Traditionally, MEP contractor procurement centres around a fixed-price lump-sum bid. It is often based on MEP designs undertaken by third parties. This is typically achieved through a single or two-stage tender process or a cost plan to negotiated contract – the latter not being as common.
Typically, this approach is based around a design and performance specification, completed by others, to achieve a level of cost certainty and to reduce the levels of risk. These fixed costs are often not sought until quite late in the already developed stages of design. If, for example, a tender is based on a more simplified design, MEP contractors can make provisions for unknown levels of risk. The more advanced stages of design can typically reduce the levels of risk included.
More often than not, when the procurement of an MEP contractor is left until later in the design process, the likelihood of change to the design process increases. It is argued that the early engagement and appointment of an MEP contractor provides a greater level of certainty much sooner and can therefore significantly reduce the need for change and re-work. Not only does the MEP design benefit from early engagement, but other design disciplines will benefit also. MEP contractors can add value to these areas by providing a greater level of detail of general and specialist building services much earlier, allowing integration with structural and architectural solutions to be more accurate, more quickly.
For an MEP contractor to work in this way, they must be much more agile than if working through traditional procurement routes. An agile MEP contractor, along with its supply chain, should have the ability to confirm in detail, distribution and spatial disposition strategies, much earlier than usual, challenging or confirming the space allocation for service risers, plant rooms and in some cases even the height of the building itself. These factors can be optimised, bringing further economies to a project.
Pursuing this method of early procurement does however require a leap of faith from clients, as they are ultimately adjusting their procurement process. Strong relationships and trust can also play a huge part in the decision making. It is crucial therefore to partner with an MEP contractor that is knowledgeable and experienced in managing and optimising the design process and can provide a greater level of detail earlier, whilst providing a level of flexibility to other design team members. Once in place, the MEP contractor, design team and the client can become a much more cohesive team, all working with a steady flow of quality information between each other – with less re-work for all.
In terms of real-world benefits of working in this way, main contractors gain greater levels of design, coordination cost and programme certainty. This different approach can help projects finish safely, within agreed costs, with zero snags and on time…or even early.
End clients can also obtain benefits from this approach. Architects, structural engineers and other design team members can be less frustrated when MEP contractors are involved later in the process – due to reduction in changes and rework they typically need to undertake.
Procuring an MEP contractor early, providing them with an equal seat with the other project stakeholders, provides an ability to influence the design, encourages a ‘right first time’ approach and provides greater confidence in the accuracy of information.
There is also an added opportunity to save on design costs via early engagement. The concept of “combining design stages” can become an option when using less traditional procurement routes which provide greater value to the project overall.