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Specialty Contractors Unite to Call For Improving Spatial Coordination Using BIM

Nov 08, 2013

Electrical, Mechanical, HVAC Contractors Publish New Guide of Lessons Learned and Best Practices

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), together with the Mechanical Contractors Association of American (MCAA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning National Association (SMACNA) today released a joint, in-depth analysis of how specialty contractors can best use Building Information Modeling (BIM) to the advantage of all construction project stakeholders. Achieving Spatial Coordination Through BIM: A Guide for Specialty Contractors is available now as a free download for NECA members in the NECA online store. Hard copies of the publication will be available soon.

Download the Spatial Coordination Using BIM publication from the NECA Store

Specialty contractors are responsible for a building’s mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems – ones that define a structure’s design and accessibility as much as its architecture and materials. To the occupants and owners, a building's "environment" is shaped by its lighting, climate control, and communications networks. The heart and brain of a building are its internal MEP systems.

SUMMARY: Essential Facts about The Guide

  • The guide is designed to strengthen the business practices and contributions all specialty contractors can make to the pre-planning spatial coordination process using BIM.

  • This guide is the first step of an industry-wise education initiative for specialty and their employees who are responsible for BIM collaboration on construction projects. The information is also essential for those making any decisions on a construction job, including general contractors, building owners, engineers and architects who should understand real-world approaches to the world of virtual construction.

BIM: A Driving Force in Construction Planning

Growing adoption of BIM has dramatically affected the work of MEPs in the planning phase of a construction project. Well-run BIM projects eliminate waste and facilitate coordination and collaboration between specialty contractors.  Using BIM can help avoid nasty, expensive, last-minute surprises requiring immediate jobsite interventions from MEPS.

This innovation in the business-as-usual model for a construction project is not without problems.  In the last six years, as BIM has begun to find its place in U.S. commercial construction, owners seeking to limit their financial exposure and risk began requiring contractors to use this new construction tool. Even earlier than that, early-adopter MEP contractors realized many of these same benefits from using BIM’s spatial coordination processes. These contractors wanted to build more efficiently and profitably through pre-planning and collaboration.

“For years, NECA contractors have seen project designs coming out of engineers’ and architects’ offices with fewer specifications than ever before,” said NECA CEO John M. Grau. “Electrical contractors have been filling in the design gaps for multiple electrical and communication systems, specifying products, and working with suppliers to get the best value for the customer. Incomplete information and the assumption that the specialty contractors would simply resolve the issues on-site became standard operating procedure.”

Addressing Responsibility

MEP contractors were often asked to assume the prime responsibility for a project by spearheading the traditional spatial coordination process, carrying less experienced and less competent project members through project completion. In this role of ad-hoc project coordinator, those MEP contractors saved many projects and spared the owners a great deal of expense and risk.

“The nature of MEP’s work puts specialty contractors on the business end of project design and fitment issues,” said NECA COO/Vice President Dan Walter. Walter served as NECA’s representative on the committee responsible for the publication. “The traditional expectations and practices surrounding spatial coordination between a building’s systems have been costly and laden with risk. While this technology has increased inefficiencies, it has not reduced the risk or the additional expense for specialty contractors.”

Study author David E. Quigley notes that BIM is improving the old patterns of construction schedule conflicts and poor field conditions that computer-aided design could not avoid. “The goal of BIM—to reduce construction risk—demands and rewards collaboration from an industry that has long been comfortable in its own silos. MEP contractors have been some of the biggest winners—and losers—of this new game,” said Quigley. 

Although the Guide was written for specialty construction contractors, it also offers a set of standard best practices that can lead the building service industry to greater competence and success. “The technological innovations that BIM has introduced are not going away,” Grau said. “And those who fail to embrace it may see their businesses go away instead. With the release of the Guide, we believe we can help every contractor understand what it takes to bring their best efforts to a project.”

About the National Electrical Contractors Association

NECA is the voice of the $130 billion electrical construction industry that brings power, light, and communication technology to buildings and communities across the U.S. NECA contractors help customers achieve their goals for energy conservation, efficiency and renewable power. NECA’s national office and 119 local chapters advance the industry through advocacy, education, research and standards development. For more information, visit www.necanet.org.