How to choose between engineering consultants or subcontractors for construction projects

When considering handling complex engineering on a new design-build project, weigh these factors to determine the best path to take.

Design and construction

It is common in the design and construction industry to encounter design-build contractors who only want MEP subcontractors on their project teams. But is an MEP consulting engineer a better option than an MEP contractor? You may be surprised to learn that for technically complex design-build projects, it pays to have MEP consulting engineers and MEP contractors on your team. Each group offers distinct advantages that together contribute to the success of a project.

Consultant MEP Engineers

MEP Consulting Engineers (CE) spend much of their lives learning and relearning physics and other scientific concepts and applying them to design complex systems that improve and maintain the functioning of today’s world. New equipment and technology are constantly appearing, and CEs must stay current and be able to best utilize and integrate the latest equipment and technology into the systems they design.

What CEs generally bring:

1. Recognition by government agencies or competent authorities (AHJ) based on the CE’s reputation in the industry and previous projects. This is useful because in many cases, conceptual development often identifies a MEPFP system that is financially beneficial to the project but is not clearly allowed by code. However, this may be an alternate design approach acceptable to the customer. Getting AHJ acceptance on such a design concept takes time and experience that the design-build engineer may not have. These types of design concepts often fall into a building code gray area or exception, and CE can prove invaluable in these circumstances.

2. Width. A great consulting firm will simply have more CEs, and more minds will translate into more knowledge. No matter how smart and knowledgeable a person may be, it often takes brainstorming and consultation among a group of knowledgeable people to find the best solutions for the most complicated projects. A larger consultancy with a deeper bench is also able to handle multiple concurrent project requirements, such as multiple parts of the project with the same design due dates or a barrage of bids all due for review by the same date. .

MEP Design-Build Engineers

Design-build MEP (DB) engineers are the same smart engineers as CEs, and they have vastly more resources at their disposal regarding product cost information, as well as labor, construction and installation. Therefore, DBs can strategize and plan their designs based on feedback from actual site supervisors/foremen, benchmark cost data from previous projects, and confer with company product buyers for costs real current ones.

What DBs bring:

1. Efficiency. Many of the larger contractors have an in-house design-build team that can act as a reference engineer. All this information is under one roof, with real data, whereas a CE should hire a third-party consultant, probably a general contractor or hired subcontractor for pricing and pre-construction feasibility.

2. A cost effective approach. DBs are known for their timely and budget-conscious designs and amenities. For example, they may choose to run fewer longer north and south pipe crossover branches instead of shorter east and west to provide the same network coverage, or locate a entire cooling plant in the center to split pipe streams into smaller pipes instead. of all flowing in a larger pipe with disproportionately more expensive larger pipe components. DBs can select and evaluate several alternative equipment and/or facility types that all meet project requirements and determine which is the most cost-effective strategy for the current project. This is an especially important capability in today’s post-pandemic market, where supply chain shortages can lead to limited and/or delayed product availability. Such delays may, in turn, result in penalties for late completion of the project. In addition, simple disruptions in construction sequencing can reduce profits: payments to labor continue even if labor is “waiting” to install a product that hasn’t arrived.

Obviously, any large, complex design-build project requires a full team of experts. If the project is worth pursuing and winning, it deserves the best of both worlds in engineering talent and experience. This can only be accomplished when the project team includes both CE and DB engineers. Their collective knowledge, experience and insights lead to successful project results.

John Reis is an associate director at Syska Hennessy Group.

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