Smart Solutions

Strategic Mechanical Expands Prefab Capacity Using PypeServer Technology

Until they started using PypeServer software, Strategic Mechanical fabricated any copper less than 2” in the field because it was faster than the setup required for prefabrication. Now, with just a few clicks, all the information gets to the saw and label printer for prefab—and the field teams love it.

With PypeServer technology, Strategic Mechanical, Inc., has sped up its fabrication processes and opened up new avenues for prefabrication. Strategic Mechanical serves clients throughout California; its 70,000-square-foot shop in Fresno, CA, includes an HVAC sheet metal shop, pipe fabrication shop, industrial metals fabrication shop, and electrical prefabrication. In this Q&A, Miro Telesmanic, vice president of operations, describes how Strategic Mechanical put PypeServer to work.

What did your typical workflow look like before you brought in PypeServer’s workflow tools? 

In our geographic area, the use of building information modeling (BIM) is still fairly new, so our projects often vary greatly. At any given time we have a mixture of projects ranging from fully modeled and coordinated to those that are 100-percent field layout with minimal design drawings. Many projects fall somewhere in between, depending on time constraints, manpower availability, and personnel skill sets. Regardless, our go-to method has been to generate spool drawings and push as much fabrication as possible to the shop, so we started 3D modeling as a way to generate the necessary drawings for prefabrication.

For both piping and sheet metal fabrication, we typically relied on paper to get the job done. Our virtual design and construction (VDC) department created drawings from a model, while our field foreman might send in hand sketches or isometric line drawings along with a bill of materials. When going through our VDC department, the completed model would get signed off, and the spools would be broken down by system, area, floor, etc. Then the detailers would create stacks of 11” by 17” paper spool sheets and send them to the shop for dimension verification and fabrication. Our pipe shop crew would then cut the piping and gather the fittings to create the assemblies.

One of our first automation efforts was for hanger fabrication. We had a cold saw collecting dust in the corner, so we purchased a TigerStop to feed it. The VDC department would pull hanger spools from our modeled work and then create the spreadsheets that the TigerStop needed to cut and label effectively. After cutting, fabrication tracking was done using more spreadsheets. It all worked, and it was a great first step, but it took hours to create and manage all the spreadsheets, so it was still a labor-intensive and error-prone process.

What is the workflow like now that you are using PypeServer’s Connect add-on for Revit, Cloud service, and Lyte software for three different TigerSaws?

We’re starting to prefabricate a lot more small-bore pipe using PypeServer. PypeServer Connect, Cloud, and Lyte have increased the pace at which we can go from a fab-ready model to fabrication, and we’ve been able to eliminate the need for any hand takeoff.

Until recently, we would only prefabricate a small percentage of copper, because we spent most of our resources on the larger, welded hydronic piping systems. Copper and cast iron would be considered a field responsibility to fabricate and assemble. Now, Revit provides the total required length of pipe we’ll need, and, with a few clicks, PypeServer Connect sends our cut lists via Cloud directly to PypeServer Lyte on our TigerSaws, no spreadsheets necessary. This has allowed us to spool and prefab 2” and smaller piping that we would have fabricated in the field before, because the time required to annotate and dimension 11” by 17” spool sheets for the shop outweighed the time to build it in the field.

Sending the cut lists through Cloud also makes it easy to keep track of progress. As Lyte sends work through the TigerSaw, it automatically updates Cloud on a cut-by-cut basis. Now, we can easily monitor every step of the fabrication process without having to manage spreadsheets.

Feedback from the field running jobs this way has been overwhelmingly positive, and PypeServer will be used on all our fully modeled jobs moving forward.

Are you using PypeServer to prefabricate other components?

PypeServer has completely changed the way we export hangers to the fab shop. In the past, we spent a lot of time in Revit to ensure that data exported to spreadsheets were in the exact order and with the exact column titles needed to ensure that each hanger tag was populated with the correct values. PypeServer has completely eliminated the need to build a spreadsheet in Revit. The Connect plug-in pulls the assigned data out of Revit, and Lyte puts it where it needs to go using a label template.

In addition to streamlining the workflow, PypeServer Cloud has also prevented us from accidentally fabricating the same hangers twice by flagging duplicate assemblies and keeping them off the cut lists. On a recent job we fabricated roughly 5,000 hangers using PypeServer’s workflow and achieved 95-percent accuracy on hangers showing up correctly in the field—not duplicated or missing. And the missing ones were most likely user or modelling errors. This has helped us make adjustments to how we draw hangers in Revit to better match our fabrication process, and we expect that accuracy percentage to climb on future jobs.

We’ve also found that we can easily send multiple types of hangers to the shop, including single clevis hangers on all-thread rod and trapezes with strut and all-thread, without having to worry about the correct lengths getting cut in the wrong material. PypeServer has really streamlined how we send hangers to the shop for fabrication, and we’ll be using their tools on many jobs in the future.

Have you realized any savings in time, labor, or materials? What kind of payback period do you expect for your PypeServer tools?

We are not great at tracking metrics, but there is no doubt that our process of going from BIM model to cut pieces has improved drastically. Between not having to maintain spreadsheets and sending cut lists directly to the machines via the cloud, the VDC department’s time spent has gone down dramatically.

Moving all jobs and orders to the PypeServer Cloud is also a great improvement. Now we can see job status at a glance, and there’s no more accidental double cutting.

As a company that isn’t 100-percent focused on BIM work, we couldn’t justify expensive, BIM-centric fabrication software. At times, we may have less than 20 percent of our work in BIM, but even then, PypeServer’s price point is easily justifiable in terms of return on investment.

Try out PypeServer’s ROI calculator to estimate how much your fabrication shop could save.

Do you have any further improvements planned for your fabrication processes?

We’re constantly optimizing our fabrication processes in order to stay competitive and maximize efficiencies. We started with PypeServer Lyte for our TigerSaws because that’s where most of our work was being done at the time and the payback would be fast.

Our next step will be to get PypeServer Enterprise for our Vernon pipe cutter so we can improve its nesting and tracking capabilities using the same Connect and Cloud integrations that we use with Lyte for our TigerSaws.

We’re also looking closely at welding cobots, like the Novarc system, to help address future skilled welder shortages. The PypeServer workflow already integrates with them, and I’ll be diving further into this technology in the upcoming year.

Do you have any advice for other organizations looking to improve their fab shop productivity?

I have really enjoyed the Fab Conferences that MCAA hosts. It is a phenomenal opportunity to meet folks from all over the nation, outside of your competition area, with whom you can share ideas and concepts. It always surprises me how many little things you will pick up when touring other mechanical contractors’ fabrication facilities. It’s not just the big-ticket machinery that improves productivity, it’s also the simple tricks and tools people put to use that can greatly improve efficiency and productivity.

When it comes to finding the right equipment or software, it’s important to test out systems and see how they serve your purpose. Presentations always look good, but until you actually get your hands on the product and test it in your process, you don’t really know if it’ll work for you.

It’s also important to partner with companies that make it a priority to keep improving their products. PypeServer has been phenomenal about listening to and incorporating suggestions we’ve made. We have a direct line of communication with their developers, and, hopefully, some of our suggestions can help other contractors as well. I have used these same responsiveness criteria in some of our large equipment purchases, too.

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