by Joseph P. Ferrucci
If you are in the AEC industry, you may be tired of hearing about building information modeling (BIM). You may feel inundated by articles about BIM, about the future of BIM, the advantages of BIM, or even the history of BIM. Notwithstanding this inundation, BIM is not a fad nor is it a mission. When used to its fullest potential, BIM can deliver the most sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective solutions on every project, every time. But BIM’s greatest potential is achieved when it is used in a collaborative relationship, based in experience and combined with advanced prefabrication techniques delivered efficiently to the customer.
F+F Mechanical Enterprises, Inc. focuses on multifaceted mechanical construction applications of varying size and complexity. Given that we also maintain a service and special projects division, we recognize the need for quality installations with the end user and project life cycle in mind. Through the years we have witnessed that design documents lack the coordination that once was integral to a set of contract documents. This is to no fault of the design team — reduced fees, unrealistic expectations, accelerated schedules, and fierce competition have put a strain on the design process and, ultimately, the end product.
Providing the best outcome for the customer means pooling together our best tools, most effective strategies, and personal commitments. It means adding experience to the design advantages of BIM and using modern computer-aided manufacturing processes, often delivering BIM to prefabrication directly to the owner for a truly collaborative and successful outcome. We rely heavily on our team of piping and sheet metal coordinators with significant experience in coordinating, and in many cases making recommendations to complex mechanical, sheet metal, and plumbing systems. Utilizing BIM allows us to build the project virtually before building it physically to test out design. Finally, we employ innovative construction techniques to prefabricate components to increase accuracy and efficiency.
F+F Mechanical has been using CNC machines for many years on the sheet metal end of our business. Computer numerical control (CNC) is the automation of machine shop tools by means of computer programming inputs. We recently invested in a CNC pipe and fitting cutting machine which can perform a multitude of ASME B31 recognized curved, mitered, segmented, and branch connections. We had the opportunity to incorporate a unique pipe connection on a recent project working directly for the end user. A large research university contracted F+F Mechanical directly to work on their steam system at their main central utility plant (CUP). We designed the installation using our 3D BIM software, downloaded the piping components to our CNC pipe cutter, and fabricated the special fittings required for the project. The decision was simple — choose special products from a catalog, wait for the product to be fabricated and delivered, or design and make it ourselves. We chose the latter.
Owners have begun to recognize and appreciate the skill and abilities of specialty trades and are contracting them directly for their trade-specific needs. Highly skilled specialty contractors have become a single source solution — design, fabricate, service, and maintain. New technologies like automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics are penetrating the AEC industry and will have a profound effect on our industry, which has become grossly inefficient and needs to embrace change to become more productive. Delivering complex projects today must be reconsidered. BIM is only part of the answer. For BIM to work effectively, it must be utilized to its full potential by either delivering a specialty trade directly to the customer or as part of an integrated construction team working with construction managers on modular prefabrication by integrating design with fabrication and construction. For this to occur successfully, a team dedicated to safety, quality, and efficiency with a bullseye on the customer will lead to ultimate success.
Joe Ferrucci, AIA, LEED, is the vice president of design and coordination for F+F Mechanical Enterprises, Inc. He serves on the board of directors of the Construction Institute.