Quality Design Goes Beyond AutoCAD Files

In previous articles I discussed collaboration, communication, and the right tools for the job. As these articles focused on AutoCAD® tools, they were meant to help in creating quality electronic files that could be printed and used to successfully get the design intent out to the contractors who are ultimately tasked with implementing and building these designs.  This is very important, but the electronic side is only part of the job.

Since I wrote these past articles, I have made a career change.  My career until recently has involved multiple discipline work—architecture, mechanical (HVAC and plumbing), and electrical. After spending 30 years on the design side, combined with both board and computer drafting and design and project management within each of these areas, I recently switched to an implementation role. I am now in a position where I have more direct responsibility on the construction side as an owners representative doing construction project management.

Years of creating construction documents has given me a strong background in what it takes to create an end product that not only is coordinated and easy to read, but is actually constructible.  This involves more than just electronically coordinated files—it must also include code and cost considerations. As drafters (a fading position) or more applicably, designers, you must understand that what is put on paper or more accurately, on a computer screen, will ultimately end up as a physical reality in the form of a building that will be occupied by your customers.

Getting to this final product involves an understanding that in order for your design to be implemented in the field, the design implementers (contractors) must be able to take what’s on paper and build your vision.  This goes beyond having a 2D presentation of what ultimately becomes a 3D reality. The concept of 3D design through the use of programs such as Autodesk® Revit® helps in this regard, but typically these designs still end up as 2D sections and details that allow the contractor to bring it to fruition.

This being said, how do you make sure your final printed product gets implemented properly?  If quality work on the computer is just a portion of what it takes, what else can you do to make sure that your design gets built the way you intended it?  This involves more coordination and quality controls.  

As stated previously, your design must not only be electronically accurate, your printed product must also be accurately coordinated.  To explain this better, let me share some of the items I have seen that make it hard for the  contractors in the field to build your design.  These ultimately roll back into how your printed product is presented.

Do you have a master drawing index by trade of what is on each sheet?  In a lot of projects, the architect will include a drawing index on their cover that indicates what drawings are included in a full construction set.  Do you maintain your own index?  An unfortunate reality is that when drawings are sent out for bid, each discipline will often receive only the drawings that relate to that part of work, so no master index is included.  By having a trade-specific index, you can coordinate and communicate to the contractor what is actually on each drawing in your set. This can be helpful for both the contractor and you to coordinate the content of your design documents. 

An additional benefit that should be implemented up to the master index is the drawing revisions for each sheet.  On multiple occasions I have seen where contractors do not have the most current drawing revisions in the field.  An index that lists the revisions by sheet would help in communicating that.

While the index is a helpful addition, do your detail or section call outs actually line up with the appropriate sheets and associated details or sections? Have you copied call outs and then verified that they align with the reference sheets? You would assume yes, but has someone checked each call out with each referenced detail and section?  I have seen that on many occasions they do not. And when they don’t, this creates confusion and sometimes assumptions. What checks and balances do you have in place to make sure that call outs align with referenced sheets?

Do your keynotes on each sheet align with the plan?  Do you have more or fewer keynotes than exist on the plans?  How are you validating this? Having a master keynote list that covers multiple sheets may sound efficient, but does it create confusion in the field by forcing the contractor to flip back and forth between sheets rather than having the appropriate key notes on the applicable sheet? In some large projects it may make sense, but clear communication is key, and having a couple extra sheets to make it clear in the field can far outweigh the minimal cost of those sheets. 

Have you turned off hatching or wall shading for wall types that indicate full height walls or rated walls to make the drawings easier to read and by doing so, have ducts or piping running directly over these walls that cannot be accomplished in the field?

Do you show equipment as generic rectangles or squares to indicate general locations that have no real-world sizes?  These can then become mounting or access issues in the field.  Is this because you expect that shop drawings will handle the necessary clearances and mounting configuration in the field?  If you design around specific equipment that requires clearances or access requirements, include that in your design. If the contractor chooses to make a change, then they assume coordination issues.  Don’t assume that a lack of coordination on your part will be handled in the field.  The reality is that these types of issues cause time and cost overruns in the field and finger pointing as to who is at fault.

Are NEC code required clearances, coil pull access requirements, VAV service, and maintenance requirements considered and communicated in your design—in other than a standard detail?  These can and often do end up as potential field issues and construction delays.

Are all ADA clearances including push-pull clearances, wall protrusions for hand dryers, wall mounted light fixtures, and water coolers included in your design?  Do your details adequately cover the installation of equipment, whether it be HVAC, electrical, mill work, doors, windows, etc. or do you use CYA notes that allow the contractor to “figure it out”? These are items that become my nightmares with potential schedule and cost delays.

Do you have references in your specifications or plan notes that indicate all items are to be installed per “applicable codes and standards” and if so, have you verified that they actually do?

Not all design documents have the above issues, but unfortunately they are way too common.  Quality construction documents go a long way in making a quality construction project.

I understand that extra time is required to make sure these items are accounted for, but the end result is worth it in the long run.  As someone who deals with the lack of quality and coordination issues in the field, I can tell you that when it comes to consideration for design partners, it goes a long way in my recommendation as to who is brought in for future projects.

Many of the items mentioned will require some extra work, much of which could be handled through internal quality controls such as checklists or peer reviews.  Quality goes beyond well-coordinated CADD drawings. It needs to include an overall well-coordinated and reviewed set of printed construction drawings.

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