Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) systems are considered the heart and veins of a building that make it liveable and sustainable. Hidden in the structure of the building, these systems are some of the most complex installations and require coordination and precision. Attention to detail becomes the prime task of a MEP designer. Poor quality, due to complexity of installations and onsite limitations during assembly, is the main cause for rework in MEP construction, which can cause cost and schedule blowouts.
Standardisation and modularisation are key to realising the benefits of prefabricated construction. Standardisation is identifies identical components or sub-systems that tends to repeat in a product range or a system, creating an opportunity for mass-manufacture. Modularisation deals with the configuration of products or systems by identifying components that can be grouped together to ensure they operate independently to fulfil certain requirements in a larger operation.
Despite the increasing popularity of prefabricated and modular construction and architecture, specific prefabrication of MEP systems tends to have a slow growth, due to onsite limitation during module delivery and challenges in identifying optimum modules in a system.
It is indisputable that the maximum befits of prefabrication are achieved when the complete system is fabricated and commissioned off site. As a result, package-type central plant rooms are ideal solutions for achieving maximum benefits for projects with prefabricated MEP systems. However, high land cost in cities makes it expensive to locate package-type solutions outside the building and consequently in many cases plant rooms are located internally in basements, intermediate service floors and rooftops. This makes installation of services a challenge, due to onsite handling and assembly limitations. Services are generally located in the central-core and corridors of a building with multiple MEP services sharing the same space.
This congestion often creates challenges for coordination during design and installation.
Researchers at CAMPH are working closely with industry to fill knowledge shortfalls in prefabricated MEP construction to improve the growth of modular MEP. An initial industry review revealed the identification of optimum modules and module division points in a system is a challenge that frequently impedes the adoption of modular MEP. Module division points in MEP systems should be carefully selected to avoid complex assembly on site between modules and resulting costly reworks.
Module identification is currently an inefficient manual process where the optimum number of modules and module division points is a subjective selection.
Example BIM models of plant rooms.
Researchers at CAMPH have identified the requirement for an automated algorithm that generates the optimum number of modules and module division points to minimise installation costs while accounting for onsite constraints. Building Information Modelling (BIM) was identified as the ideal tool to extract information for the study and transfer the research findings as a usable interface for industry.
“Researchers at CAMPH have identified the requirement for an automated algorithm that generates the optimum number of modules and module division points to minimise installation costs while accounting for onsite constraints. Building Information Modelling (BIM) was identified as the ideal tool to extract information for the study and transfer the research findings as a usable interface for industry.”
Dr David Heath, National Technical Manager – CAMPH + Tharindu Samarasinghe, PhD candidate – CAMPH.
Research in progress is focusing on developing BIM based algorithms for module identification in MEP systems considering the complete life cycle of the systems. A group of experts in optimisation including BIM specialists, architects, structural and MEP engineers are working together to study the techniques used in other industries for modularisation. The research outcome from this activity will be a method to identify the optimum number of modules and module division points for any given MEP system.
Modularisation techniques such as Design Structure Matrix (DSM), Quality Function Deployment (QFD), clustering algorithms and partitioning algorithms are used to develop the modularisation methodology. Data has been collected on site constraints during module handling, assembly types, handling and assembly times of MEP equipment to identify the constraints for module sizing and optimum division points that will be incorporated into the algorithms.
BIM is effectively used in the study to extract information on MEP components, assemblies and handling constraints to identify the optimum number of modules and component arrangement within modules. The final stage of the modularisation study is the use of a BIM based platform such as Dynamo to develop an interface that can be easily used by industry.
CAMPH BIM applications are not limited to modularisation. Study of parametric design in MEP and achieving standardisation in MEP systems are other areas of interest. Currently researchers are studying many MEP central plant room designs to identify standard components and subsystems that tend to repeat in buildings. The effect of building loads on central plant components is studied closely to achieve standard plant room solutions that can be applied to a range of buildings, creating an opportunity for massmanufacture. Similar to approach have long been used by the automotive and aerospace industries. ■
Dr David Heath National Technical Manager ARC Centre for Advanced Manufacturing of Prefabricated Housing
Tharindu Samarasinghe PhD candidate ARC Centre for Advanced Manufacturing of Prefabricated Housing – University of Melbourne