In response to a poor economy, masons in Michigan have formed a rare collaboration between mason contractors, manufacturers, suppliers, structural engineers, and unions (bricklayers and laborers) to promote masonry in their state. Now, the group is attempting to share the advancements it has made and the benefits of cooperation and education with the nation.

The International Masonry Institute (IMI), the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA), and their consultant structural engineer, David Biggs, PE, of Ryan-Biggs Associates in New York, began a coalition last year to create new software to allow structural engineers to design using load-bearing masonry.

They also sought to educate structural engineers, construction managers, and architects on the benefits of masonry, to promote the new software and teach engineers how to use it.

The coalition raised more than $350,000 and partnered with construction software provider Bentley Systems Inc. to design a program to combine traditional masonry materials with high-tech structural design.

About 75% of all structural engineers were already using Bentley software to design. But before the group's efforts, the software did not have the option of designing a building using masonry. The group also hired a full-time consulting engineer, Scott Walkowicz, PE, of Walkowicz Consulting Engineers, to work with engineering firms on training and implementing the software. The group provides the software and intensive training to structural engineers for free.

The IMI is promoting the new Bentley software beyond Michigan through its 25 technical service representatives who introduce engineers to the software and provide custom training. A national Bentley seminar series began last September and seminars are planned for the rest of 2009.

According to a recent report from the June Masonry Coalition meeting the program has added 228,000 bricklayer hours and 125,000 laborer hours in Michigan since January. A representative of IMI/Bentley said the new masonry system design software could add 10 to 11 million bricklayer hours nationwide.

IMI had two training seminars for “New Software Options for Hybrid Masonry/Steel and Load bearing Masonry” in July in Kansas City, Mo., and O'Fallen, Ill. IMI is planning more events throughout the year.

For a schedule of Bentley seminars, visit Visit IMI at