A building information modeling (BIM) department can move a sheet metal contractor from the little leagues to the big leagues, giving them the ability to bet on projects previously thought impossible. The Benchmark software, a three-dimensional brand offered through training and certification with the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry, brings accuracy, efficiency and cost savings to contractors. A one-person department can bring in previously-unattainable cash flow, keeping doors open and sheet metal workers on the job.

Three-dimensional BIM allows detailers to design systems like HVAC duct and examine the design from multiple angles. Because of the three-dimensional aspect, detailers can see problems as they arise on the screen instead of on the jobsite once the duct is fabricated and ready for installation.

Hovland’s Inc., in Eau Claire, WI, opened its first BIM department this year. Although it’s a one-person show, the addition allowed the company to bid on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Education Building.

Jared Bechard, the company’s lone detailer, completed training and certification with the ITI last year on the Benchmark three-dimensional BIM software. Other than sending him to training and some general computer software upgrades, the money Hovland’s Inc. invested in its new department was minimal, said Tony Welke, fourth-generation owner of Hovland’s Inc. Once trained and certified, workers take the software with them for free.

“We recognize it as a tool for the future,” Welke says. “It was apparent more and more projects were going to go that way.” “It’s actually putting work into our hands,” Bechard adds. “This isn’t just sheet metal. We can do fabrication work. We can do fittings.”

The 14-month University of Wisconsin project is one of Hovland’s Inc.’s largest yet, with four floors and 200,000 pounds of duct. Having Benchmark in the company’s corner takes a lot of stress off job foremen. With the software’s Fitting Input Tool (FIT), quick hand-drawn sketches of fittings are things of the past.

“It makes it so much easier to form what we’re doing. You’re taking the guesswork out of it –rather than ordering it and saying, ‘I hope it fits,’” Bechard says. “It’s saving a lot of headaches. The job is big enough so the foreman can’t run it and order all the material. It makes it so much more streamline. Benchmark makes it so easy.”

In the 90 years since Welke’s great-grandfather opened Hovland’s Inc., the company has withstood the Great Depression, World War II and the recent recession. It did this by thinking forward and being proactive.

“Obviously, we’ve adapted. You pick and choose the technology and stay with it,” Welke says. “Ninety years ago, if you told someone about this, they would’ve thought you were from outer space.”

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in the United States and Canada. ITI is jointly sponsored by Sheet Metal Worker's International Association (SMWIA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA). ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal industry throughout the United States and Canada.

Located in Alexandria, Va., ITI produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

For more information about ITI, visit www.sheetmetal-iti.org or call 703/739-7200.