Coordination Drawings: What Do They Mean To You?

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The construction industry is going through changes unlike any it has seen since the dawn of diesel and electricity. Some of these changes include communication systems, GPS, robotic total stations, lasers, computers, software, and their integration into one another. With acronyms abound (LEED, BIM, CAD, GPS, AIA, OSHA, etc.), there are many organizations and technologies that are interested in making it faster, safer, and less expensive to install studs, steel, duct, conduit, pipe, and just about anything else that needs to go into a 21st Century building.

Coordination is the process of making sure all building components come together smoothly, as designed, and that the communication between the design team, installation team, and building owner is in place.  Hearing the words “coordination” or "shop drawings" or “coordination drawings” used interchangeably can often lead to problems. What is the interpretation? What does the process entail? How much detail is needed? How little?

Each project is unique, and as a friend of mine used to say: “There’s more than one way to get to San Jose”.  Below are a few ways to approach the process, each with varying levels of detail and expense.


Different approaches to MEPFP Coordination (in order of varying effectiveness and cost):

Process 1: Manually overlay thin paper /vellum construction drawings (CD) that contain the various architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection (MEPFP) content. Then (if you can still read through all of the layers), identify apparent clashes and hits.

  • Advantages 

          - No technology costs

          - Relatively low cost (if experienced labor is inexpensive)

  • Disadvantages  

          - Not 3D content

          - Accuracy potentially suffers due to clarity and shifting physical sheets

          - Sharing of information difficult

          - Cumbersome: One large master copy; one set of notes

          - Drawing updates potentially difficult:

Process 2: Instead of using paper, digitally overlay CD portable document files (PDF’s) and then repeat steps from #1 above, but using digital screen shots to document.

  • Advantages

          - Digital files create options for clarity, sharing, and accuracy.

          - Loading/unloading of additional files is easy

          - Easily updated

  • Disadvantages

          - Not 3D content

          - Layers most often cannot be turned on/off, which impacts clarity

          - Files can become cumbersome due to size of overall project

          - Technology/operator costs

Process 3: Instead of using paper/PDF’s, digitally overlay two-dimensional (2D) CD DWG’s (AutoCAD files) and repeat steps from #1 and #2 above. The added benefit here is that you can accurately measure distance directly.

  • Advantages

          - Digital files can be measured accurately in their native format

          - Accuracy and clarity are enhanced, due to layer, line type, and color control

          - Easily updated

          - Sharing of information is easy

  •  Disadvantages

          - Not 3D content

          - Higher level of expertise needed

          - Technology/operator costs

Process 4: Using 3D digital file content (Revit or DWG’s), build 3D model and run model through clash detection technology to identify hits between the architectural, structural, and MEPFP trades. The added benefit here is a 100% buildable model that is essentially the finished product (in digital form). Installation drawings, for each trade, are created directly from the coordination drawings.

  •  Advantages

          - Architect/Engineer design intent is absolute

          - 3D content creates ultimate visibility and accuracy

          - A 3D model allows the ability to ‘fly’ through and see problems first-hand

          - Utilizing file sharing programs, multiple operators/participants can be a part of the coordination process

          - Installation drawings are accurate, resulting in faster field installation

          - Can be used with robotic total stations

          - A complete digital building model for owner

  •  Disadvantages

          - Technology/operator costs

          - More up-front resources needed to complete process

          - Limited expertise in many firms

Scope, budgets, and timelines often dictate which route is generally chosen.   Coordinating MEPFP content is critical to an efficient installation and time should be taken to ensure that it is done correctly. Discussing the needs of your particular project, at the onset, is the best way to ensure that all stakeholders adhere to the coordination expectations throughout the process.