A study performed by Dodge Data & Analytics and released in February 2020, “The Business Value of BIM in Mechanical and HVAC Construction,” features a U.S. Engineering project for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The SmartMarket study includes interviews with Tim Moormeier, President of U.S. Engineering Company Holdings, Ryan Frazier, Virtual Construction Director of U.S. Engineering Construction, and Brian Zorbini, Senior Project Manager at U.S. Engineering Construction.
Dodge SmartMarket Reports provide research on emerging trends that are impacting and transforming the construction and building industry. This study focuses on mechanical and HVAC contractors who use BIM (building information modeling), highlighting how companies use the technology, what they gain from its use and the what challenges they encounter.
The report details a major push toward standardization within the BIM platform, led by the Mechanical Contractors Association (MCAA) and in particular by an MCAA committee co-chaired by Moormeier. He notes in the report that the new standard was “a natural outgrowth of the association’s web-based Labor Estimating Manual (WebLEM).” In standardization, manufacturers are seeking a way to increase the accuracy of model-to-shop-floor communications, which would provide greater overall efficiency.
Moormeier goes on to predict that the MCAA’s proposed standardization will be embraced across the industry: “Manufacturers have been asked for years to provide content at contractor and engineer requests. But they might create content for one company, and then another wants it in a different format…We are giving manufacturers some confidence that if they offer content one way, they will be done with it.”
A case study within the report, titled “Building Backwards with BIM (And Other Smart Moves),” explores U.S. Engineering’s role in the renovation and expansion of an FDA laboratory in Lenexa, Kansas. As the prime mechanical contractor on this project, we used BIM for coordination, offsite fabrication, out-of-sequence construction and enhanced project management.
In fact, we were the BIM manager for the entire project; we coordinated our in-house trades (mechanical, piping and plumbing) with our trade partners on and offsite, including steel, electrical, casework, specialty equipment, building controls and fire sprinkler contractors.
Ryan Frazier, who oversaw our BIM work on the project, notes, “The BIM experience we have in-house was a big factor in being able to do that successfully.” Additionally, when teams on site ran into sizing and measurement snags, we sent a team member to the jobsite to laser scan the disputed areas, and we imported that data into our BIM model. As the case study points out, Frazier and Brian Zorbini, “credit [BIM] technology with a clash-free installation.”
A notable addition to the FDA lab project was a coordination plugin. This tool improved communication, saving time and money by taking snapshots of potential problem areas within the model and automatically assigning them to a person on the project’s contact list. “With this software, we were able to make sure that those adjustments were being done in a realistic time frame, and to export reports so that the general contractor could see what was being done,” says Frazier. “It was a huge benefit to our group and something we’ve continued to adopt across other projects.”
The greatest benefit of BIM technology on the FDA project, according to Zorbini, was how it enabled our teams to push work offsite, allowing for a safer and more controlled manufacturing environment. “Because we’ve gotten everything as perfect as it can be in the virtual world,” says Zorbini, “we’re able to prefabricate almost everything that goes up in the air, and have confidence that it’s going to fit where it needs to be onsite.”
In a typical project, U.S. Engineering teams begin in the mechanical room and work their way out. However, using our BIM model, we were able to start outside the mechanical room and work our way in, working out of sequence, which saved on schedule. Our teams started in the lab areas so that the casework, tile, flooring and other finish trades could work in the labs as we moved to the mechanical room. Zorbini commented, “Before this job, I would have put up a much larger fight not to build in reverse. But with BIM, we were able to install the branches first, and know that when our mains did get installed, we would be in the right location.
And our models are data rich. Frazier explains, “Where USE goes above and beyond is the intellectual data that lives within our models, which are typically developed to LOD [level of development] 400.” LODs range from 100 to 500. Within our models, for example, every fitting, valve or length of pipe is associated with a number of hours.
Additionally, the model tracks each piece, so it’s easy to see what has been accomplished at any point in the project’s development. As Zorbini puts it, “It just provides so much more comfort to our customers when we can tell them we know we’re 42% complete because I’ve tracked every component in BIM.
U.S. Engineering has been incorporating BIM into our virtual construction methods for years, streamlining all phases of work through a shared database. That database is a hub for estimating, CAD drawing and drafting, fabrication and a dynamic 3D model to be used across design, construction and engineering throughout the life of the facilities we build and service.