The construction industry in 2017 continues to evolve unlike at any other time since the Industrial Revolution. Communication systems, GPS, robotic total stations, LiDAR, computer software, and their integration into one another have all become common, with additional advances on the horizon such as augmented reality (AR). All have the potential to make it faster, safer, and less expensive to install studs, steel, duct, conduit, pipe, and just about anything else that needs to go into a 21st century building.
Working out the best way to make this happen, however, can still be a challenge. Since there is no longer one way of building, stakeholders involved in coordination—the process of making sure all building components come together smoothly as designed, and that communication between the design team, installation team, and building owner is in place—may find themselves miscommunicating.
For example, the words “coordination” or "shop drawings" or “installation drawings” or “coordination drawings” may be used interchangeably to describe different methods and technologies. This can cause everyone on a design team to wonder: did that person mean what I heard? What does the process entail for projects of one size or another? How much or how little detail is needed?
Scope, budgets, and timelines often dictate which route to take. To ensure everyone is proceeding from the same understanding, it’s helpful to understand some of the different approaches to Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing/Fire Protection (MEPFP) coordination, the effectiveness of each, and what each unique project needs to move forward.
Basic Design: The Manual Process
For non-complex buildings in low-risk environments (such as big-box retail), a manual process is often the best way to go. It involves overlaying thin paper /vellum construction drawings (CD) containing the various architectural, structural, and MEPFP components. Assuming team members can still read through all the layers, they can use them to identify apparent clashes and hits.
This has the advantage of being low-cost in terms of both technology and labor. However, it can also be cumbersome and inaccurate. Trying to overlay a series of two-dimensional objects to represent a three-dimensional project can lead to diminished clarity, affecting design accuracy. Furthermore, besides physical drawing sheets shifting around, stakeholders need to be in the same physical location to have a productive conversation, leading to communication difficulties.
Intermediate Design: The Digital Process
For more complex buildings, or buildings being developed in a more complex environment such as a small city or existing development, digital technology provides some advantages over manual processes. Portable document files (PDFs) and CAD files can be overlaid on computer screens. Here, stakeholders use the same steps as the manual process, using digital images instead of paper documents.
Both formats lend more accuracy than the manual process. CAD files, in addition, allow accurate distance measurements in their native format, and their accuracy is even better than PDF files’ because of the enhancements their layer, line type, and color control offer. Digital files are also easier to update, more flexible, and more easily shared, as files can be loaded or unloaded as needed.
Even so, sometimes layers can’t be turned on or off, impacting clarity; a very complex project, for example, may appear busy, so conflicts can be harder to identify. Depending on the project’s overall size, files can also be cumbersome to manage. Finally, technology and labor costs rise because a higher level of expertise is necessary to complete digital drawings.
Advanced Design: Building Information Modeling (BIM)
Since the introduction of MEPFP Building Information Modeling in the early to mid-2000s, many of the problems with accuracy, visibility, updating, and information sharing have been resolved. However, because BIM carries higher technology and operator costs owing to the need for expertise in using it, including more up-front resources to complete the process, it’s best used on very complex projects and settings, such as urban skyscrapers, hospitals, research facilities, and similarly complex environments.
In this process, 2D installation drawings for each trade are created directly from the 3D coordination model. Using 3D digital file content created with, for example, Revit or AutoCAD, designers build a 3D building model. They then run that model through clash detection technology, such as Navisworks, to identify conflicts between the trades.
With BIM, Architect/Engineer design intent can be absolute. The 3D content creates ultimate visibility and accuracy, allowing the ability to ‘fly’ through and see problems first-hand. Using file sharing programs or websites, multiple stakeholders can be a part of the coordination process.
The added benefit is a 100% buildable model that is essentially a digital representation of the finished product. The much more accurate installation drawings result in faster field installation, especially when used with robotic total stations in layout. The owner receives a complete digital building model that is usable for future maintenance and renovations.
Coordinating MEPFP content is critical to an efficient installation, so it’s important to take the time to ensure that it’s done correctly. Discussing the needs of your particular project at its onset is the best way to ensure that all stakeholders adhere to the same coordination expectations throughout the process.
If you would like to discuss your upcoming project, or have general questions about BIM, please contact us.