By now we all know that BIM stands for building information modeling though it's easy to dismiss it as just a new software for MEP modeling faster and to extract drawings more easily. In truth, there is a lot more the MEP design element of the project than simply the modelling phase. As MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing services) are at the heart of BIM any conscious construction manager would be wise to produce MEP drawings from a real 3D model as this is the only way to reliably manage clashes and generally handle the complexity of coordinating MEP with the architectural and structural direction of the project. This is known as MEP Design and 3D MEP Coordination.
In practice, MEP is not just about modeling the components the various disciplines involved require. This is because in any moderately complex scenario, quality MEP Design Services, properly implemented, can insure the client that the drawings delivered will be workable by the contractor without costly subsequent changes. Such changes are a typical occurrence on a worksite, primarily stemming from fabrication difficulties that can easily arise. In this sense a BIM approach is, again, the only obvious choice. But implementing MEP design requirements isn't often straightforward.
Different use case scenarios impose significantly different requirements, often mandatory by local laws and regulations but in any case aligned with best practices, focused on delivering an efficient and ergonomic building. Specialists providing MEP Design Services will have all the know-how required to compute the sizing and distribution of MEP equipment and will insure compliance with any regulations. What they can't do is know in advance how exactly will everything fit together, especially for a project that is at least moderately complex. Complexity can come from the size of the project but also the future use of a facility can generate complexity. At this stage, MEP 3D Modeling becomes important and BIM modelers will step in and work on data provided by the MEP design team. It's here where much can be gained from close interaction between the two factions. As the model progresses, innovative, more ergonomic and/or often more practical solutions can take shape and save the client money and construction time by adjusting the design to account for the actual spatial constraints. Such constraints can suggest the relocation of piping or clustering HVAC equipment alongside other installations when shafts are over-sized, for any reason, and many more similar core design decisions. In some cases the most effective 3D MEP Coordination solution is achieved when the MEP Design Engineering team collaborates with the MEP 3D Modeling team closely.
Given the complexity of MEP and the deep specialisation that it requires, outsourcing is a valuable tool for design specialists and consultants especially as collaboration under a BIM work environment is becoming increasingly more frictionless. It's seldom that an MEP design firm will have the market conditions to justify investing on in-house MEP modeling resources and in some cases even an extensive Design Engineering team. In this scenario outsourcing becomes the norm although too often this is limited to a narrow, local talent pool while significant costs can be saved by searching globally. Also when looking locally, the outsourcing ends up being split between MEP design and MEP BIM services. Here, fragmentation is something that can end up costing valuable time, and subsequently money, on the part of the managing party. In this scenario it becomes evident that the best practice would be to rely on a specialist that can handle both MEP Design Engineering and MEP 3D Modeling. In this way any gap between design and modeling is closed and any problems can be solved in an iterative fashion. The same iterative process that will also ensure quality MEP Coordination on site. Having both departments working together enables all the benefits mentioned above. Having a competent and all inclusive service provider outsourced brings yet another set of benefits.
In conclusion, outsourcing MEP services can be done in a variety of ways. Not all of them are equal and finding a reliable partner that will communicate efficiently and coordinate with the contractor should always be balanced by the ability of that partner to handle both MEP design & MEP BIM services so as to ensure a smooth implementation of one of the most important aspects in the construction of a project.