For many years, 2D CAD was thought to be enough, and it met the standards our clients expected. As an industrial electrical design/builder, we had simple needs: basic layout drawings showing our work schematically. Then came market pressure to do more prefabrication, which could give us more opportunity to optimize designs and do more work with fewer field resources.
This drove the need to bring the ideas that our planning teams were developing into our prefabrication facility. By using 3D CAD, we were able to do more, and better, prefabrication. Additionally, our people were able to better visualize what was going to happen, and they became more effective during field installations.
For example, complex conduit racks have to be "right" when they arrive on the jobsite. Project schedules simply don't allow a great deal of rework. After we began working this out in 3D CAD, we noticed our field managers wanted to look at the models, see different views, and suggest improvements. We were able to look at multiple solutions and pick the best one. We could now optimize a layout rather than just use the first one that worked.
We found that other trades would participate by overlaying 2D drawings on the electrical 3D model. If a potential conflict needed more examination, that element could be added in the 3D model. This way, resistance from the other trades was reduced, and visualization by the whole team led to good results.
Why Coordination Pays
A project that is well coordinated will have higher quality. Simply "winging it" in the field leads to poor tradeoffs like low headroom, compromises on clearances, poor maintainability, and rework. Intensive coordination also allows for prefabrication and modularization. These techniques mean higher quality at lower costs because more work can be performed in a controlled shop environment.
Coordination planning that considers the best sequence of installation allows labor-intensive specialty trades to work together safely. Often trades that are well coordinated physically can avoid working in tight areas at the same time.
One of the biggest drivers of a coordination effort is productivity. Labor accounts for 40 to 70 percent of their cost in specialty trades. It is not uncommon for productivity to swing 50 or even 100 percent between two similar projects due to differences in management.
Site management drives sequencing, scheduling, information flow, problem solving, and many other issues unrelated to the plan on paper. A project is a living, breathing, dynamic system that is sensitive to what happens every day and how it is controlled. Coordination allows specialty trades to remove some of the variability and obstacles.
Coordination can also improve productivity through the ability to prefabricate and modularize. By more reliably knowing the details of how the project will be constructed, specialty contractors can innovate with less risk. This benefits them (through less risk and potentially more profits), the client (through time and cost savings), others on the site (through less safety risk and more reliable layouts), and the industry in general.
It may seem counterintuitive that spending more time on coordination can reduce overall project delivery time, but it does. Design/build provides the opportunity to shorten projects by getting the whole team involved earlier. A construction-driven schedule more likely to succeed when the constructor is part of the team from the beginning.
The constructor can help decide on tradeoffs between design time and construction time. For specialty contractors, time really is money and the time to adequately plan makes a big difference in their risk and therefore pricing.
Critical Steps to Adoption
• Get the members of the project team who will be doing the field execution committed and involved early. This is not always easy because they tend to be valuable people usually out on other projects. The reason this is so important is that these people (more than office-bound project managers) have a vested interest in getting it right. They are making commitments they will have to live with.
• Establish a leader for the process. Make sure that person has the appropriate sponsorship of the lead design/builder. Real coordination takes real communication and good facilitation skills. Make sure the leader is empowered to hold individual team members accountable.
• Establish a timeline and process. Every participating organization and individual must know what to expect and be able to commit appropriate resources. Team members will have other projects and other demands to consider. Because the process is most successful with regular face-to-face meetings, travel plans must be addressed. Other regular contact through conference calls or video conferences can fill in communication gaps but are not a substitute for quality coordination workshops.
• Set baselines early. Make sure you talk about and agree to technical details like the teams' CAD technology, reference points, and baseline geometry and measurements. Establish basic communication protocols for sharing drawings and other information.
Intensive coordination is a step up from the status quo in the AEC industry. Design/build provides fertile ground for this important effort. Doing it well can help our clients get better, faster, and more innovative, cost-effective projects.
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Dave Crumrine is president of Interstates Construction Services. Lowell Dykstra is prefabrication manager, Jeremy Oliver is CAD manager, and Dave Los is operations manager of the firm. Interstates is a full service electrical provider for industrial processing clients.
This is an excerpt of a longer article originally published in Design-Build Dateline, October 2005. It is reprinted with permission of the Design-Build Institute of America.