3 Benefits of Technology in the Contractor-Subcontractor Relationship

Trust is a vital ingredient of any business relationship.

In the days before BIM, contractors and subcontractors couldn’t virtually model their projects. They couldn’t always foresee complications that could make a project less successful. Therefore their partnership, like a trust fall, required each to tolerate a certain amount of ambiguity. Today that’s still the case—but the modeling capability afforded by BIM makes the process a little smoother.

Resolving Conflicts Before They Start

As Randall Natsch, director of virtual design and construction at McCarthy Building Companies, says, “The easiest way to describe it [BIM-based collaboration] is that visualization helps invite more response earlier in the building process and elevates issues to the appropriate decision makers.”

Structural and engineering problems can be caught earlier in the process, before they lead to the sort of breakdown that used to torpedo projects.

Natsch recently witnessed an instance of technology resolving potential conflict when he worked on Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California with Peterson Mechanical. As the design was modeled in Autodesk Navisworks, it became clear a ceiling needed to be lowered. Says Greg Marks, plumbing piping manager for Peterson: “When field construction got to that point, the physical items would have been installed in conflict with the ceiling.” He estimated fixing the error would have cost them an extra 20 to 80 man hours.

Photo via McCarthy Building Companies

Keep Costs Under Control

“Mistakes in the real world, in terms of labor and manpower, are a lot more expensive than mistakes in the virtual world,” says Michael Mutto, BIM lead at contracting firm Pan-Pacific Mechanical.

When McCarthy was tasked with building a 3-story, 200,000 square foot aquarium in Arizona, they turned to 3D tools and reduced the project time by 35 percent and reduced their labor needs by 17,000 hours. All of these savings have a tangible impact on the budget.

Maintain Accountability

“We’re slowly moving toward a uniform file structure and seeing with each project greater transparency: who’s drawing what, when they’re drawing it, and if they’re meeting their dates,” Michael Mutto says. When something doesn’t add up or go as planned, the team can find out who is responsible.

“If the dimension is off… the party that deviates that half inch from the digital model is responsible to fix that clash/conflict in the real world,” he adds. It’s not about laying blame, but about preventing mistakes from snowballing before they threaten the ultimate goal: the real-world success of the project, which will be shared by all involved.

Construction may never be a seamless process, but with good communication between contractors and subcontractors, a team can overcome almost any obstacle. Now achieving that level of trust is easier than before, thanks to a collaborative building process based on BIM modeling and technology.