Building Information Modeling (BIM) is transforming the way the Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) industry works. Across North America and worldwide, contractors face accelerated schedules, new standards, and requirements using BIM in various delivery models. Its adoption has been a mix across regions and countries, but the results for those that do adopt BIM are without question seeing significant benefits.
This article provides some expert-sourced tips for MEP contractors to get the most out of BIM tools, optimize workflows, and realize its benefits.
Promote and Facilitate Smooth Information Flow
Building Information Modeling is predicated on the management and sharing of information. Ironically, a common challenge amidst projects using BIM is precisely this: sharing the right information at the right time with the right stakeholder and managing their expectations at each project stage. To prevent duplication of work, parties should discuss what information is expected from each other in each phase—a BIM manager should be responsible for the entire BIM process. In most projects, a BIM Execution Plan is agreed to by stakeholders. This is the foundational framework to ensure the successful deployment of advanced design technologies on your BIM-enabled project.
Setting up a “generic-to-specific” model is an efficient way to ensure a smooth information flow among parties. An engineering consultant can deliver a generic design in the first stage, which the MEP contractor can later enrich with manufacturer-specific content, including layout and trade data. This way, the model’s level of information changes as the project progresses, and duplication of work can be avoided.
Conduct Regular Meetings with Stakeholders
When making agreements between stakeholders, discussing the Level of Development (LOD) must be considered. LOD Level is an industry-standard that defines various development stages ranging from 100-500 of the construction projects in BIM. Collaboration is the key to the most successful BIM projects and can reach as deep as IPD or integrated project delivery. IPD is a project execution model where systems, business processes and practices, and stakeholders (owner, GC, trade contractors, engineers, architects, etc.) are integrated into a process that empowers the combined talents and insights of the team to optimize the project, increase value to the owner, maximize efficiencies, and reduce waste throughout the life-cycle of design, prefabrication, and construction. However, this approach is not always possible, so another method is model coordination; which is to hold regular meetings as the project team to compare models, perform clash detections, and establish paths forward.
Centrally Manage BIM Projects
BIM is innovating the way we work, but the information we are working with is nothing new. It is simply that we handle it digitally that has changed. Blueprints and paper of the past is now 3D digital sheets accessible from multiple types of devices today. However, the need still exists to search all the work drawings in a central environment quickly. For BIM projects, it is essential to manage projects centrally – A single source for truth to ensure all stakeholders work with the right information…in the right manner. Collectively, all team-members need to agree on a tool that allows you to structure and manage drawings, documents, and databases. In addition, the method of communication needs to be addressed.
In the Design Process, Integrate Openings
Projects involving heavy structures, complex installations, or limited space are recommended to integrate openings at an early stage of the design process. Because of the limited space on-site and complex coordination between trades, it is challenging to make cut-outs in the construction. Therefore, you may want to make sure to model the openings correctly beforehand.
Use integrated calculations in BIM Software
Most BIM software programs include integrated calculation functionality which is directly linked to your BIM Model. Using this feature instead of an external program such as Microsoft Excel, you can save significant time exporting and importing data into your model and preventing duplication errors which can cause major headaches. Integrated calculations also make it possible to link all data together and see the effects of changes without working with multiple documents (e.g., Excel, the model and a feature loss calculation). Lastly, calculations are automatically updated in the overview when you make changes to the model.
Create Models with Manufacturer-Specific Content
Without manufacturer-specific content, your model is not constructible. Using BIM content libraries such as APEX, thousands of manufacturers’ products are available in different BIM formats. This way, you can model with highly accurate content, ready-to-order products, complete with article numbers and price information. Some manufacturers even offer unique apps that are free BIM software add-ons. Engineers can design and model quickly since these sheets contain product line sheets and product information accurately tied to manufacturer content.
Integrate Prefabrication into your BIM Workflow
Integrating prefabrication into your BIM workflow is rapidly taking the industry by storm. Leveraging prefabrication facilities helps increase efficiency, quality of build, reduces costs, enhances employee safety, and eliminates many risks (weather delays, downtime, rework, labor delays, etc.) on the jobsite.
Many MEP contractors use the prefabrication functionality in BIM software to create drawings and cutting lists for workers at the shop. By integrating BIM software to fabrication shop productivity software like FABPro, teams work more efficiently and effectively. Once the prefabricated materials are delivered to the jobsite, contractors or engineers no longer need to manually measure the pipe lengths, calculate cutting lengths or “stick build.” The jobsite also requires less labor for component assembly. Connecting BIM to prefab and out to the field ushers in a dramatic increase in efficiency, lower costs, schedule certainty, and several other benefits.
Order Materials Directly from Your Model
As mentioned earlier, a significant advantage of using BIM software is the capability to work with manufacturer-specific content and order materials directly from the model. This saves a considerable amount of time ordering materials direct from suppliers and reduces costly mistakes.
During Construction Projects, Use Your Model
There are significant opportunities to optimize typical jobsite activities with BIM. MEP contractors are leveraging Virtual or Augmented Reality, and mechanics are carrying tablets canvasing the jobsite. Accessing BIM on the jobsite helps workers gain additional insight into how systems need to be installed without physically manipulating and measuring objects. Other technologies include scanning QR codes to bring up visuals and VR glasses while walking the jobsite.
BIM’s transforming the way the construction industry works and using these best practices will help your construction firm reap its benefits. Like I mentioned earlier, implementing BIM should be a business decision backed by an organizational and collaborative initiative.