Structural Design Gets “Lean” – Maximize Value, Minimize Waste

Lean structural designLean production management has caused a revolution in manufacturing design, supply and assembly, eliminating waste throughout the production process to improve overall customer value. Today, many building contractors are applying these same lean concepts – maximize value and minimize waste – to improve the delivery of capital facilities. When contractors incorporate lean principles, it changes the design and construction process—with an ultimate goal of enhancing total project performance.

While the application of lean principles is typically led by prime contractors, it requires the active participation of designers, suppliers, and installers to ensure that value is delivered to the customer and waste is reduced.

One of the most impactful opportunities for elimination of waste in the construction process is the development of structural design drawings and structural shop drawings. A structural designer that understands and embraces lean construction can significantly contribute to project goals by incorporating shop drawings into the design drawings, achieving the following project benefits.

  • Better coordinated drawingsstructural systems typically involve multiple subcontractors, each with its own detailer producing a set of shop drawings for only a portion of the structure, leaving coordination to the prime contractor. By introducing structural shop drawings into the structural design process, all the shop drawings are produced by a single party, ensuring coordination between the various structural components.
  • Reduction in errorsbecause the structural shop drawings are generated from the same 3-D BIM model used for design, the likelihood of fit-up errors is reduced.
  • Faster from design to build while shop drawings are necessary to the overall project completion, the typical turnaround time for shop drawing production, review and approval can cost weeks in the project schedule, while contributing little value. Concurrent production of shop drawings with design drawings can save weeks and eliminate the unnecessary flow of transmittals, reviews, and re-submittals.
  • Savings in construction costs – incorporating structural shop drawings into the design drawings ensures that structural subcontractors are bidding apples-to-apples, eliminating the waste that can be associated with carrying contingencies
  •  Improved project performance – earlier commencement of the structural building shell naturally leads to earlier completion of the building shell. This allows the finish trades to start sooner, mitigating project risks associated with weather delays, labor availability, etc.

The structural engineer of record has typically played a support role in creating the architect’s vision of the structure. Today, however, more and more contractors recognize the powerful and positive influence that the structural engineer can have on a project. When structural designers are brought in early in the process, they can help advance the lean construction process by contributing to the elimination of waste. When all team members contribute to achieving project goals, all can benefit and improve their businesses.


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