Building information modeling (BIM) gives architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) professionals the ability to virtually plan, design, construct and maintain buildings, including the vital plumbing and mechanical systems within these structures. BIM gives a detailed 3-D look at the building’s design while providing high levels of data — information — to everyone involved, even before construction begins. This helps ensure the various specialty contractors can work together as efficiently and effectively as possible.

But the capabilities of BIM are expanding. New tools and enhanced software offerings are coming to market, making the planning and installation process easier and more precise for plumbers and pipefitters.


Evolving technology

Recently, the Mechanical Contracting Education and Research Foundation (MCERF) released its new Complexity Measurement Tool (CMT) — a computational BIM tool that uses the Revit API to analyze, measure, report and store information about spatial congestion, or “complexity.” This is the one of the latest steps in an overarching movement to improve construction processes and communication up and down the chain through improvements in BIM technology and communication.

“The general theory of the MCERF CMT is to break up the building’s interstitial spaces into discrete ‘virtual columns’ and measure how ‘filled’ each column is with MEP [mechanical, electrical and plumbing design] systems, structures and other Revit families,” says Mark Rogers, COO of West Chester Mechanical Contractors in Aston, Pa., and president of MCERF. “Measured volumes that are highly filled are, obviously, congested.”

The tool then overlays a heat map on the plan view — this heat map helps project team members or building owners immediately see areas of concern.

“By finding hot spots in the design, you can identify possible choke points in the construction process and plan accordingly,” Rogers explains, adding that the goal of creating the CMT was to fill a gap in BIM that has been plaguing the industry for years. “MEP professionals would much rather be called on by an upstream project partner to find viable solutions and workarounds to spatial conflicts before we receive signed-off models and other documents than have us trying to bend the laws of time and physics to install something that was never going to fit as designed.”

J. Daniel Pierce, U.S. product manager — valves at Reliance Worldwide Corp., says the technology is evolving every year, and more and more OEMs are jumping on the “BIM bandwagon” in order to streamline the construction process.

“What’s helped our customers is that we provide CAD and BIM files in a wide variety of formats to work in the software tools they are comfortable using,” Pierce says. “Different programs that offer different ways of viewing 2-D and 3-D drawings leads to fragmentation and that could even stifle the adoption of BIM technology. By offering up to 32 different supported file formats when it comes to working with CAD or BIM, we believe that gives us an advantage over the competition and could steer new users to our products.”

Trimble’s new SysQue software enables contractors and engineers to model in Autodesk Revit with real-world, manufacturing-specific and Revit- family based content that’s ready for purchasing, fabrication and installation.

“With more than 7 million parts in the database and more continually being added, SysQue makes it easier to create precise and accurate project plans that are in line with MEP contractors’ detailing, fabrication, manufacturing and installation requirements. SysQue and Revit solve the problem of MEP engineers and contractors working together, making collaboration easier across the entire project team and improving insight to the constructability of the MEP system. As a result, labor costs are reduced, accuracy of designs are improved, and project timelines are shortened.”


BIM trends

In addition to collaborative design, artificial intelligence is a growing trend in BIM.

“Artificial intelligence may sound futuristic, but it is already here in BIM today. The company that MCERF partnered with to develop the CMT software, BuildingSP, is developing some incredible software that will auto-route MEP designs in a Revit model,” Rogers says. “It looks at the start point and end point, determines the most efficient path and can take into consideration slope and code when programmed to. We are progressing to a process that will significantly reduce the amount of BIM design time and allow contractors to focus on building and installation.”

Another emerging trend is the growing use of BIM data in facilities management.

“Owners have figured out the power of BIM in reducing the time and cost of completing their building projects and are realizing that the reliability of the BIM model can help manage the building for many years to come,” Pierce says. “If building product manufacturers want to play in this market, they’ll need to listen to the feedback from their customers and have all relevant building information available on demand, 24/7.”

“Bringing so many models together for a single project requires additional software and also separates the valuable data needed for purchasing, fabrication and installation,” says Brett Stacks, segment manager, MEP Solutions at Trimble. “As more contractors migrate to Revit, most of these issues are resolved because this platform supports larger models, multi-author editing and multi-team collaboration through Autodesk Collaboration for Revit (C4R).”

“Contractors using [CMT] have found some really practical applications for it,” Rogers says. “Some are using it for estimating, project management and collaboration with other project team members. Instead of just counting parts and welds, estimators are taking a look at hot spots and applying labor factors to areas of higher complexity.”

Access to the most up-to-date product information is also improving, Pierce says, which improve the overall design and installation — as well as service and maintenance — processes.

By using our approach, there’s never a question of whether or not the information is up to date,” he says. “Unlike other websites that have BIM files, there’s no indication of how long that file has been there. When was it last updated? With our files, you’ll always get the most accurate data.

Ultimately, BIM software should make plumbers’ and pipefitters’ jobs easier, Pierce adds.

“By planning out your system using BIM technology, you’re cutting down on errors and unforeseen issues that could arise during the install. The pipefitters and plumbers should be able to have all the proper tools to do their job without having to worry about stumbling upon an unexpected concrete wall where they needed to run a length of pipe.”


The future of BIM

Though it has been around for decades, software developers are noticing a trend toward greater acceptance of BIM in construction.

“In the latest JBKnowledge Construction Technology Survey, 28% of the respondents said that they won’t even bid on BIM projects, and another 20% outsource their operations if they win a job,” Rogers says. “That is a significant portion of our industry. I think you will see a steady progression of new construction projects requiring it and having that progression bleed over into service contracts, as well.”

Stacks believes real-time access will continue to grow as a feature in some BIM programs.

“We will continue to see technology and process improvements that advance BIM workflows by enabling immediate, live access to information from the models and to estimates and fabrication software, allowing for better project management and integration between departments and productivity,” he says.

Pierce predicts an increasing demand for BIM data beyond the current norm.

“From a manufacturer’s perspective, we only see the demand for BIM-ready product data increasing as the existing software tools evolve and new tools emerge in workflows beyond design,” he says. “We are committed to providing the very best digital experience for our customers discovering and using our products in their projects.”

The push for communication “upstream” will also continue, Rogers says, and will ultimately benefit plumbers and pipefitters. To that end, MCERF has decided to give its CMT software away to members and nonmembers alike.

“We decided to use the resources and non-profit status of MCERF,” he says. “From an educational standpoint, this project was right in the foundation’s wheelhouse.”

“BIM technology should eliminate surprise,” Pierce adds. “These surprises cost money and time on the jobsite, and if you can eliminate these errors in the 3-D virtual BIM model long before they even break-ground on a project, why wouldn’t you?”