Making the Move to BIM: How BIM Consultants Can Help You Win More Work, Increase Profits, and Minimize Risk

Just about every MEP contractor knows what Building Information Modeling is. Many of the larger, savvier contractors are highly engaged with BIM, but many smaller mechanical contractors may only have a fuzzy notion of what BIM is all about. According to a survey by a major technology consulting firm, a substantial minority of mechanical contractors will not bid on work that requires BIM. Companies should consider becoming BIM-enabled to procure more work, increase profits, minimize risk, and ensure survival in the rapid technological modernization of the construction industry.

“The whole process seemed very daunting and we didn’t understand what BIM truly was,” said Brandon Willard, emerging technologies director for Skyline Electric, West Valley City, Utah. “We thought it was a software program and we were doing well in our niche markets, so it was one of those ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ mentalities.”

Skyline Electric eventually realized that avoiding BIM was potentially costing it business.

“We really didn’t know what we didn’t know at the time,” Willard recalled, “but in hindsight, there were projects being developed that we were not invited to bid on because we didn’t have experience with BIM.”

The firm performed its first BIM project in 2016.

That doesn’t mean that MEP contractors have to make the investment in people, hardware, and software to create a full-blown virtual design and construction department. There’s a much easier way for mechanical companies to explore BIM; by using the services of a BIM consultant and modeler.

Skyline Electric added both people and technology because that was part of the firm’s plan to eventually bring BIM capability in-house. Otherwise, Willard noted, a contractor doesn’t have to spend much of anything if it engages with a BIM consultant.

“This is a huge benefit if you want to get started with BIM but aren’t wanting to throw a large investment at it up front,” Willard explained. “You get to see the benefit of the BIM process and then decide from there if it is worth the investment.”

Using a BIM consultant and modeler will help MEP contractors service a growing market. BIM owes much of its growth to general contractors and construction managers who discovered that the process — and BIM is a process as much as a design tool — saved them time and money. The real impetus lately, however, is coming from building owners and developers who have learned that BIM helps deliver projects on time and on budget, or better.

BIM has also been adopted by governments for public construction. The United Kingdom has reportedly saved 15-20 percent on public construction projects between 2009 and 2015. Additionally, 68% of construction projects in the United States are government related. Though there is no current BIM mandate at the national level, recent projects at the local level have demonstrated BIM’s benefits. In July 2009, the Wisconsin Division of State Facilities began requiring BIM on state projects valued at more than $5 million. Following closely in August 2009, the Texas Facilities Division adopted BIM for state construction projects. The Los Angeles Community College District requires BIM on any sustainable building project that’s funded through a voter-approved bond. Other countries that require BIM on public works include Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Singapore.

Why should MEP contractors explore using a BIM consultant to perform work on jobs that require BIM? Easy. Follow the money. BIM offers multiple direct and indirect ways for mechanical contractors to earn more revenue and profits.

Skyline Electric was invited to bid on a couple of projects that required BIM, so the firm explored its options in Utah. Willard contacted VinZero U.S. CAD’s Salt Lake City-based construction services director to see if the VinZero U.S. CAD team was a good fit for the Skyline Electric culture. Willard found VinZero U.S. CAD’s ability to train contractors on the entire BIM process intriguing and the rest, as they say, is history.