Trade Contractor’s Guide: Transitioning from a Traditional Fabrication Workflow to a BIM-Driven Digital Workflow

Curtis Watson

Transforming your fabrication workflow from a traditional paper-based method to a digitally driven fabrication workflow may seem like a daunting task, but the payoff in doing so makes it well worth the effort.  Many mechanical and electrical contractors have begun to make the first step in replacing paper and relying upon electronic methods of transferring information via email, Excel files and PDFs. While this is a great first step, it remains labor intensive and disconnected from the BIM model itself.  Simply put, PDF-driven workflows cannot fully maximize the value that can be gained from the modeling work put in by the VDC teams.

In a fully digital fabrication workflow, the data contained within the BIM model, like model geometry and spool sheets, can assist in driving your fabrication processes.  In addition, with the STRATUS BIM-driven digital workflow, the BIM model can be a means of communication across your entire organization about the status of all projects from design through installation—without compromising your model geometry.  This may seem like a futuristic vision but there are mechanical contractors utilizing this BIM-driven digital fabrication workflow today and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process (Read the case study here).

For contractors considering updating from traditional fabrication workflows to gain the benefits a BIM-driven digital workflow provides, there is a lot to consider. The first question becomes: Do the benefits of digital fabrication workflow align with your company strategy and future goals


Benefits of a BIM-driven digital workflow

Common benefits of a BIM-driven digital workflow are:  

  • Increasing prefabrication
  • Reducing repetitive and time-consuming work like generating spool sheets, bills of material, cut lists and labels. 
  • Minimizing material waste and rework through shop tooling integration
  • Improving communication through use of tracking statuses
  • Lack of “data loss” inherent to paper-based workflows.  Information is delivered digitally across the entire workflow.
  • Increased speed with increased quality

The priority of these benefits depends on the ultimate goals of your organization. For example, if your organizational goals are to increase safety in the field, you may want to focus on increasing prefabrication in the shop.  However, if regaining modeling time for the VDC team is a higher priority, then automating the repetitive and time-consuming tasks of detailing spool sheets, creating cut lists and creating labels is what could save your company the most time and effort.



Dynamic spool dimensioning offers more than an 80% savings in time over traditionally detailed spool sheets.


In contrast, if material waste in the shop and field is your issue, then transitioning BIM data from the VDC team to the shop in order to drive shop equipment should become your focal point.  Or perhaps project status tracking is the primary goal. If so, then developing a clear, consistent and documented workflow is the first step, followed by choosing a tool that can reduce the manual tracking aspects and provide visibility across your organization.



Status tracking tools provide instant feedback on the state your project at any given time, right from the model. 


Once you’ve made the choice to adopt a BIM-driven digital workflow, there are some keys to making a successful transition from traditional methods to the digital workflow that will be your competitive advantage in the future. 


Communicate with your team for buy-in and engagement

Far too many initiatives fail due to a lack of buy-in at the user level. The goal of a digital workflow is to extend the value of your BIM beyond just the VDC team to other departments like purchasing, project management, the shop and field teams. 


Successful implementation requires training

Arming your team with the knowledge to use the tools at hand correctly is vital to the success of transitioning to a BIM-driven digital workflow. Some companies are tempted to decline training or rely on help documentation, but often underestimate the cost of lengthening your learning curve and adoption rates that come with skipping professional training. When you invest in the tool, training should be considered an essential part of your investment.  When properly implemented with customized training, the time for companies to begin to see the return on their investment is shortened significantly.


Implement change in manageable stages 

Making the transition to a BIM-driven digital workflow is easier if you can break it down into smaller, manageable segments. This is where prioritizing your organizational goals becomes useful in identifying the area to focus your efforts first. Not only does adoption come easier, but it also helps identify organizational wins and see a return on investment much sooner. 



Digital workstations deliver more clarity in the shop with tools like dynamic dimensioning that quickly pull any dimension needed for fabrication.


A really great example of taking these steps in stages is supplementing the traditional paper “traveler” with a digital workstation in the shop. As time goes by and the comfort level grows, your shop team will begin to see how helpful it is to be able to get dimensions and additional context from the 3D model thanks to the digital workflow. Eventually removing the need for the traveler altogether and the paper or PDF driven workflow that goes along with it.

Powered by Autodesk BIM 360 Docs and the Autodesk Forge platform, STRATUS by GTP Services, is streamlining prefabrication, manufacturing and logistics for MEP contractors. It leverages the Autodesk Revit or Autodesk Fabrication CADmep models created by VDC teams, allowing their value to extend further into the fabrication and installation phases of your projects—improving packaging, spooling, cutting and tracking workflows.

For a free consultation on how STRATUS can help you transition your traditional fabrication workflow to a BIM-driven digital workflow, contact GTP Services today by emailing or calling 1-800-385-7131. 

Previous Article
How DPR Construction Is Using Assemble for Prefab, Status Tracking, Inventory Management and Cost Control on the Jobsite
How DPR Construction Is Using Assemble for Prefab, Status Tracking, Inventory Management and Cost Control on the Jobsite

DPR Construction started in 1990 when three construction veterans set out to form a company based around th...

Next Article
PeerAssist: Powerful Decision-Making Backed by Data
PeerAssist: Powerful Decision-Making Backed by Data

Contractors are no strangers to challenges and risk involved with construction projects. Often, the general...