Industry lingo is representative of some of the major advances in the processes and gains associated with construction. One such term that finds increasing popularity is value engineering. So, what is value engineering and how does it benefit the construction process? Using engineering principles to achieve the utmost value with the least possible cost is a construction industry art form called value engineering. Value engineering involves substituting tried and tested materials and methods with less expensive options, without affecting functionality and output. One of the parts of the construction workflow that can benefit from value engineering is MEP coordination services.
During World War II, it was at General Electric that the idea of value engineering emerged. Product value was defined as a ratio: function/cost. This implied that the value of a product could be increased by either improving its function or reducing its cost. The concept was adopted across industries, and the construction industry, specifically, enjoyed considerable benefits.
Value engineering is a resourceful, organised method of analysing project requirements to lower total costs through capital, staffing, energy and maintenance expenses. Alternate designs, materials and workflows are studied and investigated to improve value and economy. This methodology can play a key role in improving the design and layout of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, or MEP (M&E) systems. Not only is the budget drained, but there is a noticeable time delay when MEP systems clash during construction. Four features of utilities installation are enhanced when MEP systems are efficiently developed using the value engineering method. They are:
- Design calculations
- Layout comparisons
- Cost evaluations
- Effective solutions
The design stages of a project present a prime opportunity for productivity gain and cost savings. Computer-aided design (CAD) technology enables critical design workflows to design informed MEP systems. Reliability is key to designing efficient MEP systems. In the design drafting phase of value engineering, a selection of design layouts must be considered to determine the most cost-effective option. Third-party drafting services providers have shown they are quick and effective in delivering multiple layout options for MEP systems. The vendor providing these services must be skilled in generating 3D and 2D utility systems layouts, which can later be evaluated by in-house engineering personnel. Ultimately, spending money wisely is the bottom line of value engineering, and that leads to finding the right outsourcing partner – a partner who brings the most value to a project. Experienced outsourced engineering services firms can maintain value while not charging hidden costs, extra fees or having inflexible contracts.
A successful outsourcing partner can contribute to economic planning and effective design by delivering precise MEP drafting, 3D modelling and design package documentation. Offshore partners can facilitate significant savings by delivering drafting documentation quickly and reliably. In MEP systems design, a considerable part of the work is repetitive and requires extensive documentation. Offshore engineering services can be value-conscious partners in this part of the design process. Outsourcing of projects that require proficient technical skills is growing in popularity and has been shown to be an economically astute option. Offshore companies generally have a large pool of skilled CAD technicians who are proficient in high-level CAD and BIM software, such as Revit. Aided by online sharing tools, outsourced firms can partner with in-house staff while providing high value output, without the principal firm investing in hiring, training and maintaining domestic staff for large projects.
Increasingly, governments in the West are making it mandatory to follow a value-engineered course of action for government projects. To reduce construction costs and ensure the building performance quality required for MEP systems, pertinent points to consider are:
- Alternate low-cost methods, materials or workflows that perform the same function
- Evaluation of best practices in comparison to costs incurred
- Thorough examination of design options
- Concentration on areas of design for which performance is crucial
The emerging ideas are not focused solely on reducing costs, but the growing acceptance that systematic team efforts can add value to the execution of projects. In this way, innovation and quality are not compromised.
The benefits of value engineering were recently experienced in a UAE project. According to the project manager, there was 10-15% cost saving and 20-25% energy reduction due to value engineering. Oversized MEP systems experienced challenges in material and equipment procurement and inefficient layouts of engineering communications. Also, the high humidity levels of the local climate could not be effectively controlled. MEP systems which were oversized needed more space for equipment, ductwork and piping. Value engineers solved these issues, integrating the design process with effective cost management.
Effective communication is a key factor in implementing value engineering in MEP coordination. The impact and quality of removed or replaced components should be fully comprehended by all team members; otherwise, it could lead to unfavourable repercussions. For example, on a recent project, a thermostat control valve substitution was approved to bring project costs down. The mechanical engineer introduced the valve into the system following design documents, however he did not review the installation guide for the valve. The project manager also missed looking at the installation guide. This presented a challenge as the valve's installation guide changed the original piping detail in the design. Therefore, the valve was incorrectly installed. System functionality was negatively impacted and extra costs were incurred by the contractor to repair and re-install the valve. These drawbacks could have been avoided with clear and extensive communication to all team members in an environment correctly implementing and reviewing value engineering.
Object-oriented 3D models have revised MEP coordination, with major improvements in design and coordination resulting due to its use. Trade contractors contribute to enhanced MEP coordination by locating components for MEP systems while complying with design, construction and operations requirements. Accurate MEP coordination also defines the location of MEP components in cramped and congested spaces to avoid clashes and interference and to comply with design criteria. Employing specialty contractors for different trades (e.g. process piping, HVAC piping, WAC ductwork, plumbing, electrical, fire protection) decentralises design responsibility but increases the need for effective coordination. MEP systems must satisfy design, installation, commissioning, operation and maintenance specifications. Some of these specifications for systems design include:
- Spatial (avoiding interferences) specifications
- Functional specifications within a system (flow or gravity drainage)
- Adjacency or segregation parameters
- System installation details (layout dimensions, space and access for installation productivity)
- Testing parameters (ability to isolate)
Trade contractors create building systems based on design documents. The contractor needs to produce shop drawings, or fabrication drawings, which includes detailed information. This information includes joint types, member sizes, material types, connection mechanisms, top elevations, bottom elevations, supply contents and exact location references. At this point, value engineering can contribute to the research and final decisions taken regarding cost-effective components of good quality.
Generally, in construction practice, specialised contractors are responsible for MEP coordination. Therefore, after the creation of the design drawings, the MEP coordination process begins. Locations of different systems are decided, and conflicts are acknowledged. Components, such as conduits, pipes, HVAC ducts, etc., are sized, building services calculations are made and schematic drawings are updated. HVAC and piping systems are sized, followed by electrical and fire protection systems. At this point, the 3D M&E (MEP) coordination begins and preliminary routing systems are discussed and viewed. Constraints to routing, such as corridors, shear walls, fire walls, major equipment locations, ceiling types and interstitial spaces, are discussed. Value engineering practice can involve minimising branch lengths, minimising the number of fittings, choosing optimal locations for components and finding shorter routing to support points. This is then represented in MEP coordination drawings and MEP shop drawings.
Outsourcing these MEP coordination services to offshore companies, that have extensive experience in this field of expertise, will contribute significantly to the benefits of value engineering. These companies provide a large pool of technically qualified staff with varied project experience and clear understanding of the benefits of value engineering. Outsourcing these services integrates into the value engineering process itself, as such services are both cost-effective and quality-effective.