Construction Objects vs Manufactured Products

Construction Objects vs Manufactured Products

Continuing a series of my articles on construction and manufacturing, I want to invite you to read my recent article about Why Digital Transformation brings AEC and PLM together. Check this out.

Construction projects always reminded me of early PLM development. The problem of silos, discussions about standardization of data model, and the development of shared understanding between project and data stakeholders. Construction companies were afraid to implement PLM technologies, mostly because data ownership in the AEC process is not very clear when compared to how manufacturing companies operate. Every department in a manufacturing company is a separate company in construction!

The borders between manufacturing and construction businesses are starting to blur, but it doesn’t mean that the convergence will be easy. Both industries are still very much different. However, even we usually speak about manufacturing as a single industry, the verticals also make a lot of difference. Just think about A&D, Auto, Industrial equipment and machinery, process, high-tech, and food. You will find tons of differences.

In my earlier article – Will AEC and Manufacturing software converge, I created a comparison between Enterprise BOM and BIM LOD. You can see some similarities and differences in stages and views on the product information.

Today, I want to make an attempt to compare two fundamental models – construction objects and manufactured products. In my comparison, I’d like to focus on 5 elements – identification, unit of measures, structures, lifecycle, and systems (software) used in both.

Identification and Part Numbers

In manufacturing, Part Number is a big deal when you implement any manufacturing systems – PDM, PLM, ERP. It all starts and ends with the part numbers, revisions, and the ability to identify the right objects and changes. Bad Part Numbering schema can make or break any product development process. The process of Part Numbering is usually starting somewhere between design and first representation of engineering BOM. Moving downstream, multiple part numbers can be introduced- manufacturing, suppliers, serial, etc.

In construction, identification is slightly different. Depending on the type of material and equipment you might be very much similar to manufacturing (eg. in MEP), but also can be working in the environment using very unspecific names from architecture models. You should pay attention to BIM objects that bring a lot of formalization of data representation in construction data, but very often material (part) numbers will be finalized only later in procurement.

Unit Of Measure

The second significant element of all engineering objects is the unit of measures. To manage UOM can be tricky and managing translations can be even trickier. Depending on what industry you work for, UOM can give you different levels of challenges. In some discrete disciplines it can be relatively simple – just count screws, nuts, wheels, resistors, capacitors, paint, etc. It can be harder with materials that need to measure differently than used (eg. wood, wire, metal profiles, etc.). Then the next level of complexity is coming – materials are ordered in the different units of measure (eg. boxes of screws, tons of metal, etc.).

You can find examples of different units of measures in both manufacturing and construction industries. To manage them, you need to have flexible systems, and the capabilities to manage them are presented differently in systems. While CAD systems can be focusing on the way things are designed, manufacturing and purchasing systems are focusing on different representations of the same materials. Silos are everywhere and they create a lot of difficulties when systems are used together.

Structures, Views and BOMs

How many structures do you need to manage in manufacturing and construction projects? In manufacturing, they will be called Bill of Materials and/or Product Structures. Besides that, you will see design structures, engineering BOM, manufacturing, planning, as-built, serialized BOMs, and some others. You can often hear xBOM. Modern technology lingo gave us “Digital Twin” and “Digital Thread” as companies are moving towards more advanced methods to model information. In some industries, structures are more complex. You can hear about representations such as RFLP (requirement, functional, logical, physical) and more System Engineering models.

In construction, the structures can be simple and start as scheduled takeoffs. If you prefer to find manufacturing analogies, you can probably think about part lists. Then, you will get construction BOM, which is usually presented in different ways to satisfy the needs of engineers, manufacturers, and procurement. Depends on the level of sophistication and industrialization (especially in prefabricated buildings), you can get very close to what manufacturing does. Moving into BIM LODs, you will explore more data representation levels.

Changes and Lifecycle

Change is the most permanent thing in both manufacturing and construction. What is common and what is different between manufacturing and constructions? It all starts from the production model. In manufacturing, you should think about build to stock, configure to build, engineering to order. These are typical models and the lifecycle will be different and dependent on how the product is designed, engineered, manufactured, and then maintained. The things are starting to blur in some engineering to order use cases as well as with large unique products – vessels, defense systems, and some others.

In construction, the lifecycle is different. Typically everything starts from the other side – every building is unique, even if it is built using some sort of standard project. Big sophisticated buildings and constructions certainly can be similar to large manufactured objects in terms of the life cycle. Things are starting to get closer to construction in prefabricated modules and new innovating forms of industrialized construction companies looking how to manufacture buildings like airplanes.


Traditionally, CAD and other engineering software tools are oriented either to manufacturing and construction. For a very long time, 2D Drafting was a good exception of design tools used for both.  Solidworks vs Revit, PLM vs BIM, the list of software can go long. As manufacturing and construction are coming closer, we can see more synergy between tools and their ability to communicate. The focus is shifting from tools to product data.

What is my conclusion ?

Construction is new manufacturing. When it comes to information data structures and process organizations, both manufacturing and constructions present very complex organizational structures with the need for highly sophisticated software to manage data and processes. I can see a trend towards a bigger synergy between the manufacturing and construction industries. The demand for industrialization in construction will push construction companies and construction manufacturers towards the use of the methods and software that are traditionally considered as manufacturing. Some companies like Autodesk are in a unique position to target both industries. Some others are sending on both sides of the fence. How the software vendors will collaborate and what platforms will support both industries is an interesting question to ask. Unbundling trends, especially when it comes to SaaS platforms and applications can be another trajectory to watch. This is a time for PLM and AEC vendors to take note. The opportunity can be big. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networksMy opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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