Steve Shirley of University Mechanical/EMCOR (center), talks with two people who attended his building information modeling (BIM) educational session at the MCAA National Convention, held March 1-5 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Also pictured are Daniel Bulley, MCA of Chicago (left) and Robert Looman, MCA of Greater Kansas City.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Steve Shirley, president of University Mechanical & Engineering Contractors, Inc., an EMCOR Company, knows BIM. The J.W. Marriott hotel staff wheeled in extra chairs, aisles were blocked, and yet people still lined up outside the doorway to learn about building information modeling - BIM.

Shirley’s company has employed the BIM process for more than eight years, and though he believes they are still learning, his audience at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) national convention hung on his every word as if he had coined the phrase. Surprisingly, nearly 100 percent of the same audience raised their hands when Shirley asked how many had been involved with a BIM project. Their attendance at the educational session underscored the importance of BIM.

“With BIM, there is no place to hide in the virtual world,” Shirley said on several occasions during his hour-long presentation.

The requirements for BIM on new construction projects are rapidly overtaking the mechanical contracting industry. Building owners have seen the benefits that they can derive from BIM processes and are mandating its use by architects, construction managers, and the mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) trades. It is a revolution that has its roots in project management software introduced to the construction industry more than a decade ago. The intent of BIM has not changed much from its origins - to allow and encourage integration among all the trades during the design and construction phases of new construction.

Shirley said, “BIM is an object-oriented building development tool. It is the combining of graphics with databases. It is all about pre-coordination with sub-trades to bring everyone together on a project to ensure compliance.”

One of the manufacturing companies present in the session, Daikin AC, was asked about the company’s approach to meeting contractors’ BIM requirements. Brian Jilek, national internal sales manager and training coordinator, said “Daikin AC has been involved with developing models for BIM for about a year. The most significant challenge was communicating HVAC equipment’s distinctions to the BIM software writers. Fortunately, we were able to stay on the right path with plenty of communication.

“BIM actually utilizes Daikin developed 3-D templates of our VRV equipment into a three-dimensional layered drawing, so users can see equipment collisions and intersections. This is a huge time saver for the contractor or design-build consultant. They can utilize an existing library of models instead of having to spend time developing equipment dimensions and specifications.

“With BIM, Daikin’s products can be represented in the drawings layered with other trades like electrical, plumbing, sheet metal and fire suppression, previous to beginning a job.”


The BIM revolution is presenting some of the biggest challenges, as well as some of the best opportunities, for mechanical contractors, according to an MCAA spokesperson.

Shirley shared lessons learned from the implementation of the BIM process since University Mechanical adopted the process in 2001. He showed several video clips of actual project management discussions that occurred between his company’s project managers and other construction team members. One clip demonstrated how a piping design was destined to collide with a building’s steel ceiling structure, until participating parties made adjustments to their respective designs.

Without BIM, problems such as this are most commonly discovered at the jobsite, after labor and materials have already been wasted.

According to Shirley, the BIM process is still somewhat misunderstood. No one person can build a complex project in the real world, or in the BIM environment. He suggested that some companies were merely conducting the BIM process at the design level and that this would not work. “BIM is not a silver bullet by itself. People still work in the field to make everything work. One of the problems is with BIM impostors. Until the people who actually understand and make the project work are brought into the model process, it’s not truly a BIM project,” said Shirley.

Shirley also talked of internal behavioral changes that had to come about with the adoption of BIM. “Our internal culture was the biggest deterrent. It was very difficult for people who were accustomed to simply going to the supply house to pick up a part. Now, with BIM, everything has to be run through the process.”


BIM has caused many of the players, such as construction managers, to be questioned as to the need for their existence. What purpose does a construction manager serve for the owner, if everyone can easily cooperate in a virtual environment?

Leading the construction process has long been the goal of many a design-build mechanical contractor. However, the reality of design-build is that several parties, including subcontractors, professional consulting en- gineers, and architects, have volunteered to lead design-build efforts. It is not the pure domain of the mechanical contractor.

“BIM is a profit opportunity for the mechanical contractor to manage all of the MEP elements,” said Shirley “and to lead the construction process.”

According to Shirley, owners expect BIM will facilitate quicker and more precise information including comprehensive time estimates, value engineering, and lower end costs. The impostors that are not ready when building owners ask for a BIM project will be exposed and lose out on an opportunity.

Shirley gave the audience a parting hint, “Start BIM on a small project before you are required to do so. Don’t underestimate the learning curve.”

Publication Date: 05/11/2009