Cutting out Cut Sheet? Don't hold your breath.

The National Institute of Building Sciences has issued a press release claiming that "it won't be long until product specification sheets are a thing of the past" thanks to the Specifiers’ Properties information exchange, (SPie), a new digitized information exchange is being developed. My response: Don't hold your breath.

Proprietary product data sheets will continue to be required for as far as I can see into the future. I offer five reasons why this will take so long:
  1. Consensus standards always take a long time to develop. 
  2. The user-interfaces (BIM systems and mobile platforms, for example) will continue to change faster than the consensus standards can be implemented.
  3. Retraining an industry takes decades, even generations.
  4. Consensus standards work by defining minimum requirements, but designers, code bodies, and other industry forces constantly create new requirements that go beyond the minimum.
  5. Unless you manufacture a commodity product, you will want to compete on unique features and benefits that are not expressed in a standardized database.
I wish NIBS and their collaborators well, and will do what I can to support their effort as a worthwhile research project. But I remember when NIBS was saying that the construction industry's conversion to metric was eminent.

Here is the full text of their press release:
Cutting out the Cut Sheet? SPie Streamlines the Product Specification and Selection Process

It won’t be long until product specification sheets are a thing of the past. A new, easier way to select products, the Specifiers’ Properties information exchange (SPie), is helping manufacturers to deliver product information to specifiers and designers in an easy-to-compare, digital format. Specifiers and designers can witness a free demonstration of how SPie works on December 6 from 1:00 – 3:00 pm, during the National Institute of Building Sciences Annual Meeting, held in conjunction with Ecobuild America in Washington, D.C.

“Establishing a consistent definition and use of materials, products, equipment and assemblies is vital to the exchange of building information,” said Nicholas Nisbet, director of AEC3 UK Ltd., who is assisting the Institute and industry trade associations to implement the SPie standard. “We’re working with trade associations to define the minimum properties for their members’ products so that designers and specifiers can compare product information directly against their requirements.”

The demonstrations in December will show how adopting the SPie standard can improve the specification/selection process as well as other downstream processes, such as:
  • Lighting fixture specification and selection using standard specification software, allowing for the option of electronic purchasing,
  • Electrical elements, including operation and maintenance (O&M) methods,
  • Wall products and the impact of standard naming on quantity take-off (QTO) and estimating, and
  • Cabinetry specification and the processing of submittals.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC), the Specifications Consultants in Independent Practice (SCIP), and the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) are spearheading the SPie project. Manufacturers and manufacturing associations, including the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industries (AWCI), the Woodwork Institute (WI), the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) and the Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association of Canada (AWMAC) are active participants. During the December 6 demonstration, several industry associations will show how they are implementing the SPie standards and illustrate how SPie can extend into electronic purchasing, O&M, QTO and submittals.

“The focus of NEMA and its partner IDEA is to facilitate matching specific needs of building owners and designers to specific products in the marketplace. First, for the electrical industry. But, given the flexibility of the NEMA/IDEA solution, to those in other industries as well,” said Jim Lewis, NEMA’s manager for high performance buildings. “Working in conjunction with the National Institute of Building Sciences and other organizations on the SPie initiative, we are looking forward to presenting our joint contribution to the next-generation of building information modeling (BIM) solutions on December 6th.”

SPie extends and cross references the OmniClass™ product and properties tables. It applies the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) standard, which is already widely used for data sharing in building information modeling (BIM), to product specifications data.

To register for the free SPie demonstration, visit, select the “Exhibits and Keynotes Pass,” and enter promotion code NIBSIE to waive the fee.