General Construction 320 views May 31, 2018
Construction products - one size does not fit all

Product substitution is an endemic problem across the construction industry.  A recent survey by the NBS showed that 78% of construction professionals believe product substitution is an industry issue, which leads to cheaper and/or inferior products being substituted in order to drive down build costs and maximise profits.  This means that what is designed is not what is built.

Important decisions are often made with a lack of understanding of the consequences that the substitution can have on the building’s performance and lifecycle costs. Substituted products may well invalidate various contract conditions and warranties, and in some cases expose people to heavy liabilities should a failure happen. These products may also reduce the performance of the building as a whole. One such example would be in the specification of insulation products where, if a PIR insulation product were to be substituted by a product of the same thickness with poorer insulation properties, it would have a significant impact over the lifetime of the building.  This could result in the building not meeting its thermal performance, as determined by building regulations, increase the lifetime energy costs for the building occupants and reduce the carbon savings,  as well as potentially impacting on the health and wellbeing of the building occupants.

Therefore digitalisation of construction products will provide some traceability of products across the supply chain and is seen by many as the best way to reduce the performance gap and increase performance certainty across the built environment.

Ultimately, building owners need to know all the components used in a building’s construction and accurate product specification is now a critical part of the construction process. Specifications do allow the exchange of information between the client, the designer and the contractor but not everyone can know everything about a particular product on a build.  Therefore it is very important for manufacturers to provide the most up-to-date information in order that designers and contractors can make correct decisions quickly and minimise risks on projects. Digitalisation of this information is one way of achieving this.

A digitally-connected world

In an era of digital technology, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has become tremendously important in the construction industry and has enabled manufacturers to share product information in more accessible forms. According to the NBS, three- quarters of manufacturers agree that BIM is the future of product information. Through the BIM Level 2 programme, building product manufacturers can provide a wealth of product information to specifiers online, in an immediate and standardised accessible digital structure.

The BIM Library gives specifiers the ability to compare products on a like-for-like basis and as such, decisions can be made based on the quality of the product - such as performance, financial cost, environmental impact, durability, third-party certification and warranty - and not on the quality of the marketing spend. And where products need to be assembled to form a system, the user will be able to do this online through a user-friendly interface. This will reduce and hopefully eliminate the chances of specifying incompatible products in a system.

Designers recognise the potential for BIM as it helps create new design possibilities and allows for traceability of products used on any particular construction project.

Standardising product information

One of the issues with supplying product information in a number of formats or templates is that it can cause confusion. There is also the question of what information needs to be shared. Led by the Construction Products Association (CPA) and developed by the UK Government’s BIM Task Group, the industry-led initiative LEXiCON has been designed to streamline data consistency and interoperability across the sector.

This tool standardises product information by providing the construction industry with a plain language dictionary to share product information in a consistent way. LEXiCON utilises tools and templates that can be used across different software platforms. This will help to improve collaboration and exchange of information, rather like having a product’s DNA information attached to a product and is added to throughout its lifecycle.  It is now being considered as the basis for a new European standard.

Smart CE Marking

Introduced in 2013, the CE label for a construction product outlines valuable technical information. However, as it is available only in printed or PDF format, it cannot be used by software or BIM tool and is often extensive and too complex to be of any practical use for installers or end users.

In a bid to create more user friendly information, the development of Smart CE Marking simplifies specification by enabling information in an xml format through a QR code or web link. It provides the link between the physical product and the Declaration of Performance (DoP). The results provide human or machine readable information which will hopefully empower designers to specify products in accordance with European standards.  Added to this, users will have certainty they are using products that match their specifications.

As well as providing product information through Smart CE Marking, manufacturers can also connect directly with the users of the products in order to provide targeting information such as health and safety information, product guidance and installation videos.  Information can also flow back to manufacturers, which will allow them to trace products to their final place of use.

Specifiers and manufacturers are in agreement that they want to reduce product substitution. Support from manufacturers at an early stage will help specifiers choose the right product quickly, and armed with more accurate specification through digitalisation, reduce the likelihood of substitution. Manufacturers who embrace digitalisation will be the winners, as the construction industry continues its drive towards a digital world. Companies which are slow to embrace this new way of doing things will run the risk of falling behind their rivals.