Prefabrication has become a necessary, cost-effective choice for many sheet metal contractors in the construction industry. In addition to reducing labor requirements, prefabrication improves safety, lowers project costs, and increases productivity, which should help them gain a competitive advantage. In fact, according to the Modular Building Institute, the prefabrication of components offsite can deliver a project 30% to 50% faster than traditional methods.

However, for the prefabrication process to be successful, all project data needs to be accessible and accurate. Sometimes general contractors are unable to pass along up-to-date site data to the trades, or MEP contractors are unable to share that data with each other, leaving gaps in information and coordination that make it difficult to carry out MEP construction effectively. 

If there are discrepancies between the design or plan and the reality on the jobsite, or if changes on the jobsite occur that aren’t communicated, contractors must worry about whether a prefabricated component or module will fit into the build. And if it doesn’t, the time, expense and labor required to fix the problem can be a significant blow to the schedule and budget. But there are tools available that can ease MEP processes and ensure successful prefabrication.

Managed real world content within a model, complete with information like manufacturer, description, size, labor hours, and more, can create a single source of truth allowing contractors to support better quality deliverables and connect and visualize internal workflows and team interactions with a single up-to-date model that links every part of the project lifecycle, from detailing to the field and every part in between no matter how small. Data rich models and files can be shared with team members of all technical abilities throughout the process from fabrication, procurement and installation.

This has led to the next evolution of prefabrication – multi-trade fabrication. The ability for different trades to collaborate on projects like hospital piping, electrical, and sheet metal can lead to the building of an entire corridor offsite. A rack that has studs and drywall, can be broken down on a truck in 50-foot sections, delivered to the jobsite and then hoisted up to the ceiling. Then the interconnect of the piping between racks is the only field labor required. This sort of plug-and-play approach drives a lot of time out of the construction schedule.

To be a leading-edge fabricator and standout from the competition, you need to have the most advanced software and hardware. Innovations in design software, shop management software, mixed reality, scanning and layout tools have all led to increased efficiency and accuracy.

Mestek Machinery, a leading provider of HVAC metal forming and fabrication solutions, has been on the cutting edge of technology, literally. The company’s IPI Pro Fabriduct Coil Line lends itself to less chance of leakage when it comes to square duct. Using accurate, real-world data and managed content that is ready for fabrication, they can have a complete download from the detailer to the cam station to the fabrication table controls.

“Prefabrication is the fastest growing trend on the dry side,” says Mike Bailey, Senior Vice President of Sales at Mestek Machinery. “We can see the design in Trimble SysQue and send it all the way to Trimble FabShop and download it to the IPI Duct Line. By doing prefabrication in the shop, the materials can be tested in the shop prior to arriving at the jobsite and any issues can be fixed beforehand. We’ve also found that approximately 40% of labor can be taken out of the field and into the shop, in a controlled environment.”

Ultimately, prefabrication can help contractors do more with less and reduce the number of people needed in the field, to save time, improve efficiency and reduce waste. By increasing installation efficiency with more seamless workflows and constructible data accessible to all stakeholders, prefabrication gives contractors a competitive advantage. It’s all about connecting the right people to the right data at the right time with data so accurate you can build from it.