3D Digital Engineering Drawings

   Endangered large

3D digital engineering models produced as part of building or engineering design processes. The production of such drawings has progressed from a digital analogue of paper to complex digital environments such as BIM (Building Information Modelling) which combine original drawings, libraries of compound objects, and links to external data sets such as about the performance of materials and maintenance of parts.

Digital Species: Engineering Data

Trend in 2022:

No changeNo Change

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2017

Trend in 2023:

No changeNo Change

Previously: Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within three years, detailed assessment within one year.

Significance of Loss

The loss of tools, data or services within this group would impact on many people and sectors.

Effort to Preserve | Inevitability 

It would require a major effort to prevent or reduce losses in this group, possibly requiring the development of new preservation tools or techniques.


Building Information Management (BIM), Computer Aided Design (CAD), Product Data Management in engineering and architecture.

‘Critically Endangered’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Lack of preservation mandate or collecting institution; lack of preservation capability in data owner; irregularities in supply chains; complex or long data supply chains; dependencies on proprietary software or formats; lack of persistent identifiers; poorly managed IPR; temporary joint-venture companies; poor records management; poor regulatory compliance; encryption.

‘Vulnerable’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Well managed data infrastructure; preservation from the point creation; carefully managed IPR; persistent identifiers; well managed records management processes; recognition of preservation requirements at highest levels; strategic investment in digital preservation; host clearly identified; participation in the digital preservation community.

2023 Review

This entry was first submitted in 2017 when the Jury lacked the capacity to consider it in detail. In 2019 it was assessed with additional expertise co-opted, with the decision to remain a very broad category, including major one-off construction and engineering projects, a long tail of more minor building programmes, and large volume but homogeneous production processes in engineering. The 2021 Jury agreed with its Endangered status. The key consideration is that the lifecycle of the products and the data that describes them vastly exceeds the short life cycles of the infrastructures on which they are designed. This challenge is compounded by supply chains that may involve many different stages of production, as well as the delivery of large projects through transitory joint ventures companies that have no residual mechanism or capacity to preserve the data thereafter. Although there have been advancements in the development of new preservation tools and techniques for these materials, there are recent examples of the loss of 3D architectural drawings; these have had a huge impact, especially at the local level, as well as significant impacts on infrastructure, travel, and how people interact with built environments throughout the world. The 2021 trend moved towards greater risk to reflect this.

The 2023 Council agreed with the Endangered classification and seconded the trend reported last time; risks continue on the same basis as before with no significant trends towards even greater or reduced risk. Most of the complexities of the format and issues remain the same, such as reliance on proprietary software and complex or unknown copyright with the datasets. Moving forwards, it was highlighted by the Council that there needs to be a greater focus and understanding on the long term preservation of these outputs within the sector.

Additional Comments

Data in this category enables the safety and security of critical infrastructure, but the responsibility to maintain data is unclear, nor are retention periods clear. Although examples of good practice exist, the extent to which there are working solutions at large seems doubtful, and it is surprising that there are not more diverse success stories to report.

Case Studies or Examples:

  • The Grenfell Tower Inquiry offers a case to consider how the loss of 3D Digital Engineering Drawings can have a huge impact, especially at the local level. For example, if Grenfell had been done using 3D technologies, do we have confidence that those materials would have been adequately preserved? What would have been the local impact? What would have been the impact on the inquiry? See Grenfell Tower Inquiry (n.d.) ‘Grenfell Tower Inquiry’. Available at: https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/ [accessed 24 October 2023]

  • In 2006, it was reported that the Airbus A380 was 2 years behind schedule due to different offices using different versions of the CATIA CAD/CAM software. See Shelly, T. (2006) ‘What can go wrong when you give IT the large’, Manufacturing Management. Available at: https://www.manufacturingmanagement.co.uk/content/features/what-can-go-wrong-when-you-give-it-the-large/ [accessed 24 October 2023]

See also:

  • The DPC Design and Construction Records technology watch report, which aims to support archival professionals as well as active designers and facilities managers, considering acquisition, preservation, and access approaches that account for both the technical and cultural components of the broad range of born-digital design and construction records created throughout the course of designing, building, and maintaining a built space. As well as bringing together a helpful summary of relevant work in this area and discussing a range of case studies it also covers the concept of visual digital literacy which is the first step towards understanding and managing this content. See Leventhal, A, and Thompson, J. (2021) ‘Preserving Born-Digital Design and Construction Records’, DPC Technology Watch Report 21-01. Available at: http://doi.org/10.7207/twr21-01

  • The Library of Congress had a symposium on 3D design and assets in 2017. See Leventhal, A. (2018) ‘Designing the Future Landscape: Digital Architecture, Design & Engineering Assets’, Library of Congress. Available at: https://www.loc.gov/preservation/digital/meetings/DesigningTheFutureLandscapeReport.pdf [accessed 24 October 2023]

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