It’s all about the classification…

John Sands,  Principal Consultant of BSRIA's Sustainable Construction Group

John Sands,
Principal Consultant of BSRIA’s Sustainable Construction Group

As BIM experience increases, a number of key issues are becoming apparent.  One such example is classification – what ‘things’ are called.  If you have a vast quantity of data or information, that can be a very powerful resource.  However, all that potential may be difficult to realise if you can’t find the particular piece of information efficiently when you need it.

Classification can be defined as:

                    ‘the act or process of dividing things into groups according to their type’

Classification has been used in the construction world for many years, often without the users knowing it.  For example, many engineers would recognise that a section called ‘T10’ in their specification dealt with ‘Gas/oil fired boilers’.  This came from a classification system called Common Arrangement of Work Sections (CAWS) which covered architectural and MEP elements for construction projects.

Subsequently, Uniclass was derived from this system and gave the opportunity to classify ‘things’ in different ways, not simply as a system or an object.  Uniclass was based on the general structure described in ISO 12006, which promoted the use of classification classes, each of which relates to a classification need.  As well as products (or objects), some of the other classes suggested by ISO 12006 are:

  • Entity e.g. a building, a bridge, a tunnel
  • Complex (a group of entities) e.g. airports, hospitals, universities, power station
  • Space e.g. office, canteen, parking area, operating theatre
  • Product e.g. boiler, door, drain pipe
  • Facilities this combines the space with an activity which can be carried out there, eg operating theatre

Indeed, other classes can be added to a classification system such as ‘system’, which works very well in an MEP environment.  Similarly, an ‘activities’ class would be very helpful to define a range of activities which might be able to be done within a particular space, as an alternative to using the ‘facilities’ class.

Uniclass, published in 1997 in UK by the Construction Project Information Committee.

Uniclass, published in 1997 in UK by the Construction Project Information Committee.

Although consultants and contractors have managed well using just a couple of the classes above, other groups have found great benefit in classifying in a number of different ways.  For example, it would be very helpful in a hospital FM environment to use the ‘spaces’, ‘activities’, ‘systems’ and ‘products’ classes.

In a hospital it is useful to classify the ‘spaces’ in the first instance by type, and then to classify each space further by which ‘activities’ can be carried out within them.  From this it is possible to classify the ‘systems’ which support the spaces and then the ‘products’ which form the systems.  A practical example would be if the chilled water system was taken out of action then you could quickly see which spaces were affected – an operating theatre.  Once that’s known it is simple to determine which activities cannot be carried out – a number of planned operations.  Also, other products or equipment can be identified which can now be worked on as the system they belong to is not working – chillers or chilled beams.

In this era of greater collaboration it is not enough to know what we are calling things, which classification system we are using.  We must communicate with those we are working with to make sure that the solution suits all of us, and moreover that it is suitable for the whole life of the asset and not just the design, or the construction phase.

It may be that a new classification system is required to satisfy all parties involved in an asset and to make information available throughout its whole life.  This is no simple task, which becomes more complex when the range of assets is considered in both buildings and infrastructure.

It is tempting to try to find solutions to what we do individually, but it is vital that any solution must be suitable for all stages of an asset’s life, for all types of assets and for all those involved in the asset.  Once this has been achieved, the full potential of BIM can start to be exploited, and tangible benefits demonstrated in the use of information management processes.

About johnsands123
John Sands Principal Consultant, Sustainable Buildings Group John has recently joined BSRIA’s Sustainable Buildings Group to drive the development of BIM within BSRIA, to help industry understand the principles and practices which define BIM, and give support in making best use of this in their everyday operations via the BIM Centre, a joint venture with BRE which will be launched shortly, and the BSRIA BIM Network group. Prior to joining BSRIA, John worked at Hoare Lea where he was involved in a trial to automatically generate specifications from objects as they are inserted into the BIM model. This work will continue as a collaboration between Hoare Lea and BSRIA. John is actively involved in industry discussions on classification structures for BIM, and represents the CIBSE at CPIC committee level on this topic. He also sits on the CIBSE BIM Group, currently looking at developing standard information presentation techniques for use in BIM environments. John has a particular interest in the capture of data for use throughout the full life cycle of the building, covering such activities as performance monitoring in use and facilities management.

One Response to It’s all about the classification…

  1. Pingback: The practicalities of classification in a BIM Level 2 environment | BSRIA Blog - Opinions and insights from BSRIA Ltd.

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