Helm Mechanical, formerly known as Mechanical Incorporated, is an innovative specialty contractor focusing on highly technical projects in the pharmaceutical, bio-engineering, food manufacturing, automotive, and healthcare industries. As a turn-key contractor, they exceed client expectations by bringing a value-based approach to transform project delivery. The company combines leading-edge technology with lean construction principles to implement new design, engineering, and construction methods. By fabricating multi-trade skids in an offsite fabrication shop, Helm Mechanical increases collaboration and drives efficiencies to deliver highly complex projects while achieving certainty in cost, schedule, and quality.
Known for their commitment to innovation, Helm Mechanical has gained this reputation not by being on the cutting edge, but by remaining on the “bleeding edge.”
This means they’re always trying out the latest technologies and approaches, looking for the most effective way to get the job done. Unfortunately, being on the “bleeding edge” has side effects.
“You try all the new things, and you can get fatigued by it,” says Travis Voss, Leader of Innovation Technology at Helm Mechanical. “It’s application fatigue.”
Additionally, substantial amounts of Research & Development can have the undesired effect of creating data silos when the intention is to reduce them.
“We wanted to pull back from all the heavy focus on trying each latest and greatest thing, and look more holistically at what we were doing,” says Voss.
That’s what led to the adoption of BIM 360 within Autodesk Construction Cloud™. Helm Mechanical uses BIM 360 as a common data environment to unify and simplify data across the project lifecycle and improve communication and collaboration across teams.
With a strategic approach to developing its tech stack to specialize on large-scale industrial projects, here are eight ways that BIM 360 helps Helm Mechanical win more work by achieving lean workflows and simplifying and streamlining the digital exchange of information across project teams.
BIM 360 is a one-stop-shop where teams can go and get the latest project information. With connected data across the project lifecycle, teams spend less time looking for information and can collaborate and communicate more effectively, to reduce project risk and improve quality.
“We struggled with making sure our field personnel had the most up to date information in the palm of their hands,” says Jeff Knoup, VP of Operations at Helm Mechanical, about pre-BIM 360 challenges. “Before BIM 360, if you needed information, you would have to go to greater lengths. If you were on the third floor of a building, or the 20th floor, for instance, you might have to go all the way down to the job trailer, open up your laptop, get on the network, and look up the information you need. Now, we can access that information from anywhere on the jobsite.”
“BIM 360 is also a powerful tool for our VDC department to use when we’re doing design work for other companies,” says Voss. “We can easily share models and documents between our team and partners within a platform that we are already comfortable using within our workflows, allowing our design work to fit into their processes seamlessly.”
Knoup says that Helm Mechanical likes to go after highly technical, industrial projects that many firms can’t handle. The buyers at these companies are sophisticated, and they expect similar sophistication from their partners.
“Owners want full visibility into the project to see what’s getting done in a given day, how many linear feet of pipe you put up each day, how many pounds of ductwork, etc. Unless you have a technology solution to help you track and produce that information, the owners will pass you by,” says Knoup.
Voss adds that using BIM 360’s 3D modeling capability makes the bid process more effective.
“We get into some of these bid meetings, and we show off,” he says. “We not only traditionally showcase our work, but we share our designs via Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) headsets while we’re talking about data sharing. It appeals to those sophisticated owners.”
In highly technical work such as in the biopharmaceutical industry, materials tracking is critical.
“Every weld has to be documented,” says Knoup. “All of the owner supplied equipment has to be checked in against specs and fabricated into spools and assemblies before being brought to the jobsite.”
Tracking the quantity and level of detail necessary on a highly technical project would be a very labor-intensive, manual process, without BIM 360.
BIM 360 facilitates the tracking of materials as they enter and leave the fabrication facility, and while they’re inspected and installed, not only possible, but easy.
“We use BIM 360 to integrate with other partners in our fabrication tracking,” says Voss. “Part of LEAN is eliminating waste, including wasted time. Integration eliminates trips back and forth to the trailer. It eliminates phone calls back to the office to ask questions. It eliminates confusion over versions.”
He says that Helm Mechanical shares its centralized data hub and its VDC process in a third-party fabrication add-on, which helps push fabrication to the shop.
“It provides the shop foreman and the shop manager, as well as the field foreman and the field manager what they’re going to be receiving, so they can prepare for it. It gives them good insight so they can remotely comment and share their thoughts on what we’re building in the shop, so they don’t have to do any rework in the field.”
Owners understandably like to walk through the space as it develops, see where their equipment will go, where their systems will be installed, and how the structure will support it. Some walk-throughs can be conducted via VR, but Knoup says the best use of the technology is using AR during a physical walk-through.
“We had one customer building a food processing plant, for which we did a bunch of the sheet metal and piping work and some platforms,” says Voss, as an example. “We put AR glasses on and walked them around the space. They had previously spec’d out the work, but while walking through it with AR showing them how the space would be used, they discovered that their carts wouldn’t fit under a certain platform, and that other platforms weren’t high enough for someone to be able to reach what they needed to work on. It seems like a small detail, but it saved them thousands of dollars because we could change the design based on what the customer really wanted before anything was installed.”
He says they’ve had countless similar examples, in which they’ve discovered that other contractors have installed things incorrectly, or designs have failed to account for a real-world application. Discovering these things during walk-throughs substantially reduces rework and provides owners with peace of mind.
In addition to reducing rework, the AR technology integrated into BIM 360 creates a trail of accountability that saves money and ensures everyone is held responsible for their commitments.
“We had a situation where a space had been modeled, coordinated, and signed off on, but a plumber came in and ignored the model, putting in plumbing where the ductwork was supposed to go, and then refused to take it down.”
Re-designing and re-coordinating fabrication around the contractor’s use of the space would have cost thousands of dollars. Helm Mechanical’s team used AR glasses to walk the construction manager and owner through the site and show them what the plumber had done and what a big deal it was.
This resulted in the contractor and owner holding the plumber accountable, and demanding that he rip out his plumbing and piping, and put it back in its proper locations per the model.
“They would not have had a feel for how big a deal this was if they couldn’t put the glasses on,” says Voss.
Autodesk and others’ technology is critically valuable in helping Helm Mechanical stay at the forefront of their industry. However, it can also be a stumbling block if it’s not implemented thoughtfully.
“BIM 360 is a very versatile software,” says Voss. “We knew it would give us all the communication with the field that we need, and that one dominant platform where everything would reside. But we can’t just roll it out and expect folks to pick it up and learn it on their own. We have to develop a workflow and a training module to train people to the workflow.”
Some software vendors, says Voss, treat the sale of the software like the last interaction necessary. But what they need is a partner who will help them implement the software to work the way they need it to work.
“That’s been one of the benefits over the past two years of working with Autodesk,” says Voss. “They’ve gone from software provider and reseller to a partner.”
Knoup adds: “There’s so much functionality in software that it’s important to figure out your workflow, how you want the software to interact with your workflows, and then have a partner that helps you build a training module to train your people specific to that workflow.”
“We take a very deliberate and patient approach to creating the tech stack the way we want it,” says Voss. “And then we have to deploy it very rapidly.”
Sometimes, he says, the timelines on technical projects would be physically impossible to meet if all of the labor and materials had to be on the jobsite. They would all have to be present and working simultaneously.
Fabrication takes enormous amounts of labor off the jobsite and into the fabrication facility’s controlled environment. This enables vast amounts of work to be completed simultaneously and then assembled very quickly on site.
BIM 360 enables the coordination and data sharing that allows the fabrication to be so accurate that, once it arrives onsite, all that is necessary is to lift it into place and install it.
Helm Mechanical has developed a reputation for being one of the leading providers of mechanical contracting on highly technical projects. Their reputation is thanks to the forward-thinking of leaders like Voss and Knoup, and the strength of strategic partnerships such as the one with Autodesk.
Their work and partnerships showcase what is possible for industrial construction projects, and maps a blueprint for faster, LEANer, more effective outcomes.