Like most new technology, the rate of adoption for tech in the construction industry follows a typical bell curve. Where does your company fall along it? As the name of the groups imply, most are either the early or late majority. The industry as a whole is currently sitting at the top of the curve, as more and more construction firms adopt and implement Building Information Modeling practices.
As an early adopter, Andy J. Egan Co., Inc. has earned a reputation as an industry leader in BIM. We’re often invited to speak at national, industry events on this topic, and it’s a reputation I feel we’ve lived up to. Accompanying that reputation is a misconception about our achievement in this field – that Egan has been able to implement BIM because of our size.
With more than 300 field employees and a dozen BIM specialists, it’s easy to get the impression that construction technology is not for small businesses, that you must be a company of tremendous resources to implement this. I’d like to put that misconception to rest, and to share five practical tips for BIM implementation that construction firms of all sizes can put to use.
In 2001, when Egan started its journey in construction technology, we did not have a dozen BIM specialists. In fact, we didn’t even have one. I was hired as a CAD specialist by the company’s sole engineer at the time. In the years that followed, we built our BIM and construction technology capabilities over time through trial and error. We got some things right quickly, and others w failed at – at least on our first attempt. Our eventual successes were dependent on these early failures. And while I encourage others in the industry not to fear failure, I’m sharing these five ‘lessons learned’ so that maybe your failures will sting a bit less.
1 | Buy-in comes from every level of your organization. Because Egan was on the leading edge of adoption, we struggled with getting our field team on board with early construction technology. When visiting one of our job sites in 2003, one of our crew members told me that technology was “taking the skill out of the trade” and “food out of his family’s mouth.” Shortly after, our President held a company-wide meeting. He told employees that construction technology to drive fabrication was the direction the company was headed, and that anyone opposed to that could leave. That’s when we started to get buy-in throughout the company. For Egan, adoption came from the top down. But today’s landscape is very different. The young people that are entering the trades are comfortable with technology, and they expect the same of their employers. Businesses who fail to adopt current tech practices stand to lose talented team members to companies who excel in this space. If you are a believer in construction technology, find others at every level of the business who feel the same and work together to champion comprehensive buy-in.
2 | Construction technology is not an intern project. To succeed in BIM, companies must drop the notion that it’s a tool only for young people. One of our most successful techniques for BIM implementation was to have young, tech natives coordinating as a team with our most experienced plumbers and pipefitters. This required us to bring into the office our journeymen with more than 30 years of field experience and to teach them the new software. Seem impossible? It was easier than teaching our newest employees how to plumb and run pipe in the field. This combination of experience ensured that our coordinated models were both accurate and constructible.
3 | Define your business process first. If your organization is struggling with poorly-defined processes, implementing BIM is not a solution to this. In fact, it may make it worse. Construction technology works best when layered over already-defined processes. For instance, the proven best practices of lean construction are greatly enhanced through the BIM process. Egan started to implement lean construction first through our fabrication shop, clearly defining its role in our construction process. Only then did we add a layer of construction technology, continuing to refine and enhance its role in the two decades that followed. Like this example, look at existing processes and identify where technology can add greater efficiency.
4 | Don’t quit and be patient. Some of our first attempts with construction technology failed at first. When Egan first tested total station layouts, the results were very unfavorable. But we saw the possibilities with this tool and stuck with it and learned from our failures. Today, total station layouts are one of our most useful construction technology tools. Had we given up, we would have lost so much efficiency today.
5 | Ongoing training is critical to long-term success. The technology you invest in today will evolve and change by tomorrow, and often, we’re not using it to its full potential. To understand the full capabilities, new applications and potential for future growth, users must regularly update their technology skills and education. We recommend relying on technology providers, national conferences and local networking groups for training opportunities. If your company has not yet taken the plunge into BIM and other construction technology solutions, now is the time to start. Sitting at the top of the bell curve, we’re well past the beta testing phase. Today’s construction technology is easier than ever to implement and use. It’s transforming the industry, and with it, the businesses who choose to adopt it.
By Chris Weaver, Andy J. Egan Co.’s first AutoCAD specialist. Chris worked with the company’s skilled tradesmen to implement Building Information Modeling (BIM) throughout the company in 2001, at a time when few mechanical contractors were adopting these techniques. Today, Chris is Egan’s Director of Technology and works to ensure the company is on the forefront of construction technology at a national level, even influencing new technology by working with the industry’s best software providers. He serves on the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) Technology Committee, the Board of Directors for the American Subcontractors Association of Michigan (ASAM), the Ferris State University HVACR Advisory Board, and the Core Group for the Lean Construction Institute of Michigan CoP.
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