Building information modeling ‘vital’ to sheet metal industry

BIM departments a necessity for contractors to respond to demand increases

FAIRFAX, Va. – Building information modeling (BIM) has been around for two decades, but the surge in three-dimensional BIM only began to filter into the market a few years ago. Today, many major projects require hired contractors to have a BIM department, no matter the size. While some are still reluctant to incorporate BIM into their companies, the reasons for not including it are becoming increasingly more difficult for the industry to accept.

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 job site once the duct is fabricated and ready for installation.

Michael Keane, director of building information modeling technologies for the International Training Institute, the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry, is a second-generation sheet metal worker. He’s watched the union change with the times, and today, it’s a much different union than the one his father joined.

“My father thought labor unions represent the physical labor, working with your hands. It’s not the same world,” Keane said. “We left the age of technology and now we’re in the information age.”

“It’s vitally important to the health of every local union membership to have BIM personnel, from the members to the contractors to the JATCs to everyone involved,” said James Shoulders, executive administrator of the ITI. “That’s why we spend time and energy on it. That’s why we feel it’s important to train in. That’s why we’ve invested so much into the training at ITI. It’s part of our world.”

Joe Alcayaga, of Napa, Calif., and Dan Beyersdorf, of Saginaw, Mich., work for companies with up-and-coming BIM departments. Because they each use the ITI’s proprietary Benchmark software, which is given to the detailer upon training and certification, the company didn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for software, making it easier to incorporate BIM into the services they already offered.

In Michigan, more than half the jobs are requiring BIM coordination.

“The companies that don’t have it are finding they’re way behind,” said Beyersdorf, project coordinator and detailer at U.S. Sheet Metal. “They’re realizing maybe this will turn into something. On any big job, I expect to see it required now.”

Northern California is seeing an upward shift in BIM popularity as well.

“A lot of bid requirements include BIM,” said Alcayaga, detailer at Bell Products, Inc. “If you don’t have it, you won’t be able to bid. They want all the coordination done before they get out to the field. It’s definitely out there and on everybody’s minds after seeing what it’s capable of.”

These are only two examples of contractors across the nation finding the demand for BIM increasing in their hometowns. Union contractors can keep up with demand and create a BIM department easily as sheet metal workers trained in Benchmark receive the software once they’ve passed their certification exam. No matter the BIM software, detailers certified on the Benchmark software are able to navigate other commercial BIM programs easily. For the contractor, the investment is low and the benefits are high.

“It’s old dogs, new tricks,” Keane said. “Contractors are naturally afraid. As soon as they find they can make money doing this, they’re convinced.”

Leaders at U.S. Sheet Metal and Bell Products, Inc. were convinced and created small BIM departments that are kept busy by the amount of projects requiring their services.

“All they need to do is buy a computer with AutoCAD on it,” Beyersdorf said. “Everything else is included.”

“It ties into every aspect of our trade, whether you’re a brand new apprentice on the job or a seasoned journeyman who’s been doing it for 30 years. It’s going to affect you,” Shoulders said. “Ready or not, here it comes.”

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 or call 703-739-7200.

AutoCAD, Bell Products Inc., Dan Beyersdorf, International Training Institute, Joe Alcayaga, Michael Keane, U.S. Sheet Metal
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