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HVAC: San Diego SMACNA Firm Finds Success With Unexpected BIM Partner

Subcontracting helps navigate short deadlines and fast paced projects.

BIM Designs Inc.

Talent. It is a crucial component to success in every phase of a construction project, but talent can be challenging to find in today’s tight labor market. That is why SMACNA firms like A.O. Reed & Co. in San Diego are trying staff augmentation as a talent acquisition strategy to strengthen preconstruction resources.

Aubrey Taft, Vice President, Business Development for A.O. Reed, often highlights the numerous talented tradesmen who have helped A.O. Reed grow into a highly successful SMACNA contractor. So, when A.O. Reed won two new hospital HVAC jobs in early 2020 (under the RM Mechanical Joint Venture), Taft realized they needed to add some talent to their already impressive BIM department. 

Unexpectedly, during a recent SMART Local 206 event in San Diego, Taft found a solution with BIM Designs Inc. This nationwide company headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, specializes in preconstruction technology, offering BIM modeling, laser scanning, coordination and preconstruction management. They work with SMACNA companies across the U.S. who want to subcontract BIM work, augment their existing BIM staff or outsource their BIM work entirely.

“We were not looking for outsourcing or using them to augment our detailing department,” Taft recalled, “but we quickly saw their approach and abilities with detailing resources could be an asset.” 

Taft said there are currently seven major hospital projects underway in San Diego. While A.O. Reed has 46 full-time detailers on staff, short preconstruction deadlines and fast-paced projects demanded some outside help.

“There aren’t a lot of detailers who are familiar with the requirements of hospital work,” Taft explained. “We had a clear need for additional detailing resources, especially on the Scripps Mercy Hospital project.”

BIM Designs Inc. was being featured at the San Diego event for becoming signatory with Local 206. The company is now signatory with 15 SMART locals. 

BIM Designs Inc.

Mark Oden, BIM Designs Inc. CEO, said they serve clients across the range of experience with BIM, from those that are taking on a BIM project for the first time to those who have made strategic investments into BIM and have sophisticated and automated fabrication shops.  

“The majority of contractors are short-staffed compared to the scope of work they have, creating space for them to reach out to third parties,” Oden stated. “This year, we have seen an increase in staff augmentations to support client projects. Our modelers have hands-on experience in field fabricating and installing sheet metal. Along with specific classroom training during their apprenticeship, this field experience is invaluable for creating models that are truly constructible.”

Given the nature of most BIM detailing — computer-based work that can easily be done remotely, it is a construction skill that can be readily subcontracted, outsourced, or augmented. With current low unemployment and evolving labor trends, ‘borrowing’ BIM talent can be a smart strategy. 

A Society for Human Resource Management publication titled How to Create a Recruiting Strategy: Buy, Build, and Borrow explains the benefits of accessing short-term help. Author Sharlyn Lauby wrote, “using a borrow strategy involves a mindset shift. For years, organizations have associated freelancers as ‘temporary’ or ‘dispensable’ workers. Those days are over. To successfully implement borrow tactics, organizations should view contingent workers as an essential piece of their staffing strategy. The biggest advantage to borrowing talent is the proper utilization of resources. Organizations can get specialized talent when they need it, at the moment they need it, without hiring a full-time employee. In addition, companies can keep their existing talent engaged.”

Taft said the financials involved in implementing a staff augmentation strategy also make sense. “BIM Designs’ costs were not a significant premium given the ability of their staff,” he explained. “Knowing that they have individuals who are knowledgeable and skilled in specific areas of the market — health care, labs, etc. — saved us by not having to train individuals in those sectors.”

Because of the size of the Scripps Mercy Hospital and the rapid pace of the detailing efforts to meet a California Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAi) submission date, A.O. Reed has seven sheet metal detailers assigned to the project. Detailing efforts have been allocated to each detailer on a floor-by-floor basis, with Jason Merriman, A.O. Reed BIM Supervisor, overseeing the team. Three of the detailers on the team work remotely. 

For SMACNA firms not yet using BIM for preconstruction work, Oden shared some benefits. 

“The BIM Process saves upwards of 40% on the total cost of construction,” he said. “As the world becomes more technologically adept, firms are focusing more on planning which includes BIM to maximize coordination efforts and minimize issues in the field and increased labor and material costs.”

Taft said the Scripps Mercy Hospital detailing team is still preparing a submittal package that will be reviewed by HCAi. With high-quality BIM detailing, he expects an easy review and approval process. Construction on the hospital is estimated to start in 2024.

A.O. Reed recently added more BIM Designs Inc. detailers to augment work on other projects. 

“The timing worked really well,” Taft said. "So far, it’s been excellent.”