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Just Testing or Real Teaming: The Value of Integrating Construction Materials Engineering Testing into Project Delivery

Before CMELMSWith the advent of advanced delivery methods for building projects such as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), the need for more collaborative expert support for the selection and placement of building elements has become much more critical to overall project success.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) currently defines IPD as “a project delivery method that integrates people, systems, business structures, and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to reduce waste and optimize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction.” The IPD method contains, at a minimum, all of the following elements: continuous involvement of owner and key designers and builders from early design through project completion; business interests aligned through shared risk/reward, including financial gain at risk that is dependent upon project outcomes; joint project control by owner and key designers and builders; a multi-party agreement or equal interlocking agreements; limited liability among owner; and key designers and builders.

IPD is becoming recognized as one of the most advanced, value-added, and value-producing delivery methods for owners to employ to improve the likelihood of a quality outcome to their construction projects. In order for this method of design, procurement, and construction to function, well-informed decisions on materials selection need to occur early in the process. Properly executed Construction Materials Engineering Testing (CMET) ensures that schedules are kept, costs are controlled, and quality is maintained with any deviations identified, tracked continuously, and corrected in short time horizons.

In order to support these advanced delivery methods, mere materials testing is not enough. Taking soil samples for compaction or making cylinder specimens for concrete testing and “calling it good” is a prescription for missing major benefits associated from integrating advanced materials selection, placement, and testing procedures. By employing these advanced procedures, owners have improved schedule adherence and slashed budgets on major projects.

Tweed Airport in New Haven, Conn., had a runway project that involved a large quantity of potentially problematic unsuitable soils. Dredge materials were going to have to be removed and replaced in order for a runway expansion project to take place. Rather than remove them, it was suggested that a soil improvement process be employed to modify their characteristics and re-use them rather than replace them. Some of the material was brought to the laboratory for analysis and testing.  Varying percentages of amendment material were added (in this particular case, the soil improvement product was cement kiln dust). Specimens were produced of the amended soils and subsequently tested for strength. The optimum cement kiln dust addition to the soil was developed that met the required strength, and was approved for use by the FAA and the owner. A simple site mixing method was developed to amend the soil on-site, as it was placed in prescribed lift quantities. The results were impressive. The original construction schedule was maintained, and the budget was cut by more than $1 million dollars. The teaming that was required to deliver these results to the client far exceeded merely viewing this process as a straight testing solution. Integration with the whole design and construction team in a collaborative manner was absolutely fundamental for a successful resolution.

IPD employs a number of expert systems to speed the process, reduce errors, and improve quality.  Building Information Modeling (BIM) and other advanced design/visualization processes give the design team new tools to move the design forward in a collaborative and inclusive manner. Professional Materials firms, like Terracon, can support these processes by providing information on materials choices and construction methods, and also by providing near-real-time testing results during construction accessible to the team through our leading edge data collection and management system.  Terracon’s proprietary software, Construction Materials Engineering Laboratory Management System (CMELMS) is a specialized system that allows for the collection and tracking of the entire materials testing and inspection process from start to finish digitally, providing real-time results to the IPD team through a cloud-based website. The ability to achieve this level of communication provides the team with information on any deviations and corrections in prescribed performance of materials quickly so that if adjustments are required, they can be effected with minimal disruption to the schedule.

A number of design firms utilizing IPD techniques are also combining these with Lean practices. Lean is based on the Toyota method of producing everything in the least-waste-way and is centered on making obvious what adds value to the project and what is clearly waste. It then seeks to reduce this waste as effectively as possible. Embracing Lean in the design/construction process makes near-real-time results and the other features of advanced materials testing even more impactful.

Electronic tracking of materials testing results also gives the team the ability to track product performance for future projects and also provide  throughout historic data for the owner. The team also has the opportunity of working with materials suppliers to effect adjustments to mix quality near-real-time which is a major advantage over most standard processes where the results come in days later, causing major “do-overs.”  There have been instances where members of design teams have had major computer crashes, yet because the team was utilizing Terracon’ s cloud-based system, all the critical testing and reporting information was maintained.After CMELMS

Case in point, a major developer providing services for retail distribution centers had been utilizing standard format testing services and was experiencing significant document management difficulties and, in turn, project delays. A decision was made to employ a professional materials firm with advanced capabilities in electronic reporting and also to use a client document website for data transfer. By utilizing these advanced methods on a one-million-square-foot distribution center, the owner realized a 20 percent savings on their budget for all materials testing.

Owners are demanding that ancillary support services for their construction projects deliver more value and provide greater levels of collaboration to undergird the efforts of all the players. By engaging with a Materials firm well versed in providing real-time support from conceptual design through opening day, owners have the opportunity of adding significant value to the process and the project. It’s not just testing… it’s teaming along with communication and collaboration that will win the day!