One of the hardest-hit industries in the recession, construction is now making a comeback in a big way—U.S. construction employment rates are up, the forecasted growth numbers look good and a variety of other factors have made the future look bright. However, the industry has shifted toward a more “lean” approach, and construction and design firms are expected to maximize value while minimizing waste in productivity, materials and budget.
Design teams have a responsibility to approach this shift in design and construction culture with a value management process that is outcome driven. The word “value” may lead one to believe that the sole purpose of this process is to save money, but it’s only one element; planning for long-term maintenance, equipment replacement and community experience and comfort all heavily factor in. The entire team is encouraged to provide system options that not only address immediate needs, but also life cycle costs, future use considerations and user/patient/visitor experience, all while shepherding the budget.
It’s important to identify key decisions with positive monetary impacts early in the process. As engineering, being involved right from master planning, so that the lifetime vision of the project or client is considered when making system and programming decision is key. Before construction even begins, our team can provide challenges to the types of materials being considered, offering alternatives based on the impact to the local community, workforce and environment, on not only MEPT systems but other building materials and services.
For example, when Dynamix is working on a hospital design, involvement of the engineers in the initial planning stages allows them to understand the end goal of a positive patient/family/staff experience once the facility is open. We step out of our engineering role and consider the question, “What if my mother is a patient, visitor, care provider or volunteer at this facility?” Whether it’s providing easy access to electronic device charging, installing subdued lighting or designing childproof outlets, ease of use for staff and patient/visitor comfort are crucial parts of the value management process.
Continually looking for ways to add value to a client’s project is Consulting Engineering 101. For one particular health care project, our engineers analyzed the campus primary power distribution and emergency power needs and determined that a previously-planned new substation could be eliminated; this allowed the client to redistribute $18 million to other areas of the project. Not only did we save first costs, we were also able to maintain campus square footage for future use and add full emergency back-up power to a Level II facility using the money saved on cutting the new substation. This had a positive side effect on the community surrounding the campus, as it encouraged an unplanned power company upgrade and increased available capacity to a growing neighborhood that had vulnerable service.
For many projects, Dynamix promotes the design and installation of return air boxes for the HVAC system. This design doesn’t generally affect the first costs in a substantially; rather, the added value comes during the commissioning of the systems throughout testing and balancing, as well as in future renovations to aid in space pressurization and system efficiency. Another way our engineers add value to a project is by educating clients and owners on low-voltage systems, reinforcing the advantages of treating them as utility rather than as an afterthought in the design and building process. In several cases, it helped owners align their information systems budgets during the preliminary design phase as opposed to disruptive change orders to the project during initial occupancy.
Value management doesn’t only exist on the worksite—our team makes it a practice to engage owners in education sessions with vendors to establish infrastructure requirements for opening day and support for the future to avoid “afterthought” installations. It’s our goal to provide a bridge where wants and needs can be challenged with budget and return on investment, to identify what should be done up front in a project, and to plan for future phasing to support globally-beneficial decisions system wide.
There are many reasons to design and build with value management in mind. Taking care of issues up front helps stave off any system changes made by contractors during construction; all too often, these changes aren’t conveyed to the engineers, then as the building is occupied and throughout its life, problems that arise cannot be analyzed efficiently, future renovations are not accurately engineered and owners are left with a puzzle to solve.
There is also great value to including facilities and maintenance staff—the ones who will actually be using the systems once construction is complete—on early design plans. Not only can they provide engineers expertise on their particular facility, it also gives them an opportunity to learn about the new systems they will be handling. Gone are the days where a turn of the wrench will tune up the system; now, facilities and maintenance staff need to understand the cause and effect of every minor tweaking of the building automation system as it relates to environmental comfort of the occupants, air change rates for infection control and energy usage.
The biggest key to success for the value management process is open and honest communication from start to finish. Discussions with owners, architects/contractors, building officials, engineers and future occupants can help clarify the facility’s biggest time and money eaters, what those involved wish could be done or what they would do differently, and many other factors that add value—in terms of time, money, user experience—to the final product. A little bit of extra effort and planning up front undoubtedly pays dividends in the long run.