Benchmark BIM software a benefit to small, large contractors alike

Unionized sheet metal training software a value to companies across the country

FAIRFAX, Va.  – The Benchmark building information modeling (BIM) training software has become a feather in the cap of unionized sheet metal education. Members can be trained and certified on the system, a three-dimensional collaborative drafting program that allows skilled union workers to design heating and air conditioning systems, and take the technology with them to their contractor for continual on-the-job use. Benchmark contains a number of modules, including detailing, estimation, fabrication, field installation, land-based positioning, project management, administration and fitting input.

With approximately 160 training centers across the country, many in rural areas, workers can’t always make it to one of 39 training centers accredited to train and certify in BIM. Therefore, the International Training Institute for the unionized sheet metal industry (ITI) also offers online training, on-site contractor training for small and large companies and hosts academy classes for large numbers of students at training centers nationwide.

“They see Benchmark and they see savings,” said Ron McGuire, BIM program coordinator for the ITI. “For the big contractors, it’s a great opportunity. It’s also great for a small contractor because they can’t afford to spend $10,000 to $20,000 on software to be competitive on BIM.”

Apollo Mechanical, a $200 million annual contractor in Kennewick, Wash., saw an opportunity with Benchmark to get software, training and support for little monetary investment.

“We’ve always been detailers, but you’re always looking for that product to take it to the next level. Benchmark came along, and it was practical. We could put our union detailers to work. It was economical,” said Michael Daniel, CAD manager at Apollo Mechanical. Although it didn’t cost tangible dollars to have their employees trained, Apollo Mechanical invested 40 hours per employee to take the certification class. “If your department is set up to do BIM and detailing, you’re set up to run the program. But you have to invest in your people.”

As McGuire said, Benchmark software can benefit smaller companies as well. AIRmasters in Springfield, Ill. added a construction division to the 20-year-old heating, cooling, refrigeration and sheet metal company in 2012. The company started its detailing department last summer. Currently, Donny Kerber, HVAC project manager and estimator, is the only employee using Benchmark.

For a smaller company, having Benchmark available to them opens doors. The company can bid on retrofit projects and negotiate work they couldn’t before, as well as complete projects for existing service clients instead of referring customers to other contractors.

“If they have an outdated system and they need a new system, we can do it all in-house now,” Kerber said.

No matter the size of the company, Benchmark helps save time. Three-dimensional BIM software allows draftsmen more control over a project. Additional visibility, as well as the ability to make easier changes to existing designs, allows every detail to be in view as if the designer were standing in front of a finished product. The software allows the trial and error in a project to be reduced to very little, if any.

“Without any software like this, you’re sending a guy into the field to measure everything,” Kerber said. “With this, I have a three-dimensional drawing to work off of. It cuts many steps out of the process. It frees us up to do larger jobs.”

Kerber and Daniel agree Benchmark’s support staff is a great value. No matter the question or problem, the staff is there to guide them.

“A lot of the support staff with Benchmark have come up through the construction industry and know the type of things we go up against,” Daniel said. “In all, you really have to do what makes sense for your business, for your company. Commercial companies want to sell software. They say they’re going to do all these things, but when you get it, it doesn’t do what it said it would. Benchmark delivered on what it said it would. I’ve been doing this too long. I wouldn’t use something that didn’t deliver what it says.”

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).

ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal industry throughout the United States and Canada. Located in Fairfax, Va., ITI produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

For more information about ITI, visit www.sheetmetal-iti.org or call 703-739-7200.

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