PM Senior Editor Mike Miazga checks in from this sold-out event in suburban Chicago.

Doug Burdick, president of Burdick Plumbing & Heating in Decatur, Ill., went on a little information gathering journey recently.

Burdick, whose company does both commercial and residential plumbing work, made the trek up to Chicago to attend the Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s conference on building information technology-or BIM as it’s commonly known.            

“We haven’t used BIM, but we’ve used QuickPen (A BIM software manufacturer) for estimating on one hospital project we did in our community,” Burdick says. “We’re trying to figure out if it makes sense to make the investment (in BIM technology). It certainly appears this is the way the industry is going. I don’t think it’s a fad.”            

And judging from the packed house in a hotel ballroom near O’Hare Airport, Burdick’s colleagues feel the same way. The two-day conference, which was directed by BIM expertDavid Morris(director of virtual construction at EMCOR Group), attracted 100 attendees from five countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom.            

“We were hoping to get 40 people here,” MCAA Executive DirectorDennis Langleysays. “All of a sudden it was 50, 60 and 70. We had to cap it at 100 because of the fire code here. We had a waiting list. I’m blown away by the turnout, the reception of this by the industry and the diversity of job titles that are here.”            

The conference was a follow-up to a MCAA BIM 101 event held in Denver last year, though attendance to the Chicago event was not predicated on completing the introductory course.            

“I think we’re just getting started with this,” Langley says. “This is the start of a process. We’re starting to look at the real needs of our members in all areas of BIM.”            

Morris’ two-day presentation was designed to show how mechanical contractors can use BIM technology to build more efficiently and profitably, as well as to demonstrate how technical prowess in BIM, particularly in information creation and management, can be a competitive advantage.            

“It obviously addresses a lot of construction issues early on,” Burdick states. “I definitely see it as an advantage on larger jobs.”            

Steve Shirley, president and CEO of University Mechanical & Engineering Contractors in El Cajon, Calif., has been using different forms of BIM dating back nine years.            

“When we started using it our focus was to increase productivity and eliminate re-work,’ he says. “It wasn’t even called BIM when we started. It was called intelligent 3D CAD at the time. Any kind of major project we do now, this is the way we do business.”            

Morris’ presentation delved into a variety of topics like different BIM file types and how BIM information can be shared efficiently among different contractors on a job. The second day of the conference dealt with topics like estimating, scheduling and coordination and interoperability.            

But Morris cautions there is a lot more to BIM than just purchasing the needed software.            

“The process is the thing, not the tool,” Morris says. “You can buy a Stradivarius violin, but it doesn’t make you a virtuoso. It’s not the instrument making the sound, it’s the musician.”            

Adds Shirley: “BIM is a two-sided coin. There is the tool and there is the process. I’ve been at this 37 years and this is the biggest and best opportunity mechanical contractors have been given in my tenure. This phenomenon here is real. This is an opportunity to get off the kids’ table and over to the adult table.”            

Langley says MCAA has two additional BIM courses in the works-one on the legal aspect of BIM and the other on the role of the mechanical contractor in the collaboration and coordination of BIM.