Design changes are a common occurrence on any construction and MEP project. However, while the changes themselves are almost unavoidable, the way in which designers and engineers communicate, consider and resolve the changes can have a significant impact on the success of the overall project. Here, Joel Gist, Senior Sales Manager at Trimble MEP, explores the change management processes in construction and the value that digital technology and BIM can deliver.
Image: the 5 steps in the change management process
How many construction projects go over budget and why?
It is estimated that 69% of construction projects go over budget (Construction Industry News), with around 90% of all projects delivered late according to the construction firm’s original contract.
While there are many factors behind these statistics, rework, design errors and last-minute changes are perhaps some of the most prevalent.
With design changes a common occurrence on any construction MEP project, having an established change management process that enables you to efficiently and proactively communicate and consolidate any such changes is essential. Without this, the consequences for the overall project delivery could be severe, leading to cost overruns and delays and disruption in construction contracts.
Whatever the function of a building, whether it be residential, commercial or even industrial, the design of its mechanical, electrical and plumbing services can be hugely complex. With potentially hundreds of wires, cables, ventilation, pipework and heating and cooling ducts contained with a building’s walls, it all has to be carefully planned, coordinated and detailed together.
It is perhaps for this reason, given the interconnected integration between the positioning of each service, and also the individual requirements and regulations, that design changes and revisions are such a common occurrence.
However, it is not just the number of changes that present the challenge but also their complexity, with a single design change to one area potentially having a significant knock-on effect on the surrounding services.
Given this, it’s clear to see why having a process whereby design changes can be easily visualised, coordinated and resolved is so important. And it is this idea of a change management process where digital technology, BIM in particular, truly comes into play.
Construction change order: best practices
While there will always be design changes on a project, ensuring that you communicate these alterations effectively and efficiently between the different MEP stakeholders is essential.
Failure to do this could result in a breakdown of coordination, as well as serious issues further down the line, with the potential for teams to be working from different and outdated versions of the drawings and plans.
However, this does not need to be the case, with enhanced collaboration and communication at the heart of many BIM software packages. Through the use of intelligent software, such as Stabicad and the cloud-based Trimble Connect, project teams can be provided with instant access to a project’s data.
In many ways, cloud-based platforms, such as Trimble Connect, offer a centralised information hub. All of the latest project data, up-to-date models, drawings and documentation can be stored within the software and can be available to all project parties on any device, whether that be a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone. As well as enabling a more coordinated way of working, with one central source of information, it can also offer enhanced visibility. For example, electrical and mechanical models can be viewed in conjunction and overlaid on each other, rather than being viewed in isolation.
Nor is a change management model limited to just within the MEP divisions; it’s also a wider process that can involve the whole of the construction project.
Connecting all stakeholders in the construction project
As well as coordinating between mechanical, electrical and plumbing fixtures, it’s also important that the building’s MEP services coordinate with the architect, general contractor and structural engineer’s designs and models too, as all electrical circuits, containment routes and ductwork have to perfectly integrate with the structure’s walls, supporting columns and floors.
In fact, any last-minute changes from the architect’s office, such as re-configuring the layout of a room or even changing the function of an interior space, could require the MEP services to be remodelled in accordance with the new architectural design.
Considering both the building’s architectural or structural design and the MEP design, as well as ensuring that all interfaces between structural elements and the MEP services are perfectly aligned, is something that requires an efficient and seamless level of communication and data sharing capabilities.
The cost of quality in construction
While we have discussed how digital technology and BIM can help in communicating design changes between stakeholders, how can digital software help in resolving these changes?
Perhaps the first very real benefit of BIM software in managing and resolving changes is automatic clash detection. Given the huge complexity of MEP models and the potential for frequent design changes, being able to easily identify and detect potential clashes - whether between electrical and mechanical services or between a ventilation duct and a concrete support column, for example - is invaluable.
The alternative method of having to manually review 2D drawings and plans, can not only be incredibly time-consuming but can also present a high risk of human error, with the potential for clashes to go undetected at the design stage.
The consequences of this could be severe, with the cost of rework (both in terms of money and time) only increasing once you reach site, resulting in extra work.
Rework in construction
According to recent construction rework statistics, around 30% of all construction is thought to be rework, making it a very real issue for the industry (Cost Management in Construction Projects: Rework and its Effects study, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences). However, with the accurate, information-rich data and intelligent tools contained within BIM software, this does not have to be the case.
...around 30% of all construction is thought to be rework...
In addition to automatic clash detection, Trimble MEP’s solutions can even scan the model for any changes that could impact the specific MEP services in question, again helping to save time and facilitate an efficient and streamlined change management process.
Construction project risk management
Once changes or design issues are detected, project managers and their teams can then work together on resolving the clash and discussing alternative design solutions.
Again, digital software and its construction productivity tools can have a key role to play here, from facilitating the communication and enabling discussions between teams to even suggesting alternative constructible solutions and different containment routes for electrical circuits.
There will always be design changes on a construction project. However, the way in which you manage and resolve these changes can have a very real impact on the total project costs and overall delivery. Employing a structured approach and effective change management plans is all about coordination, visibility and accuracy – three things that digital technology and Trimble’s portfolio of MEP software provides. With this as part of your team’s everyday practices, you can effectively minimise and identify risks, while better managing your MEP projects, ensuring they stay on track in terms of both budget and completion date.