Constructible Content by the Millions
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on November 25, 2019 |
Trimble is driving the digitization of construction through intelligent component libraries.

A structural engineer will create what is essentially a stick model for the steel frame of a building. That’s good enough for most of the analysis. But for the detailing, the geometry of each member is needed. An I-beam needs to look like an I-beam, in other words. Zoom in, however, and the structural steel members, even if precisely modeled, will be seen as floating in space, with gaps where there should be connectors.

What if you could pluck the proper connectors from a library, have them orient themselves automatically, and see them snap into place with the proper hardware? That would complete the picture.

This is not just a dream at Trimble. The company, known for its pinpoint accuracy and measuring equipment used worldwide by surveyors, has spent years quietly amassing what may be the biggest library of building component content that exists today. Thirty-one million pieces of content, to be exact. These aren’t just 3D models for incorporating into designs, but intelligent parts that tie to a network of information, including physical specifications, pricing and more.

We did not know there were that many different parts in the construction universe and felt compelled to ask if Trimble was taking credit for each length of rivet and screw. We sought out James Reis, business area director, for the answer to that question and others.

The Constructible Concept

Trimble is keenly aware of the current revolution occurring in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) space. In order to bring AEC out of the 20th century, we need to digitize it.

Building information modeling (BIM) is naturally a key component of this digitization, turning 2D blueprints and even 3D models into smart models that contain all of the necessary building data, such as the specifications of components, their costs, which job team is responsible for them and even the physics of those parts in the built environment.

Prefabrication, too, is increasingly important for transforming construction from a sometimes-haphazard operation that occurs live on the construction site to something predictable and reliable. Prefabs can be made to spec in a controlled environment and shipped on-site at the properly scheduled time.

Constructible Content Overview. (Video courtesy of Trimble.)
The team at Trimble believes the key to the digitization process is that the 3D models used at the start of the design process are tied to real-world information. For this reason, the company developed the concept of “constructible content,” that is a “3D representation enriched with information such as size, height, weight, article number, labor and material pricing, and more.

Rather than simply beginning to design a project in 3D and then determining how that project can be realized, Trimble allows users to begin with content that is already constructible in the real world. To do this, the company created a massive library of constructible content, more than 31 million individual components that already exist in the physical world, designed and developed by manufacturers in the AEC industry.

This could be a toilet fixture from Kohler, concrete formwork from PERI, or even just nuts, bolts and valves from any number of manufacturers uploading content to Trimble’s library. All of it comes from the physical world, which means that it has real physical specifications, real costs and real labor associated with its installation and assembly.

MEP constructible content hosted by Trimble’s (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
MEP constructible content hosted by Trimble’s (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
“There’s a growing need for digitization of real components and this idea of constructible. We’re at the center of that because we believe in taking our models to the constructible level,” Reis said. “The more you can digitally design something and preplan it, the more accurate it is and the more labor and time you can save in the field.”

Trimble’s Content Libraries for Building Construction

As a user of Trimble or Trimble-compatible software is working, they can pull a component from the relevant library of items to include in a design. Trimble’s constructible content is divided by construction category, with each part of a design and engineering team likely interested in a different set of components:

  • Tekla Warehouse: dedicated to structural engineering and construction. Includes steel, building materials and concrete formwork.
  • SketchUp 3D Warehouse: includes manufacturer-supplied fixtures and appliances.
  • Building Data: focused on everything mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP), including HVAC, ICT and sheet metal in addition to other MEP items.

Though SketchUp started with users uploading their own 3D models, the digitization of the construction space has seen more and more part manufacturers creating their own 3D content. Now, these same companies have been uploading their models, based off of their actual products, to the SketchUp 3D Warehouse. The same is true for Tekla Warehouse and Building Data.

A constructible 3D model with real world metadata attached. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)
A constructible 3D model with real world metadata attached. (Image courtesy of Trimble.)

Depending on an engineer or architect’s workflow, these assets will be accessed and used in different ways. For instance, an engineer may be designing in Revit and, through an extension for SysQue, be able to access a number of relevant components hosted in Building Data, such as an electrical junction box or sheet metal fitting for an air duct system. The same will be true for a structural engineer planning the steel for a building accessing Tekla Warehouse or an architect laying out a bathroom and accessing a vanity in Sketchup 3D Warehouse.

“If I commission to have a drawing of a building created and I get one artist to depict a window and another artist to depict lighting, and so on, with each element coming from a different artist, the drawing may look like a mosaic,” Reis said. “But if the same artist is authoring the window and table and the light fixture, and I want to run a Bill of Materials report of all of these items, it now starts to make more sense when we go to construct it.”

The ability to access real-world items results in real-world benefits for any given project team member. The structural engineer can analyze the stress in a building frame, how much deflection will be exhibited, based on actual steel components. The costs of a project might also be estimated by totaling the prices of all of the items in a project, which are linked to actual pricing information from the manufacturers. It’s even possible to calculate labor time based on the elements in a project because there are labor norms associated with given tasks that Trimble has incorporated into the data tied to each element.

All of this information can then be used to pre-plan a construction project with the goal of improving efficiency and eliminating waste, thus ensuring schedules are maintained and costs are not overrun. Using a piece of concrete formwork from PERI, Reis explained that a project manager can then estimate the logistics associated with getting it on site.

“The software has identified which PERI formwork pieces it will need. You can then say, ‘I’ve got a truck that can handle X amount of weight. It is 20-feet long by 8-feet wide. The software will actually tell you how many trucks and the proper stacking for the PERI formwork to get to your site so you can build the forms,” Reis said.

Trimble’s Content Factories

The content in these online libraries isn’t uploaded by part manufacturers alone. Trimble actually employs 350 people dedicated to digitizing items for each repository—not only the 3D data, but also information associated with pricing and more.

“Trimble is very deliberate and strategic in some of the acquisitions it has made around making models constructible with content that enables these workflows,” Reis said. “When we manage content, we have a factory for content generation that we take raw data from—it may be a product manufacturer or pricing or an installation manual—we categorize that in a very specific fashion. Some of our content generation factories are ISO certified. So, we produce the same content in the same way consistently.”

Kohler’s 3D models hosted on Sketchup 3D Warehouse.
Kohler’s 3D models hosted on Sketchup 3D Warehouse.

In fact, the metadata associated with Trimble’s large and growing libraries of constructible content isn’t built by humans alone. The Trimble team has developed machine learning algorithms that learn from existing content, such as the labor hours that go into installing a specific component. The newly created manufacturer components will share metadata values that equal existing content and applies the labor values to the new components. The process uses data science combined with domain expertise to deliver accurate results with limited effort. 

Reis concluded our conversation by saying, “We feel very strongly that constructability is what makes productivity. That’s how we’re going to transform the way people work in construction: giving people real content in the workflow, as they need it.”

To learn more about Trimble Constructible, visit

Trimble has sponsored this post.  All opinions are mine.  --Michael Molitch-Hou

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