Technology plays a key role in the success and growth of many businesses, and the sheet metal industry is no different. Ductwork system designers and detailers are finding the expertise they gain in using building information modeling (BIM) software to be a deciding factor in a project’s success.

As more and more contractors transition into a BIM environment, certification becomes increasingly important. It serves as the "carrying card" that signifies the detailer's level of knowledge, which can impact a project's bottom line.

"A good detailer can save a contractor and the project a lot of money. A bad detailer can cost them money," says David Eisman, applications support for Dynamic Systems Inc. , Austin, TX. Experience is one thing, but certification means something much different.

"This way, the contractor who hires the detailer knows exactly what they're capable of doing," Eisman says. Benchmark (formerly CCS) is proprietary BIM training software of the International Training Institute (ITI), Alexandria, VA. It contains modules in detailing and fabrication , and additional modules are on the drawing board.

Over the last several years, BIM has improved in many ways, according to Mike Keane, ITI’s director of education and technology. In this position, Keane has served as leader of ITI’s BIM software development

"The power and accessibility of the software has become greater across the board, and more in-depth modeling is possible," Keane says.

A major enhancement to ITI's BIM program — which was due for release in March 2011— is a function that will allow field foremen to track a project to the project database. "The new function will allow field personnel to report on who's working on which aspect of the model, which crews and resources they're using, and the time it's taking to complete the job," Keane says. An additional improvement due to be made available soon is a commissioning package, with testing/ balancing/commissioning capabilities. Mike Keane can be reached at mkeane@sheetmetal-iti.org.

Hit the Ground Fabricating
BIM software certification and training can improve employee value to the company. They can hit the ground running — or fabricating— on whatever commercial BIM software program a contractor is using.

At this time, ITI is sponsoring five regional training centers, offering a week-long BIM certification courses at various times of the year. Training is free of charge to all Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) members in good standing. A major prerequisite, however, is a working knowledge of AutoCAD. The training centers are located in Cleveland, St. Louis, Detroit, Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

Improving Designer Skill & Value
Dave Wessel, HVAC designer and detailer with National Heating and Ventilating, Albuquerque, NM, attended the first detailing class with 12 other detailers in St. Louis in 2009. The course served a need for his employer, but in the process, Wessel became a valuable asset. Detailers who graduate from the course receive the Benchmark software.

"We had wanted to design in 3D and download to the plasma cutter, but we didn’t have the means," Wessel says. "We were talking to some companies, and we were looking at $30,000 for the software, so it was worth our while to do it. We have had jobs we couldn't have done without the software and training I received. We would've been dead in the water. The training has not only opened doors for me but the company as well."

Wessel's passion for this improvement is evident. And, it's possibly surprising, given the fact that he's a 30-year veteran of the sheet metal trade. But, rather than resisting change, he says he's enjoyed learning every innovation that has improved his skills along the way.

"Those of us who are involved in the preplanning of a building are able to see firsthand the huge advantage to using the BIM process. One of the most significant advantages is that we now have the ability to virtually build the entire project before construction begins. This is a tremendous asset in the coordination process. Very little is left to chance, and we're able to encounter conflicts before they become a costly reality."

Wessel believes using BIM translates into huge amounts of dollar savings, and it gives those who use the process an advantage over those who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to use it.

Key to Employment Prospects
Sean Murck, HVAC designer and detailer for NAC Mechanical and Electrical Services in Vadnais Heights, MN, is constantly looking for ways to improve his education and gain opportunities. When business is slow, he works as a consultant for Benchmark. But slow business is better than no business, which is where he says he’d be without BIM.

"If I was still drafting in 2D, I wouldn't be employed," he says. "It's huge for your employment to have this training. You get a whole drafting department in one move when it normally takes years to build one with talent and software."

When working on a project, Murck finds it easier and less expensive to fabricate in his company's shop and transport to the jobsite, rather than building it in the field. Project "hiccups" are found sooner, and the client's happy because the work is moving at a quicker pace.

"You can't prefabricate projects without using BIM or 3D," he adds. "Anything you can fabricate in the shop costs you a third less than to do it in the field. Your time in the field is much shorter, and the customer is happy because one day they barely have walls up and soon after your part is almost complete."

The demand for certified detailers will likely increase in the coming years, as the need for their BIM skill set grows. Even now, more private sector and government projects require certification as part of the bidding process.

"Software certification adds credibility to a member's knowledge and makes him or her more employable than someone without the certification,"

Dynamic System's David Eisman says. "It also identifies workers who care enough about their careers to go back to school and increase their skill levels." sheetmetal-iti.org