DfMA – An MEP Force Highlight


October 10, 2019 | All

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At MEP Force 2019, we were reminded that Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) grew out of the trades. Prefabrication is a natural fit for mechanical, electrical and plumbing installations and has been in use for decades in the automotive industry. As explained in the 2014 ResearchGate CTBUH Journal article DfMA: Engineering the Future, “When applied to the construction industry, DfMA involves the manufacture of discrete sections of the final construction in a factory, and these are then transported to the site for final assembly.”

Dozens of studies and reports show there’s more work in the construction industry than there are skilled workers to do it. DfMA has vastly improved productivity in manufacturing, and it’s caught on in mechanical and electrical firms as well. At MEP Force 2019, Kevin Ellis and Bob Willis, of ManufactOn, described how productivity can increase by making the jobsite more of an assembly place. In their breakout session, “Maximizing Offsite Construction,” Willis described leveraging manufacturing methods, prefabrication, modular construction, and the best practices of “lean construction” to produce even one-of-a-kind buildings. Willis characterized the opportunities as:

  • About 20% lower project costs. 
  • Reduced schedule time. 
  • Productivity that’s easier to manage. 
  • Better quality and safety.
  • Improved resource/labor recruiting from a workforce more interested in working in a controlled environment.

Although the latest rallying cry is that the MEP trades need to participate earlier in the design process, they may not feel empowered to do so. As Josh Bone and Jonathan Marsh, of Caisson, pointed out in their MEP Force keynote address, the trades are already referred to as “sub”contractors. A lot of risk gets pushed off onto them. Historically, issues have been kicked down the road until they land at the feet of the subs. Subs have had to find ways to solve those situations. One of the results of this dysfunctional workflow is that trust eroded in the construction industry over many years, and, as Marsh said, “it won’t be gained back overnight.”

The BIM process, using Revit, is uniquely positioned to solve that dysfunctional workflow. Access this blog article for Big BIM Little BIM – an MEP Force Highlight. Working with engineers in the BIM process breaks down communication barriers, builds respect and benefits everyone. This is where the trades can participate in solving issues before they get kicked down the road. As Bone explained, “Quick change is intimidating, so the trades approach this process with cautious optimism . . . the trades are in it for the good of the trades.”

What the trades ultimately need is for issues to not land at their feet near the end of construction. Modeling takes a big load off MEP contractors when it comes time for installation. Marsh suggested they can bring value which no one else can offer to a project – determining the constructability of buildings. Since mechanical and electrical contractors have about 50% of the entire building, they should be involved at the beginning. This message was heard throughout MEP Force. Specialist trades need to be drivers of constructability, since they can control the highest level of specialist skill. 

One of the first steps in filling that need is adopting the technology. No one is born knowing how to use collaborative modeling software. Education plays a large part in fine tuning workflows and leveling information silos. Of course, the best place to get education is from industry-trained personnel. An overarching concept was heard in many MEP Force breakout sessions: “We learn from our peers.” As a great example, Applied Software Senior Specialist Gabe Hernandez has been working in the industry for about 15 years. You can access his Applied Software on-demand webinar Gabe’s Revit Universe: Fabrication 101 for essentially free training for beginner-level Revit users in fabrication and an overview of how eVolve MEP helps expedite spooling and shop drawing production.

Applied has dozens of on-demand webinars to help you do your job better. Contact Applied Software today to learn more about how your firm can benefit from DfMA. If you’re in a situation where BIM is one of the answers, the industry-trained experts at Applied have your back.

Jump into the discussion and learn a whole lot more about DfMA at MEP Force 2020. Registration is live, and discounted registration is available through January 31, 2020.