It shouldn’t come as a shock that there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to electrical design. When designing an electrical system from scratch, or modifying an existing one, it’s the electrical contractor’s job to balance customer expectations with budget, timeline, and functionality.
During the planning, creation, testing, and installation of electrical systems, it can feel like more can go wrong than right. Balancing the expectations of several — often conflicting — parties, while still ensuring the electrical design is functional and efficient is a conflict that impedes even the most seasoned professionals.
Don’t leave your electrical design to chance. Follow these five tips to help improve the efficiency and accuracy of your next project.
1. Identify customer needs
This might sound obvious but, as an electrical designer, you are serving the customer. It turns out that the customer is, for the most part, always right. It’s your job to accommodate their needs and translate business, functional, and financial requirements into a usable electrical system.
In fact, overlooking customer needs can not only be harmful to your working relationship but also physically dangerous to anyone in the building. If a system does not meet the needs of an operator, chances are they will find a way to make it work on their own terms. Whether they are implementing some non-standard means of operation, integrating outside components, or simply using it wrong, user error can cause damage to the system or worse.
Work with customers from day one. By tailoring functionalities to customers, and customizing systems to align with the way the system will actually be used in the working environment, you can act as a first line of defense against human error.
2. Create specifications, then design to them
It’s pretty standard for electrical design to follow a somewhat backward progression. Whether due to time and budget constraints, or just bad habits, electrical design teams often work without defined specifications. That is to say, they design and create specifications simultaneously.
Instead, electrical design teams should create specifications then use this as the basis of design rather than vice versa. Whether you input component data manually, or work with a managed content provider to update data automatically, it’s important that models directly reflect the working environment. This process allows for a clearer definition of what’s being done and helps overcome the inefficiencies and human error associated with ad-hoc design.
The utility of this procedural improvement trickles all the way down to the installation phase. As you hand off from design, these specifications can be revised for the purposes of installation. This helps translate complex designs into actionable, trade-specific installation instructions — helping to improve the efficiency and accuracy of component installation.
3. Get back to first principles
There will come a time when you’re expected to design a change within an electrical system, and the last thing you will want to do is go back to square one. For the sake of time, budget, and your own workload, you have probably been tempted to do things the easy way instead of the right way. That is to say, when a change order comes through, many designers modify the individual part in question rather than reevaluating the entire system.
You may believe in “rule of thumb,” but trust us, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
In reality, cutting these corners can be detrimental to system functionality. Making an isolated change can have a cascading effect — toppling the carefully constructed house of cards, not only causing damage to the greater electrical system but also opening the door to a dangerous working environment.
Anytime you’re asked to make a change to infrastructure, always go back to the basics. It’s worth reevaluating the electrical system as a whole, rather than individual parts, to ensure any change works toward the greater good of your customer’s electrical needs.
4. Design and build in 3D
There’s a catch-22 within the field of electrical design: designs must be detailed enough to guide installation, but simple enough to be understood by customers. Finding the correct balance between practical but approachable — informative but understandable — is tough, but possible when you leverage 3D design technology.
3D design offers several advantages:
Collaboration: 3D models visualize systems the way they will be built. No abstract or complex blueprints, which helps make electrical schematics understandable to all stakeholders. 3D models allow designers to discuss electrical systems with customers in greater detail without having to explain the technical elements of a design. This creates an open dialogue with customers and streamlines common discussions about electrical functionality and access.
Transparency: 3D models offer complete transparency to customers. What you see is what you get, so (ideally) there will be no surprises to halt installation. Whether working with HVAC, plumbing, project owners, or any other stakeholder, full transparency ensures everyone is on the same page and helps reduce the likelihood of change orders.
Fail-safe design: Involving more people in the design process helps protect against errors that might pass by designers. For example, CAD software like ProDesign 3D allows electrical design engineers to work natively in Revit, and helps them integrate real-world component details directly into 3D models. This way, component dimensions can be reviewed by engineers before installation. Everything is in the model, so any clashes would be immediately apparent.
3D models make design plans more comprehensible to more people. When models are shared with customers early in the process, you can keep them in the loop on how things will look and function long before anything is installed — helping to reduce the likelihood of change orders and heightening the professional representation of your team.
5. Identify inconsistencies in design before installation
All of the above amounts to this: design can, and should, be used as a diagnostic tool. It’s far easier to remedy a mistake in a 3D model than try to design ad-hoc in the field. Design is a collaborative process, and after implementing the procedural improvements outlined above, you can begin democratizing technical information — making 3D models more comprehensible, actionable, and collaborative for all project stakeholders.
It should be clear by now that BIM is good for more than just design. Underpinning this important fact is a new procedural framework that can be used to extend the utility of 3D models and help improve the flow of information throughout the entire construction workflow. The Constructible Process — the latest procedural framework that will make your next electrical design project more efficient.
Want more details on how to improve MEP efficiency? Check out our ebook “The Contractor’s Guide to Constructibility,” and learn how to get more out of your MEP designs.