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How to Make MEP Prefabrication Work for You

Prefabrication is increasingly becoming a practical, cost-effective choice for many MEP contractors in the construction industry. In addition to reducing labor requirements, prefabrication lowers project costs, increases productivity, and improves safety.

Prefabricating components offsite can deliver a project 30% to 50% faster than traditional methods. 

— Modular Building Institute

MEP construction typically involves several different trades working around a number of risks and variables on a jobsite, including high-traffic or crowded areas, weather events, potential safety hazards, and individual workflows that may not easily integrate with others. As MEP contractors and subs look for better ways to do their work, they’re turning to offsite fabrication facilities to produce critical MEP components—everything from pipes, conduits, ducts, and cabling to larger assemblies like air compressors and cooling towers. 

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Because prefab takes place in dedicated, controlled, and often automated environments, many of those onsite risks and variables are removed from the equation. Prefab minimizes human error and the costly rework that comes from it, reduces wasted materials, and speeds up your portion of the project. You’re more likely to stay on schedule and on budget, and have greater certainty in the quality of the end product.

The Key to Success with Prefabrication

Though the benefits of prefabrication are undisputed, its success is largely dependent on access to accurate, thorough site information. But this information isn’t always accessible for MEP contractors. Whether general contractors are unable to pass along up-to-date site data to the trades, or MEP contractors are unable to share that data with each other, there are often gaps in information and coordination that make it difficult to carry out MEP construction effectively. 

If there are discrepancies between the design or plan and the reality on the jobsite, or if changes on the jobsite occur that aren’t communicated well, contractors have to worry about whether a prefabricated component or module will fit into the build. And if it doesn’t, the time, expense, and labor required to fix the problem can be a significant blow to the schedule and budget. But there are tools available that can ease MEP processes and ensure successful prefab. 

3D laser scanning allows you to efficiently capture accurate and thorough jobsite details so you’re able to prefabricate components with greater confidence. And you no longer need to outsource scanning to service providers or spend inordinate amounts of time receiving specialized training. 

Today’s generation of 3D scanners are far more intuitive than their predecessors. Armed with the latest 3D scanning technology, a wide variety of MEP and other construction professionals can now scan and register site data on their own, right in the field. With quick access to as-builts and current site conditions, you can ensure prefabricated components and modules are built correctly so they fit properly when installed. 

Here’s a closer look at how 3D scanners can help you experience the benefits of MEP prefabrication.

Increase Accuracy of Prefabricated Components

3D laser scanning lets you capture accurate and complete as-built information before construction begins, allowing you to plan with precision how MEP systems will be installed and alerting you to any existing limitations of the site. 

Since the very nature of prefab is based on having accurate measurements, 3D scanning gives you the detailed data you need to visualize the space and make precise measurements to ensure all prefabricated components will fit as expected and be structurally supported. The scan data can be integrated with the 3D scan model containing actual manufacturer content so you know you’re using the right materials and sizes for the space.  

Get the eBook to discover how 3D scanning can reduce costly rework.

Improve Coordination and Installation

When you have access to accurate field information, you can also share that data with others. 3D scanning lets you bring field data into the office. You can easily integrate scan data with your existing BIM processes, helping you more effectively communicate and collaborate with other trades, project engineers, and stakeholders. 

For example, if you typically lack visibility into the design phase, 3D scanning allows you to identify potential issues in the design upfront, including concerns about MEP placement and/or “clashes” with other trades. With a greater understanding of potential concerns, you can help proactively address and resolve them with the architect, engineers, or other trades before prefabrication is underway and the end product is ready for installation, helping you steer clear of expensive rework down the road. You also help ensure successful prefab for other trades since you can work off the same site condition data and better coordinate your efforts.

Document Prefabricated Work

3D scanning also allows you to document your work as you go. You can record the decisions you make on the jobsite and the MEP work you perform, including the design, construction, and installation of prefabricated components.  

If changes occur on the jobsite that affect prefabrication, you can refer the owner and other stakeholders back to the scan data you’ve collected. You can effectively defend the work you’ve done to address any questions about its accuracy or quality, as well as show your progress toward completion. This alleviates struggles between owners and contractors that can delay payment and create other points of friction.

Experience the Benefits of Prefabrication 

Prefab will likely grow in popularity as an answer to some of the challenges facing the construction industry, including fluctuating costs of materials, the ongoing labor shortage, stagnant productivity, and a push for increased safety. Since MEP plays an integral role in the success of a project, incorporating prefabrication into your processes can be a game changer.

“[With prefabrication] it becomes possible to reduce a project’s delivery times and construction costs relative to traditional construction methods.”

— World Economic Forum & Boston Consulting Group

To ensure off-site fabrication works to your advantage, it’s critical you have access to accurate and complete site information. 3D laser scanning provides detailed data about as-builts and current site conditions to improve all aspects of MEP prefabrication, giving you confidence the finished components will fit as planned.

When MEP systems and components are constructed properly the first time, you’re able to boost the speed and quality of your work. You don’t just avoid the schedule and budget overruns that occur when prefabricated work rolls out of the factory wrong and must be redone, you’re also able to make faster, smarter decisions upfront and as the project progresses. You’re able to more effectively and confidently perform your work on the jobsite, instead of scrambling to deal with unforeseen design discrepancies or changes—and potentially getting stuck paying for costly fixes. 

The latest generation of 3D laser scanners are self-calibrating, provide automatic level detection, and are more affordable. No longer reserved for specialists or outsourced providers, 3D scanning can now be performed by a variety of MEP professionals with minimal training. You can gather the data you need, when you need it, so you get thorough and precise jobsite information the first time. 

To learn more about how you can overcome your biggest challenges, get the How MEP Contractors Avoid Costly Obstacles eBook.

About the Author

David Burczyk is the Segment Manager for the 3D Capture Portfolio with Trimble Buildings. With over twenty years of AEC industry experience promoting technology and collaboration among design and construction teams, David brings a comprehensive understanding of Building Information Models (BIM) and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) processes. Through the use of 3D capture and positioning technology, David is focused on the development and implementation of tailored solutions to advance the field productivity of AEC contractors, architects, and engineers.

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