Technologies in Use Via Prefabrication at Mechanical Contractor

This article is the fourth in the Construction Tech Talks series, highlighting technology trends and digital transformations from the perspective of industry leaders.
By A. Vincent Vasquez
June 3, 2020

Editor’s Note: This article is the fourth in the Construction Tech Talks series, highlighting technology trends and digital transformations from the perspective of industry leaders. Conducted by Vince Vasquez, founder and CEO at PrecisionStory, this valuable enterprise takes the form of both an audio interview with a forward-thinking, tech-savvy CEO and an accompanying article that seek to illustrate how to leverage complex technology via the exploration of successful use cases.

Shapiro & Duncan is a third-generation, family-owned, commercial mechanical contractor with Washington, DC roots. Jake Shapiro started J. Shapiro Plumbing & Heating in the mid-1930s. After Shapiro retired, his son David, a mechanical engineer, organized a merit shop mechanical contracting company in 1976, known as Shapiro & Duncan Inc.

Shapiro & Duncan works on a very diverse portfolio of projects in a number of markets, such as health care, transportation, data centers, K-12, higher education, office buildings, hospitality and the Department of Defense intelligence community—covering the gamut in terms of vertical construction.

In this article, Mark Drury, vice president of business development at Shapiro & Duncan, discusses many of the technologies used in the company’s construction workflow. As it turns out, they began making the transition to “digital contractor” over twelve years ago.

Generating Proposals

To begin, every job bid includes putting in information—such as owner, architect, engineer and type of project—into Shapiro & Duncan’s CRM application. This information is also pushed into the company’s project management software, which has a tight integration with the CRM application.

Shapiro & Duncan also uses the bid tracking capability included in its project management software. Drawings are uploaded into this cloud-based software; then, the software sends out invitations for bids from Shapiro & Duncan’s subcontractors and vendors.

Shapiro & Duncan uses a paperless digital quantity takeoff tool for estimating. Their estimating department looks like a sports bar, as everyone has multiple large screens showing the various drawings. This software generates quantity takeoffs automatically, utilizing the formulas in its database for all the parts and pieces, e.g., hangars, valves and joints.

Building the BIM Model

An estimate that becomes an official contract gets updated in the project management software and is also entered into Shapiro & Duncan’s accounting software.

The contract is then fed back into the CRM application, which is used to capture and track everything that happens on the jobsite, such as who has been there to work and which subcontractors have been hired.

Drawings are sent over to Shapiro & Duncan’s virtual design and construction (VDC) team, so they are able to build the model for the project and create the building model using BIM. The modeling workflow begins in two different ways:

  • For renovations, the company digitally scans a building room-by-room using a digital surveying tool; the data captured creates a point cloud that becomes the beginning of their model.
  • For new work, drawings and backgrounds received from the architect and engineer become the starting points of the model.

As the VDC team models the project, they coordinate with all the MEP trades within their sphere.

Once everything is coordinated, the model is separated into what are known as “spool drawings,” aka manufacturing drawings. A “spool” is a unique assembly that is the culmination of coordination between the existing conditions and the conditions when the part has to be installed.


Shapiro & Duncan prefabricates the parts in its factory in sizes as large as are possible to handle, transport and install effectively.

To accomplish this, digital spool drawings are sent out as work orders to the company’s paperless fabrication shop floor. For this, they use a separate system that tracks work orders as they proceed through the assembly line. As a result, the logistics team has the work automatically on their schedules so they are ready for loading, shipping and trucking. This enables the contractor to make just-in-time deliveries to its jobsites.

Each operator’s performance and time on each task is tracked, along with their productivity. This information is also displayed in the fabrication shop hallway in order to encourage friendly competition.

In the Field

The next part of the workflow is in the field where layout is done. For this, the Shapiro & Duncan team uses a digital surveying tool with an uploaded BIM model. With the model as a reference, the company is able to place markers on the reference points, providing exact locations for sleeves, embeds, anchors, blocking for underground piping, bends, risers, etc.

All of this work is done digitally. In fact, all the pieces of equipment are accurate up to thousandths of an inch. As a result, the contractor no longer does hand cutting, hand calculations or layout with a tape measure.

Before the advent of their current surveying tool, two men and a set of blueprints with markers and a chalk box could typically lay out 40 reference points in a workday. With the use of the digital tool, Shapiro & Duncan’s VDC employees have stated that laying 400 points in a day is just the average—a huge leap in productivity.

Technology Going Forward

Shapiro & Duncan has started to investigate how they could use augmented reality glasses both for training and to document work. For instance, the company is investigating the possibility of allowing a foreman onsite with an AR headset in order to pull up a schematic and review the next phase of a project rather than using an iPad.

Even through Shapiro & Duncan has been a digital contractor for well over a decade, Drury still sees a lot of change in terms of technology happening in the next five to 10 years. Half-jokingly, he muses what it would be like for someone from 1980 to land on a jobsite today with all the advanced technology being used: “He’d probably feel like a caveman,” Drury says.

by A. Vincent Vasquez

Vince Vasquez has more than 30 years of experience in enterprise sales, marketing and engineering. Working with 20 industry leaders, he is the co-author of Precision Construction, which teaches the fundamentals of IoT with a focus on the construction industry. He is also the co-founder and CEO of PrecisionStory, which brings Precision Storytelling—a new and innovative approach to enterprise storytelling—to market. Vince has an MBA from Stanford University, an MS in Computer Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley. 

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