The mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) trades are positioned to be true leaders in the construction industry and move the labor force into the digital age because about 60% of a typical project involves trades work. In the pursuit of efficiency and labor productivity through technology adoption, the trades have the opportunity to drag the rest of the project team with them.
As attendees learned during MEP Force 2020 Virtual, it turns out trade organizations nationwide are in favor of normalizing technology in training and on jobsites, particularly building information modeling (BIM) software and processes.
The MEP Force 2020 trade organization panel session included Ken Schneider and John Russell, United Association and UA International Training Fund; Josh Bone, National Electrical Contractors Association; Ron McGuire, Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation/International Training Institute; Mark Terzigni, Sheet Metal Air Conditioning National Association; Sean McGuire, Mechanical Contractors Association of America; plus Brett Stacks of eVolve MEP. Their discussion touched on the past, present and future of the MEP trades.
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There are overarching reasons why trade organizations favor the use of BIM on projects. They include:
1. The use of BIM elevates the trades on a project. With the stakeholders’ buy-in and the right tools, the ideal situation can be achieved – projects that are designed with, not simply for, the MEP trades. Open communication between the trades and a design team is a key goal, including willingness to understand each other’s processes.
2. BIM processes can drive the industry Some companies continue to limit the use of BIM to projects where it’s required, which indicates they don’t yet see the value of BIM, i.e. a move to Revit. However, when the benefits of BIM become widely understood, we’ll see widespread adoption. It’s reasonable that a GC could routinely require MEP construction information to be in the Revit model.
3. Planning ahead and collaborating through BIM are far superior to fixing problems after the fact. For instance, reports are that, when VDC (virtual design and construction) is used to manage multi-discipline BIM models on jobs, those jobs rarely go badly, or if something does go wrong, the loss is minimized.
4. BIM processes bring the stakeholders on a project together for the benefit of the project Among the trades, mechanical contractors have long been the drivers of BIM, because historically their sector saw the greatest benefits. The trade associations are making a genuine effort to work together toward better workflows. The panelists expressed their hope that software vendors will follow suit by forming partnerships that will result in a better technology product in the end.
5. There is value in the BIM process. The panelists agreed that it doesn’t take much effort to show a contractor the value of using BIM. Knowledgeable GCs can drive BIM technology adoption on projects. Some contractors now offer, as a separate service, to do the modeling for subcontractors, which is a sign that the BIM process is worth the effort.