Change provides good challenge for Blue Diamond Sheet Metal

Company using Benchmark to help design ductwork in NYPD Training Academy

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Change may be good, but it isn’t always easy, especially when technology is involved. In any industry, there are the tried and true methods of completing tasks, and when technology updates those processes, it can leave some seasoned workers behind. At Blue Diamond Sheet Metal in New York, instead of resisting, draftsmen embraced the direction technology pushed and came out with a partial bid to design ductwork for the new New York Police Department Training Academy.

In fall 2011, the company switched from two-dimensional drafting software to the three-dimensional Benchmark building information modeling (BIM) software created by the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry.

With most projects now requiring the use of three-dimensional software, Blue Diamond Sheet Metal needed to make a change, a big deal for a company with a 30-year history.

“We haven’t changed that much over the years. So, just to turn one system off and turn another one on was difficult,” said Al LaBella, vice president of Blue Diamond Sheet Metal. “But when you have guys with experience, it’s easier to make those changes.”

Three-dimensional 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 was standing in front of a finished product. Working with mechanical contractors, three-dimensional building information modeling is a must, LaBella said.

Blue Diamond Sheet Metal wasted no time placing bids on projects soon after training was completed. The company was one of five contractors who split the bid on the New York City Police Department Training Academy. For it, the company is currently designing air conditioning ductwork for three floors and a machine room, totaling more than 90,000 square feet.

“Knowing something and actually making it work are two different things. If it is done properly, the three-dimensional coordination is the correct way to build a project,” said LaBella, who was recently elected to the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s (SMACNA) national board of directors. “I do think it’s an advantage. Do I think it helped us get this job? It certainly didn’t hurt. Can it get you a job? Absolutely. Can it separate you from others? Definitely.”

Head draftsman Ed Wirth said everyone in the company has adapted to the software, which really is a necessity nowadays.

“The way jobs are progressing, you need 3D,” he said. “The whole job is coordinated in 3D, and you need everything where it belongs. We have no regrets with the change here.”

Because designers went to ITI training and passed certification tests in a variety of Benchmark applications, they receive the Benchmark building information modeling software for free. For Blue Diamond Sheet Metal, it was a cost savings since other software manufacturers had been knocking on their door to sell them software that cost upwards of $20,000.

“This seemed like a very attractive situation,” said LaBella. “I think we made a pretty good choice in doing it.”

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by Sheet Metal Worker’s International Association (SMWIA) 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 Alexandria,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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