Using online collaboration tools for MEP projects

Posted by Kuldeep Bwail on September 27th, 2016

Although it has been a slow and gradual induction into the multi-disciplinary construction industry, online collaboration is beginning to be seen as a tool which can be utilised for efficient, effective and timely project delivery. Online collaboration for the construction industry can be a tool that enables key project stakeholders such as, architects, structural engineers, MEP design consultants, MEP engineers, and other trade subcontractors to view and even work on a common or shared model.

The basic premise of online collaboration provides a common working model for all project stakeholders which could increase the efficiency by enabling easier sharing of files leading to accurate collaboration of data. More importantly, online collaboration on the cloud offers additional security benefits such as data encryption, version control, secured and controlled access and audit trails among other features.

Online collaboration offers tools such as project specific folders and discipline specific folders enable classification of the data to match the different disciplines of the project. The folders can even be assigned to specific companies to facilitate file management, enhanced data sharing, uploading and downloading or just viewing and marking-up the files. It also has advanced features providing higher security levels by enabling password protection of files and folders.

A common challenge faced by MEP design projects or MEP coordination projects is that they are managed by firms from different geographical locations and in some cases the firms may work in different time zones. Without online collaboration technology, these projects have multiple teams working on a single project with multiple models in different locations such as MEP services in one location, architectural in another, sprinkler by a specialist and so on – each model is done by a different firm and each model progresses independently of the other within each firm's network using a different method of exchanging file for almost every project. The models are shared at frequent intervals, usually weekly or monthly and the impact of the other discipline is then realized by each party.

There is a variety of online collaboration tools that offer a faster and better way to unify people working on the same project from different locations and to manage the data that they need to exchange. Online collaboration tools also offer features on minute levels of construction projects such as Autodesk’s A360, a powerful cloud based collaboration tool enables users the opportunity to work on a single shared project model stored on the cloud thus providing real-time communication between all the parties involved in the project. Along with MEP Design Services and MEP Collaboration, BIM modelling is another popular service which can effectively benefit from the features offered by online collaboration tools since BIM models carry a lot of information which requires real-time sharing so that the latest model is viewed by all parties involved in the project. As well as Autodesk 360’s collaboration features on a generic industry level, the additional features planned for Revit 2017 will include the Collaboration For Revit (C4R) add-in which is likely to make the use of A360 more specific to the AEC industry.

The shared or common model in online collaboration is referred to as a ‘federated model’ as the model carries modeling input and feedback from several parties involved in the project. The federated model offers substantial benefits such as easy accessibility as it can be accessed by team members from any location as and when required, easy problem reporting and solving, better feedback and communication flow and delivery of project on time without exceeding the budget. Hence, federated models can be effectively managed by the stakeholders or owners and these can be viewed easily on a web browser or a mobile device in some cases. Drawings and models can be saved on the cloud using the collaboration tool and from there; these models and drawings can be effectively accessed by all users as required.

Even though the online collaboration technology does not integrate extensively with other business applications, it is an accepted fact that this technology will continue to improve and be utilized not just in the MEP industry but by a wide audience across the AEC industry. With the introduction of new cloud-based tools such as Citrix and Panzura to compete with the widely used Autodesk’s A360 we will continue to see solutions that can meet the collaboration needs of the MEP industry. Additionally, once a firm experiences a successful project utilising online collaboration technology, it is more likely to consider the use of such technology for its next project bringing along more users into the process.

Kuldeep Bwail

About the Author

Kuldeep Bwail
Joined: September 27th, 2016
Articles Posted: 25

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