One of the issues that creates more inconveniences, claims and added costs to projects already in construction is the necessity of changing specified equipment, systems and in many cases structures layout, due to the lack of attention and consideration of the operational feasibility and functionality aspects during the design process. I have seen repeatedly how it has been necessary to incur in additional costs associated to change orders during the construction process due to identified interferences among systems and infrastructure, incompatibility of specified equipment with the design and proposed use, design omissions, or simply due to the inclusion of outdated or inefficient technology that could prevent operational economies and durability. It is much more common than it should be, to see how these issues are detected after a bid or construction contract has been awarded. It is very well known that in those cases, the prices that owners pay for changes are always considerably higher than those that would have been paid at the time of a bid or contract negotiation. That’s way it is of the utmost importance that before awarding or executing a construction contract, or as part of a design process, owners and designers make sure that the design integrates the operational aspects of the facility or project.
In my point of view, after more than twenty years of experience dealing continuously with these type of issues, I’m totally convinced that a design review, focused on an operations and maintenance perspective, is more than necessary. From the designer’s perspective, this is a due diligence that shall be incorporated as a best practice or as part of a design quality control process. On the same token, from the client’s perspective, this shall become a standard requirement to their designers. This exercise should be carried out by competent professionals with combined experience in both, the construction and facilities management industries. This is very important as both perspectives shall be integrated in order to produce adequate recommendations, real economies and solutions that could translate into immediate and tangible benefits to clients, and at the same time, avoiding future costs due to inefficiencies. The process shall be one where the design professionals come out with open minds and flexibility in order to listen and be willing to accept new ways of doing things with one goal in mind, the best interest of the client. At the end of the day, all parties involved will receive benefits from the process since recognition for their precision and top quality services will help in their marketing and new business opportunities.
The operational consultant shall become on board since the early stages of the design process or since the planning stage. That’s when more effective and diverse parameters for operational efficiency could be better defined. During the process, validation of those parameters and assumptions should be achieved while adequate recommendations regarding equipment and systems that are in line with the design intent could be provided. Finally, once the design process gets completed, a constructability review is necessary in order to define other areas where problems could arise at the time of construction, while future operations and maintenance processes implementation is planned and defined for the facility or project.
I’ll give you a really simple, but at the same time very common scenario that represents what we are talking about:
An office facility where its design contemplated locating air handling units above acoustical ceilings inside manger’s offices. Such decision had the detrimental effect that manager’s had to leave the office every time it was necessary to maintain or repair a unit. It is obvious that such issue resulted in operational losses due to the wasted time of the managers while the work was being done. With a comprehensive operational review process, such problem would have been identified and other areas for the placement of AHU's would have been determined.
We have seen many other issues such as the location of equipment too close to others, making almost impossible to access them for proper and efficient maintenance and repairs without excessive complications. This problem is very common in facilities where proper space for equipment and service rooms was not taken in consideration. Another important aspect to look at is to make sure that doors sizes, location and opening directions are adequate in order to make sure that equipment can easily be taken in and out of the rooms if outside repairs are needed. We have also seen plenty of facilities where its doors come in contact with important infrastructure when opened, causing damage or accelerated deterioration. This is a common issue that arises out of the need of coordination among design disciplines. At the moment of design, and even during construction, those issues could appear not to be important, but they gain a lot of attention when becoming big complications at the time of an operational or maintenance intervention that creates costs or that requires repairs or relocation.
In conclusion, the operational aspect of a facility is in our opinion as important as all codes and regulations that are related to it when observed from the owner’s perspective in relation to its investment, conservation and operational costs. When considering any project, every owner should make sure that the delivered final design takes in consideration the operational aspects of the facility. It is equally important that the design professional makes sure that the final product serves the best interests of the client, avoiding future costs that may arise during the construction process or later while the facility is being operated due to omissions or lack of integration of elements or aspects of its operation. When everybody understands and take these important matters in consideration, the benefits will be substantial for all stakeholders involved in the process.
The author, Joaquín López is the president of VPC Building Solutions and VPC Management Group. Joaquín has more than 21 years of experience in the construction, development and facilities management industries having participated in some of the largest and most important infrastructure and facilities projects in Puerto Rico. His company VPC, and its subsidiaries provide consulting and management services to the construction and facilities industries through the development of Smart Strategic Solutions and the implementation of Integrated Project Delivery initiatives.
Sobre el Autor
Joaquín López cuenta con mas de 20 años de experiencia en la industria, participando desde diversos aspectos y gestiones tanto públicas como privadas. Esta combinación de vivencias fortalece de manera significativa su visión y manera de abordar los temas que aquí se publican