Manufacturers must be ready to embrace the product ID revolution

Author: Ross Matthews, Head of Sales at BSI Identify

The industry is facing many challenges and everyone will need to adapt accordingly. This adaptability is particularly pertinent to manufacturers as we rely on their innovations to help us create better buildings. Hence, their engagement with architects, contractors and developers has never been so important. A call for all building products to feature a unique identification code has been included in the latest Construction Product Regulations draft, therefore the entire manufacturing sector will need to evolve. But what does this involve and how will it help create safer buildings?

Improved product traceability was a key theme addressed in the post-Grenfell ‘Building Safety Bill’, and the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety authored by Dame Judith Hackitt. These reports urged for a ‘golden thread’ of asset information to be available to building stakeholders. Developers and asset owners will soon demand it and in the long term, industry regulations will doubtless legislate it. Therefore, the time is right for owners and senior management teams of UK product manufacturers to futureproof their business to herald the coming of digital identifier technology.

Data management is a common challenge across the built environment – there is a huge volume of information out there, yet much of it is inconsistent in its classification. The issue is further complicated by the construction industry’s complex and often fragmented supply chain.

Initiatives such as Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI) offer a step in the right direction in terms of providing improved product clarity via written brochures, websites or the packaging itself. But it doesn’t address the issue of identifying building products already installed. Data identifier technology resolves each of these common industry conundrums. The traceability system uses a Universal Persistent Identification Number (UPIN) to provide contractor, installers and inspectors with immediate anytime, anywhere access to proven, accurate and resilient product data via a mobile phone or laptop. Therefore, whether you’re an engineer involved in a high-rise building inspection or a sub-contractor tasked with installing a façade system, if the structure’s components contain an identifiable UPIN, their make, model and installation details are easy to hand to confirm that what is specified is being installed.

Make good the bad data issue

Data identifier technology provides a tried-and-tested counter to the ongoing issue of ‘bad’ or insufficient data which in 2020 was found to be responsible for 14% of worldwide refurbishment work at a cost of $88bn. It also safeguards specification by mitigating the risk of a product being de-specified or ‘swapped out’ for a cheaper alternative. This remains an all-too-common malpractice that is a factor in properties falling short of design expectations, an outcome that potentially compromises a building’s safety and its expected thermal performance. If the government is to meet its ambitious net zero target, increased emissions resulting from poorly installed or incorrectly specified insulation, for example, then the wider adoption of data identifier technology can’t come soon enough.

Big businesses owners missing out on an innovative solution

An increasing number of customers are looking to reduce their carbon impact through products that are more sustainable. However, it’s my experience that SME manufacturers are generally more aware of the value that digital identifier technology could bring to their company by providing clients with easily accessible product data. This is largely due to them operating a more agile business, where the managing director – who is often the product and sales director – is more exposed to the latest industry innovations than the MD of a much larger operation.

The reticence of some business owners to engage with the idea of data identifier technology could also be attributed to seniority in age as well as company position. The construction industry is often slighted for its reluctance to embrace change. Could this be due to a prevalence of leading figures throughout the supply chain being advocates of established building practices, rather than digitally-driven methods that will help us build smarter, safer and more sustainably?

Whatever the reason for the differential in data identifier technology adoption, ensuring buildings are fundamentally safe comes down to a question of responsibility. This means senior management and owners of manufacturing firms not only doing the right thing for their company but supporting contractors that fit their product, architects who design buildings and building occupiers.

Make no mistake, adopting digital identifier technology requires a big commitment. For the system to be effective, it could involve larger manufacturers hallmarking potentially thousands of their products with the appropriate data. But the revolution in the product identification process is coming. In this sense, early adopters of the technology will be ahead of the curve. They will have acknowledged how the system will benefit the building industry by transforming processes such as specification and installation.

Get ahead of the curve

If my consultations with housebuilders and main contractors that BSI is currently working with is anything to go by, manufacturers embracing digital identifier technology will soon have a competitive advantage over companies yet to come on board. Many of the property developers we’ve engaged with appear to be at the point of telling manufacturers ‘If you want to supply us, you will need to be utilising digital identifier technology’. Our support of the process with the evolution of ‘Identify’ – a digital identifier solution that BSI originated in 2015 – is key to developers’ enthusiasm for an established product traceability system. They understand that we only create products when we feel they will make a positive difference and that there is a need for them within a particular sector.

The Identify system - and digital identifier technology as a whole – responds to our need to help create a better, safer world. It’s why we’re imploring manufacturers to do the right thing: and futureproof their business against the coming change in the way products are identified.

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