A Powerful New Approach that is Transforming the Engineering Industry

01/01/2017 |

Article by Michael McLaughlin, PE
Executive Vice President
Southland Engineering

Conventional Engineering is Failing Building Owners
But a New Approach Stands to Transform the Industry for the Better

Too often owners do not get the results they expect from engineers and builders. In fact, only 30 percent of capital projects meet owner expectations in terms of budget and delivery date, according to the Lean Construction Institute. That means conventional engineering approaches fail to meet owner expectations 70 percent of the time. But it doesn’t have to be this way – there’s a proven approach that more consistently delivers the results owners rightly expect: a right-sized, optimized solution and efficient process that remains in-line with costs presented to and approved by executive boards. We are talking about a different kind of approach—one that redefines the expectations of a modern engineering firm. This type of engineering redefined is something every owner should consider before starting any capital intensive project.

What is Engineering Redefined?

The creation of a single, optimal technical solution that simultaneously addresses the expectations of cost, constructability and maintainability is engineering redefined. It begins with a keen understanding of the impact engineering decisions have on a project. These impacts are vast, encompassing everything from operating costs and energy use to construction labor productivity and site logistics. Almost every outcome on a project relates back to decisions made by engineers. Far too often, engineers either fail to consider that impact or are missing the knowledge, resources or the trust to positively impact the project’s outcome. When engineers make a conscious choice to do these things, they start to redefine engineering through a more connected approach.

The concept sounds simple, but it takes great effort and a sincere desire to understand details and make timely decisions. A connected approach to engineering is anchored in an engineer’s ability to gather and assess conflicting information and dig into the details with subject matter experts to develop solutions that are truly optimal. This process, referred to as connected engineering, can require multiple iterations with various stakeholders—but once it is complete the decisions are lasting and impactful.

A Better Approach Leads to Better Results

A connected engineering approach requires engineers to expand their influence. This means going beyond engineering fundamentals into topics such as construction estimating and budgeting, cost management, construction planning, labor productivity, economics, total cost management, facility operations and change management. Understanding the fundamental drivers in each of these areas allows engineers to make more informed decisions and truly impact the outcome of the project.

To understand how this looks in practice, let’s consider a particularly challenging project where an owner sought to convert an unused 1.2 million square foot facility into a fully operational factory housing over 2,000 tools. The owner also expected to complete the project within one year from the start of construction and within the estimated cost of $225 million. This was an extremely aggressive request by any standard, and the path to achieving this goal started immediately with the decisions made by the engineer.

Employing a connected engineering approach, the engineering team merged technical ideas with subject matter experts in construction, site logistics, material and equipment procurement, labor productivity and costs. This truly connected process led to a solution that leveraged a modular design using readily available products. Modular components were manufactured offsite for several months while the building concrete and steel infrastructure were prepared for their arrival. This resulted in a cost efficient, expedited installation process and a project that was completed on time and within budget. Without a Connected Engineering approach, the probability of success was unlikely.

Connected Engineering leverages technology.

Connecting technology improves reliability and expedites the decision making process. Advanced simulation tools such as computational fluid dynamics and advanced energy modeling, coupled with historical data, real time building data analytics and building information technology are just a few ways of harnessing the power of information to improve outcomes for a project.

Consider a case study of a mission critical facility that must maintain cooling water in the case of a chiller plant failure. The owner’s proposed design was to install large outside water storage tanks using a complicated sequence of operation and extensive piping and valves. The engineer challenged this approach, and leveraged a Connected Engineering solution to explore design and construction alternatives that would reduce risk while simultaneously reducing the project cost, schedule duration and operating and maintenance demands.

Central to the connected solution was using computational fluid dynamics (CFD), a computer simulation tool used to validate with precision the temperatures and flow of air or water. Using this tool along with the input of other subject matter experts, an alternative design using indoor water storage tanks with a custom baffle design was modelled and predicted to achieve the desired outcomes. Once constructed, the physical testing of the system validated the model and achieved the critical response time with a margin of error of less than 1 percent. Linking applicable technology tools with other subject matter experts is yet another way Connected Engineering can achieve better outcomes at reduced risk.

Connected Engineering links relationships.

Engineers must extend and engage in relationships with a wide range of people, including owners, architects, contractors, estimators, accountants, project managers, facility operators, craft labor, vendors, manufacturer and a host of other participants to improve decision making. Most importantly, connected engineering requires listening and valuing the input of others to build a level of trust that traditionally has not existed in our fractured industry. Coupled with expanding our own knowledge of the work that others do, this results in better outcomes for all involved:

For owners: Reduce capital costs, energy and operational savings, improve project reliability and forecasting, more efficient facilities and great facility adaptability.
For architects: Eliminate disruptive “value engineering” near the completion of design, obtain reliable input and feedback during the design process, and reduce construction administration costs.
For engineers: Achieve better solutions, impactful results, improve reliability, cost certainty, and reduce construction administration.
For general contractors: Achieve cost targets, reduce construction durations, reduce construction risks, improve coordination, eliminate scope gaps, and improve jobsite safety performance.
For contractors: Benefit from construction-ready design and a single model for both design and construction, improve jobsite productivity and scheduling certainty, and enhance safety performance.

In recent years, the building industry has worked to improve collaboration among partners by using well-known tools and methods like Integrated Project Delivery and Design- Build and Design-Assist contract models. But these measures are not enough. Engineers must redefine engineering. By becoming leaders and modernizing our approach, we can drive the industry forward. Through a unique approach that connects our engineering decisions to real cost, practical construction, and realistic facility operations, we achieve more. Engineering redefined means meeting—and exceeding—the multifaceted goals of performance, energy, sustainability, quality, time, and resources.

To learn more, visit our website at southlandeng.com.

About the Author

As the Executive Vice President, Michael McLaughlin leads Southland Engineering to redefine the expectations of a modern day engineering firm by delivering cost responsible solutions that are innovative, constructible, and maintainable. With extensive experience in the engineering and construction industry, he is able to help Southland Engineering strategically bring engineering services to market and meet its business goals.

About Southland Engineering

Southland Engineering is engineering redefined. As your collaborative engineering partner, we produce cost-responsible, constructible solutions that push the envelope and redefine your expectations of a modern engineering firm. Offering a complete range of engineering services nationwide, our solutions achieve the multifaceted goals of performance, energy, sustainability, quality, time, and resources for each project. Utilizing the latest technology and industry tools, our in-house experts deliver innovative yet practical solutions and awardwinning projects that enhance the indoor environment for years to come.


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