In previous articles we looked at the drivers for digitalisation of construction and the requirements that they place on stakeholders in the sector. In this article we look in more detail at the GS1 standards available to meet those requirements and how these can provide added benefits to organisations.
The key to managing products through their lifecycle is the use of a global, unique, interoperable identification system. The identifier
links the physical product to its Digital Twin. The life cycle of some products will be measured in decades and their Digital Twins will
last even longer. Proprietary identification systems and those which do not interoperate beyond the current project, software system or geographic region will not be useful in future. Identification needs to be at the base product level (and sometime at the product instance level), so a classification system will also not suffice. The construction sector is now recognising this and has identified the GS1 standards as a ready-made, trusted and neutral system for identification of products, assets, and locations. Manufacturers of construction products are assigning Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs – the same numbers used to barcode products in stores) to their products while building owners and construction companies are assigning Global Location Numbers (GLNs) and Global Individual Asset Identifiers (GIAIs) to maintainable assets.
Master data and transactional data associated with these products, locations and assets can be maintained in databases and registersby the brand owner, manufacturer, supplier, builders merchant, construction company (including within Building Information Models) and owners (for example in Building or Facilities Management Systems). All documentation associated with a product or asset can be linked to it using its identifier.
The identifiers introduced above: GTIN, GIAI and GLN, can be expressed as linear or 2D barcodes or as RFID tags. Linear (or
one-dimensional) barcodes are the familiar ones seen on consumer products. For barcodes which are required to hold more informationor where space for printing is limited, two-dimensional barcodes – the GS1 DataMatrix and GS1 QR Code – are available.
The use of RFID tags is growing rapidly as prices have decreased and use cases have increased. They are particularly useful in construction where access to barcodes may be limited (e.g. when the product is behind a panel or underground). They can be scanned at entrance gates and doorways to track movements automatically.
Once captured, information can then be shared with partners. The GS1 standards facilitate the creation of electronic Orders, Despatch Advice and Advance Shipping Notices (ASNs) and Invoices. Shipments can be identified using Serial Shipping Container Codes (SSCCs) so that deliveries can be scanned onto a site. This facilitates the delivery of smaller batches of items at hours which suit site operations, using GLNs, which can be directed to the exact point-of-use with very little site-specific knowledge. The ASN, sent as an XML file will contain all the details of the shipment and can be uploaded to inventory management systems and subsequently to the BIM and FM systems.
The building SMART IFC v4 exchange file format now incorporates the GTIN as a product identifier. The BIM model can therefor be exported for use in other systems with products, assets and locations identified in a globally unique and interoperable format. Building owners will no longer be restricted to using software solutions from a particular vendor – systems from many vendors will interoperate on site, across sites and across geographies without concern about non-uniqueness.
By clearly identifying products and assets, further uses can be enabled. These include Building and Facility Management, traceability (ensuring the correct provenance and assisting with anti-counterfeiting efforts), re-cycling and re-purposing products, parts and materials (and being able to demonstrate compliance with regulations). Identification is a major enabler of modern methods of construction – particularly the procurement, manufacturing and logistics processes. Identification also underpins the GS1 Digital Link standard which allows a scan of any GS1 identifier to open up access to additional data and information about the item scanned – including Specifications, Schematics, Bills of Materials, Declarations of Compliance, images, test results and all of the other information handed exchanged in the Soft Landings process – which may be held in multiple repositories.
GS1 Ireland is available to help you decide how your organisation could make use of these standards to improve your processes.
Sean Dennison is Head of Industry Engagement and Technical Standards at GS1 Ireland. He has over 30 years’ experience in the Construction, IT, Food Manufacturing & Distribution, Retail & Wholesale FMCG and Forecourt Retail sectors. He participates in standards development in GS1 and is a member of the NSAI BIM Committee and the DSCiBE workgroup.
GS1 is a neutral, not-for-profit, member-owned, standards development organisation, best known for providing a system of unique numbers, data carriers (e.g. barcodes) and information sharing standards relevant to products, relationships, assets, locations, services and processes. GS1 standards improve the efficiency, safety and visibility of supply chains across physical and digital channels in 25 sectors including Retail Food and Grocery, Hardware & DIY, Transport and Logistics, Healthcare as well as Construction. The GS1 system of standards is the most widely used supply chain standards system in the world. www.gs1ie.org
This Business Support article featured in the November/December issue of The Hardware Journal.