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Civil-Comp Proceedings
ISSN 1759-3433
CCP: 74
Edited by: B.H.V. Topping and B. Kumar
Paper 9

A Multidisciplinary Collaborative Design System for Civil Engineering Projects

M. Sun, G. Aouad and N. Bakis

School of Construction and Property Management, University of Salford, Salford, United Kingdom

Full Bibliographic Reference for this paper
M. Sun, G. Aouad, N. Bakis, "A Multidisciplinary Collaborative Design System for Civil Engineering Projects", in B.H.V. Topping, B. Kumar, (Editors), "Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on the Application of Artificial Intelligence to Civil and Structural Engineering", Civil-Comp Press, Stirlingshire, UK, Paper 9, 2001. doi:10.4203/ccp.74.9
Keywords: design collaboration, information sharing, water industry, integrated project database.

Water treatment projects usually involve large capital investment. Design appraisal is crucial to ensure project quality and cost effectiveness. It gives the design team opportunity to evaluate every aspect of a proposed design solution at the design stage when the benefits for change are high and cost is low. Unfortunately, due to the communication bottleneck between the often remotely located design team members, the design appraisal process is usually very time consuming. As a result, design decisions are often made without thorough evaluation and appraisal. The paper describes a multidisciplinary collaborative design system that enables a design team to work in collaboration, carry out what-if analysis and optimise the design for water treatment projects.

Design of water treatment projects is no different from design of building projects. It is a process of creation that usually involves rapid proposing new ideas, evaluating them and accepting or rejecting these ideas at the early design stages. Once a design solution is accepted, it needs to be developed into more detailed levels. Design appraisal refers to the evaluation and selection of design proposals against a variety of criteria such as functional specifications, costs, environmental requirements, client brief, etc. The importance of design appraisal lies in the potential design improvements at the earliest possible opportunity where the benefit is high and cost is low. Changes at the late stage of a project usually result in extensive re-work and cause over spending and project delays. Effective design appraisal requires the design team to be able to specify a design solution quickly and to conduct what-if analysis by modifying design variables.

Since a design team involves professionals from different organisations who are located in different places, communication and information exchange is often the main barrier for collaborative design appraisal. As more and more IT systems are used in design and analysis, there is a growing demand for an integrated design appraisal system. The benefits of information communication technology have been demonstrated clearly in banking, retailing and manufacturing sectors. Traditionally construction companies were reluctant to invest in technology because the supply chain was very unstable. A project team often only works on one project. Investment on IT can hardly be justified by the return on a single project.

In recent years, the Latham and Egan reports have set challenging improvement targets for the UK construction industry. To help to achieve these targets, both reports emphasised the need for team work. Egan explicitly called for Partnering to replace the traditional competitive tendering procurement method for construction and civil engineering projects. Partnering is a long-term arrangement between two or more organisations willing to share expertise and willingness to work together in order to maximise their efficiencies. In 1997, Welsh Water, a major client organisation, formed a strategic partnership with Galliford - a contractor and EC Harris a cost consultant to deliver water treatment projects. Their experience in the last few years has shown that compared with the traditional competitive tendering, the new partnering approach has made project costs more predictable, the project team is more willing to work together to resolve problems and ensure the project complete on time. The partners look for ways for further improvements in cost, quality and efficiency.

This paper describes a system which provides integrated information management and exchange during the design appraisal process of water treatment projects. It adopted a distributed architecture which consists of a repository of shared project data, a Client Management application, interfaces to three third party software packages, and a VRML browser. The application software packages are used for design, cost estimating and project planning during water treatment projects. The project information is held in the project database which can be accessed by all applications of the system. The VRML browser provides a graphical visualisation of the project data which facilitate the communications between partners located at different places. By improving the interdisciplinary communication bottleneck it would allow more design options to be evaluated. It also enables all the design team members to externalise and share the decision- making process and its rationale. As a result, better designs will be produced.

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