Pavan from Milan Polytechnic and Carlo Zanchetta from the University of Padua).

BIM objects
Ostensibly, a BIM object is a graphic model. Users who connect to a company portal or a public library of BIM objects are able to access various levels of information based on a digital architecture that must be made usable and scalable over time, starting out from the standardisation of digital communication protocols.
So what type of standardisation was chosen for the ceramic industry? The British model proved to be very useful as it was the first to be developed in Europe, largely thanks to a specific strategy pursued by the British government. Naturally, this model is designed in accordance with the specific characteristics and needs of the UK market, which only in part reflects the characteristics of Italian ceramic tiles that could potentially benefit from working in a BIM environment.

Formats and languages
In reality, there are two completely different ways of building BIM digital architecture. The first is to use proprietary industrial design formats, the best known of which is Revit (others with similar functions include AECOSim, ALLplan, ArchiCAD, ARCHLine.XP, etc.). The second is to adopt non-proprietary, standardised open formats, and in particular the IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) format of buildingSMART, the international community that promotes the creation and development of digital and open working methods for developing the built environment, currently the only open platform operationally suitable for building this type of object.
When drawing up and proposing its own disciplinary model, Confindustria Ceramica chose the second route with a view to guaranteeing adequate interoperability and durability of the systems over time and compliance with the provisions of Ministerial Decree 560, 1 December 2017, which imposes the obligation to make the digital model available in open format.

Obligation or opportunity?
On the one hand, BIM objects are legally obligatory for architectural projects of a certain value and complexity (the obligation currently applies to public contracts with a value of €50 million or more, although the same law allows for voluntary compliance in the case of contracts of smaller value, while the thresholds will be progressively lowered between now and 2025 when they will be entirely eliminated). On the other hand, these digital objects may add significant value to the production, promotion and marketing of high-quality products.
Italy arrived relatively late on the scene, and in 2015 there were only about thirty public construction contracts in the country that stipulated the use of BIM right from the design phase. Since then the figure has more than doubled each year to reach the current level of 500 contracts (based amongst other things on the forecasts of Ministerial Decree 560 of 1 December 2017). But even today, only one in five contracts contain information on the specific requirements of BIM objects. At the same time, the value of the contracts for which digital modelling is required is gradually decreasing (including those where BIM is used on a voluntary basis).
Even objects that in theory adopt BIM may in practice contain a very limited amount of information and therefore be potentially of poor quality. This, explain the experts, is why it is in the strong interest of each product sector to adopt specific rules and develop disciplinary models capable of raising awareness of the characteristics and points of excellence of its products.

Information content
What kind of information must a BIM object contain? The main reference document in Italy is the standard UNI 11337:2009-2020, Digital management of building information processes. First and foremost, a BIM object must have a shared and accessible structure. Anyone in search of information (architecture firm, engineer, interior designer, maintenance engineer, end customer) must know what to look for and where to find it.
These product selection and specification criteria are referred to in BIM language as “property sets”. These include the name of the product, its function and its dimensions, as well as the object’s properties (a central focus of both standards and the market) from a technical point of view and in terms of other fundamental aspects such as environmental sustainability. This includes the on-site installation manual, maintenance procedures over the product’s entire life cycle, and so on.
After resolving the most critical issue, namely the absence of a precise international standard for ceramic tiles on how such objects should be built and classified in BIM environments, the Confindustria Ceramica working group decided to develop a disciplinary model starting out from the IFC language (in particular version 4.0 add. 2) while at the same time drawing from the British experience of NBS and creating as faithful a correspondence as possible between the identified property sets, the specific characteristics of the tile object, and the national and international regulations in force.
One further aim was to make this model dynamic and usable over time by adapting to the evolving needs of users and above all to the ever-changing “product qualities” for which Italian tiles are renowned all over the world.

Where can they be found?
In the case of ceramic tile manufacturers, BIM objects can be found directly on the companies' websites, as well as on institutional websites (in Italy, BIMRel publishes and manages UNI 11337 compliant product sheets; for the United Kingdom, the most advanced country in Europe in this field, the reference website is the NBS, National BIM Library). Commercial websites (from generalists to specialist portals) may also contain BIM objects and make them available to their users.
Clearly, trade associations play a key role in providing digital product information with the aim of making it easier for companies in the sector to develop and promote BIM objects through their channels.

The disciplinary model
The proposed model has four characteristics: scrupulous compliance with national and international regulatory standards (with the possibility of integrating new standards over time); flexibility and adaptability to the needs of individual companies and/or users; interoperability and ease of application (IFC standards); and last but not least, a model that is intended to perform an “identifying” rather than a “ standardising” function for the sector.
In practice, the development levels defined by the Association’s working group led to the publication of a specific template which, along with the property sets required by the IFC framework, also contains three additional worksheets, DoPAndProductCertification, EnvironmentalSustainability and OtherTechnicalFeatures.
This enables manufacturers to highlight specific product properties that cannot be summarised in other categories. In the proposed model it is worth mentioning COBie, in practice a subset of information that is useful for facility management (use and maintenance over time), an optional field that is in fact mandatory in the United Kingdom and all Commonwealth countries as well as in the United States, so it needs to be taken into consideration when exporting to these countries.
A significant portion of the working group’s efforts were aimed at establishing a precise definition of the different “levels of compulsoriness”. Only some IFC property sets are obligatory when proposing a BIM digital product image. Everything else represents an opportunity that the company itself can choose whether and how to exploit, and with what level of detail according to an approach that is modular, scalable and adaptable over time.

Product families and target users
Ceramic companies’ product catalogues are typically very wide and can be transformed into BIM objects by filling in the issued template, which member companies can download together with the relevant disciplinary model from the reserved area of the Confindustria Ceramica website. Known market scenarios and practical examples developed in collaboration with member companies help to gain a better understanding of the range of opportunities available.
As noted by the working group and in particular by the designers consulted during the development of the model, until recently ceramic tile promotion generally involved publicising the product's performance and aesthetic characteristics, whereas the market is now strongly focused on environmental sustainability as a pre-requisite for most tender specifications. But there are many other technical characteristics that can be integrated into the model and serve to distinguish the product from its competitors.
Unlike the standard IFC property set, the “Confindustria model” is able to integrate special properties (for example, a non-slip tile with antibacterial properties made from recycled materials), while at the same time integrating all the environmental and process certifications (information that companies already possess and usually publish on their websites) into a single summary sheet.
The proposed model was also developed for commercial purposes (from the outset the working group included marketing experts) and is designed for both producers and users while meeting three specific needs. The first is to limit the time and expense of filling in the template, allowing for an approach based on product families or categories. The second is to highlight the characteristics of ceramic tiles (and in particular Italian tiles) that may make them preferable to competitor products for use in construction. The third is to create an agile, scalable product that allows users to quickly find the information they need, when they need it.
For example, in a context of green procurement, the availability of BIM objects structured in this way greatly facilitates the work of the designer, who from the preliminary stage onwards needs to select the most suitable materials for the requirements of the tender specifications (such as environmental product declaration, CAM (minimum environmental criteria) compliance, the quantity of recycled raw materials and the absence of asbestos, to mention just a few examples). The template provides a simple and immediate response to these questions, without making it necessary for designers to retrieve and read the detailed technical data sheets certifying a particular characteristic.
Again, it should be stressed that in most cases this information is already available from the producer companies. For example, the various environmental impact indicators (life cycle, water and energy consumption per unit of product, etc.) are already available by referring to the industry-specific EPD (Environmental Product Declaration). If they are not, specific variables can be evaluated in a simple way (yes/no criteria), as in the case of the absence of asbestos or formaldehyde or zero VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions.

The future
After being submitted to the UNI sub-committee working on this subject, the template will evolve over time on the basis of feedback from member companies and the market, while a similar disciplinary model for the brick industry is currently under development.
One of the specific challenges facing the Italian market is renovation of existing buildings. This theme is already at the centre of the e-BIM project, co-financed by the ERDF Regional Operational Programme, with the Centro Ceramico di Bologna as one of the partners. This wide-ranging field (which includes restoration, energy efficiency and earthquake-proofing of the built environment and in particular of historic buildings) may be translated into a further opportunity for the development of high-quality Italian ceramic tiles within the BIM environment.


BIM, new frontier or no man’s land?

In terms of BIM languages, ceramic tiles are simply non-existent. In particular, the IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) standard, the only open format available on the market to describe this kind of object, places tiles within a more general category that includes all kinds of surface covering materials.
To give an example, tiles exist in terms of information technology only if they are connected with another object (such as a wall, floor or room), as in the sentence “The covering is used to represent a flooring”.
This is only the first problem that Confindustria Ceramica has sought to address by tasking the working group to elaborate and produce an initial BIM disciplinary model capable of truly responding to the specific characteristics of the real object (integrating the IFC standard). Performance sheets, sustainability sheets and operational management sheets are the three families of property sets that make up a BIM object, in practice an Excel spreadsheet that can be introduced into different types of authoring tools.
Geometric variables and alphanumeric parameters are intrinsically integrated into the model, which ever since it was first developed has suffered from two types of critical issues, one deriving from the limited or non-existent standardisation of languages, the other linked to the fact that clients do not always have the necessary skills to recognise and manage BIM objects despite stipulating them as mandatory in the tender specifications.
To deal with this issue, it is necessary to take a step back and ask two questions. What national and international standards govern the use of BIM? Why invest time and resources on standardising information relating to these objects?
At an international level, Building Information Modelling is regulated by UNI EN ISO 19650 (enacted in Italy by the technical standard UNI 11337), which describes the concepts and principles for the management of BIM information according to an approach based on the concepts of interoperability, exchange and updating of information by all stakeholders (manufacturer, designer, contracting authority, end user, etc.). The standard is applicable to the entire life cycle of a building (and its individual components) and is extremely general, describing how the digital object must be composed by integrating geometric and alphanumeric information.
A second and no less important aspect makes strict reference to the languages used and the interoperability of the systems. The progressive diffusion of proprietary languages for the construction of this type of object risks undermining the very principle on which Building Information Modelling is based, namely allowing all stakeholders to participate over time in the construction and management of the BIM object.
Information standardisation brings two main advantages. The first is a reduction in the additional costs associated with the limited or non-existent interoperability of the systems (a cost that is evaluated in the global construction industry at $4.39 per square metre per year). The second is the fact that, regardless of regulatory aspects, these tools are genuinely useful for promoting awareness of the high quality of these products in terms of their performance and environmental characteristics.
The “accessory property sets” described in the sector-specific disciplinary model respond to designers’ needs by providing a service that allows Italian ceramic tile manufacturers to differentiate themselves from their competitors and from alternative materials. The British government in fact estimates that the large-scale adoption of BIM modelling can bring potentially enormous increases in the appeal and sales of the sector (in the region of 50%).
Improving and expanding the model over time is not an option but a necessity that must be based on user feedback and any new improvements in the product itself. In this respect, the model provides companies with a series of guidelines that can be adapted and developed by integrating specific values or entire new property sets based on future needs. So in terms of service, some property sets are reserved for designers, making it even easier for them to find information and integrate the “tile” BIM object into the more general project of a building.
In order to cover the entire BIM object market and meet the specific needs of the tile sector, the disciplinary model proposes creating a “quality package” for BIM objects as best practice. The basic idea is to meet the needs of the many different users, not just design engineers but also designers, maintenance engineers and end customers. For this reason, the “BIM package” contains downloadable documents in xls format, a variety of manuals, and sheets (maps) of materials specifying the object's texture. These documents can naturally be exported in an open format, as well as in a proprietary format such as .rvt (Revit) to facilitate the work of this important group of users.
Performance and aesthetic characteristics and product and process sustainability are thus combined with an extraordinary level of simplicity and at the same time detail. All property sets are composed of a name that identifies the product, a short description and a set of values consistent with the IFC standard. Accessory property sets therefore draw particular attention to market developments in terms of building 4.0 (performance, application, finishes, durability, aesthetic, materials).
Transparency, completeness and data availability are therefore the three key terms that describe the market and within it the specific characteristics of each individual producer company.