How much value can a component-manufacturing company bring to your homebuilding projects these days? Quite a bit, actually. Whereas in the past some builders may have seen these companies, along with parties like lumber yards, as separate entities, these groups can work in a more collaborative manner than ever before.

Take a company like MiTek, www.mii.com, Chesterfield, Mo., for example. This component-manufacturing company has also developed 3D structural design software, providing technology that is more collaboration driven for the homebuilding project. The core software offering is called SAPPHIRE Structure with a free app delivered to builders called SAPPHIRE Viewer.

The idea is that rather than working off of 10 different sets of plans, for example, the viewer allows for a single structural model file that can be sent and received among the different parties on a building project. While the viewer has been available for download on a PC, the company has recently made it available for the iPad as well.
For builders, the accuracy in estimating depends, most often, on the structural design. Having a single BIM (building information modeling) file alleviates that problem. In the end, having this single point of record could also affect other parts of the process, including the takeoff and even ultimately the option-selling process.

“We are in the early stages of seeing the lines blurring (between the different parties on the project),” says Gregg Renner, vice president, marketing, MiTek USA. “Technology is helping to make this shift in the process. In the past a builder would get a 2D set of plans, send it out to the supply side who would then figure out if the builder could build what they just sold. Now with a more collaborative model, the benefit of having an accurate model on the front end means they are working with a buildable structure (from the onset).”

MiTek is not the only component manufacturer targeting the builder market with collaborative software. However, what makes the company stand out, says Renner, is the fact it can accommodate any format file in which the plan originates, including a scalable PDF. From there, the company is able to convert it to a usable form for the component manufacturing company, as well as all others along the process.

His advice to builders considering this is to look at how agnostic the BIM platform is to the development process. In other words, don’t limit your options for the type of file you can work with regarding BIM.

In today’s homebuilding environment it is all about the margin. Can a component-manufacturing company help increase your margins, perhaps through the ability to fabricate much of the work at a shop and have full parts shipped to the jobsite where a builder can use lower-cost labor to assemble?

Having an accurate file that each party can use along the way during the process could help lower cost and increase margins for builders in the end. As Renner states, the technology lines in homebuilding are indeed blurring. Are you prepared to take the next step in the process?