Our team recently helped a manufacturing client remove an existing piece of equipment and install a new one, all within a heavily constrained space. There were critical schedule implications for this project since it affected production capacity. Many of our clients share similar project drivers including the need to meet schedule and budget requirements. However, the “why” behind these drivers is unique to each project. For some, like this manufacturer, replacing outdated equipment in order to meet their production requirements was of the utmost concern. We understood that every second that production was down, meant dollars lost for their organization.  Some key drivers identified in the process included:

  • Improved coordination between disciplines
  • Reduced labor costs and installation time
  • Reduced unnecessary design documentation

For this particular project we knew the traditional approach of having the engineer design the equipment, bid the drawings and then have the contractor build it was not going to resolve the typical problems of rework in the field and schedule delays. The traditional approach also inhibits innovative solutions that could help fast-track the schedule and minimize machine downtime. So, we took a different approach—one that encouraged integration between the owner, engineer, contractor and subcontractors that would be doing the work.

In addition to an integrated approach, the team utilized Virtual Process Information Modeling (VPIM)— the lesser known cousin of Building Information Modeling (BIM). Miron has a vast history of utilizing BIM to visualize industrial clients’ facilities in the 3D environment. However, we have increasingly used it with projects that involve process equipment and millwright services.

By its very nature, VPIM forces intense collaboration between the client, engineer and construction/installation team—the people executing the work in the field. The advantages of this integrated approach and use of VPIM includes the following:

Improved Coordination Between Disciplines
For the manufacturing client mentioned previously, it was incredibly important to utilize VPIM to coordinate a critical area: the airspace between the building and process equipment in the building. “Airspace” between the piece of equipment and the building systems (like the HVAC on MEP systems) often gets overlooked, and tends to be the cause of many change orders and rework. VPIM helped the entire team visualize the airspace and identify potential clashes/interferences. The equipment installation was “built” virtually many times before it was done in the field. Of course, our subcontractor partners were very critical during this process, especially since there were heavy HVAC and MEP implications. The people executing the work were engaged upfront, thus allowing them to suggest design improvements based on their knowledge of how the installation could go most smoothly. It was lean practice and continuous improvement all rolled into one. Another opportunity typically overlooked is planning for future machine maintenance. By utilizing VPIM and integrating the engineering and construction team earlier in the process, the team could plan and design beyond just code requirements. For this project, the team also integrated ideal clearances needed for maintenance staff for all future maintenance activities

Reduced Installation Time and Labor Costs
The ability to visualize the installation process in 3D also aided in sequencing and prefabricating major components. VPIM allowed the project manager to appropriately staff each sequence of the install, ensuring we had the right amount of manpower throughout the project. It also helped to ensure that one group of contractors wasn’t installing things out of sequence, preventing or delaying other teams in the process. No more delays due to waiting for material to arrive, or one discipline having to finish before others could begin, or having to rush and pay overtime. Finally, this VPIM accuracy guaranteed that the installation occurred according to the estimated schedule so product could hit the shelves according to plan.

Reduced Design Documentation
In the past, the design team developed extensive design documentation prior to engaging the contractors. Then the contractors developed fabrication drawings that were used to fabricate and install the equipment and systems. Inherently this process is extremely time consuming and riddled with conflicts between design drawings and fabrication drawings. By engaging the entire team earlier, VPIM was used to transition directly from design concepts into fabrication modeling. This approach reduced unnecessary design documentation and improved coordination. The team also used 3D laser scanning to reduce efforts associated with traditional field verification.

Keys to success when using an Integrated Approach & VPIM:

  • First and foremost, the team needs to develop a VPIM execution plan that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of every team member. This responsibility delineation is incredibly important since each discipline is responsible for updating their portion of the model. The coordination of these updates needs to be controlled by the Model Authors as their updates will impact other disciplines. Therefore, this execution plan should be developed and agreed upon before work begins. In addition to roles and responsibilities, the execution plan should identify the vision, goals and drivers for the project as well as how the client will measure success.
  • Second, the team should collaboratively identify the type of software(s) that will be required to work within the virtual process information model. One critical piece of software will be the shared virtual environment that allows all team members to view the model. This will be critical for the design review meetings that bring all disciplines together to review and remedy interferences.
  • Last, but not least, the team needs to come to an agreement as to how the model of information will be used once the project is finished. How does the client want to update/maintain or use the model in the future? Will it be used for preventative maintenance and/or future capital planning? The possibilities are endless but need to be understood early in order to achieve the client’s long-term goals.

Ultimately, the team’s ability to capture the client’s goals, communicate those to all parties involved, create solutions that deliver on those goals and execute flawlessly, is what sets mediocre projects apart from truly successful ones. We believe an integrated approach that uses VPIM at its core offers the highest chance of success.