“If you have been waiting on the sidelines, now is the time to engage, because there’s no turning back,” according to “Achieving Spatial Coordination through BIM—A Guide for Specialty Contractors.” This landmark document was released in early November for contractors who want to implement building information modeling (BIM) practices and technologies in their firms.


BIM is a process of digitally representating a building’s physical and functional characteristics, and it aids in decision-making for a construction project throughout its life cycle. 


This guide is the product of two years of intense work by three trade associations—the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA), and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA)—and an industry task force of nearly three dozen experts, including member contractors who are highly knowledgeable of BIM. Of course, the construction organizations had been grappling with BIM individually for some time before they began to collaborate on a standard definition of spatial coordination through 3-D modeling.


With or without BIM, the construction spatial coordination process should be a cooperative effort between the owner, design professionals, general contractor or construction manager, and trade contractors. The purpose is to integrate physical objects, components and systems into the architectural spaces allocated in the contract documents. This is a very important process for mechanical, electrical, sheet metal, plumbing, HVAC, and sprinkler/fire protection contractors who, as the guide notes, are “on the business end of project design and fitment issues” and understand that the traditional expectations and practices surrounding spatial coordination have been costly and laden with risk.


Any failure of the spatial coordination process can lead to serious problems. The CEOs of MCAA (John R. Gentille), SMACNA (Vincent R. Sandusky) and NECA (John M. Grau) contributed to an article in ENR, which explains it this way: “Those visionary MEP contractors who embraced BIM early discovered an important change in the rules: a lone capable contractor can no longer carry the team. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Success indicators for projects that require BIM are benchmarked by the contributions of the weakest construction team member. Consider the fallout when a contractor who fails to participate in the spatial coordination process has to install their systems in spaces that an MEP contractor who did participate reasonably expects to be available for field fabrication. The work of the coordination team is up in smoke, and a total re-design is required. RFIs and change orders are generated and the unbudgeted costs mount. Everyone loses.”


MEP contractors can benefit greatly from BIM because it reveals the full complexity of a building and its systems in ways no other methods can—from different perspectives in three dimensions. However, because BIM involves new ideas and methods and an array of stakeholders of varying skills, it can also be risky for contractors who are not up to speed on the concept. And, even worse, a contractor who bungles BIM where it is required can disrupt the entire project.


Given these concerns, NECA, MCAA and SMACNA went beyond defining spatial coordination in the BIM environment. Even though the full definition they developed was accepted and embedded inside the 2012 Version 2 release of the National BIM Standard, our trade associations were moved by a larger underlying issue. They knew they had to provide a means to improve the performance of our least experienced contractors and the quality of their contributions on BIM projects.


And that is the purpose of the guide. It’s not a software instruction manual. It’s a “take this into consideration” set of guidelines that addresses how MEP contractors can best incorporate leading-edge technologies and workflows into the spatial coordination aspect of their projects. It’s information that is essential for making BIM-related business decisions.


You can download the guide from http://necanet.org/neca-store/publications. (It’s free for NECA, MCAA and SMACNA members.) The rapid proliferation of BIM suggests that you should get the guide right now and begin reviewing it immediately.


According to Pike Research, which provides in-depth analysis of global clean-technology issues, the BIM technology market stood at $1.8 billion in May 2012. This figure is expected to surge by more than 250 percent to reach $6.5 billion by 2020. If you’re not up on BIM, you’re holding yourself back, and you’re not helping your industry move forward. BIM is big and powerful, and it’s not going away. However, those MEP contractors who fail to adopt it appropriately just might.


I’m passionate about BIM because the companies with which I’m affiliated use it, and it works. Put it to work in your own company ASAP!