Incorporate a unified workflow in three steps

Reducing cost for everyone is a Utopian idea, but how do you achieve that? Achieve a unified workflow for building projects in three steps.

By Jason Calcagno and Aja Kiah, Southland Industries September 18, 2015

A unified workflow is a single process that integrates the four main functional groups on a construction project: project management, engineering, constructability, and BIM. The goal is to make intelligent decisions about how the job will be designed and built, from project conception to completion. When early communication is fostered between functional groups, constructability concerns are addressed far more efficiently than the typical request for information (RFI) feedback loop that normally occurs. Overall risk and cost for the entire project team will ultimately be reduced when constructability is integrated throughout the design deliverable’s creation.

Before streamlining front-end activities, it is important to understand how the design deliverables actually affect downstream team members. Each fitting, valve, junction box, hanger, and specification section directly affects large portions of the work, including coordination, fabrication, purchasing, site logistics, and installation. For every part intelligently removed from the design, there is one less item that needs to be coordinated, spooled, fabricated, delivered, installed, and tested. The same theory applies to every process.

Identifying opportunities for optimization in a timely manner allows the entire team to take advantage of those cost savings. By introducing contractors to the specifications and design documents prior to the issued-for-construction set, the team will be able to reduce construction administration activities later in the project.

It also is important to commit to a schedule for incorporation or rejection to facilitate value-engineering opportunities. Value-engineering ideas on a design-assist project do not simply refer to system design; rather, they can include materials, construction means and methods, sequencing, etc. As design-assist partners, design firms should be open to the idea that contractors’ value-engineering recommendations are adding value and not reducing quality or shifting risk. Value-engineering ideas should be seen as positive opportunities for both the project team and the owner.

One additional way to reduce cost and empower the contractors to be successful is to review submittals promptly upon receipt and provide clear and concise feedback. Committing resources to these activities should be seen as opportunities and not obstacles.

Here are three ways to achieve a unified workflow:

1. Draw it once, draw it fast.

Incorporate constructability comments into the design layout for a faster, safer, and less expensive final installation that does not compromise the design intent. This can be achieved through:

  • Incorporating prefabricated racked sections
  • Removing the need to install over equipment pads that were installed prior to the mechanical systems
  • Positioning controls and in-line equipment in more accessible areas for future maintenance and service.

2. Allow enough space for everyone.

Consider this scenario: The main electrical room and information technology (IT) closet are landlocked by a large supply duct to the north, an elevator shaft to the west, and a prominent corridor with high ceilings to the south. This forces the electrical contractor to attempt to route their systems over the bathrooms, which is not feasible. Due to the lack of inter-trade design coordination, this problem would not be identified until late in construction coordination, after the structural elements were procured and installed. The result would be extensive redesign and re-coordination. Involving all of the contractors earlier in the design process will eliminate this issue.

3. Design it to build it.

To reduce rework and cost, highly technical areas should be reviewed for constructability before an initial drafting pass. Sharing the scope with the contractor can have an immediate and positive impact on the design.

Trends show that design fees are being constantly reduced, yet scope seems to be ever-increasing. Evaluating opportunities to properly spread scope and risk with your design-assist partner allows consulting engineers to share in overall project team success. Part two of this series will continue to identify opportunities to add value to the project while maximizing profits for the entire team, with a focus on more holistic design-assist project delivery.

Jason Calcagno is the constructability manager and Aja Kiah is the division BIM manager for the mid-Atlantic division at Southland Industries.