How Engineering Software Helps Contractors Manage Material Shortages

Michael Tobias
Author : Michael Tobias
May 26, 2021
3 Minutes Read
  
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    Key Takeaways

    - Building information modeling can optimize material usage in projects.

    - Technology allows a faster design and approval, so materials can be purchased earlier.

    - Change orders can be avoided with clash detection, saving materials and labor.

    The US construction sector has been recovering from COVID-19, and developers are taking advantage of the low interest rates currently available. Unfortunately, supply chain disruptions have caused material shortages, and their prices are rising drastically as a result. This threatens to slow down construction projects, and they could face cost overruns.

    Developers and contractors can use BIM modeling and other engineering technologies to manage construction materials more efficiently. Building designs can be optimized to reduce material usage, and clash detection can be used to avoid change orders. Technology also allows a faster design and approval process, and materials can be purchased early to avoid additional price hikes.


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    Construction material prices are likely to continue increasing in 2021, unless their supply can catch up with demand. To mitigate the impact of rising prices, contractors must use materials as efficiently as possible in their construction projects.

    1) BIM Can Optimize Material Usage in Construction Projects

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    Designing the optimal layout for MEP installations is a challenge, especially when there are many components sharing small spaces. However, modern design software can generate accurate 3D models, and engineers can identify savings opportunities that are not evident in 2D.

    Generally, the most expensive MEP components are large equipment pieces like chillers and boilers. However, the distribution systems that connect equipment together can also be expensive, especially if their layout is not planned carefully. 

    • This applies for  components like electrical conduit, wiring, hydronic pipes, air ducts, refrigerant lines, plumbing pipes, and cable trays.
    • Optimizing these installations in 2D space is very difficult, but modern design software simplifies the task with 3D models.

    Using BIM, engineers can quickly analyze the cost impact of multiple design alternatives, finding the option that minimizes material and labor costs. BIM also automates material takeoff, and quantities can be known accurately before starting the construction stage.

    2) Fast Design and Approval Allow Early Material Purchases

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    Software speeds up the design process, and projects are approved faster by building departments when experienced MEP engineers are in charge. This also helps developers and contractors save on materials, especially when prices are rising fast:

    • Since the approved design is quickly available, developers and contractors have early access to an accurate bill of materials.
    • Procurement can also start earlier, and contractors can prioritize materials that are more likely to suffer shortages or price increases.

    On the other hand, when the pre-construction stage is slow, contractors must wait longer before they can purchase materials accurately. The project is more likely to be slowed down by material shortages, and its total cost will continue increasing along with material prices.

    Software reduces the man-hours needed to complete a building design, but the engineering firm’s experience is also critical. Building codes change by state and city, they are updated at regular intervals, and there may be local laws with additional requirements that are not covered in codes. MEP engineers must be familiarized with all these requirements to get projects approved quickly, regardless of the software used.

    3) Clash Detection with Software Eliminates Change Orders

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    Change orders are disruptive for construction projects, and they cause a waste of materials when work must be repeated. However, modern design software can also be used to avoid change orders.

    Software packages like Revit have automatic clash detection functions, which means they can detect overlapping components and specification conflicts. These errors are corrected before reaching the construction stage, where they would normally result in change orders.

    • A change order can be especially disruptive when it requires materials that are in short supply, or when their price is constantly rising.
    • The work involved can become more expensive than initially planned, and the entire project may be delayed if there is a shortage of key materials.

    Depending on how a construction contract is written, the cost of change orders may be split between owners and contractors, or it may be assumed completely by one party. However, someone must assume unplanned costs each time there is a change order. 

    Conclusion

    There are many ways in which contractors can use software to manage construction materials more efficiently. Software can be used to optimize material quantities during the design stage, without affecting building performance. The design and approval process also becomes faster, and materials can be purchased before there are more shortages or price increases. Finally, software can help prevent change orders, which often involve additional materials.

    Tags BIM | construction software | material shortages | engineering software | design software

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