Smart Solutions

Helm Group, Inc. Streamlines Work, Wins Jobs with Autodesk’s BIM 360

Using BIM 360 within Autodesk Construction Cloud enables the Helm Group to coordinate and share data. As a result, these multitrade skids created in an offsite fabrication shop are so accurate, the contractor can install them onsite as soon as they are delivered.

Helm Group, Inc. (formerly Mechanical, Inc.) combines leading technology like BIM 360 within Autodesk Construction CloudTM with Lean construction principles to implement new design, engineering, and construction methods. For example, by fabricating multitrade skids in an offsite fabrication shop, Helm Group increases collaboration and drives efficiencies to deliver highly complex projects while achieving certainty in cost, schedule, and quality. 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.

Known for their commitment to innovation, Helm Group has gained this reputation not by being on the cutting edge, but by remaining on the “bleeding edge.” They are 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,” said Travis Voss, leader of innovation technology at Helm Group. “It’s application fatigue.”

“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,” said Voss. So Helm Group adopted BIM 360, which they use 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 Group win more work by achieving Lean workflows and simplifying and streamlining the digital exchange of information across project teams.

1. Puts Data Into the Hands of Everyone Who Needs It

BIM 360 is a one-stop shop where teams can 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, reducing project risk and improving quality.

“We struggled with making sure our field personnel had the most up-to-date information in the palm of their hands,” said Jeff Knoup, vice president of operations at Helm Group. “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.”

Voss added, “BIM 360 is also a powerful tool for our virtual design and construction (VDC) department to use when we’re doing design work for other companies. 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.”

2. Appeals to Sophisticated Customers

Knoup pointed out that Helm Group likes to go after highly technical, industrial projects that many firms cannot 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,” said Knoup.

Voss noted 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 said. “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.”

3. Helps With Materials Tracking

In highly technical work such as in the biopharmaceutical industry, materials tracking is critical. “Every weld has to be documented,” said 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. It facilitates the tracking of materials as they enter and leave the fabrication facility and while they are inspected and installed.

4. Makes Projects Leaner

“We use BIM 360 to integrate with other partners in our fabrication tracking,” said 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.”

Voss also said that Helm Group 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,” Voss explained.

5. Integrates with AR Applications to Make Walk-Throughs More Effective

Owners understandably like to walk through the space as it develops to 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 said 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,” said Voss. “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.”

Voss said Helm Group has countless similar examples, in which they discovered that other contractors installed things incorrectly or designs had failed to account for a real-world application. Discovering these things during walk-throughs substantially reduces rework and provides owners with peace of mind.

6. Improves Accountability

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,” said Voss.

Redesigning and recoordinating fabrication around the contractor’s use of the space would have cost thousands of dollars. Helm Group’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. As a result, the contractor and owner held the plumber accountable, 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,” said Voss.

7. Easy to Use and Versatile for Critical Workflows

Autodesk and others’ technology is critically valuable in helping Helm Group 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,” said 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, said 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,” said Voss. “They’ve gone from software provider and reseller to a partner.”

Knoup added, “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.”

8. Makes Impossible Timelines Possible

“We take a very deliberate and patient approach to creating the tech stack the way we want it,” said Voss. “And then we have to deploy it very rapidly.” Sometimes, he continued, the timelines on technical projects would be physically impossible to meet if all of the labor and materials had to be on the jobsite. Everyone would 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 onsite. With BIM 360 for coordinating and sharing data, the fabricated materials are accurate and ready for installation.

Helm Group’s strategic partnership with Autodesk showcases what is possible for industrial construction projects and maps a blueprint for faster, Leaner, more effective outcomes.

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