Photo courtesy of GHT Limited

In a report that came out a few years ago, engineers said the primary benefit of using building information modeling was to market new services to new clients. In other words, BIM gave these engineers a leg up on their competitors who had not yet embraced the digital design software.

Today, this competitive advantage is diminishing as more building owners and general contractors are demanding that their construction partners use BIM, particularly on green building projects. Indeed, as GHT Limited President Paul O’Brien says in this month’s cover story, “It’s reaching a point to where if you’re not doing (BIM), you aren’t going to get that work.”

 Plumbing and mechanical engineers such as GHT now are seeing productivity gains and other BIM benefits, which were more promises than reality in 2009 when McGraw-Hill published “The Business Value of BIM.” These benefits include: improved cost estimation; better visualization of the architectural design and spatial coordination; reduced rework; fewer conflicts and changes during construction; and more clashes detected before they turn into problems at the jobsite or in the courtroom. Engineers and contractors also are seeing lower construction costs and increased profits.

Another change in the last few years relates to improved digital design platforms and how they operate with one another. What hasn’t changed is what the report calls the “critical investment” in BIM training.

Senior Principal Bill Gerke Jr. describes GHT’s major corporate commitment to its BIM training as a “huge undertaking” for his company. Recognizing that traditional methods would be inadequate, GHT resorted to three-week immersive-style training. Once the training is over, the immersion continues as GHT’s engineers go immediately into using BIM to design real projects.

William J. Lynch, incoming president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, touched on the importance of BIM training last month when I interviewed him for an article you can read at “The entire project team needs skills in using BIM,” he told me. “At least one or two project team members who are weaker in the skills required for a true BIM project can affect the overall performance for all trades.”

Lynch is president of William F. Lynch Co., an HVAC, plumbing and piping design/build firm in Worcester, Mass. He believes BIM will continue to be more of a factor for MCAA members in 2012 and the years ahead.

Lynch describes BIM as a powerful tool that can increase productivity and reduce project schedules if used properly from the design stage to the completion of a project. Besides training, however, Lynch shared two concerns he has about BIM.

First, engineers, architects, contractors and building owners have to realize that BIM is not a cure for a poorly conceived project. Next, plumbing and mechanical firms frequently are not given adequate time before construction to develop buildable plans using BIM.

Project design and communication among project partners will improve as more construction companies increase their BIM proficiency. Investment in BIM training will remain critical.

Those firms that made the commitment to BIM training in the last few years now are seeing a return on their investment.