Nothing prepares you for the coming busy season like networking with 2,000 of your friends, soaking up a week of learning, and having some fun while doing it. That’s the Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s philosophy, and it followed through on it yet again, with another impressive convention, March 17-21 in San Antonio, TX.

This year’s MCAA convention — billed as “Unconventional Thinking”— was intended to deliver some new and inspirational messages from a wide array of industry and non-industry experts, and it delivered. The event was held at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort, and featured business-building presentations by well-known experts in mechanical contracting, and other popular experts who shared advice for living wisely, safely, and happily in a rough-and-tumble world.

The event’s opening general session had the impact of a grand finale. Michael Eisner, ex CEO of the Walt Disney Company, and now president of The Tornante Company, shared advice for business success, based on his days at the always-exciting Disney company, and his current adventures in leading a company which invests in, acquires, grows, and operates media and entertainment companies.

Also appearing on the opening roster was outgoing MCAA President William J. “Mac” Lynch, president of William F. Lynch Co., Worcester, MA. Lynch provided updates on MCAA achievements in 2012 and how MCAA programs and activities are helping MCAA members achieve success.



Distinguished Service Award to Bob Durr Sr.

The MCAA Distinguished Service Award was presented to Robert J. Durr Sr., treasurer/chairman of Durr Mechanical Construction, Inc., NY, NY.  MCAA President Lynch presented the award, and presented an overview of Mr. Durr’s career.

“The Distinguished Service Award was created by MCAA as its highest honor, recognizing the ‘best of the best’ within our industry,” Lynch said. “It’s a particular honor to present this year’s DSA to Robert J. Durr, Sr., because if there’s one thing all within MCAA agree on, it’s that Bob Durr is truly the best of the best.”

MCAA — in a show report provided to the media — described Durr’s achievements that have left an imprint on the Greater New York region. They include his direct involvement in many institutional and commercial high-rise buildings, nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, waste and process treatment plants and liquid natural gas, cryogenic, and methane gas recovery plants. He has chaired the MCAA Safety Committee, the National Joint Steamfitter/pipefitter Apprenticeship Committee, and the National Certified Pipe Welding Bureau. Durr’s service included membership on the MCAA board of directors, the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Fund, and the Industrial Relations Council. As MCAA president in 1996, he successfully guided MCAA through what is described as a time of critical transition.

Lynch introduced incoming MCAA president, Michael Cables, executive vice president, labor relations, for Kinetic Systems, Inc., Fremont, CA, and new MCAA board members. MCAA’s national officers for 2013-14 are Lynch, Cables, Tom Stone, Chuck Fell, and Steve Dawson. New MCAA board members are Brian Helm, Keith Atteberry, Bob Durr Jr., and Mike Shinn as contractor representatives; and Mike Farrington as manufacturer/supplier council chairman.

Aim for the Stars, Accept Challenges, Be Wise

Captain Mark Kelly ex-naval aviator and astronaut who piloted the NASA space shuttle in 1996  — he described a shuttle takeoff as “riding a runaway train going 1,000 mph” —and spent more than 50 days in space. Kelly — the husband of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in 2011 during an assassination attempt —described lessons he has learned while caring for Giffords throughout her recovery and during her ongoing rehabilitation. In describing things he learned from observing his wife’s tenacity, Kelly said, “The power of the human spirit is an incredible thing. In all you do, you must deny the acceptance of failure. Be passionate, strong, and courageous. Be your best.”

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UA General Secretary-Treasurer Mark McManus provided news on UA programs and initiatives it has embarked upon to grow the UA ranks, expand training opportunities and respond to changing market conditions.

Ex Navy SEAL Eric Greitens has traded in his scuba gear for a banner of humanitarianism, and is now leading “The Mission Continues,” an organization that places wounded and disabled veterans in community-based, non-profit organizations to achieve career and educational goals. Greitens described ways in which the most successful leaders do more than endure challenging times — they embrace them. Greitens encouraged MCAA conference attendees to welcome challenges, create hope, and thrive in in challenging times.

Did you see the movie “Catch Me if You Can”? Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? The movie depicted the story of Frank Abagnale’s less than ideal but nonetheless exciting life as a master check forger and the original “identity thief.” But for 25 years since his rehabilitation, Abagnale has provided financial institutions and corporations with sound advice on guarding against fraud and given private citizens ideas to prevent someone from stealing their identity. In two presentations as a featured MCAA speaker, Abagnale regaled the audience with stories from his jet-setting life of crime and impersonation and shared his expertise about con games, why they happen and how to prevent them. His book, “Stealing Your Life,” describes the various methods used by identity thieves, and how to prevent becoming one of their victims.

Panel Discussion on BIM and IPD

Building information modeling (BIM) and integrated project delivery (IPD) are firmly established as construction methodologies. There’s just no way enterprising contractors can forego the benefits the two methods provide related to preplanning and project fulfillment. There are however, many challenges and suggestions that must be considered to make BIM and IPD work for you. A panel discussion of four of the leading proponents of these methods offered their advice during a 90-minute session, “What’s Next in BIM and IPD?”

“As more contractors become more involved in new, innovative, and frequently disruptive processes and technologies, two of the most prominent are BIM and IPD. There’s no relief in sight to the acceleration and confusion that come with the deployment with these new, disruptive, but hopefully enriching technologies and processes,” said discussion moderator, MCAA Executive Director Dennis Langley.

“Technology is moving so fast for all of us. Six or seven years ago, BIM was a unique opportunity for contractors to take a lead role in a new technology. Since that time many things have changed, some for the better and some not,” Langley said.

A panel discussion on BIM and IPD processes featured Steve Shirley, president/CEO of University Mechanical, and a chairman of the MCAA BIM and education committees; Pete MacKenzie, National Educational Initiative instructor; Michael Cannistraro, J.C. Cannistaro company; and David Morris, EMCOR.

Among the many BIM topics they addressed were:
• the emerging role of the general contractor and construction manager in the BIM spatial coordination process

• co-locating, which involves design teams from the mechanical contractor and general contractor in one room throughout the duration of the project.

• BIM “total stations” and other new field technologies

• the expansion of prefabrication and modularization.

Sharing Secrets to Profitability

In “Every Job Profitable, Every Time,” Tom Williams, president of Sustainable Builders, Atlanta, GA, used the MCAA’s successful project management flowchart, planning for profitability guide, and newly-revised project manager’s manual to draw the blueprint for making every job profitable every time. Williams started his company after 31 years with renowned contractor, McKenneys, Inc.

Williams believes organizational charts need to be “turned upside down” using the “Servant Leader” model, in which the company supports project managers, who support the foremen, who support the field, who create value of the real “CEOs” — customers, employees, owners/stockholders and suppliers.

“Use the same sense of urgency the contractor feels to meet a bid deadline, to create a sense of urgency to meet preconstruction planning deadlines, knowing that pre-construction planning is the best method to achieve maximum field support,” Williams says. Culture change is required to significantly improve jobsite productivity, and Williams insists the change can only be driven by the individual foremen.

“To convince the foremen that change is needed, the company must educate and involve the foreman in the planning and decision making process. Involvement of the foreman in the pre-construction planning process can drive the culture change, Williams says.
 

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Are You a ‘High-Beam’ Thinker?

Technology consultant Scott Klososky has a genial and motivating way of telling people they need to get with the program. The fast-talking, fast-thinking Klososky is the former CEO of three successful startup companies and is the founder of Future Point of View (futurepointofview.com). He has more than 25 years of experience as a successful technology entrepreneur and international consultant.

In a presentation titled, “Technology Trends,” Klososksy told a packed room of MCAA contractors to break out of some of the ways they’re currently using technology. “If you’re going to have a world-class company going forward, you’re going to have to be very good at outreach to customers, and influencers such as architects, general contractors, and potential customers. That’s not about shaking hands and playing golf. It has to include technology to build a better connection with colleagues.

“For example, it’s possible for you to provide an interesting blog that goes out to every architect in your city. That would cost you zero dollars. You have to be highly data-centric and highly analytical,” he said. “We capture data well, but are not very good at analyzing and using it, and flowing it through an entire organization.”

Klososky said more companies must be lean operationally, with a high “revenue-per-employee” number.

“Use technology to lean out processes, so you need fewer people touching these processes,” he said. “You must be highly adaptive to new conditions. As new technology comes out, and we and change new business processes, your people must be highly adaptive to that, such as service people using a mobile application. How fast do they adopt it? Do some want to fight using it? You’ve got to flow data end-to-end, from estimating through completion and service. Flow data without people touching it.”

Klososky said people working in organizations can be grouped into “high beam” or “low-beam” thinker categories. Low-beam thinkers are essentially managers who implement a plan put in place by others, which is not a bad thing. However, the high-beam thinkers scramble to apply every innovative and truly helpful piece of technology they can find. They use it, invent it, and improve it. Klososky — who himself could be called an “ultra-high beam” thinker, says high-beam leaders are able to see into the future accurately, and better than others. “High-beam leaders set direction for firms,” he said. “They can see how the industry will migrate over the next 5 to 10 years. The more accurate your future gaze is, the better able you are to put [technological and human] resources in place.”


Student Chapter Competition

The MCAA student chapter at Milwaukee School of Engineering were the victors in this year’s student chapter competition, in which student teams from various mechanical training programs across the U.S. plan and present bids for an actual mechanical construction project. This year, 25 teams devised their plans for a 50,000-sq.ft. building that houses the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Space Exploration Center near Cape Canaveral, FL.


The student bidders were required to recommend design elements that meet or exceed LEED Platinum criteria. The project also required that the bids include a post-construction service component. Each plan and spec proposal had to include a radiant flooring system, radiant ceiling panels, a fresh air system, ground water wells, and rooftop heat pumps. Equipment and a plan for equipment, preventive maintenance/service components.

Judging the finalists were, the ContractingBusiness.com 2006 Woman of the Year, Kathy McCauley, president of McCauley Mechanical Construction, Inc; Mike Temple, Donnelley Mechanical; and Brett Christianson of Palmer/Christiansen.

“This event keeps getting better and more challenging each years,” said Troy Aichele, chairman of the MCAA career development committee. “The educators, sponsoring associations and contractor mentors make this possible each year.”

Mike Feutz, professor in the HVACR department of Ferris State University, one of the 25 competing schools, said he views the student bid competition with high regard, because of its real-world applications.

“The challenge in school is in making projects relate to the ‘real world.’ This is as real as it gets,” Feutz says. “The students talk to real suppliers, and get real prices. It’s not out of a textbook. It’s live. It forces them to think outside the box, be more creative, and ask questions they typically don’t ask in the classroom. It’s different than an ‘assignment’ that just has to be good enough for ‘the grade.’ Here, it’s judged by real contractors.”

In other events, Professor Blake Wentz of the Milwaukee School of Engineering received the MCAA 2012 Educator of the Year Award for the second year in a row. The Indiana Student Chapter was named MCAA’s 2012 Student Chapter of the Year, and the Binghampton University Mechanical Contractors Association Student Chapter at the University of Binghamton/State University of New York received its official charter, making it the 48th MCAA Student Chapter.

Dan Bulley: ‘Energize’

In a presentation titled “From Star Trek to the Jobsite,” Dan Bulley, senior vice president of MCA Chicago, addressed MCAA attendees on the topic of expanding technology. His premise is that since many of the best-know science fiction ideas have in some way been applied to real-life work applications, it’s important to know how these various technologies can help run a company more efficiently, profitably, and effectively. New technology is enabling companies to increase field productivity office productivity, achieve near-real-time job costing, improve dispatching capabilities, and increase sales.

Building information modeling (BIM) is one small part of today’s surge in business-building technology, Bulley says. It raises productivity by enabling more and faster prefabrication. “But the other thing we can do is increase on-site productivity, through more mobile apps. There, you have communication in real-time or near-real-time, for scheduling and job costing,” he explained.

The futuristic, augmented reality Bulley described includes using pads for project reviews in a virtual reality scenario, and something approaching what has been seen in the news with Google Glass.

“If there is piping in a wall, or fiber optic cable underground, you can combine that with augmented reality, and overlay an image in the Google Glass, where the underground piping is located, so that you won’t cut through fiber optic cable underground, or wiring inside walls.”

By borrowing ideas from the “gamer” industry, Bulley says virtual reality professionals are showing customers more clearly what they’re getting with a project in real time, hopefully to eliminate change orders. Or, there are the “BIM caves” as demonstrated at Texas A&M University (see photo), which foreshadows a time when customers or engineers can actually “walk around” within a virtual project.

“Layouts are now being produced using robotic stations, which produce a “point cloud” from which to render drawings,” Bulley said. “Scanning gives you a picture comprised of millions of data points, and someone renders that into the surface on a BIM model.”

Another future technology is in what he called “printing” houses, as a potential way to reduce homelessness. (“Contour Crafting,” designed by engineering professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, Crafting is a layered fabrication technology that uses a moveable gantry taller than the house to be built. Walls are built up layer by layer using concrete with automatic reinforcement or plumbing added in the process. (See http://bit.ly/contourcrafting)

The final techno-development Bulley mentioned was in using animation to sell energy projects. Here, the owner or potential buyer can “hover” over an animation of a home or building, which shows the operations of various energy systems and graphics showing reduced energy consumption.  Bulley said these would possibly begin on high profile projects, and eventually be applied to smaller, less complex projects.


William J. “Mac” Lynch: Upbeat and Looking Forward

During the 2013 MCAA conference, William J. “Mac” Lynch — outgoing president of the MCAA, and president of William F. Lynch Co., Worcester, MA — spoke with ContractingBusiness.com about the state of the mechanical contracting industry, its educational outlook, and his time as MCAA president.

Q: Do you believe the U.S. is nearing the end of its economic decline?
A: Yes. Nationally, we have seen growth among MCAA member companies. The economy is still pretty fragile, so you can’t really use a crystal ball with certainty, but overall the country is starting to improve. You can’t judge it based on different pockets. You can have contractors in one city be fully-employed, while their competitors have no work. Among our initiatives are energy management programs that provide energy monitoring and analysis to try to help clients free up capital by saving money on energy. That in turn helps the construction division.

Q: What do you see as the most exciting development in mechanical contracting?
A: Contractors are embracing technology much more. Ten or 15 years ago, we used to be five years behind the latest trend. Now, we see that to be competitive we have to adopt new technology. And hopefully, the young people coming in through our student chapters and internship programs will help us implement it. We’re basically a bunch of dinosaurs in my age group, (he says with a laugh).

The young people coming into our industry today are the future, and they’re going to bring the technology to the next level, such as BIM, prefabrication, and new welding technologies. It’s all good. It’s much different from my father’s company and grandfather’s company.

Q: How have you enjoyed serving as MCAA president?
A: Apart from the airport travel, it’s been very rewarding, very busy, and I’ve gotten to meet several contractors throughout the U.S. and Canada. Here at the show I’ve met contractors from the UK and Australia.  It’s been great to have the opportunity to meet and talk with other contractors about what’s happening regionally and internationally. We all try to help each other pick up that one bit of information that will help a company or the association do something differently to help its members.

Q: What has been your greatest achievement as MCAA president?
A: I’m very proud to have been a part of the pension reform coalition (see bit.ly/MCAAonpensions). I don’t want to take credit for it, because we have an amazing staff that has worked with it, and with people on Capitol Hill in Washington. We have had help from people from SMACNA, and from the UA. The UA was very strong in getting the other unions to accept the ideas that are critical to the survival of the industry, and helping the people we employ. You don’t want them to lose their pensions. We’re doing all we can to make it so the contractors and employees don’t get hurt.

Q: Would you say MCAA is a step ahead in filling the new employee vacuum many in the industry predict will be much larger in the days ahead.
A: We’re bringing our 48th student chapter into this convention, from the University of Binghamton/State University of New York. Some of these students may not join us when they graduate, but at least they know about our industry. If they work for a construction manager, they know the mechanical and engineering side and the mechanical contracting side. It’s all about educating everyone, whether they work with us or ‘against us.’ It’s a great program to develop talent. If we can get 10 or 15 % of these people into our industry it will help our management and survival into the future.

Q: How can contracting firms be better advocates for this industry among young people?
A: You need local mentoring programs. I hope the local associations are visiting local schools to speak with guidance counselors. There is a business here. You have air conditioning and heating in a school and someone installed it and has to maintain it. Someone built those power plants that are providing us with energy.

 

Robert Durr Sr. — "We Cut Through the 'We and Them' Attitude"

ContractingBusiness.com has also obtained some exclusive commentary from the 2013 MCAA Distinguished Service Award winner, Robert Durr Sr.

Q: What do you believe to be your most significant contribution to the mechanical contracting industry or MCAA?
A: A very important aspect of our association's service to its members is in the area of labor relations. Back in the 1990s, there existed an attitude between labor and management of “we and them”. Each organization — the UA and the MCAA — worked as separate entities, serving their membership as they thought best for themselves.

Although I was an active part of management, I grew up in a union household (my father a union carpenter, and my mother a union school teacher). I gained great respect for the union movement because of the life style my folks were able to enjoy after their active years of work, through the health and pension plans provided to them through their union membership. As a result, a good part of my efforts went into promoting the concept of  labor and management working as a team rather than  as separate and distinct organizations.

During my year as MCAA president, I insisted on meeting with the UA President , Marvin Boede, on a monthly basis to discuss common problems between labor and management. These monthly meetings lead to an annual meeting between the entire UA and MCAA Board of Directors. Our relations grew over the year and resulted in the formation of a “Joint Labor/Management Conference” and to change the past atmosphere, the newly elected UA General President and his executive staff participated in our entire MCAA convention rather than the general president popping in, giving a pro labor speech, and leaving.

I further spent years as a member of the “National Joint Apprenticeship Committee”. During my tenure, we came up with a “Heritage Training Program” given to all UA apprentices whereby they were not only taught how to install pipe but were informed about the formation of our industry from both managements and labors perspective, not just labors viewpoint. I further served as a management member of the Industrial Relations Council which, over these many years, has and still  resolves labor disputes between our UA labor partners and contractors all over the country without subjecting the community to damaging work stoppages.

Finally, during the last 12 years of my career,  I participated as a trustee on the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Fund, doing those things that helped assure the UA membership that their retired life would be enjoyed with reasonable security.  I am proud to say that, for these efforts, I have been honored to have been made a Honorary Member of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters as well as my great  New York City local union, UA Local 638.

Q: What are the most exciting developments in the contracting world?
A: It's truly very satisfying to see the
team concept that now strongly exists between the MCAA and our labor partners - the UA. All you have to do is read a summary of the remarks made by Mark McManus, the UA Secretary/Treasurer, at this year’s  MCAA Convention to understand the growing strength of our relationship. In addition, the “ Strategic Planning Committee” formed by the UA and MCAA has been in place developing strategies that will help us in many areas, one being market share recovery. Our continued relations with labor on a national level will and already has trickled down to the local level. We seem to have learned that as a team we will enjoy success, while as opponents we will lose. Our non-union competition is active and strong and cannot be overlooked from a competitive standpoint. They are difficult to beat price wise but I do not feel that the non-union sector cares very much about its workers future and therefore our country’s future. As a union contractor I feel that we should and will eventually win the respect of our heritage and therefore, the rewards of future prosperity.

 

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