Building Products’ Sophie Stevens talks to Alex Small, BIM and digital platforms manager at Tata Steel,
following the launch of the company’s ‘pioneering’ new DNA Profiler.
Sophie (SS): What are the main benefits of
BIM technology and why is its adoption so
important for UK construction?
Alex Small (AS): BIM offers tangible supply
chain benefits; utilising 3D modelling, structural
data and working collaboratively saves time and
reduces costs. Inefficiencies and errors in design
and construction can be found and corrected
early, improving productivity and speed of
construction. Designs can be optimised (more
easily) for energy consumption and operational
efficiency, driving down the cost and resource
intensity of managing assets.
To begin a construction project now without
wanting to adopt modern, sensible, digital
methodology (BIM) would be like asking your
wedding photographer to use a 35mm film
camera – paper output, no data, inflexible
format, errors found too late, expensive to
amend and it all ends up in an archive box in
SS: How does the UK compare to the rest of
the world on its uptake of BIM?
AS: The UK was one of the first out of the blocks
when it came to the adoption of BIM. There is
no doubt that the UK government’s decision to
mandate BIM level 2 for all government procured
projects after April 2016 was a huge driver for the
UK industry, however, the practical adoption by
government bodies has not been as impressive.
When I left Arup in 2003, we had 3D
structural analysis tools, 3D AutoCAD, Common
Data Environments, we were generating 3D
BUILDING PRODUCTS | MAY 8
virtual walkthroughs for clients and working
collaboratively was the buzz phrase. We are
now 15 years on and although designers have
fully embraced the technology, further down the
supply chain the adoption has been lacking.
One of the reasons for this is that
manufacturers are very confused (and rightly so)
about what they need to provide to the market,
in what format and how.
The lack of a marketplace product template
tool (LEXiCON for the UK) has been a
disappointment, as that would have at least given
manufacturers a starting point (the data attributes
they need to provide for their products).
In many other countries, particularly in
mainland Europe, they have started from further
behind but many have caught up and some are
now overtaking the UK.
SS: What is the Tata Steel DNA Profiler?
AS: The challenge manufacturers face is that
no matter who you ask (an architect, a client,
an engineer, a contractor), they will all tell you
they want something different when it comes to
The DNA Profiler has been designed to allow
users to access exactly what they want, when they
want it, to the level of detail they want, in the
format they want. It is designed to minimise data
overload and will allow users, at whatever stage
they are in the construction process, to retrieve
the exact level of BIM data they require.
It is a flexible, web-based tool which
hosts over 6,100 of Tata Steel’s European
construction brand products in all relevant BIM
software formats required, to ensure complete
interoperability. The BIM objects are available
in a large range of native formats including
Autodesk Revit, ArchiCAD, Tekla, Allplan and
Trimble SketchUp. All objects are generated
‘on the fly’ in these formats making them fully
It also provides users with the option
to download data sets, 3D objects or both
combined, to help functionality. Users can also
find a product by filtering on product data and
performance characteristics – allowing them to
access the data they need in the correct format
and tailor it specifically to meet Employer
Information Requirements (EIR).
SS: How does it make accessing Tata Steel’s
BIM data easier?
AS: The user is able to search for the product they
want using a variety of filters. For example, they
can search for composite wall panels by selecting
a preferred U-value (thermal transmittance), or a
composite deck by choosing a structural depth.
At the moment, we are developing plug-ins
for Revit, ArchiCAD, Allplan and Tekla that will
enable all of this information to be available in
the CAD tools that designers use, meaning they
won’t need to navigate away in order to get the
information they require.
As we move forward, these plug-ins will
be developed to include configuration and
design capability and hopefully, linked to other
manufacturers’ databases to enable assemblies/
systems to be generated.
SS: You have mentioned the need to support
SMEs within the construction supply chain
– has the DNA Profiler been designed with
SMEs particularly in mind?
AS: It has been designed and built primarily to
help Tata Steel provide its customers with the
information they need.
That said, as we have been developing it, we
have realised that it would be a very useful tool
for other manufacturers and potentially benefit
SMEs hugely – particularly in helping them do
the first few steps in getting their data digitalised
and available flexibly for the market.
SS: The DNA Profiler is described as ‘the start
of the Tata Steel digital revolution’. How far
has it been ‘future-proofed?’
AS: The DNA Profiler is being launched in ‘beta’
because this is a journey that, at the moment, we
can see no end. We have at least 30 developments
lined up and find new ones weekly.
See an extended version of this interview
Whoever you ask, they
will all want something
different when it comes
to product data