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Mechanical Contractors Reap the Benefits of Using BIM

Mechanical Contractors Reap the Benefits of Using BIM

By Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP and Sean McGuire

In the past, most BIM research has focused on use by designers and general contractors, but studies have also shown that to gain the greatest benefit from the use of BIM, all key members of the project team, including the major trades, need to utilize the model. To help fill the gap and better understand BIM use across the project team, Dodge Data & Analytics, in partnership with MCAA and Pinnacle Infotech, and with additional support from Autodesk, AMCA, and Innovative Construction Technology, has conducted a major study of the use of BIM by mechanical and HVAC contractors. This study, published in The Business Value of BIM for Mechanical and HVAC Construction SmartMarket Report, reveals that mechanical contractors are enthusiastic users of BIM who have experienced many benefits from their engagement with it.

High Level of BIM Engagement

The study consisted of an online survey of 135 mechanical and HVAC contractors, of which 122 reported that they use BIM. In fact, 95 percent report that they are responsible for producing a model of the work they will be installing on at least some of their projects, and 65 percent state that they do so on half or more projects. And among those who are responsible for producing a model, 90 percent use their own internal resources rather than an external third party to produce those models on at least some projects, and the vast majority do so on half or more of them.

Use of the Model for Analysis and Onsite

Mechanical and HVAC contractors are also highly engaged with using the model for analysis. Not surprisingly, the top use of the model is for shop drawings, with 78 percent of the mechanical contractors reporting that this occurs on over half of their projects. However, size of company is influential in how commonly this occurs, with over 80 percent of contractors with annual revenues of more than $50 million using the model for shop drawings on over half of their projects, compared with just 54 percent of those with revenues of less than $10 million.

Over half (51 percent) of the contractors using BIM for shop drawings believe that they produce those shop drawings faster because they use BIM, although it is notable that nearly one quarter (24 percent) believe BIM slows the development of shop drawings. Still, among those who report that it is faster, the vast majority (89 percent) believe it speeds up the process by 5 percent or more.

72 percent of mechanical contractors also use the model for special coordination, and 61 percent for constructability evaluation on half or more of their projects. Size of company is still an important differentiator for level of use of these practices as well, especially for spatial coordination, where 82 percent of those with revenues of $100 million or more doing so on 50 percent or more of their projects, compared with just 38 percent of those with revenues of less than $10 million.

However, there are types of analysis that are still emerging for these contractors, with quantity take-offs for estimating and construction sequencing currently used by less than half of contractors on 50 percent or more projects. One of the emerging areas with the biggest potential that the study revealed is the use of BIM for estimating. Currently, less than 10 percent of the contractors do so on 50 percent or more of their projects, and fewer than half have any experience with this. These findings reveal that, despite their relatively advanced use of BIM, mechanical and HVAC contractors are still going to be able to gain even more value from BIM in the future.

Use of BIM for Prefabrication

Many mechanical and HVAC contractors first started using 3D modeling in the 1990s to support their prefabrication efforts, and the study reveals that 87 percent of the participants are using BIM for prefabrication of at least some assemblies, with 46 percent using it for 50 percent or more of them. BIM for fabrication is widely adopted because most contractors are experiencing benefits from its use. In fact, over three quarters report that using BIM for fabrication improves six major benefits, from material waste to worker safety. Perhaps the most striking are the ones that are also important measures of project success, with 88 percent reporting improved labor costs, 86 percent reporting better quality of installed work and 84 percent reporting improved schedule performance because of using BIM for fabrication.

Overall Benefits of BIM Use

When asked about the top three business benefits they experience from using BIM, the highest percentage of mechanical and HVAC contractors consider increased labor productivity and increased profitability to be the top benefits. Clearly, these factors are critical to stay competitive. The top project benefit they report by far is an improved fabrication process, but many also note improved cost performance, reduced errors and improved collaboration as top project benefits. These findings make it clear that for the most mechanical contractors, BIM use is necessary to stay competitive.

Challenges to Expanding the Use of BIM

Despite the wide use and strong benefits reported, the study also made clear that there are opportunities in this industry for increased BIM implementation, and mechanical and HVAC contractors were asked about the challenges they face in doing so. The top two deal with manpower issues: they cannot always meet training needs and have a lack of available manpower to create BIM models. There is also a notable percentage who struggle with the lack of sufficient engagement with BIM across the project team, citing lack of support for BIM from other important trades, other stakeholders in the project not using BIM and poor quality BIM use by other stakeholders as top obstacles.


These findings demonstrate the benefits reaped from BIM use by very engaged BIM users, and the potential for further growth. They show the degree to which BIM can impact fundamental key project indicators, like cost and schedule, and key business impacts like profitability. They also reveal that the industry still needs to find a way to fully maximize the model through greater commitment across the project team and more collaborative approaches to projects.

Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP, is Industry Insights research director, Dodge Data & Analytics (www.construction.com). Dodge Data & Analytics is North America’s leading provider of analytics and software-based workflow integration solutions for the construction industry. Building product manufacturers, architects, engineers, contractors, and service providers leverage Dodge to identify and pursue unseen growth opportunities and execute on those opportunities for enhanced business performance.

Sean McGuire is director of Innovative Technologies at MCAA (www.mcaa.org).