Why Outsourcing Architectural Design Development Can Work For You

How common is outsourcing design development in architecture practices? We think it happens all the time, for big brand-names and small studios alike. It may not always be formal outsourcing, but it carries the same core principles. One way of basic outsourcing is using interns and graduates that work in temporary roles but handling much of the design development work and less of the more demanding creative and conceptual design work. One more sophisticated and organized form of outsourcing is hiring an outside firm, either local or international. Such a firm effectively becomes a design partner, seamlessly integrating in the company’s architectural design team.

An company abroad, for instance, would handle all the drawing/modeling tasks but is not usually in direct contact with the client, nor is it present in meetings and basically works hard to deliver on the lead architect’s requirements. That’s why using “outsourcing” as a term to describe working with interns and graduates is warranted, but as we’ll see, it may often not be the best approach.

Almost all companies fit in one of the two categories above as a natural market adaptation to reduce costs with tasks that, by their nature, are fairly easy to delegate. This is a common practice nowadays and it is a perfectly fine approach, especially when there are proper communication channels in place between the low level and high level staff. Managing an office and/or a suite of projects is a task in and of itself, leaving little room for the drafting or modeling work.

So the question now becomes which one of these work forms is the most optimal? The short answer would be that each company has specific needs and a specific culture, but if we look closely we can easily determine a general trend. Whilst the use of interns and graduates may solve a problem in the short term, the need to constantly re-hire and retain them can be a major distraction. Instead, using outsourcing firms for the architectural design development phase means that you are partnering up with highly skilled professionals, with zero overhead costs. Such firms are often specialized in specific domains where they’ve honed in-house systems that allow them to work extremely fast, relying heavily on advanced BIM solutions. Outsourcing firms can also guarantee on schedule delivery since they typically have buffer resources and larger numbers of employees.

When looking at outsourcing firms, there is little to no distinction between the interaction workflow you will have with local versus international companies. The problem can arise when you limit yourself to a small market, the local one, and you end up constantly swapping providers of outsourcing services and thus rely on new firms to pick up where the previous ones left. The solution is to tap into the international market and chose a quality, reliable partner for long term collaboration. Looking broader as opposed to narrower has the added advantage that you will likely find providers with lower production/management costs that will translate in a much better pricing and therefore a more competive offering.

In today’s hyper-connected global economy, communication is a non-issue and offshore collaborations become opportunities instead of challenges, allowing design leads to focus on the core aspects of their businesses.


10 Reasons to Use Revit MEP for MEP Coordination

Autodesk Revit MEP is an important component used for design by the AEC industry. Globally, AEC firms are increasingly using Revit MEP to produce 3D M&E (MEP) coordinated drawings, and Revit MEP tools to update their BIM models with MEP information, and thus, enhance their architectural and engineering design development and construction documentation process. Businesses using Revit MEP are starting to realise the potential of this technology to deliver more value to the AEC industry and also manage their own budgets and profitability at the same time. Before we look at the reasons to use Revit MEP for MEP coordination, let’s briefly cover the subject of Autodesk Revit MEP for MEP coordination.

Autodesk Revit MEP for MEP Coordination

Autodesk Revit MEP, a building information modelling (BIM) software is a leading Autodesk product that is used by users engaging in MEP engineering projects. MEP is an acronym for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing which forms the three engineering disciplines addressed by Revit MEP. Using BIM software rather than CAD (computer aided drafting), Revit MEP consists of dynamic information in the form of intelligent models, letting complex building systems to be precisely designed and documented in a shorter amount of time. Within Revit MEP there are a series of intelligent models that combine to form a complete project, all stored in a single database file. With this, the changes made in one part of the model can then be automatically propagated to other parts of the model, thus reducing the timeframe to alter designs during the design process. As far as MEP coordination is concerned, it involves coordination of all building services (HVAC, pipework, public health and electrical systems) with other disciplines making up the structure of the building, fabric and external envelope, i.e. steel, concrete, false ceilings, etc.

Having refreshed our memories with Autodesk Revit MEP, let us focus on the reasons why it is useful for MEP coordination. There are of course many reasons, however a few are listed below that will hopefully demonstrate the value of this tool for coordination.

10 Reasons to Use Revit MEP for MEP Coordination

The top 10 reasons to use Revit MEP during MEP design and coordination are summarised below:

  • Revit MEP produces high end building information models that represent realistic, real time design scenarios, helping users to make more informed design decisions earlier in the process. The team working on the project can better meet goals and sustainability initiatives, execute energy analysis, examine system loads, and produce heating and cooling load reports with native integrated analysis tools.
  • Revit MEP software’s modelling and layout tools let engineers create mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems more easily and precisely. Also, the software’s parametric change technology means that any change to the MEP model is automatically coordinated throughout the model.
  • The complexities of today’s buildings require leading edge system’s and engineering tools to optimize performance in both use and efficiency. As complexities increase in the projects, communicating design changes among MEP engineers and their extended teams is critical. Revit MEP’s purpose built systems analysis and optimization tools lets team members receive feedback about their MEP designs in real time, resulting in better performing designs in the process.
  • Using Revit MEP, the MEP engineers can more effectively collaborate and interact based on workflow and project requirements through use of a range of compatible collaboration tools such as BIM360. The software also helps to minimize design coordination errors among the extended project team, and helps to reduce design conflicts with real time clash and interference detection.
  • In Revit MEP, all model information is stored in a single, coordinated database. Revisions and modifications to information are automatically updated throughout the model, helping to significantly reduce errors and omissions. Autodesk refers to this database driven simultaneous update to file output as multi-directional associatively which explains that a change in one area manifests in all other parts of the file.
  • Parametric components, also called families, are the basis for all building components designed in Revit MEP. These components provide an open graphical system for design thinking and form making and offer the opportunity to adjust and express design intent at increasingly detailed levels.
  • Revit MEP software is a much more streamlined and intuitive user interface that is easier to learn and adopt. Users can thus find favourite tools and commands faster, identify tools more efficiently, and discover relevant new features easily.
  • Revit MEP works holistically, treating information in terms of entire building, linking mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems with the building model – thus increasing collaborative working and a team based approach to projects.
  • Revit MEP updates model views and sheets, thus helping to maintain document and project consistency. With its help MEP engineers can for example, create HVAC systems with mechanical functionality and offer 3D modelling for ductwork and piping.
  • Revit MEP has built in calculators that allows MEP engineers to execute sizing and pressure loss calculations as per the industry standard methods and specifications

At XS CAD, we have developed the required expertise and extensive knowledge of providing Revit 3D BIM Modelling and MEP coordination drawings services to MEP engineers, MEP consultants and MEP trade contractors in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and India. To learn more about our Revit MEP Services, drop us an email or call us for more information.

How Open BIM Facilitates Collaborative Design?

Due to its multifaceted benefits, building information modelling (BIM) is rapidly gaining traction in the AEC industry as the key pre-construction planning, construction management, and post-construction facilities management tool. Whilst many firms have transitioned to this ‘intelligent’ model-based process, the ‘real’ potential of BIM can only be achieved by open exchange of design and non-design project information amongst key project stakeholders: architects, structural engineers, MEP design consultants, MEP engineers, and other trade subcontractors.

A common challenge faced by mid-sized to large projects is that not all project participants use the same BIM application. This is where the concept of closed BIM and open BIM comes into play. The above two approaches are fundamentally different ways of looking at 3D BIM modelling.

Closed BIM, also known as ‘lonely BIM’, is a BIM environment wherein the same version of a BIM application is used by all key project stakeholders. This approach may also include different trades using the BIM-compatible applications from the same vendor. As a case in point, the lead architect uses Revit Architecture to model architectural elements. The structural engineer uses Revit Structure to take the architectural BIM model as the reference and define the building’s structure whilst the MEP design consultant uses Revit MEP to model building services. Although no file conversion is required in the closed BIM approach, the process is restrictive in the sense that it only allows project participants well-versed with certain BIM tools to collaborate, thereby not allowing ‘true’ integration.

On the other hand, open BIM is a workflow wherein all participants can collaborate and exchange project information with each other using non-proprietary, neutral file formats irrespective of the BIM tools and applications they use. The information exchanged is not only limited to the BIM model’s geometric data but also includes other parametric data, such as specifications, quantity take-offs, material procurement, cost estimation, and construction phasing. Most common open BIM protocols currently in use include Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) and Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie).

Whilst IFC allows exchange of both geometric and non-design data amongst different applications that support open BIM, COBie only allows facilities management data to be exchanged. Using IFC, the architectural BIM model created by the lead architect’s design team in Graphisoft ArchiCAD can be opened and manipulated by the structural engineer when his/her team works in Tekla Structures. Similarly, the integrated architectural and structural BIM model can be imported into Revit MEP platform by the lead MEP consultant. Once the detailed MEP design is complete, the federated model can be taken into a clash detection and 3D BIM coordination tool, such as Navisworks again using IFC format. This leads to workflow-level collaboration amongst key project members which is the essence of BIM compared to the conventional 2D CAD workflows.

At XS CAD, we have an extensive know-how of both open BIM and closed BIM methodologies due to the fact that we have provided 3D BIM modelling and 3D BIM coordination support to architects, MEP engineers, and contractors in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and India. To find out more about how your project can benefit from our BIM modelling services, contact us.

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD): Greater than the Sum of its Parts

With the owners increasingly demanding high-quality, energy efficient buildings which can be completed within tight timeframes, the entire AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) fraternity is continuously in search for ways and means to serve this purpose. The concept of Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), if understood, planned and executed well, can certainly come to their aid.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) defines Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) as a unified process that “collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all the participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction.” In a nutshell, IPD is an approach that aims to ensure closer working relationships, mainly through contractual arrangements, between the owner, the designer (architect), the constructor, the contractor, and all other parties involved right from design and planning stages through to project completion.

Considering that the industry is grappling with grave issues, such as poor multidisciplinary coordination during planning, design, and construction phases; surging hidden project costs; lack of architect-led collaboration during contract administration; and designs which face constructability issues during latter stages of design-build delivery methods, the Integrated Project Delivery (IDP) approach has the potential to deliver positive value propositions for each party involved.

Whilst the success of projects employing Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) methods depend on the scale of project and the teaming structure, its adoption results in effective sharing of risks and rewards by all the major parties involved thereby resulting in projects getting delivered in time and within the stipulated budget. Since IPD largely differs from traditional project delivery methods and approaches, it is important to plan for some areas which can help you smoothly transition to IPD. Some points to consider include:-

  • IPD approach requires preparing and finalising the IPD contractual agreements by all major project stakeholders – owners, designers, and contractors. This helps establish detailed responsibilities and outcome expectations of each trade.
  • Modifying operating and management structure in a way that encourages clear, open, horizontal communication. As a result, all parties involved in the project (beyond the owner, architect, and contractor) are integrated for the production and use of design and construction data.
  • The team should map out workflows and protocols for preparing, sharing and updating the digital 3D building models. This includes high-quality management and delivery of design data, construction drawings and bill of quantities.
  • As opposed to traditional fragmented methods, IPD necessitates communication channels that promote constant participation from all disciplines during all phases of design and construction.

Detailed Retail Construction Drawings Play a Key Role in Design-Bid-Build Projects

The design-build model of project delivery is one of the most used approaches, particularly for large-scale, high-end architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) projects. These include infrastructure projects, such as healthcare and medical research facilities, airport terminals, bridges, educational institutes, and large custom homes. Nevertheless, very few residential and retail construction/redevelopment projects, primarily with tight budgets, use the design-build delivery method. Department stores, supermarkets, warehouse stores, and shopping centres / malls which are not linked to multinational retail owners and have a limited geographical reach fall into this category.

In case of such projects, a design/architectural firm is contracted to come up with the designs, plans, drawings, and detailed specifications which clearly convey the architect’s / designer’s intent. After initial meetings between the owner and architect/designer, all retail construction drawings are finalised. Depending on the scope of the project, this set includes floor plans, internal& external elevations, construction plans, setting out drawings, composite plans, finishing plans, lighting plans, ceiling plans and sections.

Once all the plans and CAD drawings are in place, the project undergoes a competitive bidding process used to shortlist a general contractor (main contractor) to implement the construction work mapped out in the detailed retail construction documents. Since this design-bid-build method of project delivery involves roping in distinct teams for design/planning and construction, detailed and accurate retail construction drawing sets play a key role in ensuring that the change orders on-site are avoided. Owing to a significant reduction of change orders during construction, the time, effort, and resources that would have been wasted on rework or modification are saved.

Whilst the retail construction drawing sets are important to seek site permits and regional building licenses, the level of detail/development necessitated by the permit documents are far less than what ideally need to be passed on to the general contractors (main contractors). Moreover, in the design-bid-build method, the amount of information incorporated in the construction drawing sets determine, to a large extent, the number of change orders. Since the construction documents are made especially to seek permits from the local authorities feature less detail, the competitive bids from all the participating general contractors (main contractors) will be lower; however, the lower bids will not truly reflect the nature of project’s requirements.

As a result, detailed, clear, and unambiguous retail design drawings significantly lessen the chances of unanticipated change orders on site. When the chances of change orders reduce, the project becomes more profitable and completes on time, which is precisely what all the key parties involved in the project strive for. In order to achieve this, designers/architects involved in such design-bid-build projects perform constructability review of design at regular phases during the pricing phases.

In some cases, designers/architects rope in offshore CAD services providers to prepare detailed production drawing sets for them. Experienced companies providing retail design and documentation services take basic conceptual and schematic designs or sketches from the architects and deliver detailed construction drawing sets as per requirements. This enables architects to efficiently focus on seeking client’s and local council’s approvals over schematic designs, manage the project effectively, and administer construction-related issues.

All things considered, detailed retail construction drawing sets and specifications not only benefit designers, architects, and contractors but also reduces construction change-orders, which effectively leads to on-time and within-budget project delivery for relatively small-scale retail construction projects using design-bid-build delivery method.

Outsourcing vs. Completing Retail Designs In-House

When planning store refurbishment exercises or when opening new stores major retailers across the world face tough decisions about their design process and whether to handle all (or a part of) the retail design and documentation work in-house or to engage the services of a skilled outsourced CAD services provider to assist them with some or all of the retail design and drafting process. Choosing one of the two options is not only a difficult task but also depends upon several factors unique to each retail firm and the availability and selection of an outsourced design partner.

For retailers, looking inward at their own team it is of course good practice to evaluate the internal design support capabilities vis-à-vis the retail chain’s strategic goals. The evaluation should be two-pronged: firstly, the availability of in-house skills with respect to the expected design standards and secondly, on the basis of the speed of the design cycle the internal team can provide to support the firm’s growth objectives. Any shortcoming in one of these two areas is a strong reason to partner with an experienced offshore retail CAD team to successfully drive the retailer’s strategic objectives.

Entering into an architectural CAD / BIM outsourcing services model can also help the retailers accelerate their time to market especially in cases where the internal design team has the requisite skills but finds it difficult to meet the rapid turnaround expectations of the fast-paced retail environment. The key point, however, is to choose the ‘right’ service partner – a partner that seamlessly extends the in-house capacity, meets the design standards and fits into the required workflow. The vendor should also have established work processes, virtual communication tools and quality control procedures in place. The best way to evaluate all the above factors is to meet offshore partners on a face-to-face level.

Meeting the offshore partner in their environment in face-to-face meetings allows interaction with the management and drafting/modelling team of the potential partner in a way that cannot be replicated remotely via email and telephone calls. This will also allow the retailer an opportunity to review and validate the skills, processes, technology backbone, experience and quality levels of the outsourced partner. A face-to-face meeting or set of meetings will also allow the retailer to understand and familiarise themselves with the underlying culture of the partner organisation and whether it is conducive to an effective working relationship. The outsourcing partner’s culture and way of working will dictate the success of communication for the relationship. Communication is arguably the greatest challenge facing firms that engage outsourcing models and it is only with face-to-face meetings that the retailer will gain an understanding of communication effectiveness. In most cases the retailer may also wish to understand the social values and aims of the partner in both a formal and informal environment. This will provide further insights into the culture of that partner and allow the retailer to understand the potential partner in a different context.

Whether face-to-face or remotely another factor that retailers need to review is the relative experience of their internal resources versus the outsourcing team, especially on projects that the firm is embarking on for the first time. For instance, if the in-house design/documentation team has been using AutoCAD as a preferred drafting tool and the retail firm decides to adopt the building information modeling (BIM) process across all the new projects, it is advisable to partner with a vendor which has suitable experience in handling projects having a similar scope. It is also worth checking whether the firm is familiar with the requisite processes associated with BIM, including worksharing, IFC linking, family modeling, interoperability, material takeoff, clash detection and support with other CAD/BIM tools. An experienced team that has relatively more experience than the in-house team can help the retailer to smoothly transition to the new process with ease.

Whilst it is essential to focus on building a strong internal team, there are scenarios wherein retail design outsourcing adds significant value in terms of increasing success rates on projects never undertaken by the in-house team, speeding up the turnaround times on high-priority projects and extending the capacity of the in-house team without increasing direct overheads.

At XS CAD, we work with retailers across the globe, supplying retail construction drawing sets, 3D BIM models and computer-generated images that are used for pre-construction planning, construction build and project management purposes. We have experience working seamlessly with our clients’ local design teams and providing production drawing services for a range of retailing organisations operating in the apparel, fashion, banking, fast food, restaurant, electronics, telecoms and IT sectors.

Identifying the Right Retail Design Outsourcing Partner

Retail companies operating in the modern and fast paced retail environment have two key challenges when designing their outlets. The first is to get the latest outlet open and ready to trade as quickly as possible, whilst keeping the project cost under control. The second factor is to ensure the optimum use of space in a way which maximises the leasable areas but ensures that the retail brand is consistently served to customers. These two challenges apply to new and existing outlets that require continual updates and complete re-designs in most cases. The need to get the outlet opened or re-opened quickly and the need to maximise space mean that the design and design process needs to be more accurate than ever before. The use of modern design tools, including BIM software options for retail provides many advantages but the challenge is to ensure ample, skilled resources for the detailed planning that is required in the modern outsourcing world. Large retail firms typically have in-house architectural design teams; however, the need to scale their operations without increasing direct overheads means that many firms are increasingly looking to outsource some of the design process. Where an in-house team is not in place, retailers typically use specialist architectural and store design firms that also require the additional resource that outsourcing can provide.

Deciding to use the services of an architectural CAD outsourcing services provider into your workflow is a positive move to drive profitability, cut delivery times, maintain retail design standards and keep costs in check. However, it is very important to exercise due diligence when selecting the most aligned offshore design support partner for retail projects. Factors such as the complexity of the project involved, the elements that are considered options for outsourcing and the core expertise of the partner will have a bearing on the selection. The following provides guidelines that no retailer can ignore:

  1. Domain experience and track record

The importance of evaluating the core areas in which the outsourcing partner specialises cannot be emphasised enough. For instance, if the client’s design team seeks expertise in CAD design support for retail extension, refurbishment and upgrade projects for a fast food restaurant chain, it is best to select an offshore CAD team which has a track record of working on similar projects. Besides project expertise, the offshore provider should have expertise on the software platforms used by the client team to deliver schematics, concepts, detailed designs and construction documentation to facilitate seamless collaboration and interoperability.

  1. Compatibility with your in-house design team

The cultural fit between the client’s in-house design team and the outsourcing team is a vital factor that can make the client/vendor partnership successful. Both the in-house and offshore teams need to be on the same page on aspects concerning CAD/BIM design standards, project workflow, brand direction, sustainability objectives, project goals and time schedules. The best way to ensure team compatibility is to ensure that face to face meetings take place – especially at the pre-selection stage. Such meetings should include a formal and informal get-together so that the business culture and the social culture can be evaluated by the retailer/retail design team. By taking the opportunity to meet the partner at their own location, the retailer/retail design team can review a number of technical and non-technical elements. However, the opportunity to meet the management and design team, that will in effect become an extension of the retailer’s team, is the most important aspect of the face-to-face meeting. Indeed, as well as the initial face-to-face meeting, the most successful partnerships also involve continual face to face meetings as part of the ongoing governance of the partnership.

  1. Technical expertise with requisite tools and processes

To serve as a reliable retail design extension to the in-house team, the vendor should have a team of technically proficient resources as well as well-established work processes and quality control procedures with quality accreditations (such as ISO9001:2008 quality control standards) in place. Again it is advisable to visit the partner/vendor and see their team and their processes in person. This will provide a clear picture of whether the firm has a diverse mix of architects, design consultants and project management professionals that have an in-depth knowledge of modern CAD and BIM tools (such as AutoCAD, Revit and Navisworks) and if they can handle your quality and time expectations. It is also very important to assess the relationships that such partners hold with key software resellers. For instance how does the partner purchase software from Autodesk and is the software purchased with subscriptions.

  1. Communication tools and methods

Evaluating whether the outsourced CAD services provider has systematic processes and protocols for day-to-day communications, file sharing, query resolution and quality control is critical to a fruitful partnership. Having virtual collaboration tools in place indicates that the firm is available for continuous interfacing with your design team. Also important is the cultural and linguistic fit so that the offshore support team is not just ready but also aware of the discussions and resolutions whenever the need arises. Communications tools, frequency, modes and timing are all important elements to consider. It is the underlying communication culture of a partner and his employees that will dictate the flexibility of team members to discuss their issues openly and honestly with your own in-house design teams. It is very important for example that partners understand and respond to your own culture when it comes to communication. For example, communicating potential delays very early on in the process is not something that some cultures understand while others will just not be ready to say ‘No’ to a request which is impossible to deliver upon.

  1. Local market presence

The availability of local contacts for an outsourcing partner is an important consideration. Although not always possible, the availability of a local partner (in the retailer’s own region) provides additional benefits, such as a standard time zone, local contacts and local insurance requirements being met if needed. The local contact can also facilitate the process of project start up, ongoing project management and regular communication. In cases where outsourcing is new to a retailer/retail design team, this level of local support may be useful when selecting a retail design outsourcing partner.