How Collaboration and Technology Improve Project Efficiencies

By Jordan Scott

The ways in which stakeholders manage projects and communicate are evolving. While several project delivery methods exist, design-assist is favored among many of USGlass magazine’s top glazing contractors, including Enclos, Harmon and W&W Glass, because it gives them a more direct line of communication to architects earlier in the design phase. These lines of communication, coupled with advances in technology are facilitating the success of increasingly complex projects with improved budgets and schedules.

Project Collaboration

While several different methods impact a glazing subcontractor’s workflow, for many project delivery methods the difference comes down to responsibility. Jeff Haber, managing partner of W&W Glass, says his New York company primarily involves itself in projects using design-assist or delegated design delivery methods.

“In delegated design, we’d be the engineer of record for our system. In design-assist the architect maintains design control and we’d work in a collaborative environment to flesh out any differences, whether it’s tolerances or integrating the mechanical elements. The architect and structural engineer act as the architect and engineer of record on the
project, respectively. There’s a legal and practical difference, though this varies by state,” says Haber.

The benefits of delegated design include tighter coordination with surrounding trades; fewer cost and schedule overruns; and the owner receives a smoother permitting process.

“The opportunities out there for more streamlined building processes work better for my company because we want to get in and get out,” he says. “An exterior skin is a self-contained scope of work and we’re better able to manage the process by either being responsible for the design, engineering, supply and installation of the skin under a delegated design scenario or to be able to work in a more collaborative environment in a design-assist where you’ve typically got a design consultant, structural engineer and architect.”

Jeffrey Vaglio, vice president of the Advanced Technology Studio for Enclos, based in Eagan, Minn., says that whether or not a project involves design-assist depends upon the owner and how they value input earlier on in the process.

“We’re at the mercy of ownership but many of our preferred clients see the value in having input early in the process to shape design decisions,” he says.

Bridging the Gap

Technology has helped facilitate communication between subcontractors and the design team. Building information modeling (BIM) has allowed the two parties to engage and interact, says Haber.

“We can use BIM technology to view conflicts and see how the work integrates with the rest of the building. We also can get 3D images faster. It’s allowed for a better workflow and helps everyone to understand each other’s needs,” he says.

Steven Russell, project executive for Harmon of Bloomington, Minn., says his company uses BIM and 3D software to isolate the complexities of a job early once the shell is in place. Bill Kruger, Harmon’s national director of preconstruction services, adds that the company has engineers on staff to model different thermal and performance scenarios.

“Being able to do so on the fly is important and helpful,” he says, adding that it’s vital to have a robust engineering team, whether in-house or not, to complete large-scale projects successfully.

Vaglio’s team at Enclos likes to give the stakeholders as clear a picture as possible using various visual tools. There are times the company has used 3D printed prototypes at full scale to help them see what joint sizes would look like or to understand the material tolerances. This process takes time, however, and Enclos has to be selective about when it implements this technology.

The company also uses renderings and animations to help accelerate decision making when designing a difficult detail or a complex convergence of sloping faces.

Haber adds that technology is conducive to designing complex façades with more elements, such as operable panels, dual skins, ventilations, sunshades, building integrated photovoltaics or electrochromic glass.

“All of those elements are more easily integrated into the façade using modeling tools. Technology also has compressed the schedules for most of us,” says Haber.

While technology and evolving delivery methods have improved project efficiencies, Haber says they haven’t made it easier, cheaper or simpler for the glazing subcontractor. Instead it’s shifted the burden and opened up another layer of coordination needed, he says.

W&W tries to be a resource for architects and designers. Haber says it can put a burden on subcontractors to have experts, such as product specialists and engineers, available during what he calls the “free-consulting” phase. Typically, glazing contractors are not paid consultants and they do modeling, budgeting and design work with the hopes that it gives them a better opportunity later.

Vaglio says that while some owners want the benefits of design-assist without paying, Enclos’ team clearly communicates the level to which they can help during the design-assist phase. Communication is vital throughout the process.

“We have to structure and present tools that help the design team understand the cost ramifications of design decisions as close to real time as possible … We do really rigorous tracking throughout. We’re not going to sit back and let design happen for three months and then provide an updated price; that’s sticker shock. We’re going to raise the red flag as we hear things that are likely going in the wrong direction.”

Project Delivery Methods

Construction Manager at Risk: This is a project delivery method in which the construction manager commits to deliver the project within a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) based on the construction documents and information available at the time of the GMP, which is usually prior to bidding a project. The construction manager at risk acts as a consultant to the owner during design and construction.

Design-Assist: In a design-assist model, a contractor is brought on early in the process and retains control of architects and subcontractors. The construction team collaborates with design professionals during the design phase.

Design-Bid-Build: In a traditional design-bid-build model, the project owner acts as a middleman between the architect and general contractor (GC), meaning the GC and subcontractors have little to no input on the project design and the owner bears the risk.

Design-Build: In the design-build model, an owner manages a single contract with the architect and contractor, rather than separate contracts with each, creating a single source of responsibility. Under design-build, there is greater coordination between the design and construction roles.

Delegated Design: In delegated design, a general contractor or its subcontractors take on some design responsibility.

Integrated Project Delivery: This method is similar to design-build but the owner, architect and GC come together in one agreement, which involves increased cost sharing and shared risk. Integrated project delivery also enables early collaboration.

Jordan Scott is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. She can be reached at jscott@glass.com.

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