Three Fabrication Obstacles and How to Overcome Them

By Microdesk VDC Fabrication Specialist Derrick Madden. Originally published in Construction Executive.

The construction industry has undergone substantial changes over the past year, particularly regarding site lockdowns, workforce restrictions and the use of collaboration technology to keep projects close to their original deadlines. One area that has particularly benefitted from these shifts is fabrication, the process of building from semi-finished or raw materials rather than from ready-made components. When new technologies are leveraged, teams are able to work in factory settings, allowing them to keep on task while maintaining employee safety and wellbeing.

This sub-sector, however, is not without its own challenges, especially at project sites. A strong fabrication team utilizing advanced workflows can mean resource and cost savings during construction, maintenance and beyond, but any hitch in the process reduces that possibility. Meeting Level of Detail (LOD) requirements, undergoing monotonous tasks and managing ubiquitous data storage systems can all slow a project to a standstill if they are not dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.

FABRICATION CADMEP DATABASES SUPPORT LOD 400+ MODEL DELIVERABLES

The first obstacle is achieving an LOD of 400+ in fabrication models that can be intensive and difficult without the correct tools. For instance, out-of-the-box content often does not accurately represent real-world parts or connections. They can also be drastically limited and, as a result, restrict creativity in preparing designs.

Leveraging a CADmep database provides a precise representation of parts and their corresponding connection and installation capabilities. This type of setup allows for additional geometry that is usually overlooked, such as weld gaps, gaskets and even valve extension handles.

One of the situations where this type of database proves beneficial is during the prefabrication stage of construction. By designing with the exact manufacturer parts that will be utilized in the field, Virtual Design and Construction engineers can improve coordination and spooling efforts while reaching the LOD 400+ requirement because they are better prepared to more fully anticipate opportunities and issues that can arise in the field.

The data gathered through these accurate designs can assist with Bill of Materials, labor and costing efforts during preconstruction. Premium databases include cost amounts for estimating and the LOD 400+ design can provide labor costs for an entire construction area or per spool. Overall, ensuring the engineering team is working with a quality CADmep database provides the confidence to build and coordinate straight from the model.

REVIT FABRICATION PLUGINS ALLEVIATE AND AUTOMATE REPETITIVE DAILY TASKS

A second obstacle as with many areas of 3D design are the workflows and tasks that take up valuable time and resources during fabrication. For instance, creating a single spooling assembly can be incredibly time consuming, causing a job that requires 500 spools to go on significantly longer than it should. Another example is hanger layout and total station point layouts which, without assistance, can require one-by-one placement and monopolize another large portion of the design phase.

There are several add-ins for Revit that can ease the number of clicks and repetition in these areas. A spooling tool can reduce time per spool by 50% as it automatically creates the assembly views and sheets as well as the associated Bill of Materials. Similarly, a hanger tool can be set to follow strict specification requirements, such as distance from a fitting, distance between, size ranges or even rack systems to automate layout, leaving only minor coordination updates to the designer. Exporting total station points directly from the model can also assist with laying out hangers in the field.

Revit tools that generate a hanger Bill of Materials can report sizing, rod size, rod length and point number for hanger prefabrications. For those firms consistently working on strict deadlines, these automation options can both free up resources and speed time to production.

CLOUD COLLABORATION PLATFORMS CREATE SINGLE SOURCE OF PROJECT DATA

Finally, a collaboration platform becomes more of a necessity as construction site laborers, engineers, designers and owners continue to work in a remote setting. Without an adequate cloud-based infrastructure, companies struggle with versioning, storage space and cross-team collaboration. Throughout the pandemic, the cloud has allowed fabrication firms to easily transition to remote, primarily by moving project data to a shared virtual environment.

There are a variety of software offerings to choose from for project information consolidation. For example, Autodesk Construction Cloud offers location modules for all key project requirements such as document management, design collaboration and project management. Storing models in that platform or a similar one like BIM 360 allows designers, architects and engineers to work together in real-time and maintain versions for review and markup. Permissions can also be added so project managers and owners can review the latest designs during status updates.

Some versions of the previously mentioned fabrication CADmep master databases can even be stored in the cloud, removing the need for remote Virtual Private Network access during syncing and updating activities. Engineers in the field can then continue to work on a model without a network connection. Administrators can also manage the complexity of this type of database by ensuring only designated users are able to work within the master environment.

OVERCOMING FABRICATION OBSTACLES

Proper fabrication design can be the difference between a lagging job site and ahead-of-schedule project completion. Outfitting designers and engineers with the tools they need to manage daily obstacles is essential to the early phases of construction. From an integrated, holistic CADmep database to Revit plugins and cloud collaboration suites, the solutions to common project complications are readily available.

By providing fabrication teams with the software and applications they need, everyone from owners to administrative staff and employees on site will enjoy the benefits of reduced issues in the field, more comprehensive and accurate estimates and accelerated time to production, installation and beyond.

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