Data Management

Small Changes Add Up to Big Savings

30 Aug, 2007 By: Michelle Nicolson

One structural engineering firm looks to streamline its own workflow to ensure its customers can benefit from whole-house construction models.

AEC professionals know only too well how changing one component of a building can affect other components, particularly when the ramifications of those changes aren't discovered until the project is well under way. In whole-house design -- wherein design, structural engineering, and material-costing processes occur simultaneously in the same construction model -- integrating all building components and systems can help to accommodate the impact of modifications early, thereby saving time and money down the road.

Technology, 3D CAD in particular, has enabled the advancement of whole-house design. For more than a year, Lindemann Bentzon Bojack Engineering (LBBE) has been advocating the potential advantages of whole-house design. With a staff of 60 employees, LBBE handles more than 15,000 jobs and prints more than 700,000 drawings per year for customers in the home building industry. Because the firm's clientele includes some of the largest home builders in the nation, even small savings can result in big benefits.

"Applying the idea of whole-house design, enabled by 3D models, means our teams work simultaneously on a project so that it's completed in 30 days vs. 90 days -- a 66% time savings," explained Hans Bentzon, principal at LBBE. "This means customers who work with us get their buildings up faster and realize return on their investment faster."

DWF Books
LBBE's commitment to this level of service has resulted in some innovative thinking about the firm's internal workflow, particularly regarding project management. Taking advantage of the economies of scale, the company is working to make relatively small technological improvements in its own processes that, when applied to customers' large production volume, really add up.

Philip Russo, senior applications engineer at LBBE, began working with Avatech Solutions in December 2005. LBBE contracted with Avatech to build a custom Sheet Selector application that allows project team members to use an automated project-based method to create DWF (Design Web Format) books. The same application also offers batch DWF book creation, so that books do not have to be created individually.

"In our business we may have a model home for a builder that contains several options like different kitchens, garages, elevation changes, etc.," Russo explained. "When we complete a base plan for a model house, it may comprise more than 100 different drawing sheets. The DWF sheet selector application allows us to pull the sheets we need for a lot-specific house that is getting built. This saves us a lot of time."

LBBE created a base plan for each house and then engineers it for all known subsequent models in this Summerline Terrace subdivision by Beazer Home.

This customized system allows the engineers to make changes to a drawing while dynamically keeping the construction set up to date. All sets are made available to LBBE employees through their company intranet and to customers through the extranet, so the most recent drawings are available at any time from anywhere.

"The really big time saver for us is the ability to maintain drawing sets. For example, one house has three different base elevations, and you maintain three DWF books for that project," Bentzon said. "Before, when a client sent in a change, it might have taken an hour or two to configure the three different elevation books. Today the DWF sheet selector application performs the task in about two minutes. It saves us up to one full-time person's time per year."

A builder working on tens of thousands of homes per year cannot afford costly setbacks due to the same error being made in each plan. By keeping drawing sets coordinated for its customers, LBBE minimizes the number of costly construction problems that crop up on site as a result of poorly orchestrated drawings.

The elevations here show a base plan and variants developed by LBBE. The base plan means they can use the same foundation and framing to support different options for a house, for example, window, entryway, garage, and porch locations.

The DWF books also have affected the way the firm prints drawings. "We print more drawings than NASA," Bentzon said. Processing 700,000 print jobs per year with manual queuing was a waste of valuable engineering and design time. By allowing for batch DWF book creation, LBBE is saving as much as 15 minutes per print job.

Project Tracking
LBBE also wanted an in-house time-management system to track projects at every phase. The goal was to develop a system that enabled clients to access and view coordinate drawing sets from architectural plans to approved construction drawings via an extranet, ultimately enabling them to configure complete approved drawing sets. Such a system would reduce on-site construction costs while improving service to home buyers, not to mention LBBE's service to its own customers.

"By making in-process drawings available online, our customers can see where we are on a project," Bentzon said. "This kind of transparency really builds trust and loyalty."

To organize those 700,000 drawings that the company produces yearly in Autodesk Architectural Desktop (ADT) as well as track revision information, Avatech's team designed a custom application to get ADT's Project Navigator and Sheet Set Manager to dynamically drive the information into their project status portal, rather than requiring people to enter the information manually.

Russo also wanted a drawing sets log for each house design, detailing which drawings made up the final set for an individual project. Sean Tolodzeicki, Avatech's software development solutions' project manager, worked with Russo to build the drawing log to keep sheet numbers coordinated and tracks changes. The custom drawing log application runs inside the Autodesk software.

These relatively small changes in LBBE's workflow have the potential to pay off in a big way for the company's customers. "If we reduce the cost of a popular house model by only $1,000, that could mean a significant return for the big builders," Bentzon said.

About the Author: Michelle Nicolson

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