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Is BIM in construction changing the MEP workflow

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MEP designing requires the involvement of large number of stakeholders who are collectively responsible for overseeing the different stages of the building engineering.  The stages include planning, designing, spatial coordination, fabrication, installation and maintenance. Initially, architectural designing is followed by building services designing, after which both can be designed similarly based on further architectural and structural design changes. Engineering teams working on building services designing solutions belong to either of the two categories : design engineer or MEP contractor. In certain instances, there is a third party involved too - the fabricator, responsible for creating MEP components like ductwork or pipe work. Sometimes, the fabricator also has to provide some pre-fabrication solutions like electric ladder, sprinkler with a frame module, etc.

Essentially there are five different MEP design workflows  :

  • Traditional 2D design and 3D BIM coordination: this is the stage where 2D design outputs are created. This section comprises of 2D plan layouts, 2D sections and MEP schematics. The traditional MEP approach, from a 2D design to a 3D model has existed over the past couple of decades in the industry. Use of 3D tools like Revit is very useful in this stage. It allows the contractor to identify and resolve clashes even before any time has been spent on the site.
  • 3D MEP design and 3D BIM coordination: This stage is more directly influenced by BIM. The MEP designer will use BIM to create 3D models and then the information will later be handed over to the MEP trade contractor. The creation of a 3D BIM model in this stage by the consultant is also subject to various architectural and structural model modifications.
  • Designers 3D BIM design and coordination : this is more of a direct consequence of BIM. And as it gets closer to the ' virtual design and construction' aims industry, the benefits of BIM are promoted more significantly.  The design engineer creates a BIM model  that is spatially coordinated using the actual specified components of the projects. The model is then coordinated structurally and architecturally and also according to MEP services. This enables the consultant to create a model now that will be of installation standards, which would be more usable for an installer or a fabricator. The contractor may still want to make changes to final outcome in a round of value engineering.
  • Contractor 3D design and coordination : This workflow method comprises of  MEP contractors (or trade contractors) taking on the design responsibility and the coordination responsibility. Even though  the coordination responsibility is familiar skill set , the design responsibility is a novel factor for the contractor. This was earlier known as a ''design and build approach'' ; but now it is becoming increasingly common.  Mainly in companies that are looking to have a rapid design and detailed coordination completed. Usually, the elements to be used will be mentioned and specified by the end client, the contractor would work on the  design and the model. Then a comprehensive coordinated drawing would be created from the model. This would ensure if any installation or fabrication is needed.  The advantage of this workflow is the time efficiency and the cost benefit associated with it, as the cost of utilizing contractor resource would actually be much lower, when compared to the expensive design engineering firms. But the main disadvantage is the amount of work in this workflow and the risk associated .
  • General contractor 3D model coordination. : This workflow is based on coordinated MEP models  to the traditional 2D to 3D approach, only for a different customer group. This method requires a 2D architectural, structural and MEP designer, to work under a main contractor (or general contractor) is then pushed into 3D BIM model by the contractor to review the strength and entirety of the model. The aim is to recognize any inconsistencies in the design data by checking for any clashes in the model, allowing the contractor in such a workflow method to successfully alleviate his/her possible risk. This BIM workflow solution is becoming less common now because MEP contractors and designers are creating BIM models themselves.

BIM modeling has started a number of new workflow modifications, in the MEP design service sector.  The tried and weathered methods of the past, of developing a 2D design from a designer, into a 3D coordinated MEP model by the contractor is no longer the workflow solution followed by firms these days. This is because firms these days, have many other variants and alternatives to work around. Not just BIM modeling, there have been other developments too in the construction industry, like mutual online working and work sharing ,that  have also resulted in the increase in the uptake levels for BIM and influenced  the changes in the workflow  .

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