BSRIA’s Model Format for Building Services Specifications and UniClass 2015

bg-56-2016-model-format-specificationTo reflect the importance of specifications in the construction process, in 2015 BSRIA published its guide BG 56 Model Format for Building Services Specifications.  The guide stressed the need to present specifications in an effective and consistent format, and working groups representing designers and installers co-operated to produce a model format for specification content.

The format developed consisted of the following five parts:

  • A Preliminaries
  • B Project specific requirements
  • C Project specific materials and equipment
  • D Common workmanship and materials requirements
  • E Tender deliverables

Within the project specific parts, the content indexes have been arranged to present the correct level of information in the order it will be required by the specification user.

Classification has been used in construction for many years as a way of grouping similar information together, and identifying content about a particular topic.  This has been particularly effective within the building services sector with the use of CAWS (Common Arrangement of Work Sections), resulting in recognisable codes such as T31(low temperature hot water heating) being used as a form of shorthand to describe particular engineering systems in specifications, design reports and on drawings.

BG 56 has now been updated to include references to the recently resolved classification system for use in BIM Level 2 applications – UniClass 2015.  For most specification instances, the two main UniClass 2015 tables to be used will be Systems (Ss) and Products (Pr).

Additional appendices have been included to provide examples of how UniClass 2015 may be used in specifications to identify particular engineering systems or equipment.  Appendix F shows UniClass 2015 codes for a selection of typical equipment items found in workmanship and materials sections of engineering specifications.  Appendix G contains an example of a complete specification index using the model format, with UniClass 2015 codes included where appropriate.

The practicalities of classification in a BIM Level 2 environment

I first raised the issue of classification in the BSRIA blog back in March 2014 – my, how time flies.  As you would expect (or at least hope) things have moved on and there are some issues within the general world of classification which are worth raising, particularly in the context of BIM Level 2 with the UK Government’s mandate almost with us.

Current classification systems commonly used in construction typically work at ‘system’ level.  The highest level of classification is for a group of system types eg in CAWS (Common Arrangement of Work Sections).  This level is represented by a single letter: ‘S’ represents Piped Services, a category including systems such as Cold Water, Natural Gas, etc.

However, most classification systems available have an inherent flaw – they are not capable of classifying at a multi-services level, something that is common in the world of MEP.  In CAWS language, there needs to be a way of combining mechanical systems and electrical systems under a single heading, as the various mechanical systems are combined under the Piped Services ‘S’.

The success of information management depends heavily on the ability to retrieve a piece of information once generated.  BS 1192:2007+A1:2015 details a method for naming information files, and consists of a number of mandatory and optional fields.  The following extract from BS 1192 shows all the fields, together with their obligation – ‘Required’ or ‘Optional’.

John Sands Jan blog

Using this process would result in a file name (a similar process can be used for drawing numbers) as follows.  I have ignored the last two fields – Suitability and Revision – for the moment, and I’ll explain why later:


In this example, the CAWS classification system has been used, giving T31 for Low temperature hot water heating system.  And this is my point (finally, I hear you say) – the classification field is the only part of the file string which tells the recipient what the subject of the file is.  In future, when searching for information about a particular aspect of a project in the information repository, this classification code is the best way to identify relevant content.  Therefore, I feel it is vital that the classification field is used for all file names in order to make the information available for future use.  This reuse of information is where efficiency increases are realised and errors reduced by not having to reproduce information over and again.

Now, suppose that the report in the above example was the building services scheme design report, covering all mechanical, electrical and public health systems.  Which classification could be applied for that topic?  This takes us back to the point I made at the start of this article – for any classification system to work effectively it needs to be able to represent multi-services applications.

The classification system chosen for use in the UK Government Level 2 BIM requirements is Uniclass 2015, a development of Uniclass 2 which was produced by CPIC (Construction Projects Information Committee).  Uniclass 2015 has been prepared by NBS as part of an Innovate UK research competition won by their parent company RIBA Enterprises, and consists of a number of individual classification tables.   Although this is the classification system chosen to take us into Level 2 and beyond, it does not appear to be capable of meeting at least one fundamental requirement – the ability to deal with multi-services applications.

Don’t get me wrong.  This issue is not new and is certainly not confined to Unicalss 2015.  CAWS couldn’t handle multi-services classification either, but it was hoped that a new system, developed specifically for BIM, would provide the answer.  BSRIA has been raising this issue, both in its own name and as part of CIBSE initiatives, since Uniclass 2 was released.  Throughout the development of Uniclass 2015 we have raised a number of queries about the arrangement and capability of the format, but on this particular point we are still waiting for a meaningful response.

Whilst I’m at it, here’s another thing to think about.

As I mentioned earlier, the success of an information management system – for that’s what BIM is – is the ability to retrieve information once created.  The file naming convention described in BS 1192:2007+A1:2015 described above goes a long way in enabling this but there are some points of concern with its approach.

A document or file may be superseded a number of times in its life, and BS 1192 describes the process for moving that superseded file into the ‘Archive’ area of the information store.  This ensures that the complete history of the project is retained for future reference.  However, the way the successive versions are named is causing a little concern in practice as more people start to use these methods on live projects.  This is where those last two fields I conveniently ignored above come into play.

Historically, we have managed revised and superseded documents by using revision codes – in most cases a single letter after the final number (PROJ1-BSRIA-00-ZZ-RP-H-T31-00001A using the previous example).  This additional letter distinguishes each version of the same base document, and also has the added benefit of changing the file name to allow it to be saved whilst remaining recognisable.   The two remaining fields in the BS 1192 extract above appear to provide this facility within the BS 1192 approach.

However, the guide to BS 1192 (Building Information Management – A Standard Framework and Guide to BS 1192) states that:

Recommendation: status and revision should not be included as part of the file name as this will produce a new file each time those elements are updated, and an audit trail will not be maintained.

This doesn’t appear to be a very sensible approach to me.  You cannot save multiple versions of a file with the same name, so the addition of the revision letter to the file name is a simple and workable solution.  This might seem like a small or trivial issue in the big world of BIM, but it’s the sort of thing that could stop the widespread uptake of an otherwise very worthwhile file naming approach.

BSRIA has posted several blogs on the topic of BIM that can be read here.

BSRIA BIM Network event review – Delivering the Level 2 BIM tools

John Sands blog 1BSRIA’s BIM Network focusses on bringing particular issues around BIM to its members in an informal environment.  As part of this mission, it has previously held two events specifically looking at the Innovate UK (formerly Technology Strategy Board) competition to provide the missing Level 2 BIM components – the digital plan of work (dPoW) and the classification system, all wrapped up in a user-friendly on-line tool.

The competition was won by RIBA Enterprises, with a team including NBS, BIM Academy, BDP, Laing O’Rourke, Microsoft, Mott MacDonald and Newcastle University.  The period of the initial delivery phase was six months with a due date of mid-April.

This topic was first looked at in the Network in February 2014 when the competition was about to be launched, and a second event in September reported on progress and the outcome from the second stage of tendering.

The latest event, held on 21st April 2015, was timed to follow hot on the heels of the launch by RIBA Enterprises.  As it turned out, a beta version was the subject of a ‘soft’ launch, made at the BIM Show Live on the 8th April, with the ‘hard’ launch now planned for some time in June.  The contract calls for RIBA Enterprises to ‘maintain’ the product (known as the BIM Toolkit – but more about the title later) for five years so development is expected to continue.

Almost thirty people attended the half day event, and represented a wide cross section of the built environment industry with designers, constructors, manufacturers and utilities suppliers all taking part.

The format for the event was very simple, with the aim being to give as much time for debate as possible.  Following a brief introduction from the chairman, Rob Manning from the Government’s BIS BIM Task Group gave a presentation describing the background to the UK Government’s Level 2 BIM requirement, and to the Innovate UK competition.

John Sands 2Rob’s presentation ran through eight key themes, all seen as vital to enabling effective Level 2 BIM:

  1. The Level 2 BIM journey
  2. Consistent work stages
  3. The Employer’s role
  4. Innovate UK project – A digital tool for building information modelling
  5. Digital Plan of Work
  6. Classification
  7. Validation tool
  8. Multi mode access

The first three items demonstrated the need for BIM Toolkit, and the remaining topics explained the requirement contained within the Innovate UK competition.

Sarah Delany of RIBA Enterprises then gave a presentation on the Toolkit, giving some background to the project from RIBA Enterprises’ perspective, and demonstrating its main features.  The presentation looked at the various features of the Toolkit, against the backdrop of the project phases identified in PAS 1192-3:2013:

  • Assessment and need
  • Procurement
  • Post-contract award and mobilisation
  • Production
  • Following hand-over then “in-use”

The BIM Toolkit is a project-based tool.  As well as the usual project information, the tool lets the user input data and assign roles at each stage of the project (the RIBA 2013 Plan of Work is used).  Certain key themes are displayed in the pane on the left hand side (see red box in the image below) which can be completed for each stage.

John Sands 3The Toolkit also incorporates a classification structure (Uniclass 2015), and a data validation facility, although these weren’t included in the presentation.

There was a lot of information to take on board and the coffee break after the last of the presentations was welcomed by all.  It also gave the audience a chance to collect their thoughts and frame some telling questions.

As was expected, the questions were wide-ranging, from how the tool affected what information manufacturers were expected to produce, to how the tool was intended to be used.  This latter enquiry highlighted a key aspect of the tool, which had previously been misunderstood – at least by us.  One of the MEP constructors asked if the tool was meant to be hosted in the project environment, where all members of the team would be able to see it.  Rob Manning’s response was that the tool was meant to be used by the client, who would then export it into another environment for use by the project team if required.  The same person then asked if it was in fact a tool for the client and Rob Manning said that was indeed the case. We must admit that at that point we were struggling to see the collaborative element of the Toolkit.

The name of the tool also raised some questions.  Given that it was for the use of the client, someone asked if the name of Toolkit was perhaps not as helpful as it could be.  Rob Manning said in response that perhaps the name may need to be reconsidered.  Someone in the audience suggested that EIR Writing Tool or Briefing Tool may be more appropriate.

BSRIA is considering holding a similar event in early June.  This will give the industry another opportunity to ask questions once they have had a chance to look at the Toolkit in more detail, and consider how it relates to their working environment.  This will also act as useful feedback to RIBA Enterprises at the end of the beta testing period and help to shape the new release, currently due sometime in June.  In the meantime, BSRIA agreed to take any comments attendees may have between now and June and feed them back to RIBA Enterprises.

In summary, it was good to see the BIM Toolkit and to hear the Government client’s aspirations.  Also, it is worth bearing in mind how much has been achieved in such a short space of time.  However, we think that there is a lot of work still to be done to get the beta version to what was intended in the original competition brief.  It will be interesting to see how the June release has progressed.

Have a look at the beta version of the BIM Toolkit ( and send any comments to RIBA Enterprises.  It’s important to have your say and to help make the final output of real value to the construction industry.

BSRIA provides one-day training courses to introduce BIM and how to implement a BIM plan.  Visit for more information

Nearly there – delivering the Level 2 BIM tools. Will they be what we were expecting?

We are just a few weeks away now from the first deliverables from the Innovate UK’s competition to deliver the last two key components of UK BIM Level 2 – a digital plan of work (dPoW) and an industry-wide classification system.  The ‘soft’ launch is scheduled for the 8th April 2015 at the BIM Show Live event in Manchester, with the ‘hard’ launch planned for some time in June.

With the very short time frame for the work, the opportunities for consultation with the industry have been limited and what will be delivered will largely represent the views of NBS and the other project partners.  There has been some dialogue with a group representing a number of the institutions and institutes, but it is not clear at this point how much influence they have had.  Also, there have been a number of presentations and webinars over the last few months showing progress to date.

As you would expect, there has been a significant amount of feedback from the institutions’ body, including a CIBSE team from its BIM Group.  The CIBSE team has tried to look at how these new tools will work throughout the life of the asset, and has looked wider than just the 3D modelling aspects of the output.

Three key issues have come to light with the classification structure being prepared.  Firstly, it must be capable of classifying multi-services systems or elements.  A good example would be a multi-services co-ordination drawing.  Historically, classification systems such as Uniclass have only classified up to ‘types of systems’ – ventilation and air conditioning services and electrical power and lighting services are two such examples.  Combining services in an application is common and the new classification system needs to be able to accommodate this.

Secondly, it is important to be able to classify things other than those associated with a 3D modelling environment.  A wide variety of documents will be generated throughout the life of an asset and these all need to be classified in order to be stored and subsequently made available for reuse.   Obvious examples are reports, correspondence, drawings and specifications but could equally include EIRs.

The third aspect is the continuity of classification.  It is suggested that the Elements table would be used at the early stages of a project to describe needs – Heating would be an example.  As the project progresses and more detail develops, this might become Low Temperature Hot Water Heating Systems from the Systems table.  Although this looks sensible in theory, there must be a connection between these two tables as a cornerstone of BIM is to build on information and not throw it away and start again.  Therefore, the first part of the Elements table should match the corresponding Systems table entries to achieve this.  The alternative is that the Systems table is used throughout with subsequent pairs of characters being added to reflect the increasing level of information as the project progresses.

We have discussed these issues with NBS recently and it will be interesting to see how the new classification structure accommodates them.  Realistically, it is probably too late to see them reflected in the April or June releases, but more are planned for later in the year.  If these issues are addressed I believe that it will be a significant step towards providing a classification system that works for all those involved.

A key factor in the success of the Innovate UK project will be the way in which the outputs are disseminated.  They could be the best dPoW and classification system in the world but unless they are adequately explained they might not be adopted into common use.  The phrase ‘winning hearts and minds’ seems appropriate in this case and its importance should not be underestimated.

Are they ready yet? – Delivering the Level 2 BIM tools

TSB SBRI Competition – A digital tool for building information modelling

TSB SBRI Competition – A digital tool for building information modelling

As you will no doubt have seen the UK Government has refined its BIM Level 2 requirements over past months and now describes them in terms of compliance with a number of documents and tools (see earlier blog article on 7 pillars).  Most of these are already available and the last ones are currently being prepared.  In September 2014 RIBA Enterprises was awarded the contract by Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board) to develop a digital plan of work (dPoW), an accompanying classification structure and a digital interface through which to access it all. The first phase is due for delivery in April this year, with further releases planned for later in the year.  The work is being carried out by NBS, a company wholely owned by RIBA Enterprises and which is best known for producing the NBS specification writing product.

This work is very important and the outcome has the potential to be of benefit to parties throughout the construction and operation markets.  The dPoW will provide assistance for clients in preparing their employer’s information requirements (EIR), and also for the supply chain in preparing BIM execution plans (BEP), their response to the EIRs.  It will also describe the data and information manufacturers need to include with their products to meet BIM requirements.

The classification system being provided needs to enable information and data to be labelled in a consistent manner, making it readily available for reuse. It must be as suitable for infrastructure as it is for buildings, and must be applicable for use throughout the life of the asset.  The solution is based on Uniclass2, a proposed development of the original Uniclass structure.  Uniclass2 was issued for consultation in 2013, and it is hoped that the comments received in response have been considered in developing the new solution.

A number of webinars have been presented by NBS recently, describing progress to date and more are scheduled for next month.  The recent webinars focused on demonstrating the overall arrangement of the tool and showing a little more detail of a number of selected aspects.  Unfortunately, classification wasn’t included in this round but more information on this was promised for future events.

A lot of progress has been made but it was clear that there is still a huge amount of work to be done before the April delivery date.  It is important that the output from RIBA Enterprises and NBS is informed by the need of the industry rather than their commercial links to their existing products,  so take the opportunity to visit the NBS website and look at the work they are doing.  Above all comment on what you see.  It might be the only chance you get.

The BIM Level 2 jigsaw – nearly complete?

The Level 2 programme was defined in the BIM Strategy which is available at

The Level 2 programme was defined in the BIM Strategy which is available at

In my blog article back in June  I discussed how the UK Government had refined its Level 2 BIM requirement and express it in the form of compliance with seven components:

  1.  PAS 1192-2:2013 Specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of construction projects using building information modelling
  2. PAS 1192-3:2014 Specification for information management for the operational phase of assets using building information modelling
  3. BS 1192-4:2014 Collaborative production of information. Part 4: Fulfilling employers information exchange requirements using COBie – Code of practice
  4. Building Information Model (BIM) Protocol
  5. GSL (Government Soft Landings)
  6. Digital Plan of Work
  7. Classification

Since then BS 1192-4 has been published, leaving just the Digital Plan of Work and Classification elements to be completed.  As reported previously, these were the subject of a TSB-funded competition and I thought it would be useful to give an overview of how the competition went and where it is now.  This is a fundamental piece of work that is set to have a huge impact on BIM in the UK and it is vital that as much of the industry as possible has an awareness of what is happening, and get involved wherever possible to help make it a success.

The competition brief was developed, with industry consultation, and has been administered via the Innovate UK (formerly TSB) SBRI programme under the title “A digital tool for building information modelling”.

The competition process involved two phases – Phase 1was a feasibility study, with organisations or consortia invited to submit proposals with funding of up to £50k (including VAT) available to each.  Three teams were awarded these phase one contracts:

  • RIBA Enterprises Limited, together with BIM Academy, BDP, Laing O’Rourke, Microsoft and Newcastle University
  • BRE Global Limited, with buildingSMART UKI
  • CIBSE on behalf of a group of industry professional bodies known as C8, consisting Association for Project Management (APM), British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

The results of the Phase 1 stage can be seen here.

On completion of Phase one, two of these submitted bids for Phase 2 – RIBA Enterprises Limited and BRE Global Limited, and RIBA Enterprises Limited was awarded the single Phase two contract.

At the time of writing, the results of the Phase two competition had not been posted on the Innovate UK website so it has not been possible to compare what RIBA Enterprises has said it will deliver with the functional specification.

As RIBA Enterprises has developed Uniclass2, which it uses for some of its other software tools, it is probably safe to assume that the classification solution delivered as part of this competition will be based on that format.  That being the case it will be interesting to see how Uniclass2 is developed to cover all necessary instances, and not just those which may occur within the 3D model.  The classification system needs to be capable of capturing everything which may be held within the common data environment (CDE) in order to make the objectives of the standards such as PAS 1192-2 and PAS 1192-3 a reality – the PIM during construction and AIM during operation being the sole sources of information for further use, having been verified and validated against the EIRs and OIRs.

Many experienced BIM practitioners recognise the need for a comprehensive classification system to make information available throughout the life of an asset, letting it be used time and again rather than having to recreate it, and this project could make this a reality.  However, careful thought needs to go into it to make sure that everything that needs to be classified can be, and in a way that can be understood.

The “Seven pillars of (BIM) wisdom”

In 2011 the report for the Government Construction Client Group defined Level 2 BIM as being:

“Managed 3D environment held in separate discipline “BIM” tools with attached data….”

However, as a consequence of ongoing development of the processes and tools available, and feedback from early adopter projects and other industry experience, the Government has recently refined its definition of Level 2 BIM as having the following seven components:

  1. PAS 1192-2:2013 is available to download for free from BSI

    PAS 1192-2:2013 is available to download for free from BSI

    PAS 1192-2:2013 Specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of assets using buildinginformation modelling

  2. PAS 1192-3:2014 Specification for information management for the operational phase of assets using building information modelling
  3. BS 1192-4 Collaborative production of information. Part 4: Fulfilling employers information exchange requirements using COBie – Code of practice (due to be published Summer 2014)
  4. Building Information Model (BIM) Protocol
  5. GSL (Government Soft Landings)
  6. Digital Plan of Work (in preparation)
  7. Classification (in preparation)


1. PAS 1192-2:2013 builds on the processes described in BS 1192-2007, and introduces new concepts such as employer’s information requirements (EIR) – the employer’s expression what information they require from the project and the format it should be in, and BIM execution plans (BEP) – the supply chain’s response to the EIR showing how it will meet its requirements.

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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.

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