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Design-Assist Partnerships Lead to Greater Budget Control and Fewer Surprises

Feb 09, 2022

U.S. Engineering

One of the biggest challenges in construction is risk management. Whether it’s controlling a budget against loss, ensuring safety or minimizing potentially harmful surprises, construction teams face risk at every phase of a project. One way we work to reduce risk is with a design-assist approach.

In a design-assist partnership, the owner engages with the construction team to collaborate with the design team early. With complementary skills, designers and trade partners can work together to help owners make decisions that will reduce risk, leading to greater budget control, enhanced constructability and shorter schedule.


With specialized knowledge, design-assist teams can advise, for example, on design elements that would make a system more reliable, have better control or provide ease of maintenance. When manufacturing is involved, mechanical VDC teams can work alongside designers to make the manufacturing and installation plan efficient.

Design-assist teams can also help designers coordinate across disciplines by creating virtual mock-ups or determining unique constraints. In addition, engaging the trade partner’s field personnel early in the design process will often bring to light project-specific challenges that affect aspects of system design. That ability to foresee and eliminate challenge areas is key to reducing surprises later on in the build.

Every project brings its own set of conditions that designers must manage. Design-assist teams can offer guidance on meeting design objectives in the most cost-effective manner—for example, “filling in the blanks” and evaluating different system types at the conceptual level; or suggesting a piping or equipment material that will meet system requirements with less cost; or maybe bringing options to the team for a different type of equipment that is more readily available and would preserve or improve the schedule.

Evaluating these alternatives early in the process allows for other affected design elements to be accounted for in the initial design rather than a later revision. A mechanical design-assist team can research real cost scenarios for alternatives and equip the designer with information.

Resource Allocation and Budget Control

A major risk to any project is an out-of-control budget. But mechanical design-assist partners can gain an understanding of an owner’s individual concerns and needs and can help them allocate their resources in a focused manner. In a design-assist approach, the team can work within an owner’s budget constraints and advise on when they should opt for premiums or customizations and when options can be more standard.

Another way to manage the risk of an unpredictable budget is by keeping a real-time, detailed trend log. The log documents all actual and proposed changes throughout the life of a project and lets the owner know whether a project is trending over, on or under budget. From schematic design (SD), to design development (DD), to construction documents (CD), tracking trends keeps the pricing process transparent and communications clear.

We’ve found that design-assist partnerships in mechanical systems provide owners with more value than a traditional design-bid-build approach, in which design and construction teams are not in communication from the beginning of the planning process. In the traditional approach, it’s often difficult to leverage the expertise of trade partners, as much of the design process is completed before the plans are bid. When trade partners get involved, it’s usually too late or too expensive to make changes to implement time- and money-saving ideas.

U.S. Engineering Innovations invested in in-house licensed engineers and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) teams to equip us as a trusted partner. We see value in offering a combination of technical knowledge and practical perspective: it allows us to deliver higher-quality end products in less time and for less cost, while better meeting the owner’s needs.

As part of our design-assist process, we offer design reviews and constructability suggestions, and we advise on materials, scheduling and sequencing, systems selection, and procurement timing. In addition, we assist in maximizing opportunities for off-site manufacturing to positively impact jobsite safety and quality; to reduce peak labor demand and schedule durations; and to reduce overall risk.

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