Whilst at last week’s RTC Australasia event in Melbourne, I wondered to myself on many occasions, why aren’t there more building product manufacturers here? The benefit gained from attending an event like this was, for me at least, immense. But it’s not just at RTC that manufacturers have little representation when it comes to BIM. You only have to scan the room at the various ‘BIM groups’ that exist both online and in person to see that manufacturers are by all definitions underrepresented. Sure, they’re not entirely absent, but their contribution is quite minimal. I know that’s the case here in Australia anyway. I’ve seen it firsthand.

Do Manufacturers Have a Place in the BIM Community?

Talk of ‘BIM Community’ goes hand in hand with architects, engineers, contractors, sub-contractors, owners, quantity surveyors and facility managers, but rarely are manufacturers spoken of in the same breath.Manufacturers are part of the BIM community aren’t they? Aren’t they an important part of the ‘process’ that we keep hearing about that BIM encompasses? Don’t manufacturers stand to see significant benefit by learning about BIM and how it affects their business strategy decisions? Aren’t they investing substantial sums of money to create ‘BIM Content’ that designers are requesting with increasing fervour? Aren’t they contributing a lot of the data that is used to generate a BIM project? Assuming I’m correct in saying that all of these aforementioned questions should be answered in the affirmative (and it’s just my humble opinion) why aren’t manufacturers engaged in the BIM community with greater representation?

What’s Keeping Manufacturers Away?

Having been on my own ‘BIM journey’ for the past four years, I think manufacturers are scared. They’re scared by their own ignorance. They’re scared of investing great amounts of time and money into a process or software format today that may be superseded by something else tomorrow. They’re scared of investing in the creation of BIM content only to be told by their clients that they won’t use it for one reason or another. They’re scared of trying to learn more about what constitutes high quality BIM content for their products only to be baffled with a whole heap of technical jargon they don’t understand. They’re scared of attending BIM industry group meetings and feeling completely out of place when discussion inevitably turns to subjects that they have never heard of, let alone understand. They’re scared of being asked questions about their BIM content or capabilities and being unable to answer them. The BIM community can be a frightening place for a manufacturer and I think this perception needs to change.There is a something of a ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario here. For manufacturers to become more comfortable in being a part of the BIM community they need to become more educated on what BIM really is and how they can contribute. Conversely, perhaps the best way for them to become educated on these matters is to become engaged in the BIM community and speak with other BIM practitioners. But which comes first?I am intermittently surprised at the way some BIM practitioners underestimate the capabilities and the willingness of manufacturers to invest in BIM-related pursuits. The amount of times that I have been speaking with someone and for them to say to me “really, Britex will do that for us?” or “are you serious, Britex can actually do that?” astounds me. Having taken a step inside the BIM world and learnt a fair bit about how the whole BIM ecosystem works, I see enormous potential for manufacturers to contribute to the conversation and ultimately to the evolution of BIM.

BIM is fast changing the role that manufacturers play in contributing to the AECO+FM industry. It’s not just about making products. It’s now more than ever about offering ’service’ and this is a truly great thing with amazing potential.

Unfortunately, many of the market leading building product manufacturers with the most substantial resources (money, people, industry clout etc) are sitting on the sidelines. I truly believe the contribution of manufacturers in the advancement of BIM is the proverbial sleeping giant.

With the relative absence of manufacturers, as an industry that prides itself on ‘collaboration’, we are effectively depriving ourselves of one of the biggest potential contributors.

My Personal Experience

From a personal point of view, it hasn’t been easy to get to the point I am now where I feel comfortable talking with ‘BIM People’, getting involved in ‘BIM Groups’, contributing to online discussions and ‘BIM Blogs’ or even speaking at ‘BIM Events’. There have been plenty of times I have been deliberately made to feel out of place by ‘BIM Geeks’, times where I have had to ask stupid questions in a room full of my peers and times that my calls haven’t been returned because people think I’m going to waste their time as a salesperson. These things can be quite disheartening. Personally, it’s only because of my unwavering belief that manufacturers have something to offer to the BIM community that I have continued to keep knocking on doors and asking questions.

It will take time, but the resources and capabilities of manufacturers are substantial and when it comes to applying them to BIM they are vastly untapped.

Where to From Here?

My main piece of advice to the BIM community at large is to look beyond the perception that manufacturers are merely salespeople and that their role in the BIM process is simply to create content for their products in the hope that you will specify them because of it. To adopt this school of thought is short-sighted and builds a barrier of entry to manufacturers seeking to get involved in helping to improve BIM as a process.I think the future is exciting. I am hearing a growing amount of noise from manufacturers who want to step beyond simply creating BIM content for their products and really become involved in the BIM community. They want to attend BIM events, provide funding and resources for BIM initiatives and get involved in the coordination of collaborative BIM industry groups.More than anything right now, I think manufacturers need encouragement and education. Lots of education. And once they have it, look out! They need to be invited to the big, round BIM table and to feel welcome. They have passion, they are highly capable organisations and the BIM community has a lot to gain by involving them wherever possible.

Oh, one more thing....As a sub-note to this article, let me convey a personal thank you to all those ‘BIM people’, from all around the world, who have taken the time over the past few years to educate me in all things BIM so that I can in turn do my part as a manufacturer and as an industry advocate amongst manufacturers. I have communicated with and met some amazing people over my BIM journey thus far and I thank you sincerely for your counsel, your time and your patience! I hope that I can repay the faith by contributing in my own way to the advancement of BIM.