For plumbing contractors large and small, the competitive landscape is growing more intense every day. This is nothing new, so you’ve most likely already taken steps in the recent past to help enhance your services, boost efficiency, and drive up your company’s margin wherever possible.
With that idea in mind, we’ve identified seven powerful tips that plumbing companies have put into practice to enhance their competitive positioning in recent years. Review the list and see how you can start gaining the same benefits for your own company.
1. Embrace BIM
This first tip is really twofold: First, Building Information Modeling (BIM) is already the industry standard for plumbing detailers, as more and more jobs involve a 3D model and some level of collaboration during the design stage.
If your company is one of the few that’s still holding back from a BIM-first approach to detailing, now’s the time to make the cultural change internally to truly embrace this technology and its accompanying workflows. It’s not just the future of construction, it’s the present. Fighting progress at this point is only guaranteeing you’re going to be left behind.
Secondly, today’s BIM solutions go far beyond just the design phase and a resulting 3D model. A more advanced level of BIM adoption includes other phases of the project like estimating and takeoff, fabrication, on-site project and asset management, and much more.
So, even if you’ve already invested sufficiently to handle your detailing in 3D, embracing BIM goes much further than that. Progressive plumbing contractors who want to stand out must get the very most out of this technology and offer its full value to both GC’s and fellow subs on every job.
Learn more: How to Use Your BIM Model in All Project Stages
2. Get involved as early as possible
From a timing standpoint, there’s a level of comfort that goes with laying back and waiting for the general contractor to loop you in on a “need to know” basis, handing in your required deliverables and finishing up onsite, and being done with the project. The thing is, the plumbing companies who are winning more bids and bringing home greater profits don’t operate that way anymore. Instead, they seek to get involved in a project as early as possible, preferably during the initial planning and design stages.
While you may not be able to get started with deliverable work at that phase of the project, having access to the 3D model in its earliest stages of development can offer many opportunities to take a helpful, consultative approach, which can add tremendous value down the road. And, getting involved in the project earlier on puts you in the best position to ensure you have everything you need lined up early and that any budgetary or scheduling issues that could slow you down or eat into your margin are rectified as quickly as possible.
3. Collaborate freely
Construction has always been plagued with the siloing of information, domain expertise, and more. Plumbers didn’t usually know what the electricians needed or planned to do, just as detailers didn’t necessarily know what was best for the fabrication shop’s daily workflow. Every discipline handled its own portion of the job from start to finish, and it was up to the GC to make sense of it all and try to keep the whole machine running as smoothly as possible.
Today, there’s really no excuse for continuing to operate that way, and there are compelling reasons to favor as much collaboration across disciplines and project phases as possible. And, with the technology available today, doing so shouldn’t add any time or effort to your existing workflow.
The key to maximizing collaboration is to adopt a BIM-related software platform that prioritizes collaboration through common file types, seamless file conversion, and real-time updates across desktop and mobile devices. That way, no matter where they are or what information they seek, every stakeholder can access and use the latest and greatest project data.
4. Take your model to the field
The next logical step, if you’ve applied the previous recommendation, is to extend that BIM software platform to your layout process. With a BIM-to-field layout solution in hand, your crew can use the 3D model itself to add tremendous speed and efficiency to the layout process on the job site.
A connected layout solution will include software to access the model and collect points data from the field. It is usually loaded on a tablet computer. A Robotic Total Station (RTS) rounds out the solution by generating the necessary points and measurements with laser-focused accuracy. The RTS connects to the tablet via Wi-Fi.
With this simple, powerful setup, one layout professional can now layout nearly four times as many points as a team of two or three could using more traditional methods. This not only speeds the process, but it allows those other layout pros to concentrate on more pressing tasks or even other jobs, doubling or tripling efficiency. Additionally, the use of the RTS improves quality and accuracy while providing thorough documentation as well.
5. Employ pipe prefabrication
You’re probably already using prefabrication to some extent, but if you’re like most plumbing contractors, you’re not using it enough.
Prefabricating piping systems speeds up installation dramatically while improving material and installation quality, reducing rework, and ensuring consistency over time. It also helps a lot with scheduling and the practicalities of working on a busy job site. The more labor and materials that can be handled offsite, the better. Finally, by employing automation, economy of scale, and the quality control standards of any factory, a fabrication shop can save you a lot of money over onsite fabrication.
Since most fabrication shops are now set up to accept spool drawings and/or 3D models in a number of standard file formats, integrating prefabrication can and should be a standard part of your BIM-powered workflow.
6. Be flexible
This is a deceptively simple tip to apply, but it’s one that a lot of MEP contractors get wrong. Adding maximum value in today’s construction workflow requires high-quality work, as it always has. And, it requires collaboration and a focus on consultative problem-solving like never before. That being said, even the best plumbing company with the highest level of technology backing it is going to fall flat on most projects if all of its speed and efficiency requires a rigid workflow with no room for flexibility.
The fact is, no matter how well it’s planned or managed, no construction project is going to go perfectly everyday throughout the entire project lifecycle. No amount of planning or efficiency is going to completely eliminate errors or unexpected delays. And, sometimes, plumbers onsite are still going to need to put their thinking caps on and use some good, old-fashioned ingenuity to solve problems on the fly.
If your workflow leaves no room for that level of flexibility, or if an unexpected problem causes tremendous delays because it takes forever to get your “well-oiled machine” back up and running again, you’re negating all the value you’ve added oiling that machine in the first place.
7. Look beyond BIM
While all the above tips are vital to becoming — and remaining — competitive in today’s market, it’s important to recognize that just adopting BIM isn’t the end of your journey. Even if you’re getting the very most out of BIM right now, you’re not finished, and those who think they are will likely find themselves falling behind again very soon.
That’s because of BIM — and, really, all construction technology — is constantly evolving and moving forward. Even today, there is much an MEP contractor can do to take their project workflow beyond simply BIM and add even more value to the project. The more adept your company becomes at doing just that, the more competitive you can be, and the longer that advantage will last in our fast-moving industry.
Learn more: The MEP contractor's Guide to Constructibility.