Building a Strong Foundation: The Crucial Role of Product Identification and Traceability in the Built Environment

Author: Dr Seyed Ghaffar, PhD, CEng, FICE, FHEA, MICT

In this article, the lack of product information in the built environment will be briefly discussed focusing on its importance and implications along with solutions for the future. In the built environment sector, having accurate and comprehensive information is essential for the success of any project. As such, the lack of complete and reliable product information, including specifications, certifications, materials passport and installation guidelines, can have wide-ranging consequences. It not only leads to errors and delays but also hampers the traceability of products and their related resources. Addressing these issues is crucial to ensuring the smooth execution of construction projects and mitigating risks.

When product information is incomplete or inaccurate, it becomes challenging for built environment professionals to make informed decisions. Designers, engineers, and contractors rely on detailed specifications to select the appropriate materials and components for a project. Without access to complete information, they may choose products which are not perfectly matched for their intended application, leading to performance problems or even failures. Traceability of products in the built environment sector is crucial for several reasons. For instance, it ensures that the materials used in construction meet the necessary quality standards and certifications. Without accurate information, it becomes challenging to verify the origin and authenticity of products, making it easier for substandard materials to enter the supply chain. This not only poses risks to the integrity of the structure but also to the safety of the occupants. Moreover, traceability is vital for maintenance and repairs. Over the life cycle of a building and infrastructure works, it is essential to have access to product information and documentation to facilitate suitable maintenance, warranty claims, and replacement of components. Inadequate traceability can result in difficulties in identifying the source of problems or obtaining the necessary replacements, leading to prolonged downtime and increased costs. Product identification and traceability could also contribute to sustainable practices in the built environment. By providing information on the environmental impact of products, including their resource usage, energy efficiency, and recyclability, stakeholders can make informed choices that promote circular economy. Traceability also aids in managing the end-of-life stage of products, allowing for appropriate disposal, recycling, or repurposing.

With improved and strong communication and collaboration channels between manufacturers, suppliers, and built environment professionals it might be possible to solve the lack of product traceability. Clear and timely exchange of product information, including specifications, certifications, and installation guidelines, can help ensure that the right information reaches the right people at the right time and that the information is stored for future use. Implementing standardised documentation practices, such as consistent formatting and labelling of product information, can greatly enhance traceability and ease information retrieval. This includes utilizing digital tools and platforms to store and share product information in a centralised and easily accessible manner. It is also worth considering that information about a product is often updated during its lifetime by manufacturers, for example information about recalls. Thought should be given to how to enable an ongoing link to the latest up to date manufacturer maintained information.

It’s worth emphasising that statutory instruments curated by a regulatory body can play a vital role in ensuring the accuracy and completeness of product information used in the built environment. For example, The Higher-Risk Buildings (Key Building Information etc.) (England) Regulations 2023 requires specific information on: materials; fixtures to external walls and roofs; as well as the structure.

To meet these instruments, the implementation of robust verification processes and audits can help identify non-compliant or insufficiently documented products, providing an additional layer of quality control. Additionally, embracing technology and digital solutions, such as Building Information Modelling and cloud-based platforms, can streamline the management and dissemination of product information. These tools enable near real-time collaboration, centralised data storage, and facilitate accurate documentation throughout the life cycle of buildings and infrastructure works.

By prioritising the availability of accurate and comprehensive product information, the built environment sector can enhance efficiency, sustainability, reduce risks, and ensure the successful completion of projects.

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