MEP is an acronym used for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing systems for building projects. With the increasing complexity and functionality of each system, MEP activities are not confined to the traditional mechanical, electrical and plumbing system but also include fire protection, gas piping, process piping, pneumatic tubing, data systems etc. This article assumes that the design has been completed by ‘Design Consultants’ to a certain stage and then handed to ‘Installation Sub-Contractors’ who will validate the design and value engineer the design through the process of spatial coordination and procurement of components to meet the requirements of the design. The coordination of MEP (M&E) systems amongst themselves and with other building systems including architectural and structural disciplines is a critical, challenging and time consuming task, especially in complex building projects with intense MEP requirements. The coordination process of MEP systems involves defining the exact location of each building system component throughout the building within the constraints of the envelope defined by the architectural and structural systems to comply with diverse design and operations criteria avoiding any interferences/clashes amongst building systems. Assuming that most companies undertake the task of MEP Coordination, without which the site installation from a ‘design only’ set of drawings would be too much of a risk, there are two ways by which the following process takes place:
2D MEP Coordination: The process starts with the design from the design consultant. The subcontractor team will manually update the 2D CAD drawings or create their own set from the start. In creating these drawings a number of sections will be drawn and frequent attention given to ceiling void spaces in which the systems and services are being laid out. In an ideal world 2D MEP Coordination can work as long as all services and systems are assessed adequately and then drawn into a 2D drawing. The sizes of the systems would need to be manually added as would the heights and distances from gridlines or walls. The contractor will have teams of people for each system (HVAC, plumbing, electrical, etc.) creating their drawings based on the architectural ceiling void. In this method, there is no automated system to identify the conflicts in the MEP system and therefore there is a high degree of reliance on the intuition, imagination, technical knowledge and experience of the team members to lay out the services without site teams experiencing clashes. Visualizing the potential clashes is made more difficult due to changes in ceiling profiles, not to mention the challenge of having to understand the impact of all systems as well as structural and architectural elements that may impede or impact a system or service route. What makes things worse is that a third party cannot easily review the drawings for any errors, nor can the design be easily reviewed or communicated with a project team. Additionally, if there are changes to the design or procurement-led changes then the process of undoing and re-doing 2D MEP Coordination projects becomes very cumbersome. The inherent weaknesses of 2D CAD software also come into play; one can draw something of one size and label it as something completely different. As the systems and services drawings are not checked in some form of automated method there is no guarantee that the 2D MEP coordination process will generate a clash free drawing. During the time of complex projects, it requires multiple section viewings which consume a lot of time. These time commitments come with additional costs to each contractor.
3D MEP Coordination: This process is more collaborative and allows the ability to communicate the progress of the project quickly and easily, providing 3D visuals that resemble the final system and service installation. It starts with a clear direction in terms of spatial zoning which is then used as the basis to start modelling the HVAC, piping, plumbing and electrical services. As the architectural and structural models form part of the model, it is easier to insert services and systems without creating clashes. Once the model is complete and all systems and services have been added, the ability to identify problems becomes much easier compared to the 2D Coordination method. Firstly, one is able to walk through the model using roaming software to review the model and, secondly the use of clash detection software, such as Navisworks, highlights all clashes whether these are systems against other systems or systems against structure or architecture. Once highlighted, all clashes can then be corrected during the coordination stage of the project. Only once the model is interference free are drawings created. This leads to another set of benefits, unlike 2D coordination where each section must be drawn, the 3D software allows creation of sections that are directly taken from the model. Additionally, as the 3D software is so intelligent, the sizes of systems are directly taken from the 3D model and therefore there is no chance of services or systems being modelled as one size and then labelled as another. Beyond the coordination stage, there are several other benefits from the 3D model, including use during facilities management, energy analysis and so on.
Irrespective of the MEP Coordination method used, the need for MEP Coordination arises due to the lack of detailed coordination during the design stage. Additionally the need for fabrication and installation of building systems in accordance with industry and Sub-Contractor best practice requires MEP Coordination to be carried out by them. The 2D MEP Coordination process provides a limited interference-checking capability and therefore can and will result in more problems on site including additional re-work, change orders and inflating budgets. All of this makes 3D MEP Coordination a more efficient and the increasingly preferred method for the long term.
In case you are an MEP designer or a building services consultant working on projects in the UK, the US, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, or Australia looking for reliable MEP (M&E) spatial coordination services, please contact us.