Project management tools and software are requisite investments in any industry, and the HVACR/sheet metal business is no exception — especially given the fact that the market is under more pressure than ever to deliver projects on time and on budget.

According to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, the HVAC industry is expected to grow to $35.8 billion by 2030.

What does that mean? With increased demand, in addition to labor shortages and supply chain issues, businesses must find ways to increase efficiency across all the components of their operation, while at the same time decreasing errors, and improving project coordination to grow profitability. The Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) department, and the models created within, are integral to these efforts.

This is where software comes in; choosing the right technology tools can transform how management and employees perform their work, accelerating workflows while ensuring accuracy, efficient systemization and logistical planning.

The Paradigm Has Changed

There are many ways in which contractors have innovated over the years, but perhaps none most significantly as with the adoption of software tools to help with their detailing and fabrication processes. Since the dawn of CAD/CAM digital workflows, there have been add-ins that accomplish fabrication-level detailing. It is generally expected that your fabrication software comes with pressure classes and a curated database of duct patterns and bought items to give drawings the level of detail necessary to seamlessly export to CAM workflows. 

With several software options in the market, how did sheet metal contractors make their choice? Under the paradigm of the last 30-40 years, the popularity of all add-ins was driven primarily by three parameters:

  1. Ease of use,
  2. Ease of customization: Patterns, notches, standard lengths should all meet your company’s shop standards, and
  3. Integration with shop equipment.

If a CAD add-in sufficed in all three of these areas, then companies were happy. Today, however, these core functionalities are foregone conclusions, and you can get them from any number of add-ins. Contractors now need more and getting what they need requires careful diligence.

Teamwork Builds Trust, Trust Builds Speed

In today’s construction environment the demands of fabrication and collaboration with extended project teams, paired with outrageously fast project schedules, have placed new demands on VDC departments world-wide. Teams need to work smarter and faster than ever before without any broken communication loops.  Stakeholders need the right information at the right time in a way they can use. Projects require real-time feedback loops within teams, a complete performance simulation of the systems being installed, analytics to visualize and quantify production metrics, and mobile apps available for field teams to complement field ticket items and tracking.  These are the new software standards for sheet metal VDC, fabrication, and project management, and they are no longer luxury; these are a requisite and primary source of competitive advantage that will qualify you to bid certain jobs and stand out among your competitors.

How Does Your Company Stack Up?

To try to determine whether your sheet metal design/detailing software optimally complements your business obligations, there are several questions to ask yourself:

  1. When you model your ductwork, does it contribute analytics—without the manual step of exporting/importing—related to the model’s dollars, pounds and hours to a system that you can evaluate across your whole enterprise?  
  2. Is your model capable of telling you where you might run into trouble?  If the design criteria of your system was on the upper limit of the VFD/Fan size, and only had 4 offsets, and coordination added 6 more offsets, is your fabrication software capable of telling you where there may not be enough static pressure?  
  3. When your field team needs to order fittings for final connections, change orders, or rework, are they using a mobile app integrated into your CAM system that creates the cut file? Or are they sketching something, taking a photo and texting it into the office?  Is it clear the purpose of this order? Could it be an accidental remake? 
  4. Does your CAD and CAM software data remain locked within its respective database?  Or is data related to your modeling, production, and status tracking—which can communicate key performance indicators across your enterprise—enabling better project management, and predictive analytics regarding manpower and material spending?

If you fail to implement a nimble technology that enables such connectivity, analysis, and productivity, you have not only put your VDC department at a competitive disadvantage, but you’ve also stymied your management, fabrication shop, and field labor. 

By contrast, with the right software solution that thinks beyond just the design/detailing task itself, jobs will cost your company less because each department has more meaningful information at their fingertips that enables faster communication across all departments. Even better? A bundled software offering that includes functionality and other apps to support downstream workflows - procurement, estimation, fabrication, etc.- that will extend the value of your model even further.

“From The Shop Floor, To the Top Floor”

The sheet metal market requires that everything be faster and cheaper, while also more complex: A very hard balance to achieve unless your business has a deep knowledge of everything happening within each project — in real-time. 

To allow VDC and fabrication shop departments to nimbly coordinate moving parts at a moment’s notice — supplies and suppliers, internal operations, deliveries, machines and maintenance, quality inspections, labor, inventory, work-in-process (WIP), client requirements, and coordination schedules — businesses must make the right software choices the first time.

It’s the only way to stay competitive and meet the requirements of today’s consumer-driven environment and protect your bottom line.