For some businesses, innovation is a one-off event. For Benmax, it’s a part of the firm’s culture; a constant, company-wide drive to eliminate duplication, improve efficiency, and make the lives of everyone, from clients to employees, far simpler.
Relationships have long been key to Benmax’s success. In the last ten years, the company—a specialist mechanical services contractor based in Queanbeyan, NSW—has opened offices in Sydney and Newcastle, Christchurch and Wellington. Each office opened organically as the result of an invitation by clients to enter the market. “That illustrates the importance of trust and relationships to our way of doing business,” says Scott Polsen, Managing Director of Benmax.
For Benmax, each move into a new market has represented an opportunity to embrace innovation and embed digital processes as part of its operation. When the Christchurch office opened in 2013, the company invested in cloud-based solutions. The goal was to work on any project from any location—an approach that is still fundamental to how Benmax works today —to unlock the value of its BIM data.
The company’s early moves toward connected data and increased collaboration placed them at the forefront of digital construction. They were keen to implement changes to drive greater efficiency but were frustrated by their lack of access to data.
A key area they wanted to focus on was duplication of effort. Engineers with access to CAD software and BIM data were working relatively efficiently, but those without access were continually recreating data. After conducting a desktop review on one project, Polsen observed that the company had recreated the same data eight times.
“We would create a schedule,” says Stirling Ashby, Head of Group BIM Development at Benmax. “The draftsman would model it and create a schedule. The project manager would generate one. And the maintenance and commissioning guys would do the same. We were recreating data repeatedly.”
In doing so, the company wasted a significant amount of time and risked making costly mistakes. Rather than using their expertise to add value to projects, highly skilled engineers were tied up—sometimes for days—performing endless calculations. The solution was clear, but Benmax didn’t have the tools to tackle the problem. “BIM data has been around for decades,” says Ashby. “But until the last few years, it’s been very difficult to get your hands on it, extract it, and use it.”
"We were recreating data repeatedly."
-Stirling Ashby, Head of Group BIM Development, Benmax
In 2015, the company decided to build a system. “It was a huge undertaking,” says Polsen. “We went a long way toward understanding what would be required in a solution. The further you get into a central data source, the more you understand how important the accuracy and efficiency of that data is if it’s to be used throughout the business.”
After a while, Benmax knew that the system they needed was out there, so they looked to the market rather than go it alone. Having spent time documenting the requirements for a solution, the company was clear about its goal: avoid duplicating data wherever possible.
A timely call from Autodesk led to more detailed discussions. What impressed the team at Benmax was the way Autodesk approached the situation. Rather than try and sell an out-of-the-box package, Autodesk spent time understanding Benmax’s problems to apply the right solutions.
“I've had some great conversations with the team at Autodesk to look at a vision of how we can avoid duplication through the whole supply chain. And when we started to work together, we understood that it was a partnership and their long-term strategy aligned with our vision,” says Polsen.
It quickly became apparent that Assemble within Autodesk Construction Cloud was a perfect match for what Benmax wanted to achieve. “Revit is industry standard and pretty much mandated,” says Ashby. “The benefit of implementing BIM 360 and Autodesk Construction Cloud is that they have native access to the Revit model. All the other solutions, in one way or another, need information to be exported. It’s another step, another thing that can go wrong. Being all-in with Autodesk allows us to unlock the benefits.”
Benmax plans to continue to make sure BIM data is accurate and accessible to everyone, from design and concept teams to maintenance and analytics. They are keen to unlock the full potential of construction, and moving forward, the end goal for them is to be able to produce digital twins, which benefits owners considerably and is something government buildings in some areas are already insisting on. “It just makes sense,” says Ashby. “Most of the time, the industry has all this information, and we throw it away. As soon as the tools have been downed at the end of the project, the contractor leaves the site and whoever is responsible for maintenance needs to pick up the pieces. A digital twin would help the owner get up to speed quickly and allow them to keep maintenance costs as low as possible over the whole lifecycle of the asset.”
Benmax had learned a great deal from previous software implementations. When the company launched its proprietary project management software in 2013, it mandated the system’s use across the entire company. While that ensured all the information flowed through the system correctly, the benefits weren’t as easy to unlock as Benmax had expected. A closer inspection found that people were paying lip service to the new system—they were doing their jobs the way they always had and then keying the results into the new system. However, once people started using it, they were annoyed they hadn’t done so earlier. It was a valuable lesson to ensure all those given access to new software were made aware of how it would help them work smarter.
This time around, Benmax took the approach of appointing champions around the business. Their role was to learn how to use the system effectively and help others adopt it into their day-to-day functions. It helped that Assemble was easy to use and had a clear benefit. The focus was on communication and awareness, and Polsen sent regular company-wide updates to keep the new system front of mind for all employees.
And the work hasn’t stopped. Ashby continues to work with engineers across the business to find and solve problems by implementing new workflows. It’s a job that the flexibility of Assemble makes relatively simple. “It could be a tiny workflow change that saves someone time, or it could be a big problem. It’s horses for courses. We keep polishing our processes to make them more efficient,” he says.
Historically, the biggest problem with BIM data has been access. High licensing costs and lengthy training requirements have led to slow progress. With Assemble, the team at Benmax can give access to anyone in the business very quickly and, within a couple of hours, they can be pulling, manipulating, and sending data.
One of the biggest impacts has been the amount of time Benmax has saved during the tender process. Builders are starting to see the value in sharing plans and models digitally, and while the quality of them tends to vary, Benmax can export the BIM data from models into Assemble. As a result, it has reduced the need for rework, cut down on the number of errors, and saved time. And the type of time being saved is important. Engineers can now accurately calculate the quantities required and respond very quickly to any changes to the model. Assemble can save them weeks of calculations and leaves them free to do what they do best.
“Working with the data in this way gives our estimators the chance to pull the job apart and consider the risk and buildability. It’s a massive advantage for us,” says Ashby.
As is always the case at Benmax, innovation is never far away. The company has developed a series of connectors that can be used by all engineering functions across the business to automatically populate and generate inspection test plans for an entire job and perform pressure and volume calculations, and
commissioning sheets. And a single data source enables anyone with an internet connection or a web browser access.
Benmax has always had an enormous amount of data. What it now has is a tool to extract it and drive process efficiency. In short, Assemble has allowed the business to create a roadmap to being fully connected. Eventually, the aim will be to use this information to help clients achieve similar efficiency with their maintenance schedules.
“I think as a team internally and the people that are dealing with Autodesk, we are not just proud of the relationship but very thankful for the partnership, the support that we offer each other and also the open discussions we can have on how to both better our business and move the industry forward.”
- Scott Polsen, Managing Director, Benmax